- by Sr. Laura
The most common question we, as members of Poor Clare Sisters, also known as Sisters of St. Clare, are asked is: “What do we do?”
“We are a community of contemplative Poor Clare Nuns.”
“And what does that mean?”
That means we offer contemplative prayer. I’ll explain how I practice contemplative prayer. Anyone can do it, and you probably do in one way or another. It is one of the oldest, most natural, and simplest forms of prayer. You don’t need anything – just your desire to be with God.
The heart of contemplative prayer is one dynamic action: attentive listening and responding in faith.
I have an image that helps me in my practice of contemplative prayer. In the Hebrew Scriptures, one image for faith is the broad, long cloth or (he’min) that a woman uses to wrap around her and her child. This wrap enables her to carry her child wherever she goes. The child is nestled securely on her hip, on her back, or on her breast. We still see women in Africa and South America carrying their babies in this way. I find the image of this child wrapped in its mother’s arms to be a beautiful spiritual image of faith. The child feels safe and protected by its mother. In a similar way, we may imagine ourselves safe and protected in God’s powerful arms. People through the ages have found peace in this image, and it is still relevant to us today.
Like a baby resting in faith with its mother, in contemplative prayer, we can rest in faith with God. While resting, we listen for God’s presence. We are not listening for a voice or words. Rather, we are listening for God’s unconditional love of us. We find ourselves at peace in that love. We find ourselves accepting it, and responding to it. We may sometimes feel so at rest that we fall asleep, even as a child sleeps in its mother’s arms. This is contemplative prayer–being wrapped in faith and at rest in an awareness of God’s love for us.
In order to practice contemplative prayer, find a quiet place to be alone. Close your eyes and let your mind be at rest. This may take some time. Let go of the cares and concerns of your life. Let yourself become still. Focus on your breathing. Breathe out and let go of your concerns. Breathe in and repeat a word gently to yourself. The word itself is not important. The word is just a reminder to bring you back to attentive listening in case your mind drifts off to other thoughts or worries.
As your slow breathing helps to calm you, respond with an act of faith. Imagine yourself nestled in the arms of God like a baby securely wrapped in its mother’s arms. When I practice contemplative prayer, I often remember Psalm 131:2
Like a weaned child rests against its
So my soul is quiet within me.
Now I only need to listen attentively for the presence of God. The action now is God’s. God gives unconditional love in response to my trust that I am held and safe. No matter whether we are male or female, no matter our age, we all need to be held when life’s cares overwhelm us. Contemplative prayer allows us to experience God’s never ending, never failing love. Nothing can separate us from that love. When you finish your prayer, take a few moments to bring this contemplative prayer time to a close.
As I enter back into my day, those moments of peace that I found in contemplative prayer can end quickly. However, during the day when I feel upset or unsettled, I go back to my slow breathing, close my eyes, and recall my experience of resting in God’s love. I become once more like a weaned child, resting in its mother’s arms. Once more, I find myself comforted. I find myself listening and responding in faith to the gift of God’s presence.