Understanding Contemplative Prayer

The difference between meditation and contemplation is predicated on this: In meditation we focus on icons, on God as God appears in our thoughts, imagination, and feelings. In contemplation, icons are treated as idols, and the discipline then is to sit in a seeming darkness, beneath a cloud of unknowing, to try to be face to face with a reality which is too big to grasp within our imagination. Meditation, like an icon, is something that is useful for a time, but ultimately we are all called to contemplation. As the Cloud of Unknowing puts it: “For certainly, he who seeks to have God perfectly will not take his rest in the consciousness of any angel or any saint that is in heaven.”

Ronald Rolheiser, source

I’ve been practicing contemplative prayer (off and on) for the past 10 years. What’s been unnerving is the jittery anxiety I feel during the prayer time itself. If I’m to let all thoughts and feelings ascend to God–even my loving images of who God is so that I might be present to the reality of God–then I feel totally out of control! It’s been a great way to keep surrendering to the Great Other! I see the prayer as an act of sweet surrender to all the God is…beyond the icons, constructs, or images we might have (good or ill). It’s very healing in the long run.

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