“[Contemplation] is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom—freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.” –Archbishop Rowan Williams
In the Psalms we read the often-quoted verse of “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). In our everyday lives it's not always easy to be intentionally still.
We can be busy with many important people and tasks such as family, work, studies, socializing, and sports. Taking the time to stop, breathe, and remember who we are can sometimes be a big ask. However in our non-stop lives the act of contemplation is necessary to help us to ground ourselves, tune into God, and savor the present moment. Jesus took time out to pray on the mountainside, but he also lived with that profound connection to the Father as he was serving, healing, or eating. Here are five practical ways to weave contemplation into our daily lives, taking a deep breath in, so we are able to breathe out back into the world.
1. Contemplation during a daily activity
There are many basic tasks and activities that we do everyday, or at least most days. One example is eating. At meals, I have a habit of throwing food down my throat rather than savoring the taste and texture. When I remember, I now aim to chew my food more and roll it around my mouth. This slows my eating down and allows me to be present, to be thankful for the privilege of delicious food, and to be aware of my surroundings.
For a while I took time with God during my morning coffee. As I enjoyed a freshly prepared cup, I imagined myself sitting across from Jesus. I would ask him any questions on my heart and give him time to answer. This helped me to be present with him and savor the beauty of my drink.
Take some time to think through your day and see when you can take time to breathe during a regular and methodical activity.
2. Liturgy/Guided Meditation
For one year, Debbie and I challenged ourselves to read from the Book of Common Prayer each day. This is a liturgy that is read through and reflected on. We enjoyed the communal aspect of the process, being able to read through set prayers with others around the world, though we could articulate our own. It is important for communities and families to breathe in together, to value sharing life. Personally, I could see myself using this in the future with our family over the breakfast or dinner table.
Recently I’ve been using the Sacred Space App to reflect for ten minutes. I find the simple sentences and reflections thought provoking and centering. Having a guided meditation helps me to focus on scripture and God’s presence when I might easily be distracted. What kinds of contemplative prayer practices could you explore for a season?
In August 2015 I badly damaged my ankle playing basketball and was unable to run for months after. During my recuperation, I realised how important exercise was for my physical, emotional, and spiritual states. I find it necessary to go for regular runs and connect with my thoughts as I pound the streets or scamper over the hills. Our bodies, minds, and spirits are deeply connected and we need to ensure we’re looking after them. Find a way that you can exercise regularly in a life-giving way.
Nature can be soothing and beautiful but also powerful. When I’m feeling low, Debbie is quick to encourage me to go outside, as she knows this helps to lift my mood. I find getting out into nature soothing for my soul. Whether it’s going to the local park or climbing a mountain, being able to hear nature’s symphony speaks to us in ways we can’t explain. Where is a place you can access nature around you?
We are all creative in our own ways. You don’t need to be a professional artist or musician to express this side of yourself. Maybe your creativity comes out in the way you cook or the way you solve problems by thinking outside the box. The difficulty for me is being intentional about using my time to embrace it. When I choose to pick up a pencil and draw, strum a few chords on the guitar, take my time making dinner for the family, or work out a science problem, I enter a contented place—a place where I can be free and imaginative, breathing in who I am and how God made me. How can you welcome your creative side?
I hope these ideas have encouraged you to think about how you connect with who you are and with God. What other ways can you think of to breathe in?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Horrocks and his wife, Debbie, live in Glasgow, Scotland. They served with InnerCHANGE in South Africa from 2013-2016 and are discerning the next place God has for them to live intentionally among the poor and marginalized in Scotland. This post was originally shared on their personal blog.