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Source: (consider it) Thread: The Christian Contemplative Prayer tradition
Evensong
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G'day Shippies. Long time no see. [Big Grin] Good to see my favourite Ship still afloat!

I'm curious as to your opinions and knowledge of the contemplative tradition in Christianity.

Up until a few years ago, I don't think I've ever heard the term contemplative prayer. And now I've just read two books (Rowan Williams - Tokens of Trust) and David Bentley Hart (The Experience of God) that both mention it as the bees knees. Now these are two authors I respect highly so I'm sitting up and paying attention.

So. In your opinion:

1) What is contemplative prayer in the Christian tradition ?

2) Do you pray this way? If so what does it give you?

3) Is it coming back into fashion and if so why?

4) What's wrong with it according to some? Why did it fall out of favour or common Christian prayer parlance?

Yours in anticipation,

Evensong

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rolyn
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2) Some say it gives them tears and peculiar dreams.

My own dream pattern suggests I might be using contemplative prayer without realising it. The dreams are rarely about anything connected with formal religion though.

I have found silent prayer powerful in the past, usually with just 2 or 3 others present.

(Welcome back evensong [Smile]

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
1) What is contemplative prayer in the Christian tradition ?

I can't off the top of my head recall all the shades of meaning, but I'd suggest that any form of prayer that goes beyond speaking one's thoughts out loud to God might be covered depending on the speaker.

quote:
2) Do you pray this way? If so what does it give you?
Not nearly as often as I should.

quote:
3) Is it coming back into fashion and if so why?
I think it's been coming back into fashion for lay/non-monastic long while, assuming it ever really went away. It could be seen as an attempt to recover from within the Christian tradition an answer to Eastern meditative and mindfulness practices.

quote:
4) What's wrong with it according to some? Why did it fall out of favour or common Christian prayer parlance?
I believe it was a monastic tradition of prayer with no explicit scriptural description, and so the Protestant Reformation was uninterested in it and saw it as too Catholic.

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Gwai
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I know I discovered it in 2000 and was amazed to come to college and find so many different ways (like Taize) of doing things that I had thought there was only one way to do.

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Raptor Eye
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Good to see you here, Evensong. I'm fresh back from a time away too.

I became used to contemplative prayer early on, it's how I pray. It's spending time with God without words, in silence. I try to set aside at least 20 minutes morning and evening for it. It began when I went to a talk by Richard Rohr. If you check out the CAC website it will tell you more.

What it does for me is to help me draw near to God, and God to me, in a conscious tangible way.

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Be still, and know that I am God! Psalm 46.10

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leo
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2 is pretty much the only way I pray.

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Gamaliel
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There's a book by Thomas Merton called 'Contemplative Prayer'.

It'd answer most of your questions I think.

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Jengie jon

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quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
1) What is contemplative prayer in the Christian tradition ?

It is a broad skein of traditions with threads that come from many diverse sources. Some of these sources include: Orthodoxy, Monasticism, Spiritual Writers, Quakerism and other religions. Nearly every tradition has elements that contribute to it and it can feel very different according to which strand in the skein you pick up. Basically it is that prayer which seeks connection with God without an agenda.
quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
2) Do you pray this way? If so what does it give you?

Yes it is part of my prayer life but it is not the total. I actually believe God is interested in what is concerning me as any friend would be. So as part of opening my life up to him I use more active prayer forms.

quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
3) Is it coming back into fashion and if so why?

People have been telling me all my life that it is the 'big new thing'. In actual fact it is something that is discovered by Christians as they mature. It is not something that many soon after conversion would be happy with, it is like asking a puppy to sit still. Equally it is something that pays dividends with disciplined practice. There are cycles in it, times when it is total joy and times when it is nothing but tedium.

quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
4) What's wrong with it according to some? Why did it fall out of favour or common Christian prayer parlance?

Did it? The Rosary is a form of Contemplative Prayer, can you think of an age when Roman Catholics have not prayed that? The contemplation of God's creation as an act worship actually provided the basis for many scientific discoveries in the 18th and 19th Century.

However, as it is a practice that is usually discovered as you mature as a Christian, individuals quite often seem to go through a mini conversion experience and become evangelists for contemplative prayer when they discover it.

That said, because of the similarities between various forms of it and modern Spiritual practices there are those who think that it may be used as a form of outreach to those interested in Spirituality.

Jengie

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Gamaliel
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I'm interested in that last point, Jengie Jon. My brother-in-law has gravitated (graduated?) towards contemplative prayer as he's got older - and I'd also say more spiritually mature.

He sees it as a potential form of outreach or at least finding common ground, with people interested in spirituality more generally.

He can't understand why more people aren't exploring Christian contemplative traditions rather than eastern religions or secular mindfulness.

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Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

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Jengie jon

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I can think of several reasons why it is not as smooth as people think.

Despite there being strong similarities as I stated the Church and Christianity have an institutional image problem. People steer clear of Christian Contemplative practices because of they do not want to get involved with institutional Christianity.

There is the attraction of the other, the different and the exotic. Many Eastern religions trump Christianity just solely on this.

There are few gurus, teachers who have a celebrity attractive within Christianity. I think the way it has grown up with Monastics and fringe advocates has led to what I would see as a healthy lack of such. However, you cannot say I was taught by X and therefore I am in his/her tradition. The nearest you get is Thomas Merton or Gerard Hughes but those both were in religious orders and under discipline.

We do Christian Contemplation because we want to do Christian Contemplation. Christians do not do contemplative prayer because they will be rewarded for doing it either by spiritual advance or secular result e.g. relaxation. We do not claim it will make us better Christians or that it will produce salvation. It is making space to be aware of God to be presence but whether God presence is tangible or not is up to God.

Jengie

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BabyWombat
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Yes, I do practice contemplative prayer, and have done so since my college years. I do not practice as often as I might, or as often as I feel I would benefit from practicing. But it is practice, not a product.

Others here have described better than I can.

I had the honor of working with a small group of beginners in this prayer form this past summer. While we talked about this being image-free, one image that supported some was that of simply sitting in the lap of our Creator God (Father, Mother as you will)….. knowing we are loved beyond measure, our hearts beating as one and that while we will run about and away, we are continually welcomed back to that heart.

Yes, that indeed links somewhat to the Maternal Compassion of God thread -- and that is indeed what this prayer form offers me: a healing welcome that affirms wholeness, purpose, understanding, forgiveness, non-duality.

Contemplative Prayer has resonance as I understand it with forms used by Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, many Native American tribal religions. Might it be the prayer God breathes into us at creation, that breath we share with God and each other?

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Let us, with a gladsome mind…..

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Gamaliel
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Thanks Jengie, I think those are all very good and valid points.

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Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

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MaryLouise
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Many years ago, I read Ruth Burrows on the mystical contemplative teachings of St John of the Cross and felt drawn to this kind of prayer. I've also found the writings of St Teresa of Avila helpful.

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Tortuf
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I use contemplative prayer. My experience is that it opens my mind to God and helps me to accept and love instead of fear and hate.

While I see similarities between Christian contemplative prayer and Buddhism I remain solidly Christian. What I do not do is reject other religions. Instead I accept them as earnest efforts at growing closer to God. I see that it is never my place to judge anyone else in their understanding of God. (Not that I always achieve that. I am imperfect and always will be.)

Does it create outreach? Only in so far as other people night want to try having what I have. Attraction, not promotion.

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MrsBeaky
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quote:
Originally posted by Tortuf:
I use contemplative prayer. My experience is that it opens my mind to God and helps me to accept and love instead of fear and hate.

While I see similarities between Christian contemplative prayer and Buddhism I remain solidly Christian. What I do not do is reject other religions. Instead I accept them as earnest efforts at growing closer to God. I see that it is never my place to judge anyone else in their understanding of God. (Not that I always achieve that. I am imperfect and always will be.)

Does it create outreach? Only in so far as other people might want to try having what I have. Attraction, not promotion.

This is where I am really.
I use several contemplative practices: Lectio Divina, Centring prayer, meditative silent contemplation after a short input. I am part of a contemplative prayer network here and also do all these things on my own too.
I started life in a contemplative catholic tradition, then married into an evangelical family who eschewed such practices. I then spent many years involved with charismatic groups but found many of their practices a bit too much.... I was far more at home with catholic renewal and the more contemplative approach.

I honestly don't know where I would be today without contemplative prayer. In good times and tough times it is the source of my life.

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mousethief

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quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
'm curious as to your opinions and knowledge of the contemplative tradition in Christianity.

1. There is not just one contemplative tradition in Christianity.

My experience is with the Jesus Prayer, the center of the much-maligned hesychast tradition. At heart, it is continued repetition of the prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

As one gets into it, one times it with one's breaths, and then there are imaging practices and beyond. I have done the former but not the latter or the more advanced things.

I find it peace-bringing. When I was in the shooter situation at school, and we were locked up in a room wondering what the hell was happening outside the door, hearing footsteps in the halls, and so forth, I lay on my back on the floor and recited the Jesus Prayer, and found it calmed me.

If you were interested in knowing a little about the Orthodox traditions surrounding this prayer, as understood in late 19th century Russia and by most lay westerners today, you could do a lot worse than read The Way of a Pilgrim (various translators).

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Ian Climacus

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I can echo mousethief's book recommendation. A, dare I label it such, "classic".


I personally feel a pull to this style of prayer, but I find myself wanting in the execution. Be it The Jesus Prayer or some marvel of St John of the Cross or St Teresa of Avila, the spirit is willing but the flesh weak.

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Evensong
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Thank you all for your wonderfully honest and insightful comments. Hearing about the real thing in people's lives is so much more illuminating than simply googling. [Big Grin] [Yipee]

MrsBeaky Why does the "evangelical" tradition eschew such practices? I mean, what might be the reasoning behind rejecting this kind of prayer?

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a theological scrapbook

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mousethief

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quote:
Originally posted by Ian Climacus:
I can echo mousethief's book recommendation. A, dare I label it such, "classic".

Although I daresay it may be second only to majoring in Russian Language and Literature in producing unexpected conversions to Orthodoxy. One can't be too careful.

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“Religion doesn't fuck up people, people fuck up religion.”—lilBuddha

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venbede
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I was taught about contemplative prayer at my university chaplaincy and found it a great liberation. I was desperate to find there was some value in life and that God existed. I could hold onto the overwhelming experience of sacramental communion, but arguments for the existence of God never fully convinced. Then I discovered The Cloud of Unknowing: if God is a reality, all our arguments and language are inadequate.

Rowan Williams makes the connection between contemplative prayer and God’s ultimate self revelation in the self emptying of Christ on the cross. Christian contemplative prayer can never be the same as some feel good self-help therapy. It will involve dryness, darkness or worse as we get beyond our comfortable self image.

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MrsBeaky
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quote:
Originally posted by Evensong:
Thank you all for your wonderfully honest and insightful comments. Hearing about the real thing in people's lives is so much more illuminating than simply googling. [Big Grin] [Yipee]

MrsBeaky Why does the "evangelical" tradition eschew such practices? I mean, what might be the reasoning behind rejecting this kind of prayer?

I certainly wouldn't want to go as far as to say that the whole of the Evangelical tradition eschew such practices but certainly the parts I first encountered did.
Spiritual growth was all about sound doctrine through Bible study and the focus was on things that could be "pinned down". I got the feeling that anything that was at all numinous was to be avoided as dangerous, leading to possible heresy. The roots of that could be fear and a need to control but also a desire to protect others from a perceived danger. I met some lovely people there and also some not so lovely people.... My signature would be a real red rag to a bull for most of them!
It's not where I find Life but it seems to work for some people, some of the time.

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wild haggis
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I agree with you Mrs Beaky. There is a fear of loosing control in many branches of evangelicalism. Also a fear of things that come from other traditions of Christianity.

But then there some evangelicals who have moved on into contemplative prayer. It usually happens individually or in very small groups.

In many churches there seems to be a fear of silence. It is something that has got to be filled.

Mind you there is always the danger that the contemplation leads to snoring!!! Has happened more than once to me. But then God understands.

I have used the Jesus Prayer often and find it helpful. Different traditions will suit different personalities, I think. It is finding which contemplative tradition suits you and using it.

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wild haggis

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quetzalcoatl
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quote:
Originally posted by venbede:
I was taught about contemplative prayer at my university chaplaincy and found it a great liberation. I was desperate to find there was some value in life and that God existed. I could hold onto the overwhelming experience of sacramental communion, but arguments for the existence of God never fully convinced. Then I discovered The Cloud of Unknowing: if God is a reality, all our arguments and language are inadequate.

Rowan Williams makes the connection between contemplative prayer and God’s ultimate self revelation in the self emptying of Christ on the cross. Christian contemplative prayer can never be the same as some feel good self-help therapy. It will involve dryness, darkness or worse as we get beyond our comfortable self image.

Very nice post. Not a Christian any more, but I found that the 'emptying out' aspect of contemplation very powerful.

Your comment about therapy is way off the mark though. Well, I don't see it as 'feel good' at all, it's hell on wheels for many.

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Gamaliel
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As most Shippies know, I'm one who is generally drawn to aspects of Orthodox faith and spirituality, but I found 'The Way of the Pilgrim' rather odd - and somewhat unsettling.

Mind you, perhaps I ought to read it again.

When I first read the late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom's book, 'Prayer' I found it pretty dry. I read it a second time after a gap and found it scintillating.

I suspect there are different times of our lives when certain things will float our boats or resonate more strongly with us than at other times.

On the evangelicalism and contemplative prayer thing, my impression is that this is changing. Evangelicals of various stripes seem more open to liturgical forms these days and I've met RC retreat directors who've told me that they have more evangelicals coming to them these days than RCs ...

I do think, though, that those evangelicals who do embrace these forms of prayer tend to tag on a more 'activist' element - which is only to be expected and in keeping with one of their strengths of their tradition.

We need both cataphatic and apophatic approaches, it seems to me, the contemplative and the active too, working together ...

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Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
Your comment about therapy is way off the mark though. Well, I don't see it as 'feel good' at all, it's hell on wheels for many.

I think the key is in the specific phrase he used: “some feel good self-help therapy.”

Meanwhile, I’ll concur in the recommendation of The Way of the Pilgrim and exploration of the Jesus Prayer.

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by Gamaliel:

On the evangelicalism and contemplative prayer thing, my impression is that this is changing. Evangelicals of various stripes seem more open to liturgical forms these days and I've met RC retreat directors who've told me that they have more evangelicals coming to them these days than RCs ...

I do think, though, that those evangelicals who do embrace these forms of prayer tend to tag on a more 'activist' element - which is only to be expected and in keeping with one of their strengths of their tradition.

We also tend to write books & give retreats and seminars that imply *we* have discovered this Exciting New Thing that no one ever heard of before.
[Biased]

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Gamaliel
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Ha ha - yes ...

I'm not knocking it or adding 'spoilers' but our vicar recommended I read the novel, 'Chasing Francis' by Ian Morgan.

It's about a US Protestant pastor who travels to Italy and explores Franciscan spirituality then tries to import it into his home congregation ...

I found it somewhat contrived but could see what it was getting at.

The denouement I found thoroughly American and thoroughly Protestant though ...

If you read the novel you'll see what I mean.

[Biased]

But yes, find a venerable and ancient spiritual practice, then stick a label on it and re-brand it and tout it around as the lastest 'thing' ...

[Big Grin]

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Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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MaryLouise
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quote:
Originally posted by Gamaliel:



On the evangelicalism and contemplative prayer thing, my impression is that this is changing. Evangelicals of various stripes seem more open to liturgical forms these days and I've met RC retreat directors who've told me that they have more evangelicals coming to them these days than RCs ...

I do think, though, that those evangelicals who do embrace these forms of prayer tend to tag on a more 'activist' element - which is only to be expected and in keeping with one of their strengths of their tradition.

We need both cataphatic and apophatic approaches, it seems to me, the contemplative and the active too, working together ...

I found this comment interesting and wonder if I am out of touch, since most Roman Catholic spiritual directors I know would be far more familiar with the Ignatian approach to prayer. The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius are widely used in various updated and adapted forms on retreats. This is the approach I first encountered as a convert and it is a discursive, story-making tradition that pays particular attention to dynamics such as 'consolation' and 'desolation' to help the retreatant discern God's will in all things, using an imaginative reliving of biblical passages.

There's much more to the Ignatian tradition than this, of course, but it is very different from the wordless, 'lights-off' contemplative approach followed by, for example, the Carmelites. While I don't disagree with comments about spiritual maturity and prayer experience playing a role in why some of us choose to explore this kind of prayer, it is just as likely to be simply a matter of temperament: the same kind of attraction that would lead some people to listen to certain kinds of music or enjoy certain kinds of art, or want 30 days on a silent retreat as opposed to six days of group encounter and interaction.

And I don't think this kind of prayer is at odds with activism or a concern for social justice because many of those who are drawn to the contemplative tradition do lead very active and demanding lives. The 'desert' of contemplative practice is the counterpoint, the balance.

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“As regards plots I find real life no help at all. Real life seems to have no plots.”

-- Ivy Compton-Burnett

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Golden Key
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# 1468

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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
Meanwhile, I’ll concur in the recommendation of The Way of the Pilgrim and exploration of the Jesus Prayer.

Ditto. I like Helen Bacovcin's translation.

For me, formal prayer, talking to God, and meditation overlap, and I draw on anything that I find useful--from whatever belief.

Here are a few suggestions:

--"Peace Is Every Step" and "The Miracle Of Mindfulness", by Thich Nhat Hanh.

--"Poustinia", by Catherine de Hueck Doherty.

--"A Path With Heart", by Jack Kornfield.

--"The Practice Of The Presence Of God", by Br. Laurence of the Resurrection.

--"Meditation For Kids And Other Beings", by Laurie Fisher Huck.

A small, short, simple book that really works. Fun illustrations. Watch the cat.

This has been out of print for some time, but there are lots of used copies available.


You might also check the reading list in my profile, stuck into nooks and crannies. They're things that helped me at various points.

YMMV.

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Blessed Gator, pray for us!
--"Oh bat bladders, do you have to bring common sense into this?" (Dragon, "Jane & the Dragon")
--"Oh, Peace Train, save this country!" (Yusuf/Cat Stevens, "Peace Train")

Posts: 18296 | From: Chilling out in an undisclosed, sincere pumpkin patch. | Registered: Oct 2001  |  IP: Logged
ThunderBunk

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# 15579

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For me, contemplative prayer is the engine for my life, and the way in which I manage to live at least somewhat authentically, rather than being entirely prisoner of the anxiety which otherwise overtakes and paralyses me. My preferred forms of contemplative prayer are Centering Prayer, as set out in large part by the carmelite Fr Thomas Keating, and lectio divina of Julian's Revelations of Divine Love. Both have given me much energy and taught me a great deal about myself and God, and I don't see this changing.

For me, there is nothing directly intercessory about contemplative prayer. The closest it gets is that I am more aware of my own needs and more comfortable with them as a result of the practice, because I am more aware of and more comfortable in myself. I am also able to offer those needs to God in a less dramatic or wordy way than I would otherwise manage - they become part of my spiritual furniture, rather than something on which I need or expect immediate action. This is the way in which I have become able to acknowledge and, to a limited extent, accommodate my own needs in the way I live, after years of ignoring myself in practice whilst living in a state of need in the form of anxiety and depression.

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Currently mostly furious, and occasionally foolish. Normal service may resume eventually. Or it may not. And remember children, "feiern ist wichtig".

Foolish, potentially deranged witterings

Posts: 2167 | From: Norwich | Registered: Apr 2010  |  IP: Logged
venbede
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# 16669

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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
Your comment about therapy is way off the mark though. Well, I don't see it as 'feel good' at all, it's hell on wheels for many.

I think the key is in the specific phrase he used: “some feel good self-help therapy.”

Meanwhile, I’ll concur in the recommendation of The Way of the Pilgrim and exploration of the Jesus Prayer.

There are therapies and therapies. Some are pretty trite.

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Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro' the world we safely go.

Posts: 3190 | From: An historic market town nestling in the folds of Surrey's rolling North Downs, | Registered: Sep 2011  |  IP: Logged
venbede
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# 16669

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A relevant book I was very impressed by was Nicholas Buxton’s Tantalus and the Pelican: Exploring Monastic Spirituality Today.

As well as giving an accouint of the development of monastic spirituality from the Desert Faters to St Benedict, he tells his personal journey from atheist drop out to a Buddhist ashram to an Anglican priest.

His doctorate was on Buddhism, which he has experienced at first hand.

I bought the book on the strength of reading the following in a cathedral bookshop and found myself calling out “Good man!”:

"Rather than seeing spirituality and religion as separate – or worse as opposed – I suggest that if spirituality refers to the innate human instinct to seek meaning and fulfilment, then religion is the formalisation of that in terms of a way of life, to which we have a duty to be faithful and true."

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Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro' the world we safely go.

Posts: 3190 | From: An historic market town nestling in the folds of Surrey's rolling North Downs, | Registered: Sep 2011  |  IP: Logged
quetzalcoatl
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# 16740

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I think that's very good - the search for meaning and fulfilment. Probably many religions contain symbols and rituals which aid this, unless you are a One True Wayer.

I was on a Zen retreat a few years ago, when I felt the completeness of life, or that it is fulfilled right now. I don't feel that all the time, of course, but enough. It's enough!

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the main fear that flat-earthers face is sphere itself.

Posts: 9740 | From: UK | Registered: Oct 2011  |  IP: Logged


 
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