Scaling the heights
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Matthew 5.8
Contemplative prayer takes us beyond words to a place where we experience the inexpressible mystery of God's presence and God's qualities. It is remote from our everyday lives because the quantity and banality of our words compound the sinfulness of our natures and behaviour to obscure this happy prospect - both from our sight and from our experience. Charismatic worship offers a partial, yet lesser, taste of what contemplative prayer promises because contemplative prayer is more about what God gives to us rather than our expression towards God.
Richard Foster proposes 3 steps into contemplative prayer: the first involves what in contemporary jargon might be called "mindfulness". Christian mindfulness involves relentless putting aside all distractions until we are fully present to God. Then we allow ourselves to notice God's presence to us, which is a fact of life but one we often ignore or fail to notice/ acknowledge. Eventually we are transported into a state of spiritual ecstasy, which may have physical manifestations but not necessarily. It can simply involve being suffused in peace or filled with joy. Accounts of famous spiritual revivals are replete with stories of people experiencing exactly these manifestations and feelings.
In our doubt, we are sceptical about this dimension of spirituality: condemning of its emotionalism, embarrassed about the apparent lack of control; perhaps even fearful of the consequences in our own lives? To reach full communion with God involves being subjected to the refining fire of God's love, in order that everything impure in our lives is burned away. Yet how many of us have become so comfortable in our imperfections that we cling to them, fearing the impact of going deeper with God. What if that involves suffering and sacrifice? What will friends, family and work colleagues say? These fears are real and legitimate so, what matters more: our fears or God's promises? Faithfulness or compromise? Progress or stagnation? Ultimately it is about heaven or hell...