I became interested in contemplation when I got tired of doing all the talking. I thought if prayer is indeed a conversation with God, why am I involved in a monologue?
I was interested in writings, both current and historical, that dealt with the topic of contemplative prayer. There was an initial aversion to the subject of meditation and contemplation because I didn’t think it was all that Christian. As I read the Bible, it talked about meditating on the law day and night, sitting in the temple beholding the beauty of the Lord, even encouragements in the New Testament about the transformative power of “thinking on these things.”
At first, I didn’t quite get it. I didn’t understand the difference between just thinking about the things I should, meditation, and contemplation. In fact, thinking, meditating, and contemplating are often used interchangeably. However, it became apparent to me that those who write on Christian meditation and contemplation, though using both terms, do differentiate between the two.
You will not find the word “contemplation” in the Bible in the same way you will not find the word “trinity” in the Bible. It merely is a unifying tab on a file folder—a folder that contains the verses and concepts found in Scripture on the subject.
To simplify something often brings with it the danger of oversimplification, and in these short paragraphs, I hope not to do so. In Christian meditation (a focused meditation versus an emptying of oneself), the material for meditation is Scripture, the act of meditation is the ingesting and ruminating over a particular verse or passage of Scripture, and contemplation is the digesting and integrating of that material into a sense of spiritual knowledge and well being.
This spiritual well being in contemplation is two-fold: 1) a deepening of relationship with the Lord, and 2) a deeper integration of the truths of Scripture into one’s life, whereby they become the default of life and practice. The one who contemplates becomes motivated from within instead of being forced from the outside to be a certain way. In this sense, contemplation becomes a more organic activity of mind and heart than something just mentally processed.
Robert Llewellyn says, “Meditation is a detachment from the things of the world in order to attend to the things of God. Contemplation is a detachment from the things of God in order to attend to God himself.”
There is no such thing as contemplation on the fly, no five easy steps to a life of contemplation. Rush it, and you kill it. Current society does not readily lend itself to contemplation.
Thomas Merton wrote, “They never get to contemplation because they are attached to activities and enterprises that seem to be important motion, for a constant sense of achievement, famished with a crude hunger for results, for visible and tangible success, they work themselves into a state in which they cannot believe that they are pleasing God unless they are busy with a dozen jobs at the same time.”
Contemplation is prayer at a deeper level, a more settled level, than merely “saying my prayers” or “doing my devotions.” It is taking the relationship we have with Christ and cultivating it to the point of solid realization. In a real sense, it’s like sailing along, finding a good fishing hole, and dropping anchor until you make your catch.
Bernard of Clairvaux said of contemplation, “It is a searching never satisfied but without any restlessness.”
Paul told Timothy, “Give your whole attention, all your energies, to these things, so that your progress is plain for all to see.” (1 Timothy 4:15, Phillips)
This progress takes more effort at first before it becomes manifested in such a way that people notice the change in us. Sometimes, because we are so absorbed in the process, people will see things in us before we see them ourselves.
Contemplation is not escapism. I shouldn’t seek it to become more spiritual. If these are my motivations, I will not find God there. If I seek it because I am hungry for God’s presence, and the health that His presence brings into my life, I will begin to enjoy the fruit of it.
To reorder my thinking and renew my mind, coming to a place of inner stillness and rest, I first must detect my areas of deficit and need. Through my reading of the Word, I find what I long for, what I need, and what I should be. As I think about what I have read, I hover over that verse or passage. This act of meditation is a conscious and voluntary process. It usually has to be repeated over and over again. Eventually, it clicks. My thoughts about God and the way I view things change. This attentiveness to the things of the Spirit becomes subconscious and involuntary and takes less work. It appears this is now a part of me.
Through meditation I allow the Holy Spirit to take my thoughts and place them where they need to be and tie them down inside of me until they take root in the deep of my spirit. Meditation takes effort, while contemplation is more effortless. Getting there requires effort, but once I am there, it is restful and restorative.
Joyce Huggett calls contemplation “silent attention to Jesus.” All becomes well with my soul.
Contemplation is the result of the practical application of meditation on the Word, which has the dual effect of deepening my relationship with Jesus and integrating the health of His Word and presence into my everyday life and behavior