Contemplative prayer calms the too-busy mind
Candles are lit and voices are stilled during a session of contemplative prayer at Peace Lutheran Church in Grass Valley. Every Monday at 12:30 p.m., participants briefly push aside the clutter of the world to humbly seek the presence of God.
Pastor Eileen Smith Le Van starts with an ancient prayer that is traditional to this practice, the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
The sounds that fill the ensuing silence echo the clutter of the six minds in the room. A car drives by, a stomach growls, a throat swallows, a clock ticks, another throat clears, the building’s heating system thrums, a body shifts in a chair, breath moves in and out.
When the day’s to-do list pops up, the Jesus Prayer, repeated now silently, brings the mind back to the focus of this 30-minute time-out from earthly cares. That focus, the goal of this prayer, has its roots in the earliest Christian teachings: to lift the mind and the heart to God in praise and thanks, and to ask for all our material and spiritual needs.
After a period that seems both an eternity and an instant, Smith Le Van’s alarm beeps quietly. “Lord, remember us when you come into your kingdom,” the minister prays, repeating the words of a criminal to Jesus as the two were crucified. The group finishes their session with the Lord’s Prayer.
Ancient technique, modern worries
Contemplative prayer has been used by Christians for centuries, Smith Le Van said. With practice, it helps “gain control of our overactive brains and create stillness so the Holy Spirit can work through us and help us live the virtues in union with God,” according to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta, Ga. (visit www.OrothodoxPrayer.org).
The Jesus Prayer is especially powerful in this discipline that creates a space for God’s spirit to speak to those who seek Him, Smith Le Van said. In that space, one can feel and accept the mercy and forgiveness God offers freely to all.
“At this moment when our mind is totally concentrated on God, we discover a very personal and direct relationship with Him,” according to OrothodoxPrayer.org.
And with practice, it gets easier, Smith Le Van promised.
“I’m so glad I came back,” said Shari Coats, who had arrived to the prayer session harried and pressed. She almost hadn’t come at all – too much to do, too many things! But during the prayer, she felt something akin to “hands on my forehead, as in a blessing or forgiveness,” she said. “When you get into the habit of something like this, it’s wonderful.”
“This really helps me to be centered more during the week,” added Pat Baker, of Grass Valley. “It’s like, ‘OK, God’s here, he’s in control.’”
We are experimenting with holding our Contemplative Prayer at different locations at PEACE Lutheran Church. Come a little early and ask at the office, or call Pastor Eileen at (530) 273-9631.