Today’s scene is geared up for multitasking. Grabbing a bite to eat while searching for the best iPhone app and keeping up with hundreds of friends on social networking sites asks for divided attention. Demands of the fast life can be hard to ignore, and even harder to understand. In the world full of time-savers and 15-minute meals, have you ever found yourself wondering where all this saved time goes? Do you ever feel like the promise of all this leisure time is a little empty? Humans are marked by an ability to adapt to different surroundings, and as the world speeds up, people do too—well most of them. A growing number of twentysomethings, however, are taking time to slow down, to savor the beauty of life and meet Jesus through contemplative prayer.
How to find time in the rat race to be in meaningful stillness with the Lord is no easy task. Through weekend prayer retreats or local Taizé services, seekers are finding lasting stillness woven into even the smallest daily task. Deep contemplative prayer and meaningful communion in stillness don’t happen only in monasteries. It can be practiced in the midst of daily life by anyone. It is a rhythm of life beyond a collection of moments. It is not easy to find the time for reflection and meditation, but “ordinary” believers are learning to make time despite the costs. In a generation marked by its desire for authenticity, a hunger is growing for an increasingly meaningful walk with Christ. This depth of meaning is emerging through a number of contemplative traditions.
Starting with Scripture, the Benedictine tradition of Lectio Divina, has surfaced in recent years. It translates to "divine reading" and is a fourfold approach, each element with an emphasis on the role of God in Scripture. The four parts, translated from Latin, are even used as the tagline for The Message Bible: “read. think. pray. live.” Essentially, that is Lectio Divina. It is a way of reading the Bible not just as a book, or even as a great book, but as the active words of God. Those who practice it regularly find it a refreshingly slow, simple way of processing Truth. Once a passage is chosen and read, the "think" portion is a time to go back over the words and meditate on them. It is an opportunity to ask the Holy Spirit to point to a particular segment or word of the passage at hand. In a sense, it is letting the Scripture read you, like a mirror. Once something arises from the Scripture that really speaks to the heart, it is then prayed into and lived out. The idea behind this tradition is to set aside time to be in a vulnerable place with God through His Scripture, and ask Him to write the reality of the Gospel on your heart.
In the rush of traffic, the running from meeting to meeting or the 30-minute commute filled with chaotic thoughts, Christians are rediscovering the power of centering prayer. In its many different forms, it is essentially the discipline of taking a breath amidst the struggles of life and inviting Christ to bring to mind the reality of His dwelling within you. There are many different forms of centering prayer but the Eastern Orthodox prayer called The Jesus Prayer deserves a closer look. It is meant to be part of everyday life. You can think of it like contemplation for the road. The ancient words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy” (or the shortened version, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy”), are prayed repetitively, continually inviting Christ to reveal the truth of the words to the heart. It is this truth behind the prayer that is most important, as there is nothing magic about the words themselves. The Jesus Prayer is simply a way of opening the door of the heart to Christ and asking for mercy. Like all centering prayer, it is a continual way of presenting oneself to Christ. It can be equally powerful in action or in silence.
There is a temptation in a world chocked full of media, to just find the right Christian book to read, say the right prayer, see the best film, go to the right concert, or website or meet-up group. No matter how great these things may be, if a Christ-centered heart is not behind them, they remain superficial. Christ’s message to the heart can only be placed there by Him. No amount of networking, reading, information or community can put it there. Truth touches the heart when Christ does. This is the power that many are finding behind centering prayer. It is a form of prayer dependent on the work of God. If Christ were not the center of life, there would be no point at all to centering.
Two summers ago I unexpectedly found myself in Taizé, France. I had vaguely heard of the ecumenical Christian community a few times prior to going and wanted to see what it was about. I found a village fully centered on the contemplative life. Three times a day they held prayer services that combined beautiful scriptural songs, communal intercession and extended times of silence. To my surprise, there were literally thousands of 18- to 25-year-olds packed into the beautiful old cathedral. One evening during prayer service, in the middle of a song, an idea struck me. These brothers aren’t really doing anything. At first, I tried to ignore the thought, thinking it was a distraction, but I felt the Lord continue to press the point. They aren’t changing people; they don’t have a big program with all kinds of meetings. There isn’t an agenda—and it’s because they made an intentional choice not to have one. The only goal is to encounter God.
I hear a lot from Christians who are tired of plans and committees, and eager for that simple goal. It was an aim that produced fruit too; people were visibly being changed—without even a hint of a five-year plan. There were no altar calls, no fire and brimstone sermons, no commitment cards, just simple songs, Scripture and quiet. Sometimes in the silence, it was like you could hear hearts melting for God.
When did this generation change from being the edgy generation of rock show-styled, hyper-emotional worship experiences to simple, quiet spaces full of God’s presence? I thought this generation was supposed to find silence boring. Perhaps that is still true—maybe silence alone is boring. But purposeful silence, it turns out, isn’t about the silence at all. Hearing from God is anything but boring.
There is no guarantee that if you practice Lectio Divina in your Bible-reading every day for a month, have 15 minutes of centering prayer each morning or go to contemplative services for a year, that you will have some kind of breakthrough. The call to contemplation is not a formula where more contemplation equals more God. God is present, and lives in the hearts of His children. No amount of contemplation can change that. What it can change is human awareness of the presence of God. In the quiet of your heart, if you feel a nudge toward the contemplative life, may your obedience to that call lead you to a profoundly deeper walk with Jesus.