Prayer takes many forms, all of them beautiful. One of my favorite forms of prayer is contemplative meditation, a time of silently reflecting on a specific subject. On any given day, the topic of my contemplation may be a Bible passage or a theological concept such as healing, wholeness or joy. Most frequently, I simply focus on God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. Whichever focus I choose, one thing is always the same. While many forms of prayer involve speaking, contemplative prayer involves listening.
This is not to say that contemplative prayer is 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 much better position for them to climb into my lap for a bit of meditation of their own. The chair where I meditate doesn’t really have room for them, and it doesn’t position me well for the cats to sit on my lap.
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 back or arms and circle me while doing elaborate sniffing routines to make sure that I’m the same person that I was before I started meditating. 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 petting them would surely be a better use of my time than contemplating the mysteries of the Holy Spirit.
I could send the cats into exile, I suppose. I could close them off in another room during my thirty minutes 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 form 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 again I will take the 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.
– Rev. Michael Patrick Ellard, Former Senior Pastor of MCC San Jose
This reflection was originally published as part of MCC San Jose’s weekly reflection series. Please click the following link for more information about MCC San Jose’s weekly reflections.