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by Estee in

I'm leading a study at church on contemplative prayer. It isn't actually a study, but I don't know what else to call it. It is basically a time to join together in silent prayer and lectio divinia. It's an experiential group I guess.

I've been thinking a lot recently about silence and how infrequently it happens. Often, we are uncomfortable with silence. We want to fill it up with our thoughts or sounds or the TV. Silence can feel empty, especially when it is rarely encountered.

In our prayer group, we spend time in silence. We don't try to fill the silence with words in our heads, but try to let our thoughts pass. Prayer doesn't have to involve words; it's not just about talking and making requests. In our silent time, we give ourselves one word (we call it a centering word) to focus on. It might be the name that we call God, or a word that emerges out of our devotional reading. We go to God in silence, repeating that word over and over again to ourselves. When thoughts come, and they do come -- sometimes I feel bombarded by thoughts -- we try to simply let these thoughts pass and refocus ourself on our word.

It's not easy. We spend 20 minutes in silent prayer, and for me, only about 30 second spans during this time are ever truly silent. But it is refreshing.

One other thing we are finding is that you can't get too comfortable when you are spending silent time with God. Although our eyes are closed, it isn't a time of relaxation. It is an active silence, where we are in continual focus on our centering word, awake to the rhythm of meditation.

I shared this quote by Henri Nouwen with the group last night, and thought it was very on target about our experience:

"To be calm and quiet all by yourself is hardly the same as sleeping. In fact, it means being fully awake and following with close attention every move going on inside you. It involves self-discipline where the urge to get up and go is recognized as a temptation to look elsewhere for what is really close at hand." (In With Open Hands)


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