“To me, Quiet Prayer is about curling up on the lap of the Great Mother—like a child would—quite literally lying on my bed as if the pillows are indeed Her Lap. It is a place of comfort: and it is there that I do surrender…I rest my weary head and heart…and give myself over to the comfort of those ever-waiting arms, leaning into them—and turning my full attention to being held in the lap of the Divine” (Caroline Oaks, Practice the Pause)
“He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love…He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure…The comfort of your love takes away my fear…You become my delicious feast…You give me all I can drink of you until my heart overflows…So why would I fear the future? For Your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life.” (Ps 23, TPT)
I recently attended a 3-day retreat at Ignatius House on the contemplative prayer practices of Brother Lawrence, who lived in the tumultuous seventeenth-century France. I was curious about what this humble lay monk’s spirituality of simplicity could teach me, and grateful for Carmen Acevedo Butcher, the retreat leader, who translated Brother Lawrence’s writings into modern day English in her book Practice of the Presence.
My interest in contemplative prayer has peaked in the past several years. I first learned of this practice in the dozens of books I’ve been drawn to, written by spiritual formation writers of this century and in the works of our fathers and mothers in the Christian tradition, like Brother Lawrence.
However, what has drawn me most to centering, contemplative prayer is I have found it is divine therapy for the human condition, especially my human condition.
My desire for a more “real” connection to God ushered me into letting go of lengthy word prayers out of my head (sometimes still needed, and still prayer), and becoming more attuned to breath prayers that come from a longing to simply “be with God”. This new prayer practice has produced a joy in my life, that frankly, has been quite surprising!
Doing less…and experiencing more! More emotional healing, joy and connection with myself,
God and others. Contemplative prayer is helping me to wake up to the inner goodness within myself and others, and to look more expansively and lovingly.
Here are some of the gems I gleaned from Brother Lawrence’s life and Butcher’s book during the retreat:
· “Sometimes I ask for Love’s pardon for any harm I have caused others”. Not being present to their hurt, overlooking a need, drawing attention to myself and ego’s demands…all cymbals and gongs and noise that crowd out God’s flow of Love. Because I was not in touch with my own pain, my own need of healing…I have not been in touch with the wounds of others. Now, I begin to I feel God’s tenderness and care going deep…and I give myself over to His mercy.
· “Far from punishing me”, this All-seeing, All-knowing, All-understanding creator of the human heart, “full of mercy and kindness, lovingly embraces me, invites me to eat, seats me at Love’s table, waits on me Himself, gives me the keys to His treasure, and all in all…treats me like His favorite.”
· The members of Trinity “talk with me and take great pleasure in my company in countless ways”, without ever mentioning my past struggles.
· “I often feel attached to sweetness and pleasure greater than an infant tastes when latched onto the breast of wet nurse. So, if I dared use this expression, I’d happily call this state the ‘breasts of God’, for the unsayable sweetness I taste and experience there.”
· Brother Lawrence’s prayer practices are very simple. Intimacy with God, and the holiness available, can be found within common everyday life occurrences. He says, “in the middle of your task you can comfort yourself with Love as often as you can”. He encourages us to willingly lift up our heart to God’s gaze and embrace when things get difficult, when we have been hurt or slighted in any way… “by frequently detaching (from the current difficult circumstance) and turning from all that is created… to enjoy your Creator, even for a single moment”. (All quotes from Butcher’s writings)