Contemplative Prayer

Prayer is Communicating and Being with God

My grandmother, one of my favorite people on the planet, was also a professional level talker. In her younger years, she could gab non-stop for 30 minutes without taking a  breath. My grandfather was the strong silent talk. They regularly had bridge club at their house and in order to not get angry at each other, they came up with a system: if my grandfather wanted to say anything, he would kick her under the table. She would be quiet for a minute so he could talk. 

If prayer is simply communicating with God it involves talking, listening and being with your loved one. I was use to the talking part in prayer.  Before I learned about contemplative prayer, my prayer life sounded much like my grandmother at bridge club. Dear God, Help me with this and this and this and this. It was like I was giving God a honey-do-list.  With all my wordy request thankfully God didn't kick me under the table. 

Finding contemplative prayer has exploded my prayer life. Where it was hard to find much to talk about, now the possibilities of talking, listening, and hanging out are endless. It is also true that the longer I  do contemplative prayer the more comfortable I  am with silence and a different way of being. 


Types of Contemplative Prayer


Lectio Divina

How do we read scripture? To find an answer, get information, help with an argument? Lectio Divina is a way of reading scripture, or other holy works, where we let go of what we think it means and open our selves to what God wants to tell us. 

Lectio Divina is done with many different formats and orders but always includes:

  • Lectio - The reading of scripture or other holy text.
  • Meditatio - Meditating on the Word.
  • Contemplatio - Resting in the Word.
  • Oratio - Speaking our hearts to God.

To try it, pick a short passage of scripture, for example, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 and go through the following steps.

  • Relax yourself and wait for the reading of scripture.
  • Lectio- Read the scripture and notice a word or phrase that catches your attention.
  • Contemplatio- Sit quietly and prepare yourself to read the Word again.
  • Lectio and Meditatio - Read the Word again and spend at least five minutes meditating on a word or phrase that caught your attention.
  • Oratio - Speak your heart to God.

It is often helpful to briefly journal as you close - writing down what God has revealed to you or where you struggled.  

Guided Meditation

Our God is a creative God who wants to interact with us in creative ways. I once listened to a podcast by Fr. Timothy Gallager where he explained that for each of our five sense, we have an imagination component. We can see our loved ones and we can imagine their faces. We can taste our favorite food and salivate when we imagine having it for dinner. Guided meditation uses our God given imagination to increase our experience of God.  

Ignatian Contemplation

Ignatian Contemplation is a way to interact with the gospels using our imagination. St. Ignatius experienced God working through his imagination to make the scriptures more real and relevant and believed that this active way of praying could be valuable for everyone's walk with God. The practice involves the following general steps: 

  • Select a passage from scripture (look for stories) preferably where Jesus is interacting with people or parables he told. 
  • Pray for God's direction before beginning.
  • Read the scripture one or two times until you are familiar enough with the story that you can let your imagination go and not have to look back at the story. 
  • Enter into the story by possibly closing your eyes and imagining the scene. You can become anyone in the story including Jesus, or you can be someone just watching the scene. After entering the story let it play out. If you struggle with this, it can be helpful to also write out the scene as if you were writing a short story.  
  • Notice what touches your heart and shocks you. Notice what you resist in the story and what you were drawn to. Notice what feels real and what is hard to imagine. Notice also what stands out to you. These reactions can all be clues as to how God is currently working on your heart. 
  • When you are done allow the story to unfold, talk to Jesus about what happened during this time of prayer. 

Contemplative Reflection

My mom said once of me that my faith was at a grade school level because I went to Catholic grade school while the rest of my education was at the Master’s Level. She didn’t mean it as an insult but in many ways it was true. I had come to faith when I was young and hadn't processed much of my faith belief and opinions much beyond that grade school understanding. Contemplative reflection is a way of wrestling with God about what we believe or think. 

To try it pick a passage or short article that is focused on a topic like faith, love, truth, life or a poem can be helpful. Then follow these steps:

  • Ask for God's guidance.
  • Relax and read the material you have chosen
  • Spend 10 or so minutes contemplating the topic and what it means to you.
  • Thank God for any insights you have received on the topic.


The Examen is a form of prayer in which we examine our life in light of God's love. Each day, or any period of time, we look back and notice when we were moving closer to God and when we were moving further away. The regular practice of the Examen is powerful in helping us to become more and more like Christ. This practice requires honesty in seeing our lackings but the rewards are both an increasing humbleness and a strengthening of our gratitude. 

To practice the Examen at the end of your day simply follow the following steps:

Ask God to help you in the examination of your conscience. 

Ask God to bring to your mind the moment today that you are most grateful for and notice what made it wonderful.

Ask God to bring to your mind the moment today that you are least grateful for and notice what made it difficult.

Now imagine God's love flowing through both moments and accepting you just as you are.

Body Prayer & Breath Prayer

This includes a wide array of prayers from walking the labyrinth, to breath prayer, to a body sculpture exercise with scripture, to being more aware of our body and it's feelings.

The Breath Prayer

To try the breath prayer follow these steps:

Recall that God is with you.

As you breath in repeat to yourself "Jesus" or your favorite name for God.

As you breath out say to yourself, "Have mercy on me," or ask for something you need from God such as love or peace.

One example is "Lord, grant me your peace," or "Father, help me know your love." 

The Labyrinth

Walking the labyrinth is an ancient Christian practice that can be a powerful form of prayer. Although the labyrinth may look to some like a maze there is no way to get lost as there is one way in and the same way out. There are many ways to do it

Centering Prayer

Described as the prayer of surrender, this passive prayer is the most emptying of the contemplative prayer forms. In centering prayer we are not engaging our minds in thinking; not trying to figure anything out or wrestle with God in any way. Instead we are allowing God to work beneath our consciousness and work in ways we are not aware of. It involves, as much as possible, trying to do nothing except be with God. In centering prayer we are like a challis, empty and simply waiting for God to fill us. The following general guides may be helpful.

  • Quiet yourself for a minute and remind yourself of God indwelling.
  • Allow a prayer-word to repeat itself within you. (This prayer-word helps you quiet your mind. Some examples are Abba, peace, love, Jesus.) 
  • Allow yourself to continue sitting, and whenever distractions come up, simply return gently to your prayer-word.
  • End your time by offering a prayer of thanksgiving. 

Try centering prayer for 20 minutes. This type of prayer is described as the shortest and most direct route to God.