Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of March 10, 2008

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Contemplative Prayer

(Part 7 of 9 in the Inner Work Series: The Stages of Prayer)

Contemplative prayer, in its many forms and in all religions, offers a direct approach to God. Typically such prayer begins with an effort of attention that may involve focusing or centering oneself on sacred words and/or melody, a passage from scripture, or a religious symbol. Through that effort unrelated thoughts and cares recede to background as we stay with and keep returning to the attitude and feeling appropriate to the prayer.

As the session progresses, effort turns to effortlessness and we allow ourselves more and more to be drawn, heart and soul, into the prayer. By centering first and then letting go, we enter the peace of prayer, a boundless ocean of peaceful consciousness with a heart wide enough to embrace all of life. But contrary to popular and seemingly authoritative teachings of New Age spirituality, consciousness is not God. The pure and peaceful screen of consciousness underlying all experience is not the Ultimate. For that we must go deeper still, beyond consciousness. For many though, temporarily released from all cares, this remarkable state of expansive, blissful spaciousness is more than enough.

For others, that contemplative peace is an invitation and doorway to the truly sacred. To effortlessly plunge into the depths, we give up all self-originated acts, inner and outer. We stop manipulating our experience. We let go and just be. Our lungs breathe and our heart beats, but we do nothing. Like jumping off a diving board and letting gravity take over to draw us toward the Earth, in contemplative prayer God is the great Attractor. The Earth shapes our external space to pull our body toward it, while God shapes our inner space to pull our soul toward the Divine. We simply trust our heart to flower in the dawning light of the Sacred and cross the spiritual threshold toward the One to Whom we pray. This is the deeper peace of will.

Gradually, as we open our heart, the peace and stillness of consciousness becomes porous, revealing the sacred, creative, and infinite realm of Divine light, a light that comes pouring into us in streams of energy. That level of energy feeds our soul in a direct and important way, while offering intimations of infinity and eternity that dwarf our ordinary experience. But though this realm is truly spiritual, it is still not the Ultimate, and we continue our inward, contemplative journey.

Having neared the precincts of the Divine, a more active role in surrender and submission becomes possible. We can beg from the very roots of our soul, beg to enter, beg to be entered by the sacred. Bereft in utter emptiness, we reach out toward God. For help in this perhaps we return to our earlier sacred words or melody, but now as a direct supplication addressing the Divine One. The prayer embodies our plea and carries it upward into the Holy. We offer our hope, our love, and our light to that formless and beneficent Intelligence, beyond all matter and conception, beyond space, time, and consciousness, Who nevertheless enters this world and may yet even enter us.

Through the many stages of contemplative prayer, through progress, plateaus, and setbacks, persistence serves and brings us nearer. For this week, work to take your practice of contemplative prayer a little deeper.


     

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