Contemplative prayer, for Thomas Merton, “…is essentially a listening … meant to open man’s heart to God by enabling him to surrender his inmost depths to God’s presence within him. … Therefore, man’s whole life of prayer must consist in a dynamic and loving attention to the presence of God and an awareness of his own dependence upon Him. Man belongs to God and it is in prayer that he must come to realize that the depths of his own being and life are meaningful and real only to the extent that they are open to God.” John Higgins
“First, [contemplation] is supposed to give you sufficient control over your mind and memory and will to enable you to recollect yourself and withdraw from exterior things … and second–this is the real end of contemplation–it teaches you how to become aware of the presence of God; and most of all it aims at bringing you to a state of almost constant loving attention to God, and dependence on Him.” Thomas Merton
“O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.”
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Do you think of prayer as giving your “loving attention to the presence of God?” Think about this understanding of prayer and then about your prayers and the prayers of others. Isn’t it easy to fall short of being present to God in a loving way?
- Making requests is central to prayer, but prayer filled only with speaking can distract us from any real “listening.” Does this happen to you? What could you do differently to make sure you’re not only speaking but listening?
- If there ever was a time when we lived in a “parched and weary land where there is no water” for our thirsty souls, it’s now. Listen to the psalmist again as he prays from a place of deep longing for God. Does your urgency to find satisfaction in the person of God manifest itself in this kind of urgency?
Abba, as I pray with the words you’ve given, help me to enter into the experience of thirst and satisfaction that you have for me. You are my God. I need you every hour.
For More: Thomas Merton on Prayer by John J. Higgins
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