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The Discipline of Slowing Down

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.

Lectio Divina

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.

Centering Prayer

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.

Taizé

See Also

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.

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