A DICTIONARY OF TERMS
This method of prayer is described in notations - of the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius introduces it as a method by which "it is helpful to pass the five senses of the imagination through the first and second ... [Gospel] Contemplations." In suggesting how to apply the senses of smell and taste, he writes: "to smell and to taste with the sense of smell and the sense of taste, the infinite fragrance and sweetness of the Divinity" . This implies that he includes something deeper than the physical imagining of tasting, smelling, seeing, touching, etc., something more intuitive and called by some "the spiritual senses." The Application of Senses is not so much the active application of one's senses but more the passive reception of deep intimacy. In the Exercises journey, this is helped by the use of Repetition which fosters a passive and gradual simplification of the mystery that one is "contemplating."
Centering Prayer is a Contemplative Prayer Method which helps in the opening of our hearts to the Spirit dwelling within us. In this prayer we spiral down into the deepest centre of ourselves. It is the point of stillness within us where we most experience being created by a loving God who is breathing us into life.2 Basil Pennington writes, "In Centering Prayer we go beyond thought and image, beyond the senses and the rational mind to that center of our being where God is working a wonderful work." According to Thomas Keating, this is a prayer activity which reduces the obstacles within and allows God to take the lead. When this happens, it becomes Contemplation. Keating3 outlines the following steps:
This phrase was made popular by John Main and it denotes the Contemplative Prayer Method which makes use of a mantra to pay attention to God's presence. According to the teachings of John Main, one goes about this Christian Meditation in the following manner:
"The colloquy is made, properly speaking, as one friend speaks to another ... communicating one's affairs, and asking advice in them" . It is the conversation in which one engages at any time during a prayer exercise and which Ignatius places at the end of each prayer exercise , , . This dialogue can be with Jesus, with God the Father, with the Holy Spirit, with God by some other name or image, with some saint, etc.
In literature on spirituality, Contemplation can refer to a stage in one's inward journey. One has reached the stage of Contemplation when, during the time of prayer, there are few images, little reflection and very little fluctuation of one's affectivity. At the same time there is total involvement with God. This is called the stage of Contemplation by writers following the traditions which stress the transcendence and unknowability of God. At this stage, a person is so in union with God through stillness that it becomes disharmonious to attempt to be with God in any other way. God has put one there in spite of one's own activity. In other words, it is not just momentary experiences during prayer where there is such an absence of one's activities (many experience moments like this); it is a prayer state in which a person usually finds oneself this way during the time of prayer.
Contemplatio is the Latin phrase (pronounced con-tem-plaht-see-oh) used to describe the normal outcome of the traditional method known as Lectio Divina. The first phase of this method, Lectio, sometimes referred to as meditative reading or listening with the heart, leads one by a natural process to Meditatio (reflection with one's heart), leading one to Oratio (responding from one's heart), moving one toward Contemplatio which implies, at least, those special quiet moments or still points described in the above paragraph. Most traditions advocate the use of Lectio Divina, and they indicate that the practice of Lectio Divina may ultimately dispose one for the gift of Contemplation as a stage of growth. See Contemplation, Lectio Divina.
One can have the Contemplative Attitude without being in the stage of Contemplation as described above. A person with a Contemplative Attitude has an openness toward life, a sense of wonder, a capacity to experience life as mystery. By this phrase, we mean that one has the ability to allow God to affect one's interior reactions. The phrase itself has nothing to do with any one method of prayer. It simply has to do with one's attitude or ability to listen. One allows God's word to penetrate and to affect one's hidden self -- God's mystery is allowed to touch one's own mystery. In one translation of the letter to the Hebrews, the author speaks of God's word as being alive and active like a two-edged sword, revealing the secret emotions of the heart. This is the Contemplative Attitude. There is a certain free-flow between a person and God. Since discernment, in the strict sense of the word, is dependent on noticing one's own interior reactions, one must have the Contemplative Attitude in order, first of all to allow, and secondly to notice, one's key interior reactions.
Contemplative (as a noun)
A Contemplative is a person who belongs to a contemplative religious congregation such as the Carthusians or the Carmelites. It does not mean that the members of these respective congregations have reached the stage of Contemplation or even have the Contemplative Attitude. It simply means that they are "removed from the world" and are leading a life devoted explicitly and regularly to prayer. But the noun, Contemplative, is also used to identify any person who is approaching or has reached the stage of Contemplation as described above.
Contemplative (as an adjective)
Many writers use this word as an adjective today as Ignatius of Loyola did in his time. For example, today, when a spiritual guide comments to his directee, "Judy, I think that your prayer is becoming Contemplative," he means that Judy's prayer is becoming affective and she is approaching, or has reached, what we referred to above as the Contemplative Attitude. Ignatius even used the term in this way for those reflective moments that become affective. In notation , he instructs a directee to return to those points where one's reflectivity has become Contemplative.
Contemplative Prayer Methods
These are methods of prayer leading to Contemplation such as Centering Prayer, Christian Meditation, the Jesus Prayer, etc. Such methods show some similarities to the characteristics of the prayer of a person in the stage of Contemplation -- little fluctuation of feelings, thinking, or imaging during the time of private prayer. With these methods, a person is just there with God, in faith. Therefore, like one who is in the stage of Contemplation, a person who is practised in one of these methods, may come out of the period of prayer with little or no awareness of the fluctuation of feelings or thinking or imaging. There may be some thoughts and images at the beginning of the prayer time to get oneself settled into the prayer, and some fluctuations of images, feelings and thoughts as one is coming out of this prayer experience. But once the breathing of the Jesus Prayer or the repetitive mantra of Christian Meditation takes over, one enters into a kind of being with God in deep faith. Often after the reception of the Eucharist such as in the Lutheran, Anglican, and Roman Catholic traditions, many people experience moments of being with God in deep faith. Contemplative Prayer Methods are just that -- prayer methods. They do not necessarily mean that a person is in the stage of Contemplation because such ways of praying and some of the consequent experiences can be achieved more or less by a person's own efforts. That is why the older authors on prayer tend to call the fruit from these Contemplative Prayer Methods "acquired contemplation."
This is a form of mental prayer in which the use of one's analytical powers of reasoning predominate. In the classicist worldview, this type of mental prayer was called "meditation"; unfortunately this term came to be equated with Ignatius' use of the term, "Meditation Using the Three Powers of the Soul." When Ignatius used the word meditation, he did not mean discursive prayer; rather he meant a pondering of the heart, not an analytical exercise separated from the use of imagination and the reflections of the heart. Discursivity or analysis, as our educational systems have very adequately communicated to us, was unknown to persons like Ignatius who were steeped in the medieval worldview. See Meditation Using the Three Powers of the Soul, Meditation.
With this method, one primarily uses the active imagination upon a particular event in Jesus' life. The gospel story is the guided-imagery context for the imagination. Gospel Contemplation differs from our present-day, psychological, guided imagery techniques in that the person at prayer actively keeps oneself more or less within the gospel framework. Ignatius names this method simply with the word "contemplation," and explains it with the prayer exercise on the Nativity -. It is used throughout the Second, Third and Fourth Weeks of the Spiritual Exercises. Many people today refer to this as "Ignatian contemplation."
One enters the gospel story imaginatively through one or some combination of one's feeling powers, picture-making powers, hearing powers, etc. The details of the gospel story serve as a guide to the imagination. Here is a simple way of explaining it:
The Jesus Prayer is a central prayer method in the Byzantine/Orthodox traditions. It consists in repeating the name of Jesus or some variation associated with his name in coordination with the rhythm of one's breathing and with one's attention fixed on the meaning of the words. The name of "Jesus" can be used alone or "Jesus mercy" or "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner," etc. Sometimes it has the same effect as the practice of the Contemplative Prayer Methods. According to the teachings in the Way Of The Pilgrim one can develop the Jesus Prayer as a constant prayer even while doing other activities. It can become a way of praying continuously. It is the prayer of the mystical spirituality called "Hesychiasm."
When journaling is done within the context of faith or God's presence it is meditative writing. When we place pen on paper, spirit and body cooperate to release our true selves. To journal is to experience ourselves in a new light as expression is given to the fresh images which emerge from our less-than-conscious psyche. Journaling requires putting aside preconceived ideas and control; and so affections well up within us and memories are recalled, convictions are clarified. In writing we may discover that emotions are intensified and prolonged. Because of this, journaling can also serve in identifying and healing some hidden, suppressed emotions such as anger, fear and resentment. There are many ways of using journaling in prayer. Among them are the following:
This is pronounced as lek-see-oh dee-vee-nah in ecclesiastical Latin. LD is a method of prayer by which a person listens with one's heart to God's word in the scriptures or to some other manifestation of God such as in a personal experience, or as in some outward event such as in a sunset, etc. Some spiritual directors often explain LD as meditative reading only (which is one way of going about it) but it was practised in early Christian times by monks who often could not read. It developed as a key form of meditation in the monasteries. LD is a natural process which, when one begins to listen with the heart (Lectio), one moves through a pondering or reflection with the heart (Meditatio), through a response of the heart (Oratio) to a resting in God (Contemplatio). In some instances in the classicist worldview, Lectio Divina was the name given for the divine office which, in the Roman and Anglican traditions, is read alone or is chanted with others in choir. See Contemplatio, Gospel Contemplation.
One means of keeping one's focus on God in prayer is the use of a mantra or "prayer word." The mantra can be a single word or phrase. It may be a word from scripture or one that arises spontaneously from within one's heart.6 The word or phrase is repeated slowly within oneself in harmony with one's breathing. For example, if one were to use the phrase "Jesus, redeemer," one might say "Jesus" while inhaling and "redeemer" while exhaling. Some people experience the recitation of the rosary as a kind of mantra.
Among the instructions usually given for using a mantra certain elements are usually emphasized: a relaxed but alert posture; a repetition of the mantra in rhythm with one's breathing to quiet the mind; the twenty-to-thirty minute time period. Sometimes with certain methods, an instructor will suggest a discontinuance of the mantra until a distraction comes and then a return to the mantra to quiet the mind. Both Centering Prayer and Christian Meditation make use of the mantra, each with a slightly different emphasis.
In general, this word has a variety of meanings and is used by authors and teachers with different meanings. Depending on the context, the term "meditation" is often employed for the following terms described in this dictionary: Discursive Meditation, Meditation Using the Three Powers of the Soul, Christian Meditation, Journaling, Lectio Divina.
Meditation Using the Three Powers of the Soul
This method of prayer can be done in the same manner that one uses when one ponders carefully a very special letter. As one does this, one is seeking a deep-felt understanding of a particular focus in order to dispose oneself for the gift from God that s/he desires at this time of prayer. Here is a way of going about this:
This term is often used to denote a person's prayer that is becoming or has become Contemplation in the Carmelite sense of the word. As one's personal activity of pondering and imagining during the time of prayer habitually becomes less and less, the prayer is said to become "passive."
Prayer of Quiet
Is another name for Passive Prayer which is the prayer of a person in the stage of Contemplation.
This usually refers to the prayer that one says when one makes use of a formula or some form of written prayer. The Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary, Soul of Christ, the Psalms, the Serenity Prayer, the Rosary, etc., are examples of Vocal Prayer.
1. The brackets refer to the various notations of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. We have used capitals to designate the terms that we are describing. Many of the working definitions have been adapted from John Veltri, S.J., Orientations, Volume 2: Part B (Guelph: Loyola House, 1998) and from Jacqueline S. Bergan and S. Marie Schwan, Freedom: A Guide for Prayer, from the Take and Receive Series (Winona: St. Mary's Press, 1988). The exact references to Bergan and Schwan are marked below.
3. Consult Thomas Keating's Open Mind, Open Heart (New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1997) p.139. One difference between Centering Prayer and Christian Meditation is that in the former the stress is on intention and in the latter the stress is on attention.
4. In the Carmelite tradition of spirituality, Gospel Contemplation is considered to be a form of meditation, for like Meditatio which is the second phase flowing out of the Lectio of Lectio Divina, it is simply another human way of pondering that follows automatically from any form of listening to God's word. If one listens to God's word with love, one automatically reflects with one's heart through one's cognitive powers which include imaging and remembering.
8. For persons with a medieval worldview like Ignatius of Loyola, the memory, understanding and will were understood not as faculties separated from each other but as intertwined powers. They appreciated how these powers led organically (naturally and together) to a felt understanding -- the context for significant desires and choices. For them:
John Wickham, S.J., The Communal Spiritual Exercises: Part B, Directory
(Montreal: Ignatian Centre Publications, 1991) 2nd Edition p.140-144. Confer
also Thomas Keating, "Contemplative Prayer In The Christian Tradition"
(America, 1978) p.278ff.; and Scott Lewis, "Balthasar Alvarez And The Prayer
Of Silence" (Spirituality Today, 1989) Vol. 41, #2, p.112ff.
Go To Glossary Of Terms For Orientations Vol 2