By Andrew Jewell
I wanted to talk just briefly about contemplative prayer practice and using visualisation to press deeper into our time alone with God. From a cognitive perspective visualisation is an extremely powerful tool and helps us to focus, refocus, redirect and challenge our perceptions. In prayer this is also true but carries with it a deep engagement with our Creator.
Prayer and maintaining a regular devotional practice can be challenging. Personally speaking prayer has always been second nature to me but not everyone is that lucky. One of the things about prayer practice is that sometimes it can get a bit dry, we find it hard to press in or find ourselves praying about the same things over and over. It’s here that I find Christian meditation and contemplative practice is helpful.
It is here that creativity meets prayer and we explore contemplative practice.
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Call it Spirit inspired or simply just our mind working with concepts or images that we are familiar with, visualisation has huge part to play when pressing into God. We are lucky in that we have a bible full of symbols and stories that make it easier to find a place to start. Unlike Lectio Divina , an important discipline in itself where we are immersed in an understanding of the written form when we use visualisation to contemplate the nature and deeper things of God we are drawn into a new experience of God.
Where we start is a very personal thing. Most of us likely have a familiar image that we find comforting or powerful that is jumping off point. It may be an image in your mind of the events of the transfiguration, of the Cross, of Jesus himself in any number of depictions. It may also be a vision of heaven, the heavenly seat or throne, the glory of a clouded sky or even a calming brook, its all up to you and God to decide together.
Sometimes we can’t focus or bring a particular image to mind so start with a scripture to inspire or simply pray and ask for God to lead you to a place where you can be nearer to Him. For me that is usually the olive tree. A place where I know I can often speak, walk or simply be around Jesus and allow Him to speak into my heart regarding my questions or concerns. It is also a place I go for healing when I need prayer for myself or others. For you it may be different, its about the journey not the destination.
I know many people struggle with the concept of meditation and being still, some even to the point of anxiety as it can be unfamiliar. Some worry that if they are too deep in meditation ‘what will happen?’ to their physical body if it comes into danger or even their Spirit if they go into unknown territory.
Rest assured that if you are in prayer Spiritually you will be safe and are held by His Spirit. Fear of physical issues also tends to be tied to the lack of control e.g. my eyes are closed or ‘I could be embarrassed if someone walks in’ rather than actual physical threat. However, if you are feeling unsafe move to a time and place where you are safe and won’t be disturbed.
The other concern that sometimes raises its head is our concept of meditation, that it is somehow tied up with a dark spiritual practice from another belief. Most often this is a cultural thing and more prevalent in the Western world as many other regions have meditation as central to their religious practice. After all there are many Scriptural references to meditating in and on God;
Psalm 119:27 New Living Translation (NLT)
27 Help me understand the meaning of your commandments,
and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds.
Trying to meditate and pray in a deep, unobstructed manner needs the right atmosphere and situation, including being alone. Even Jesus needed to withdraw to pray. So it helps to ensure that you are unlikely to be disturbed as discussed above. Secondly it it is good to set the scene, that is to be in the environment that you find most conducive to contemplative practice. For Jesus it was often the wilderness, but for you it may be your bedroom, a beach, an empty church or any other place that has special Spiritual meaning to you.
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