Conversatio Divina

Defining Our Terms: Contemplation and Contemplative Prayer

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun

Welcome to a new feature of the Conversations journal. If you are a regular reader, you will have observed that each issue is built around a singular theme from the spiritual formation literature. In this issue, for instance, our contributors are working with the subject of contemplative prayer. While the editors invite a variety of voices to the table, we have come to believe it may be helpful to our readers if we offer some definitional clarity, an anchor point, if you will. We are delighted that InterVarsity Press has agreed to contribute this column, “Defining Our Terms.” The table below is taken from a book by one of their authors, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, titled Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005, 2015) 48, 211. Used with permission.


ContemplationContemplative Prayer
Desire:to wake up to the presence of God in all thingsto develop an open, restful receptivity to the Trinity that enables me always to be with God just as I am.
Definition:“Contemplation is about waking up. To be contemplative is to experience an event fully, in all its aspects.” (Ronald Rolheiser in The Shattered Lantern)Contemplative prayer is a receptive posture of openness toward God. It is a way of waiting with a heart awake to God’s presence and his Word. This king of prayer intentionally trusts and rests in the presence of the Holy Spirit deep in our own spirits.
Scripture:“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV)“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17–18, NIV)
Practice Includes:• practicing the presence of God
• breath prayer, simple prayer, prayer of the heart
• taking time truly to see and gaze on life, others, arts, and so forth
• refusing the compulsion to go everywhere, see everything, and try out all that is novel
• reflecting on experiences so as to benefit from their happening
• sensitivity and obedience to God’s revelation
• savoring the symbolic nature of life and faith
• noticing how symbols can give meaning to particular actions
• practicing the presence of God
• allowing a portion of Scripture to sink deep into the heart as a prayer to God
• practicing breath prayer, simple prayer, prayer of the heart
• practicing centering prayer
• resting in God and allowing the Spirit to nudge, fill, or speak
• wasting time with God
God-Given Fruit:• keeping company with Jesus all the time
• freedom from a preoccupation with self that keeps you from focusing on others
• living the tensions of life reflectively rather than avoiding them
• relishing your humanness and the beauty of each of your brothers and sisters
• seeing there is more to life than efficiency and productivity
• being, not just doing
• developing an awareness of the richness of the interior life
• knowing through faith, hope, and love, not just the mind
• developing prayer that depends on trust more than giving God information about what he should do
• living in the awareness of God’s presence within me
• move out of “doing” prayer into “being” prayer
• learning to let go of distractions in prayer
• letting God love me