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How to Use Images in Contemplative Prayer

Images in Contemplative Prayer

One of the oldest forms of Christian prayer is what we now know as contemplative prayer. It is said to be a tradition started by the Desert Fathers, the first of which was Paul of Thebes in the 3rd century AD, joined by Anthony the Great around the year AD270. Anthony is said to be the Father of desert monasticism and along with other Desert Fathers of the time, is ascribed as being one of the founders of what we now know as Christian contemplative prayer.

God Speaks to Us in the Stillness of Our Hearts

The whole premise of contemplative prayer is that God speaks in the stillness of our hearts if we can but listen. In order to attain that silence, that stillness, Christians are urged to empty the mind of all worldly considerations and cares. Much like in Eastern religions, centering, or contemplative prayer, begins with deep, slow, methodical breaths as we let go of all the cares crowding our consciousness.

Choose an Image That Exemplifies What You Are Contemplating

As we begin to let go of everything around us, we are asked to center on a Scriptural passage in which we recognize as a central message of our faith. Along with that passage, many Christian contemplatives choose an image to focus on which embodies the Christian message. Often, we find ourselves inundated with stress and chaos and this is when we most need that stillness of heart.

With that image in mind, find a quiet place to simply sit in the Lord’s presence. No matter where you are, find that silence and use whatever you can as your image. It could be religious jewelry such as a cross or holy medal purchased from a religious goods store. If Christ’s suffering on the cross leads us to an understanding of redemption and resurrection from the cares of the world, a crucifix hanging around our neck would be the perfect image to focus on.

Only Use the Image to Call You Back to Your Center

Calmly sit breathing slowly and methodically, if only for a few brief moments. Sit in the presence of God whom you believe to be alive in your spiritual heart. Let Him be your focus as you continue to breathe and let go of anything and everything that is creating chaos in our Christian lives. The image we’ve chosen should only be brought back to our visual focus as we feel ourselves being drawn back out of contemplative stillness to the world around us. It is but an image, a powerful tool in keeping us centered on the presence of God.

Whether you are alone in your home, at work in your office, or even at a mall with chaos all around, there is always a way to step aside to a quiet place. Contrary to what many believe about meditation, thinking that you need to sit in certain postures for hours on end, you may only need minutes to bring you back to that place of stillness. Perhaps in the beginning, as we train our minds to let go of the world, it could be a protracted time spent in silence. But once we have heard the voice of God speak to us in the silence of our hearts, it takes but moments to bring ourselves back to that beautiful place that calms the cares of the world.

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