Ampleforth Abbey

24 February 2018

Contemplative Prayer

Transfiguration of the Lord

Monastic life is rich in moments of fraternity, and this is never more true than when the community gathers together in the Abbey Church to celebrate the Eucharist, the source and the summit of our life, and to sanctify the day by praying the Liturgy of the Hours. These moments, however, invite us as monks to something more, to time spent with God in personal prayer that is an intimate dialogue with the Father whom we meet through Jesus his Son in the Holy Spirit.

Although the relationship that exists between each monk and God is individual, there are many common threads that make this prayer time (a period that in our tradition is a valued and protected part of our day) one which can be the subject of guidance, of accompaniment and of mutual sharing. There is a great tradition of wisdom that exists to help us in this enterprise, as we advance ever deeper into the knowledge and love of God. Often the notion of “contemplative prayer” can sound remote and intimidating, as something only for experts. While it is true that the deepest experiences of contact with the Lord are unlikely to come immediately, the nourishment given by our prayer together, our reading of the Bible and the rest of our community life, together with the guidance of wise older monks, provide us with a set of helps and stimuli to prayer, a context in which the time to spend with God is available, and a strengthening of our commitment to grow closer to him.

All this is certainly no magic formula or spiritual technology for immediate “success in prayer”: prayer begins with a gift of our time to God, who has created us in love and who gave us the time we have. We make that gift to him, we prepare for it using all the helps our life offers, and then we wait for his response with great confidence that the good Lord cannot be outdone in generosity. The prayer that follows is God’s action more than our own, as he enters our hearts and minds to fill them with his gifts but above all with his presence. And the highest point of prayer, that which can be called contemplative prayer in its fullest sense, is when we rest content in his presence. Initially, this resting may be only fleeting or momentary, but as we persevere in the monastic way of prayer, the moments of resting become longer and more frequent. In any community there are a few, usually older, monks, whose prayer life is one of steady resting in the Lord, a resting which flows out into their daily lives. The rest of us are inspired by their example to continue in our faithfulness to the path that we are confident will lead us to follow them along this route to the same destination – a destination which is a person, God our loving Father.