It's June, which means that this is the month of Flunking Sainthood when I attempted contemplative prayer. Guided by books by Thomas Keating and Cynthia Bourgeault, I worked on sitting for 20 minutes a day -- just 20 minutes a day! -- and holding a single spiritual phrase in my mind.
Since I'm the kind of person that craves silence, I thought it would be easy. But if you've read the book, you'll know that it didn't go well. In fact, it was the only one of my twelve spiritual practices that I gave up halfway through. Which made me feel like a loser.
I've made some peace with contemplative prayer, having at last internalized the lesson that there are different strokes for different folks, spiritually speaking. I've now tried three different versions of this kind of deep prayer, and while I can appreciate the fact that these are practices that can take a lifetime to understand and cultivate, I also appreciate the fact that life is short and so far I have not felt any lingering connection to contemplative prayer.
In a forthcoming book on spiritual practice called Joy Together, Lynne Baab describes what it felt like for her to be one of "those people" who took to contemplative prayer like the proverbial duck to water:
I realize others don’t always have the same experience that I did, but for me, contemplative prayer was like coming home. In the midst of the verbally oriented faith that I experienced at church and in smaller gatherings, contemplative prayer gave a sense of God as big and wild and wonderful—the mystery beyond our comprehension, and yet also our refuge and fortress, a source of peace, comfort, and security.
I so wish I had Lynne's experience. But I have given it up, maybe not for the rest of my life, but certainly for the foreseeable future. Maybe someday if I have a marvelous teacher, or a prayer group, or other people to help me understand what the heck to do . . . . But I'm not going to continue banging my head against the wall doing contemplative prayer by myself.
I know what Lynne means, though, about how some spiritual practices just feel like coming home. I felt that way about fixed-hour prayer when I tried it, even though I haven't kept it up very well. I also knew, the very first day I ever tried yoga, that it was exactly what I needed. It felt like what my body and mind were made for. (And I've been surprised to find that at the end of an active yoga practice, my mind is far more capable of the stillness required for contemplative prayer than it is when I attempt to just sit down and pray in the middle of a harried day.)
I'm not sure why some spiritual practices speak to our souls and others do not, but it's not worth our energy to fight against it. I don't doubt that regular practitioners of contemplative prayer will think I gave up too easily, and perhaps they're right. There should be some struggle in any spiritual practice -- otherwise, the growth will not come. But we have to decide for ourselves when it's time to cut our losses and try something else. As long as we are trying, the blessing will come.