J. David Muyskens, our guest blogger this week, presents five more barriers to contemplative prayer.
We are sinners. Of course, we have all sinned. And we know that we need to recognize that. We depend on the grace of Christ to free us from our sin and transform us into the people God wants us to be. We are sinners saved by grace. If we have read Martin Luther, we know that we can be both sinners and saints at the same time. “Total depravity” does not mean there is nothing good in us. It means that in every aspect of human life sin has messed us up. But God still loves us and desires an intimate relationship with us. We are created in the image and likeness of God.
Contemplation does not appear in the Bible. Yet the Bible does talk about Moses and Elijah and Jesus going to secluded places to spend time with God. The Bible speaks frequently about the “heart.” And that does not mean the organ that pumps blood but the core of our being. From the emotional, spiritual, and physical center of our being we can love God and enter into a deep communion with the divine.
Scripture is our authority. We rely on the words of the Bible for truth and guidance. If we listen to the whole scripture it teaches contemplative prayer. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Christ dwells in us (John 15:4). We take note that Jesus talked about our being “in” Christ. But he also said that Christ is in us. He said, “Abide with me as I abide in you.” Scripture teaches the indwelling presence of God. Contemplative prayer is a way of consenting to that presence and the work of God in us.
We tend to be active, not passive. We trust in God’s activity. God is always at work. It may seem that our response should also be active. We value obedience as a mark of a true Christian. But sometimes we need to be receptive, listen, and deeply be in communion. Activity is important, but we need rest and restoration as well. So recovery of the contemplative dimension can be healing. We can adopt new habits, as they are beneficial.
We’re not good at talking about spiritual experiences. If we do have deep experiences of the presence of God we don’t talk about it. Everyone has contemplative moments. In a spectacular scene or a confrontation with beauty or a flashing insight we experience the closeness of God. But we may not share that with anyone else. Some of us have traditions of testimony time in church. But even these may be canned and not very revelatory. In contemplative prayer we make a regular practice of openness to the reality of God. In sharing contemplative moments we can inspire each other.
We spend time with God in church but seldom in other places. There are times when we are especially aware of God. But often we try to manage things ourselves. We can go about our daily living without being conscious of God. Yet at every moment we depend on the gifts of God. The very gift of life itself means divine energy is flowing through us. In contemplative prayer we are aware of the Spirit of God and in contemplative living we pay attention to the presence and action of God in every moment. The awareness of God that is given to us in prayer becomes a way of life. Our consciousness of God grows as Christ transforms us from within. So we become more conscious of God in everyday life, in nature, in events, in people.
Conclusion. I have listed some of the reasons Protestants resist contemplative prayer. Some are important to me; you have to decide if there are some important to you. We can pray and think about them. We may be preventing ourselves from enjoying the contemplative dimension of prayer and life.
J. David Muyskens, author of Sacred Breath: Forty Days of Centering Prayer
Which barriers have you experienced? Have you moved past them? If so, how?