The work of grace, as I said in part one, is primary to contemplative prayer. I just want to strip away some mystique of religious jargon. First of all, the work of grace is a twofold thing, it requires weakness and humility on our part and an empowering and enlivening on God's.
This weakening and humbling can often be a Christian's biggest stumbling block. There has crept many half-truths into the western church under the guise of prosperity and blessing. This is the expectations of many naive Christians and it's an easy worldview to fall into if it's not challenged.
The weakening and humbling of ourselves before God is a scary thing. It's losing control of our world, our emotions and reactions. It doesn't feel anything like God's sovereignty, in fact it feels the opposite. It feels dark, lonely and overwhelming. These events can be called the 'dark night of the soul' as St. John of Cross wrote about. In a basic way we are coming to the end of ourselves, our resources and our ability to problem solve.
These periods have come several times in my life and have done profound things in me. They are not pleasant, they are 'death to self' experiences. It has been out of these depths, that a deep cry and a deep sense of security has emerged so that prayer is no longer words that ask for things.
Prayer is a deep sense of participation in God, an inclusion in something that is a privilege. My life experiences have probably been a bit more on the extreme end than most people’s have, but I am convinced that the internal processes of 'death to self' are not found in external extremes.
It's in the small things that we find the beginnings of contemplative prayer. Small prayers of the heart, small surrenders and small wonders. It's finding the kingdom of God within us in a real way. The hard part I have found is surviving the dark nights.
The temptation in the dark nights are so many, and the problem is they don't even look like the temptations. The basic temptations are three categories to run, to control, and to feel good. I have tried all of these, sometimes in willingly rebellion, sometimes in pure weakness, cowardliness and ignorance.
Just like Job
Sometimes all we can do is not give up. Just like Job sometimes all we can do is not curse God despite losing everything. I know for me there was also 'Job's comforters' around, you know those people, usually other Christians, that will give their opinions and advice.
These comforters have been some of greatest tormentors in times of pain. Their religious advice might have sounded pious and even rational, but all it would do is highlight my inability to achieve anything good and therefore weigh me down more. Jesus spoke of the Pharisees this way, weighing down people with religious obligations without lifting a finger to help.
Contemplation begins at the place we give up. Most other forms of prayer requires our initiative, our efforts and energy, but contemplative prayer is surrendered into. Contemplative prayer can also be seen as spiritual and psychological development. It's development because it's our being that is transformed and our worldview and values are changed.
Our prayer then becomes God's own prayer, spoken through us, by his Spirit. It's not compelled by guilt or religious fervour, it's not a wish list or a liturgy. It is union with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Mark is a Press Service International young writer from Adelaide.
His previous articles can be read here: http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-flippance.html