How’s your spiritual life going?
Do you think you don’t do enough? Don’t read your Bible enough? Don’t even pray enough?
And if you get in the quantity, is your quality good enough?
These issues can haunt us as Christians.
- When a church near my house put “Centering Prayer—Wednesday Mornings” on their front billboard, I wondered if it would be a good thing for me to join or too weird?
- When a local monastery offered a Silent Prayer Retreat, I wondered if I could do that or would it drive me crazy?
- And when I read about mindfulness practices, I wondered if it was possible to do that 20 minutes a day with my Christian faith without being a Buddhist?
Ed Cyzewski addresses those kinds of questions in his latest book, Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer, based on Henri Nouwen’s three actions in The Way of the Heart.
Ed pulls from a variety of sources (inspiring me to read more Thomas Merton books).
But he also shares very personally, drawing from his own background after a grudge (he resolves) with a restrictive Catholic Church and then a fight (he resolves this too) against an evangelical angst of doing things “right.”
While he doesn’t intend this book to be a how-to guide for prayer—he doesn’t want to add to a to-do list—he does offer many tangible suggestions on how we can pray more by praying differently.
“Evangelical anxiety focuses on results and progress, but God is more concerned about loving presence.”
Get Out of Your Own Way
Here are just a few of Ed’s suggestions on praying more contemplatively taken from his book.
- Let go of your own words
We don’t always have to use our own words. We can still convey our own thoughts through the words of others. Too often we think God only wants our “freestyle” prayers, but he can be just as pleased when we pray a Psalm, for example.
- Pray with scripture.
- Use words Jesus prayed.
- Pray through others’ words written through the years.
“We have nothing to prove, to defend, or to fight for when we pray with the scriptures. We are only devoting ourselves to God. We aren’t in charge of producing results.”
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“We don’t read the Bible in order to know ‘the Bible’ or to improve ourselves spiritually. We read the Bible in order to be present with God.”
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“[Enter] into prayer with the foundational truth that God loves us. Prayer is the practice of becoming present for that love. We cannot impress God with our many words or few words.”
- Examine your thoughts
Ed highly recommends using the Examen, a spiritual practice from St. Ignatius in the 1500’s.
- 1-Become aware of God’s presence.
- 2-Review the day with gratitude.
- 3-Pay attention to your emotions.
- 4-Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
- 5-Look toward tomorrow.
Because of Ed’s passion for practicing the Examen (after three months it “completely blew his mind”), I reloaded on my phone the Examine app that he recommends.
I also bookmarked the Divine Hours online after he suggested it. (See it here at Vineyard Church Ann Arbor.)
Praying through the Examen and the Divine Hours are ways to be present to God that Protestants don’t often use. But they are valuable, especially when they help us release our expectations of getting “results” from prayer.
- Go quiet altogether
Try silence. Contemplative prayer invites us to let go of our words altogether. Our own words are often one of our biggest distractions.
“I have learned that while silence is something we can learn to value and even crave, it doesn’t happen by accident. It calls for intention and discipline supported by simple spiritual practices.”
Centering Prayer is one form of silent prayer that Ed explains as a “simple way to be lovingly present for God.”
Why Contemplative Prayer?
It realigns our expectations of what prayer can be.
“God’s Spirit is already in us, and we can’t improve on God’s presence. We can only improve on being present for God, turning away from our distractions.”
It’s not meant to necessarily replace other disciplines or forms of prayer, but as an addition to any spiritual practice.
“One evangelical generation after another earnestly studies the scriptures in search of Jesus, trying to get past the fact that Jesus said studying the scriptures is not the same thing as pursuing him. Contemplative prayer gives us that path to pursue Jesus and Jesus alone.”
I gave them all a try. And loved each one.
None were a slippery slope to anywhere except into more awareness of the presence of God.
A greater awareness of God is where I want to end up anyway.
“Each time I pause to become aware of God, face my thoughts, and look for the ways that God has been at work in my day, I open myself to God’s power and presence.”
I’m looking forward next to more mindfulness practice beginning Monday with my in-person book club. We’ll begin discussing The Power of Now, one of my favorites.
By trusting God with the present moment we’re in, we become more peaceful. We receive his grace more freely. We worry less about the past or about the future.
And that’s what I hear Ed affirming to us in his book about contemplative prayer.
“We have to train our minds to sit still and learn how to be fully present for God in the now. We won’t find God by dwelling on the regrets of the past or worrying about the future. If we want to find God, we must train ourselves to be in the present moment.”
Rest in the presence of God—there we find peace, transformation, and love.
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Have you wondered about contemplative prayer also? Have you experimented with it? Please share in the comments.
You can connect with Ed at edcyzewski.com.
Read some of Ed’s blog posts about contemplative prayer:
- What Would God Shout at You from a Cloud?
- Is There Hope for Anxious, Doubting, and Burned Out Christians?
- Is Contemplative Prayer Dangerous? Evangelicals and the Fear of Contemplation
Ed’s other books are also great faith resources. I’ve benefited by all I’ve read. Here are just a few that I’ve shared about.
- The Contemplative Writer: Loving God through Christian Spirituality, Meditation, Daily Prayer, and Writing
- Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together
- A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth
- Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus