I have spent the past few days in small towns. Eight hundred years ago Sts. Francis & Clare lived in Assisi. They still live. The hillside town of Assisi in Umbria transforms tourists into pilgrims. This is a place of peace and prayer.
As I walked the streets and savoured the peace, I had fond memories of being here two years ago with the second OLV parish pilgrimage. Those of you who were on that journey will remember the hermitage up the hill from Assisi.
This is the place where Francis and his friends would seek solitude. Some say that this was his place of ‘escape’. In fact the opposite is true.
Whenever we take time for stillness and solitude the full scope of reality confronts us. This is why Jesus headed for the hills so often. He was not trying to escape the reality of life. Rather he was desiring to enter what is most real.
There is a wonderful sculpture on a bush walk just a few metres from this monastery. These bronze figures are full-size. Here three of the first Franciscans are portrayed at prayer. Two of them are active. Perhaps they are studying the sky, noticing the stars and determining directions. Maybe they are looking around to see the trees and view. No doubt they are actively aware of God..
Then there is Francis, at prayer, at rest. For Francis (as for the Christian who has grown to be at home in prayer), prayer was the ultimate in rest.
To pray in a formal, vocal, meditative or active way is a good thing. We do this often. In such prayer we are expressing our desire for God and God is eager to hear us.
But then there is the prayer that is deeper than vocal or meditative prayer; the prayer of contemplation. In this prayer, I give total control to God. I do not worry about what is happening in my prayer (or not happening). I simply gift God my time, trusting that God will not miss this opportunity to work powerfully in me.
Most often this divine action is at a level much deeper than my human perception. My superficial feelings are a poor indicator of what is actually happening in my prayer. At a deeper level, with the affect of the healthy and uncluttered heart, I know that God is at work
A simple guide to practicing contemplation: set a time, even ten minutes, once or twice each day. Find a place away from superficial noise and conversation. Begin by telling God that this is His time and invite God to do whatever He wills in and with you. Whatever your feelings, stay for the full time that you set. At the end of the time simply thank God for receiving this gift of your time.
After a few days of this practice, I guarantee you will notice a change in your life that delights you. You will feel more alert, more alive. You will have a deeper sense that God is with you and active in you. You will know a greater contentment in your life with God. I can guarantee this, since God never misses and opportunity to work with a willing heart.
If you would like to read more on prayer (vocal, meditative and contemplative) follow this link to the Catechism: