When we connect with God on a deeper level through prayer, we can connect with each other on a deeper level too. In my experience, prayer groups are the best way to forge life-giving and even life-changing (for the better!) relationships.
In October, one of my favorite communities Blessed is She is going to publish an article I wrote about my rosary group, which gathers every week to pray for the needs of our kids and their school. I’m super excited they will help me promote the power of praying together as moms to a wider audience. I am especially excited to share the good news that it’s possible to conduct a meaningful prayer group with babies and preschoolers in the room like we do.
Last night, a group of us met for our very first kid-free Contemplative Prayer Circle! It was a joy to gather with other women, who are in many different phases of life and all walking the same spiritual journey as I am. We pondered where the rubber hits the road in our faith lives and walked through the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, sharing the insights we gained in the silence of prayer with each other. Then, we lifted up some intentions from our hearts and went back to our busy lives.
Personally, I felt refreshed by our time together. Though I truly adore praying with small children in the room for many reasons, I have to admit I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to go into the silence of contemplative prayer and have some meaningful, uninterrupted adult conversations. I am excited to see how this group evolves over time. One thing is for sure: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20). Christ was present in the gathering space of our church last night last night and will bless us and our loved ones for the time we spent in prayer.
Here is the guide we went through as a group. Please feel free to read through and self reflect on the questions on your own or print it to use with another group you’re attending! I look forward to our next meeting and will work on scheduling soon.
Contemplative Prayer Circle Study Guide One
When’s the last time you spent time in prayerful silence? What was your experience of that silence? What stops you from incorporating more silence into your daily life?
Why do we need contemplative prayer?
Excerpt from Part 1 of Spiritual Wanderlust: The Field Guide to Deep Desire by Kelly Deutsch
During my Tuesday morning break time, I stepped outside to take my usual walk and call my friend Audrey (“ how’s your morning been?”). The sun was bright and the breeze was playful, but something in me was not. I paused to check in with myself. What was prompting the urge to “phone a friend”? I sensed an unease. I gave myself a few moments to finger over the interior sensations. Melancholy and restlessness, I decided. Or, as I like to call it: a “funk”—and this one was begging to be resolved.
More running, Kelly? I gently chided myself. I had not realized I was in flight. Calling my best friend had become second nature. Changing gears, I did a turnabout and strode in the direction of my car. The heat inside relaxed my air-conditioned muscles, and I let myself unfold. “What’s going on in there?” I prodded carefully. “Someone is feeling hopeless…”
I nabbed a printed Google map from the console and did what I tend to do when unsure of how to process: I wrote. I opened to internal dialogue. “Ah,” I mused, eyes closed, “That’s it. I want to be held. To know someone’s got me.” That’s what this is. Identifying it made me feel a little less out of control.
Break time over, I folded up my paper and exited my makeshift sanctuary. I thoughtfully put one foot in front of the other as I wafted toward the building. Halfway there, I paused. Turning my face to the light, I stretched my hands far above my head. I took a slow, deep breath in, and let out the air.
Reset. Begin again.
The rest of the morning passed with the usual conveyor belt of items. Scheduled a few meetings. Checked in on a new hire. Made some data look pretty. Sent out a project update. By lunchtime I was mentally fatigued and ready for another break.
I drove home in the warmth of my sun-baked vehicle. Upon arriving, I heated up my leftover salmon and roasted cauliflower and took it to the back porch. I’d let the sun work its healing.
The bristling green pines thrust themselves up into the sky, lined up like seven-year-olds about to start their dance recital. The oaks behind them waved at me, like the older, taller children in the back, finding a friendly face in the dark crowd. I smiled. The trees are always on my side, I thought. Will you guys pray for me? I knew without thinking that this was a reasonable request. They chuckled and waved in response.
The July sun was warm on my face, the sky a smoky blue from the wild fires in far-off Canada. The neighbor’s daycare kids squealed as they chased each other with the garden hose. One let out a delightful sound: pure, laughing joy. It reminded me of my godson. Clear as glass chimes, or a Minnesota stream. The innocence of childhood, before we learn to filter our responses. Instead of self-censoring, these children had a direct experience of reality, and let us know exactly how they felt about it. Here, it was unrestrained joy. I decided that sound was one of my favorite in the world. And that there had to be more of that in heaven.
Interiorly I embraced the scene. With a sigh I released it back into the big, wide world. It didn’t fix everything. On the contrary. It seemed to add its own tender longing to the chorus. But if the spaciousness had allowed my longings to grow, it also massaged those areas with a soothing balm. I gathered my dishes and waved goodbye to the trees. They danced in the sun.
Freedom is coming.
We are all afflicted by the same dis-ease. Though we each experience it differently, the root desire is the same. We are woefully incomplete, and we find a myriad of ways to work out that tension in us. If we are truly attentive to our inner stirrings, they will reveal the questions we all try to avoid. Isn’t there something more? What is it all for? Will I ever feel safe, alive, enough? Even at our happiest—sitting on the back porch, talking with the trees and listening to heaven’s laughter—we still know something is missing. We are never definitively happy.
This unnamable desire for “something more” is written into our spiritual DNA. The love, the success, the mountaintop experiences we have do little to quench our thirst. It actually may have the opposite effect: beauty sometimes make the longing more intense. (I was fine until the Milky Way arrested me in my tracks, or that film drew my emotions out of me, one exquisite thread at a time.)
Where did this unnamed desire come from? What is its purpose? And, most importantly, what do I do with it when it aches?
Questions to ponder or discuss
Saint Augustine said “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee” How do you experience the ache described in the excerpt we just read? Where do your thoughts and actions go when you experience the longing she described? Does anything satisfy it? What happens when you pray through that feeling or take time for silence? What happens when you try to dull it out with busy-ness or other distractions like too much food or Netflix?
St Teresa of Avila said “For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God, spending time alone with the one we know loves us.” What is the role of friendship with people vs friendship of God in your life? Have you found the right balance or could your relationships use some work?
How does this excerpt from Wanderlust show what it means to have a contemplative mindset? What is the author’s relationship with food? God? Nature? Herself? Others? Silence? How does this make you want to create a more contemplative mindset in your own life?
What exactly is Contemplative Prayer?
(Excerpt from longer article https://aleteia.org/2013/01/21/what-is-contemplative-prayer/ )
“Contemplative prayer is “the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer” (CCC 2713). It is union with God in the depths of our souls, where he purifies our vision so that we can pierce reality:
“If prayer is a relationship with Jesus, then the three main forms of prayer are different ways of living out that relationship: vocal prayer is the act of speaking with him out loud, meditative prayer is thinking about him as a friend whom you wish to know better, and contemplative prayer is like sitting with him, delighting in his presence without the need for words.
This kind of prayer is a gift and not something we can make happen in the same that we can open our mouths and give voice to a prayer. When St. Teresa of Avila described prayer, especially contemplative prayer, she did not offer complex discourses but resorted to analogies to describe what is difficult to put into words. She wrote of the process of filling a bucket of water: it can be accomplished either by filing it from a well which takes much effort, or by simply allowing the bucket to rest at the source of the water, so that if flows in effortlessly. Contemplation she likened to the direct filling from the source, a pure gift (The Interior Castle).”
Questions to ponder or discuss
Do you have any thoughts or questions about contemplative prayer and cultivating a contemplative prayer practice? You can read more of my thoughts on it here!
In your contemplative prayer journey, do you feel like you’re “filling a bucket with effort” or “simply resting at the source of the water”? How persistent have you been in “filling the bucket with effort” up unto this point?
Are you interested in spending more time in contemplative prayer? How can you develop a more contemplative mindset in daily life?
How to practice Contemplative Prayer using Lectio Divina
With Lectio Divina, You can also enter into prayer using spiritual poetry, art, a song – anything that helps lift your mind and heart back to the Lord. We’ll be exploring more of that over time in Contemplative Prayer Circle. Last night, we meditated on the upcoming Sunday’s scripture:
Rom 5:1-5: Brothers and sisters: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
God blessed us with lots of insights to take with us on our spiritual journeys.
Do you have any feedback, hopes or desires for Contemplative Prayer Circle? Comment below, and I’ll be sure to take your input to heart and keep you in my prayers. Also feel free to share related resources in the comments for others to explore.
God bless Contemplative Prayer Circle! Be with us and guide us as we grow. Help us to unite more people in prayer, so we can grow closer to You and bring more of Your light into the world through the power of prayer and community. In Jesus name, we pray.
Written by Nicky Gant for Contemplative Prayer Circle and www.uniteinprayer.org 6/13/2019