My interest in contemplative prayer was first of all personal, but it also became academic. I wanted to study it. I wanted to trace it through Christianity’s history. I wanted to understand its theological roots. I began to examine current expressions and applications of it. I knew of a network of communities given to contemplative themes and decided to use them as a case study. The central question I pressed was, “What benefit does this prayer offer you?“ Many spoke of a shift of their spiritual life where their theology became their experience. What they knew of Jesus became their experience with Jesus. Others spoke of a stability and comfort in being just who God made them to be. But, the most repeated consequence of contemplative prayer was this. “I know that God loves me.” As if they were speaking from a script, everyone I interviewed echoed a confidence in the grace of God. Now they all knew John 3:16 before, but their prayer life opened a deep assurance of His love that reached into their souls. I should not have been surprised by their answer. It is the very thing God promised.
Just prior to the cross, Jesus spoke to His disciples with this metaphor. Jesus is the true Vine of God. The Father tends the Vineyard. You and I are the branches. Our life comes from Jesus. It’s our connection with Jesus that assures fruitfulness. Without Him we can do nothing. There is only one command that Jesus gives in the metaphor. We are to abide – remain connected to the Vine. Remaining doesn’t sound like too hard a command, until we remember our tendency to drift. We are prone to wander. Prayer is the path to abiding in Christ. It returns me to the connection of life God has granted. Prayer aligns my soul to His purposes. It restores the rightful order with our Creator. But most of all, it affirms with whispers of grace, that we are loved. Jesus said that to abide in Him is to abide in His love.
Contemplative prayer moves us from a dutiful utilitarian understanding to a relationship of love – a union of hearts. Union is God’s intent. God is moving all of us towards an eternal existence where we know and experience oneness with Him. Jesus prayed that we would be one in the Father and the Son even as God is One. (Jn.17:21) The Apostle John sees the future unfold in Revelation as a marriage supper and God’s people meeting Him as a Bride prepared for her husband. A unity of love is God’s intent for all of us. A taste of that love is possible now through prayer.
Today I pray in the hope of seeing His Kingdom come in this world. I pray to effect change. But frankly, regardless of the measure of change I see, I pray because I can’t do otherwise. God is the magnetic North of my soul and prayer keeps me pointed in His direction. I still wrestle with consistency, dedication, doubt and dryness, but the needle bends back to the North. It is drawn back by love. I don’t mean just my love for Him – fickle and frail as it is. I mean His love for us – unwavering, unending, near to all for the asking. So we pray and taste His grace.
“As The Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” John.15:9