Since most of us are called to an active life, we assume that we are disqualified from contemplation. And to think we could be mystics would be simply an act of pride—or worse, an indication that we might need psychiatric help. But if we look a bit deeper into the Catholic tradition, we see that contemplative, mystical prayer is actually a normal part of the Christian life meant to be experienced by everyone—especially during Lent.
Certainly there are religious orders especially dedicated to contemplation. But there are also orders, like the Missionaries of Charity, especially dedicated to works of mercy. Does that mean that the rest of us can forget about mercy? Special vocations like these exist to be a perpetual reminder to all of us of something we, too, are called to be and do.
If we look into both the Old and New Testaments, we see very active people called by the Father to special moments of contemplative prayer. Moses spent forty days and nights with God on Mt. Sinai. Elijah encountered God in a still, small voice and found restoration and renewed vision. The Lord Jesus himself often withdrew to spend hours in prayer.
But the best example of contemplation in the midst of action is the story of Martha and Mary (see Luke 10:38–42). Jesus comes to visit. Martha fusses. Mary stops, sits at his feet, and listens. She gives him her undivided attention.
This is our part in making contemplative prayer happen. We simply make ourselves available to the Father and focus on his presence. And his presence is most intensely experienced in two ways: through his inspired Word, and in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. Contemplative life is suspended between two poles, the Bible and the Eucharist.
To focus on Our Creator's presence is easier said than done, but Lent calls us to do just that. In every age, the necessary chores of everyday life—earning a living, homemaking, parenting, relationships—have a tendency to completely absorb us if we let them. This was Martha’s problem.
Here are some practical ideas on how busy people can grow in the contemplative life:
Daily Quiet Time: We should offer up quick prayers to the Almighty throughout the day. But contemplative life demands a daily discipline of giving him undivided attention. If you are not currently doing this, try starting with fifteen minutes and gradually expand it to twenty to thirty minutes.
Adoration: We are meant to have a few moments of silent contemplation after Communion at each Mass. But we can prolong this all throughout the week by spending time in quiet before the tabernacle.
We can commit to a certain hour if our parish happens to have organized Adoration. Or we can simply go as we can and spend anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more resting in the presence of the Lord.
Rosary: “Mystical” prayer is pondering and uniting ourselves to the “mystery” of Christ’s love expressed in his incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection. The rosary, then, is by nature a mystical or contemplative prayer, if we pray it correctly. The vocal prayers are meant to help us “keep time” as we ponder the joyful, luminous, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries.
Lectio Divina: This contemplative approach to Scripture was first developed by monks in the early days of the Church. They selected a small portion of Scripture, read it, and reread it slowly. Then they used it as a springboard to an intimate prayer of union with the Father, who inspired the text. Such a form of prayer with Scripture they called “divine reading” or “lectio divina.”
Nature Walk: Nature is a reflection of his glory. To unplug from the media and quietly walk amidst creation often helps to de-stress, dial-down, and dispose us for prayer. In fact, many of the psalms are great to read on a nature walk—try Psalm 19 on the occasion of a beautiful sky or Psalm 93 when the surf gets rough at the ocean.
Retreats: Prayer is like breathing. We must do it continually. But sometimes you need to pause and take a really deep breath. That’s what a retreat is for. It could be a weekend, an overnight, or even just a whole morning in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The important thing is that it is a good chunk of time dedicated to renewing and deepening our relationship with the Lord, away from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life.