Stillness, Contemplation, and the Jesus Prayer
In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait only for You
Because I want to know You more
The Lord has taught me a lot about stillness and contemplation over the past several years.
The book The Cloud of Unknowing, written by a 14th century monk, is all about seeking the Lord through contemplation. It teaches the practice of quieting the mind and soul and seeking God in love.
Additionally, the Eastern Orthodox tradition practices using a prayer rope as a guide in the contemplative life. A prayer rope is a rope made with a specific number of knots, typically 33, 50, or 100, which are used to count the number of times you pray a short repetitive prayer, most commonly the Jesus Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Praying this simple yet powerful prayer over and over again is one of the main practices of the Eastern monastic life. The book The Way of the Pilgrim goes into much more detail about the prayer. This practice is one way the Eastern monks would “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). They would pray this prayer hundreds and thousands of times a day, and eventually the prayer would become like breathing; it would be written on their hearts.
So in my experience of stillness and contemplation, I’ve found that using a prayer rope and praying the Jesus Prayer helps me to get quiet and still. It helps me to empty my mind of distracting thoughts and feelings, to put aside anything that’s bothering me, consuming me, or hindering me from meeting with God. It helps me to get still so that I can focus all of my love on Jesus in contemplation.
I also find that matching my prayer with my breathing (breath prayer) helps me to focus even more. As I breathe in, I pray “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God”. As I breathe out, I pray “have mercy on me, a sinner”. In love, I inhale with longing for Christ; in mercy, I exhale my identity as a sinner. I pray this at least 100 times, simply desiring nearness with God. I lay down all other thoughts and feelings, focusing purely on my desire for the Lord.
After spending just 10-15 minutes in prayer and stillness, I almost always feel a surreal peace, rest, and the tangible presence of God upon me. I’ve found that using this practice as an introduction to contemplation helps me get into that place of stillness and quietness where I can really listen to the Holy Spirit. Personally, I’ve never felt closer to Jesus than when praying and seeking Him in this way. Everyone is different and experiences the Lord in different ways, but for me there is a special intimacy and vulnerability in stripping away all of my own thoughts and feelings and standing naked (figuratively) before God in prayer, desiring only to be close in love.
So then stillness isn’t simply being physically still. It doesn’t mean not moving, or not speaking, or not thinking. It is a state of mind and soul. In fact, its true that you can be moving around, thinking, even speaking, and be still, though I think its far more difficult. It might take years, or even decades, of experience to have such a level of discipline over the mind and soul. But stillness is just that, a state of mind and soul – it is peace.
In stillness and contemplation, we submit our body, mind, and soul so that we can engage that deep place within our being where the human spirit connects with the Holy Spirit. We turn down the volume of the mind, not allowing our own thoughts to get in the way. We turn down the volume of the heart and soul, not allowing our emotions or feelings to distract us. And in that stillness, we can encounter the deep places with the Lord: “in the secret, in the quiet place; in the stillness You are there.”
About the Author
Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.
Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.
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