Contemplative Prayer is allowing God time to transform your subconscious. Once your subconscious has been renewed, you will gain freedom from self-serving thinking and your warped emotional programs for happiness. You'll be able to live free from addictions and other compulsive behaviors, but most importantly, free from compulsive thinking.
True Prayer is a gift. It's not something you do, but something you receive from God. It's like becoming aware of something that you were previously not aware of.
There are practices that prepare you for this gift and help you silently and patiently wait for it. These allow you to silent your mind, and to move your focus above your thoughts, your intellectual consciousness, and your very being — to God, the ultimate Being.
If you persist in these practices and unlearn some of the things that prevent you from the simple awareness required, you will eventually experience contemplative prayer... You'll be present when true prayer happens.
One teacher talks about "The Cloud of Unknowing". Some others talk about the river, or stream of consciousness... These are just metaphors. They serve to explain something obscure and hidden that happens in the spiritual realm, through examples of well-known phenomena in the visible, physical realm. We'll look at these in depth when we start getting practical. But let's spend our time here focusing on the reasons for contemplative prayer.
The truth of what happens during meditative prayer isn't really comprehendible in the human mind. It's bigger than that. I'll explain how I understand it, but the best way to learn is to spend time practicing it and starting to experience God's presence. Then you won't need any further explaining...
I'm not a fan of quoting bible verses. Many people don't give the bible much authority, and as you know, quoting selected verses can be used to prove virtually anything to mislead people by. The point is to look at the story behind the bible, as I explain on the Lectio Divina page. Then you do your best to find out how your life can fit in with that story.
However, as many people aren't aware of the fact that what we today call contemplative prayer was most probably just called prayer in the time of Jesus, let's look at what He said when his disciples asked Him to teach them prayer.
"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace."
— Jesus in Matthew 6, The Message (emphasis mine).
This verse gives the is the simplest explanation and definition of contemplative prayer that I've found to date. And who better to be explaining it? Here's the most important part:
The crux of Contemplative Prayer is to spend time in stillness and quiet before God. This stillness extends to your thinking mind. You fix your focus on God, still your mind, and ignore the thoughts that arise to distract you, as best you can.
I also think that the fruit that we're so frequently called to bear is something that only becomes possible after we've been changed by the gift of this silent, mysterious form of prayer and the practices that lead us there.
Attributes like love, patience, peace, joy, kindness, etc. aren't ways of living that you just set out to attain and then go and do it... You don't decide one morning to start loving your enemies (like that driver that cuts you off in traffic), or to turn the other cheek when someone hurst you, and then simply go and do it.
No, to attain the attributes described above, to be truly transformed, you have to become awakened to a new level of consciousness. You have to start becoming aware of your core, that place where God is in you and you are in God (as Thomas Merton taught).
Listen to Paul:
"... fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out ... God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."
— Paul in Romans 12, The Message.
One of my favorite teachers on meditative prayer and the practice of centering prayer that leads to contemplation, is Thomas Keating. He says that contemplation is like divine therapy. You get 'healed' from the effects of a deficient nature and upbringing, and of the effects of the symbolic eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, what some would call inherited sin. Over time you'll become less judgmental, less dualistic, more peaceful, more tolerant, more mature, and less obsessed with yourself and getting your own way.
Another important consequence of contemplative prayer (of which the above-mentioned effects are a part) is Overcoming The False Self.
Now that we've looked at the reasons and logic behind contemplative prayer, I want to re-iterate that it's not something that we can ever fully comprehend with our human minds. We learn to know its true meaning at a level above the intellectual. I'd much rather encourage you to experience meditative prayer than to try and understand it. Soon I'll be discussing some of the literature that explains this art better, and also share the practice of centering prayer as I've come to understand, implement and experience it.
"How do you make attractive that which is not?
How do you sell emptiness, vulnerability and nonsuccess?
How do you talk descent when everything is about ascent?
How can you possibly market letting-go in a capitalist culture?
How do you present Jesus to a Promethean mind?
How do you talk about dying to a church trying to appear perfect?
This is not going to work (admitting this might be my first step)"
— Richard Rohr at the beginning of his book Everything Belongs...