Recently in the Office of Readings was a writing of St Bernard on beginning contemplative prayer. So what is contemplative prayer?
Vocal prayer is saying either standard prayers such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, Guardian Angel Prayer, etc or talking lovingly to God in our own words like to a friend or family member. Meditative prayer may be described as thinking about and exploring a passage of Scripture, an event in Jesus’ life such as one of the mysteries of the Rosary, etc. Contemplative prayer is about being present to God (as two intimate friends happy to be silently in each other’s company) and this type of prayer is largely a gift that comes to us from God himself.
The following isn’t as easily read as modern literature, so take it slowly. I have bolded the key points.
The first stage of contemplation, my dear brethren, is to consider constantly what God wants, what is pleasing to him, and what is acceptable in his eyes. We all offend in many things; our strength cannot match the rightness of God’s will and cannot be joined to it. So let us humble ourselves under the powerful hand of the most high God and make an effort to show our lowliness before his merciful gaze, saying Heal me, Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved. And again, Lord, have mercy on me; heal my soul because I have sinned against you.
Once the eye of the soul has been purified by such considerations, we no longer abide within our spirit in a sense of sorrow, but abide rather in the Spirit of God with great delight. Thus we are convinced that what is according to his will is in every way better for us, and more fitting. And so, if we are concerned to preserve the life of our soul, we must be equally concerned to deviate as little as possible from his will.
Thus having made some progress in our spiritual exercise under the guidance of the Spirit who gazes into the deep things of God, let us reflect how gracious the Lord is and how good he is in himself. Let us join the Prophet in praying that My soul is humbled within me, therefore I shall be mindful of you.
These two stages sum up the whole of the spiritual life: when we contemplate ourselves we are troubled, and our sadness saves us by bringing us to contemplate God; that contemplation in turn gives us the consolation of the joy of the Holy Spirit. Contemplating ourselves brings fear and humility; contemplating God brings us hope and love.