One of my favorite forms of prayer is contemplative meditation, a time of silent reflection on a specific subject. On any given day, the focus of my contemplation might be a Bible passage or a theological concept such as healing, wholeness or joy. While many forms of prayer involve speaking, contemplative prayer involves listening. What do I listen for? I listen to hear what will come to me after all of the other thoughts have tumbled out of my head.
Contemplative prayer can be the source of powerful insights, but it is not always easy, particularly if you have cats.
The cats, of course, would prefer that I engage in contemplative prayer on the sofa. It’s easier for them to jump onto, and it puts me in a better position for them to climb into my lap for a bit of meditation of their own. Since I’m trying to avoid distractions while meditating, I do my best to ignore their advances.
This doesn’t mean that the cats don’t try to get in on the act. Brushing against my legs while I’m meditating is only the start. If they’re feeling more aggressive, they may jump up onto the chair and circle me, doing elaborate sniffing routines to make sure that I’m the same person that I was before I started my meditation. Or they may simply rear up on their hind legs, put their front paws gently on my knees, and stare deeply into my eyes, as if to communicate that they could surely think of a better use of my time than contemplating the mysteries of the Holy Spirit.
I could send the cats into exile, I suppose. It would be easy enough to close them off in another room during my time of meditation. But even without cats, there are many distractions when one chooses to meditate. The phone calls one needs to make, the letter one needs to write, the countless projects that await one’s attention when meditation is done — these thoughts flit around the edge of one’s consciousness, just as persistent as any cats could ever be.
The point of contemplative meditation is not to eliminate these distractions, but to acknowledge them and then gently return one’s focus to the subject of the meditation. The main reason that I engage in this kind of meditation is to receive the insights and inspiration that come after spending an extended period of time contemplating the holy. But sometimes it may be just as important to practice the art of repeatedly returning one’s focus to the divine while living in a world filled with distractions.
So, today I will take some time to sit quietly in my chair, gently acknowledging distracting thoughts and inquisitive cats. Strengthened by new insights, new inspiration and a deeper connection with God, I will arise to take care of the other business of the day: those phone calls I need to make, that letter I need to write, and those countless other projects that await my attention. And, of course, I will take some time to pet the cats.
This reflection is based on a piece that I wrote while serving as the senior pastor of MCC San Jose.