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Contemplatio

Interfaith Mindfulness-Based Contemplative Prayer

 
A 12th c French Catholic Christian monk, Guigo II, described the spiritual life as climbing a ladder.  The steps were lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio – reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation.  This “ladder” has defined Catholic Christian spiritual discipline ever since.  An ancient practice, employed increasingly today in churches both Catholic and Protestant, is called “Lectio Divina”. It follows Guigo’s four steps.  

CONTEMPLATIO is an adaptation of Lectio Divina for use by people of all faiths or no religious background. 

Lectio/Visio: Read aloud a short passage from the scripture or wisdom literature of your choice. Release any interpretation or opinion you may have about this passage as you read it. This list of the questions of Jesus from the Gospels is a good source of Christian texts for Lectio.  In place of, or in addition to, the reading you can do “Visio Divina” – sacred seeing – gazing at an icon, image, or object, while releasing assumptions or judgments about it. 
 
Meditatio:  Close your eyes and let the passage or object “sink in” for two minutes.  Sit with it.  Hold it lightly – don’t force any attempt to interpret it.  Attend to it without judgment or preconception and with an open heart. 

Oratio: Pray aloud:  “May I receive from the scripture (or object) what my soul needs for today, so that I may compassionate towards all whose lives I touch.”

Contemplatio:  For 10-20 minutes, get into a physical position in which your body will be comfortable but you’ll be unlikely to fall asleep.  (The “lotus position”, seated with legs crossed and tailbone slightly elevated on a little pillow, is just one way to achieve this balance.)  Begin with mindful meditation:  close your eyes, and in silence, observe whatever arises to take your attention.  The object of your observation can be anything at all.  A thought.  An idea. A sensation – something your body feels, something you hear.  A memory.  A scheme for the future.  It can be an urge – a desire – a sense of needing or wanting to do something.  Let it all be; don’t try to change your thoughts or experiences.  (Wait until after your Contemplatio practice to consider ways you want to change your thoughts or actions.)  Watch all that arises and passes, observing with non-judgmental, caring attention.  Be a quiet presence with these experiences, like a friend who stays close in silence with a loving attitude toward you.   Ask yourself:  how does the lectio/visio enlighten your self-examination, or vice-versa?

With practice, you will reach a point in Contemplatio where you have so thoroughly and lovingly observed yourself – your thoughts, emotions, urges, sensations – your body, your mind, even your personality – that you will ask a profound question:  is that which is being observed doing the observing?  Who or what is watching and paying attention within you?  The mystical and philosophical traditions of the world have different ways of expressing this sublime awareness.  In Buddhism, this is the moment of enlightened, pure consciousness that there is no self.  In Hinduism, this is the moment expressed in the Sanskrit phrase:  “Tat tvam asi – I am that” – one with the Ultimate Reality of Brahman.  In Christianity, it is the moment of awareness that God is the loving observer within us.  It is the moment of mystical union with the Divine, which St Paul described: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me.”  Non-religious people sometimes describe it as the moment of awakening to being one with the universe or with nature as a whole.

(More on “contemplatio” and mindfulness in the Christian context at MindfulChristianity.org).

Rev. Jim Burklo, Associate Dean of Religious Life, USC
Website: MINDFULCHRISTIANITY.ORG Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

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