The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 78: Contemplative Summer
Hi friends. In today’s episode, we’re taking a look at what it means to be a contemplative when it comes to the living out of our faith lives. So, I have some history, practical examples and steps, a reflection and encouragement plus lots of resources for you in the show notes today, but before I get to any of that, I’d like to put a frame on what’s going on this summer on the Raised Catholic podcast, and I would like to ask your help.
When I started the podcast back in December of 2020, it was my response to a compelling call from the Holy Spirit and even though I had no idea how to make a podcast or how to get the word out about it – still working on that, honestly, friend – I’ve tried to be obedient to that call each week, making a space for cradle Catholics and others to explore and deepen the experience of their faith both inside and outside of church walls.
Making and disseminating the podcast each week is a huge commitment of time, and as I said in an episode a couple of weeks back, I’ll be taking some time this summer to discern whether it’s fruitful, what changes I could make, and whether God would have me continue in this work. And friend, I’d ask for your prayers around all of that. Practically speaking, I’ll be taking my first break ever in weekly episodes for a couple of weeks and then for the remainder of the summer, I’ll offer shorter episodes that reflect my own spiritual work around contemplation. It feels like a good time for me to slow down and listen for where God is leading. This summer would be a GREAT time for you to catch up on old episodes (available on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts), to share the ones you like with friends, and to rate, review and subscribe if you’ve not done that already. If you need me, you can always find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. I’m so happy to connect there with you.
Okay, so friends, so what is contemplation and why is it so very important for our spiritual lives?
Contemplation is a form of prayer or meditation in which a person seeks to pass beyond mental images and concepts to a direct experience of the divine. Another definition could be something like deep, reflective thought but the best descriptor I’ve found is the term ‘sacred attention’. We often think of a contemplative as a monk or a nun in a particular order whose focus is on contemplation, like the desert fathers or the Trappists, but a contemplative spiritual practice is available to all of us from lots of different faith traditions.
A Christian contemplative practice might look like a meditation on a short piece of Scripture or on a piece of religious art or music. It might involve what’s called centering prayer, which is a focus on one word, or on the senses. You might practice contemplation alone or with a group, in a variety of postures, in a holy space or in your own backyard, but contemplative prayer always includes slowing down, focus, and listening. You just can’t rush contemplation, and in a world which is moving so fast these days on every front, an intentional slowing down might be exactly what we most need.
Our friend Jesus knew the value of contemplation. Often leaving a group to go and meet with his Father alone or with a few friends, Jesus modeled the importance of this practice for us over and over, but if you were born and raised Catholic, contemplative prayer was likely not a part of your religious formation. Thomas Merton called this out in the mid-twentieth century and his call to return to contemplation was a huge part of his popularity at that time and even through today. Our souls know we need contemplation – because a faith practice that includes only reciting prayers, going to mass at the right times, talking God into what we want or asking him for things in petition or intercessory prayer – well, this is a sign that our own egos have become centered in our prayer practice, and this is not only dangerous, but it stunts our spiritual growth and putting all of our “stuff” in the center can make us into mini-gods of our own making. Tough words, I know, friend, but the good news is that contemplation puts our gaze back in the right place, on God.
St. Augustine of Hippo said that there are three types of people: slaves, merchants, and sons. A slave will do something like prayer out of fear, say, the fear of hell or the fear of being cast out of a community. A merchant will come to God with a deal, like you do this, and I’ll give you that in exchange, so, prayer or sacrifice or worship toward a stated end. But a son or a daughter will pray because God is worthy of loving, and a child of God is interested in building that relationship. Here the goal is not obedience or quid pro quo or even conversation – the goal of contemplative prayer is communion. We intentionally draw close in love.
Fr. Richard Rohr says that contemplation is “a long, loving look at the Real (with a capital R)” and this summer I’d love to lead us in doing just that. In the short episodes I’ll offer this summer, I’ll walk you through a variety of methods of contemplative prayer. One week we’ll contemplate a piece of art, in another a piece of music. We’ll contemplate in nature and with Scripture and with centering prayer and the rosary too, but maybe not in a way you’ve used the beads before. We will contemplate indoors and outdoors and we’ll use all of our senses in lots of different places, and it’s my hope that by the fall we’ll learn to feel the gaze of our loving God on us as we gaze on him. Friend, wouldn’t that be something?
Last week, I sat in a grassy space looking out at a harbor and there was a Mom there walking her little one in a stroller. She was doing that thing that maybe we all did, narrating the environment to help engage her baby with the building blocks of vocabulary. I remember doing that with my babies, too, naming and describing most everything around me and feeling a little crazy sometimes maybe, but it did work. I described the cars and the fruits at the grocery store and the sounds of the birdies and the dogs and the train near our house. And every time I did that, I was building a shared language with them that they still use particularly well today. Anyway, this Mom was asking her toddler, “Do you see the boats? What color are the boats? Boats in the water splash splash…” And it was so lovely, and it brought me back to my own young motherhood of course, but also it struck me that that Mom was modeling contemplation. Looking at things that we might miss or take for granted, studying them, naming them, feeling grateful for them. I found myself wondering why most of the boats in the harbor were white, and about the physics of how a boat floats, and about the people who worked aboard them. I can’t say that I’ve thought that much about boats in like, ever. It seems to me that sometimes we separate out the things that are wonderful, that is full of wonder and the things that are sort of regular or ordinary, but what if everything we see or hear or read or touch could be a means to communion with the God who made it, or inspired the making of it? What if we paid a little closer attention, slowed down and received these things as gift? Maybe contemplation could give us a new shared language and could make this world feel a little more like the magic it is, because maybe when we find communion with the divine out there, we’ll be more likely to experience our good God living in us, too.
Thanks so much for listening today, friends. Just a reminder that I’m taking a couple of weeks off and then I’ll be back this summer with shorter episodes in which I model lots of kinds of contemplation as I discern the next right steps for Raised Catholic. Thank you sincerely for your prayers in this season, friend. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. Thanks for sharing, rating, reviewing, and subscribing to this podcast as all of that helps more people to find us and I truly appreciate that, so thanks. If you’d like to support Raised Catholic financially by throwing a few bucks my way, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with lots of resources about how to engage with this topic more deeply for yourself, so do check all of that out. For now, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Lord, when you taught us to pray, you said to go into our inner room, shut the door and pray to our Father in secret. This summer, help us to do just that; to find and experience you in solitude and contemplation. We are learning to hear your voice, and this can be challenging sometimes, so thank you for helping us tune our ears. As we pray, help us to notice you more and more in all things, because this is the only way we can “pray without ceasing” and Lord, we ask your blessing for us and dear ones and for the work of our hands, too: give us good summer and wisdom to know which way to step next.
In the name of Jesus, and wrapped in the mantle of his mother, Mary we pray, amen.
Thanks so much for listening today, friend, and I’ll see you next time.
This week we’re looking at contemplative prayer and how to incorporate it into our faith lives. In addition, there’s an important update on the podcast, so please give this one a careful listen.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. “The Inner Journey: Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Spirituality,” by MattandJojang’s Blog
2. “Jesus Was a Contemplative,” by St. Joseph’s College Online Theology
3. “How to Practice Contemplative Meditation,” by U.S. Catholic
4. Book: Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton
5. Book: Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren
6. Book: Here and Now, by Henri Nouwen
7. Contemplative prayer resources and history from contemplativeoutreach.org
8. Song: Be Thou My Vision, by Audrey Assad
9. Song: The Embrace, by Ashana
10. Video: What is Contemplative Prayer?, with Fr. Mike Schmitz and Called to More
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