Meditative prayer: A salve for modern day life

June 21, 2011

At a glance

Described as a “monastery without walls,” the World Community for Christian Meditation has meditative prayer groups and centers in more than 100 countries. To learn more about local groups or how to start one, visit www.wccm.org. †

HOUSTON — Father Laurence Freeman, the spiritual guide and director of the World Community for Christian Meditation, was in Houston recently to spread the word about the benefits of meditative or contemplative prayer, a traditional form of prayer that is said to be making resurgence across the globe. 

The English-born Benedictine monk, who has conducted peace initiatives with the Dalai Lama and written books and articles on the subject, took time out to talk to the Texas Catholic Herald about this form of prayer that, he said, is a salve for today’s politics of fear, enhances well-being and allows for a closer relationship to God.

Texas Catholic Herald: Contemplative prayer sounds very appealing. What’s the easiest way to get started?
Father Laurence Freeman: The best way to get started is to find someone to mediate with. Join a meditation group and find out what it’s meant to them and why it’s part of their spiritual life. A group helps people get into the daily practice of contemplative prayer. 

TCH: What’s the difference between contemplative prayer and regular prayer?
Father Freeman: All forms of prayer are valid and beautiful, but what many Catholics have lost touch with is the ‘prayer of the heart.’ With contemplative prayer we are not informing God or asking for something, we are doing something gracious by being with God. There is a whole mystical tradition behind this.

TCH: Part of the message of contemplative prayer is to recognize the enemy as a neighbor. How do you do that through this kind of prayer?
Father Freeman: When we are in that contemplative mind or space, we simplify the psychological projections we have thrown onto other people. We may have put them on a pedestal or demonized them. With either of those forms of projections we are really disrespecting them by seeing them as we imagine them and not as they really are. As soon as we are in a contemplative space, the projections are withdrawn and we can look at them the way they are. 

TCH: How does contemplative prayer help people to more fully understand what you refer to as “the seductions and dangers of the politics of fear?”
Father Freeman: People become brainwashed, controlled or manipulated in all sorts of ways — through the media, advertising, for instance. Meditation brings us out of the crowd mentality and to the discovery of our own uniqueness, allowing us to begin to think for ourselves and make our own judgments and not what the media tells us to think.

TCH: What about the fears of everyday life — coping with aging parents, the stress of working or not working, illness, death? 
Father Freeman: If we are controlled by the politics of fear, we are more likely to be in the grip of fear in our personal lives. There is real agreement between spiritual leaders and professionals that meditation is a very powerful therapy for maintaining mental health. As well as the physical and psychological benefits, meditation also bears spiritual fruit. Goodness, self-control, kindness — these are qualities that grow through the contemplative experience.

TCH: What do you hope to achieve by spreading your message about contemplative prayer?
Father Freeman: The last few popes have all been calling for contemplative renewal of the Church. Teaching contemplative mediation is one way to put that into practice. It makes the Church more effective, and we are better able to bear witness to the Gospel. It also brings the Church into a fruitful relationship with the secular world in ways that benefit the world in dealing with a crisis. †