by Stratton Jennings
I’m fascinated by Mother Teresa’s response to a couple of questions posed by former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather during an interview he conducted with her back in the 80’s. “What do you say to God when you pray?” Rather asked. Her simple answer was, “I don’t say anything; I just listen.” Rather, rather nonplussed, then asked her, “Well, what does Jesus say to you?” And Mother Theresa answered, “Oh, He doesn’t say anything, either. He just listens.”
The prayer she described sounds, on the surface, like the most disjointed conversation in history. Two beings listening to each other not talk. Two listeners listening to each other say nothing.
On reflection, though, what Mother Teresa was talking about sounds to me like contemplative prayer. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. The love of God expressed to humans, who express it back to God. Love expressed in a way that is beyond words, beyond description, beyond rational comprehension, yet meaningful beyond imagination.
We speak of relationship with God; for Christians in America in the twenty-first century, that’s what life is supposed to be all about. Well, Mother Teresa’s kind of prayer is true relationship with God. The kind of relationship where you don’t have to say anything, you just look in each other’s eyes or listen to each other breathe. The kind where there’s really nothing to say, nothing that needs to be said, nothing that can be said; the love is there, so unfathomably deep you couldn’t even begin to put it in words. It’s prayer beyond the point of feeling like you have to say something to fill in the silence. It’s the look, followed by the embrace, that breaks down the walls of nervousness, that melts the anxiety and fear and loneliness, till all is dissolved in love and everything else is forgotten.
That’s what contemplative prayer is. It’s being heart-to-heart with God.
Not that prayer with words is not important. There are times in any relationship where things need to be said and things need to be heard. I doubt that Mother Teresa was saying she never engaged in those kinds of prayers. But when you love someone, it’s not the conversations you remember, so much as just being together, knowing there’s something there between you in the silence that’s more powerful than all the words in all the dictionaries in the world. It’s the perfect peace that comes after everything’s been said, and after the realization that some things never can be said. Like Paul said in Philippians 4, you make your requests to God, and then…peace that passes understanding. That peace is what keeps our hearts and minds in Christ. Not words.
I’ve been a practicing Christian (evangelical, more or less) for over thirty years. I’ve diligently studied the Word of God and sought to know and please God more and more over the years. This pursuit has led me for the past seven years to seek God through contemplative prayer (centering prayer), which I believe is fully biblical, though greatly misunderstood by most Christians. I’ve also informally studied the history of Christian contemplation and contemplative writings within the Christian tradition. Through my own Bible study I have become increasingly aware of the hidden treasures in the Bible concerning contemplative spirituality. This and other blogs of mine and some of my contemplative friends can also be found on http://www.silentjourney.org which is the Companions for the Silent Journey website.
Want to learn the “how tos” or more about Centering or Contemplative Prayer? I recommend the daily devotional, 40 Days to a Closer Walk with God by David Muyskens. This is one of my personal favorites.