Contemplative spirituality has its own jargon, and this “language of prayer” evolves over time. Nowadays you’ll find students of the mystical path speaking about meditation, nonduality, mindfulness and heightened consciousness, whereas a century ago you’d be more likely to encounter terminology like mental prayer, unitive life, recollection and rapture.
Sometimes words themselves evolve in how they are used: when Evelyn Underhill spoke about the prayer of rapture, she was not talking about the idea of mass ascension taking place at the end of time, such as you will find in some corners of the evangelical world. Rather, for Underhill, rapture referred an ecstatic transformation of consciousness, available in the present to anyone to whom God might bestow such a grace. Likewise, meditation used to imply any kind of thoughtful reflection as prayer, whereas we now tend to use the word to describe a practice of silent attentiveness.
So part of the challenge of exploring contemplative spirituality is learning how the language of the interior life has evolved over time.
With this as our backdrop, here is a guided meditation I recorded several weeks ago for an online program I directed. I was introducing the participants to the spirituality of Evelyn Underhill, and so I wanted to offer them a spiritual exercise based on Underhill’s teachings. Drawing primarily from her books Mysticism and Practical Mysticism, this recording invites you into prayer through silence and relaxed attentiveness. I hope you’ll give it a listen and take the time to rest prayerfully in the silence.
As you listen to this recording, you may notice that the instructions for practicing the prayer of recollection are very similar to the guidelines for Centering Prayer or for other forms of contemplative practice. This is because, while different “methods” of prayer might have slightly different instructions — for example, the Jesus Prayer involves reciting the name of Jesus or a short prayer in a repetitive way, while Centering Prayer involves each person choosing their own sacred word to recite — the essential components are the same: entering into silence in a devotional, prayerful spirit, seeking to place our relaxed attentiveness into the silence where we trust God to be present.
The Prayer of Recollection reminds us that these kinds of silent methods of prayer are nothing new. It’s been over a century since Underhill described this way of praying, and she in turn was drawing on the wisdom of the mystics of past, like St. Teresa of Ávila (16th century). The ways in which we describe silent forms of prayer may change over time, but the essential elements of this kind of prayer — restful silence, relaxed attention, a word or icon on which we focus our intention to be present to God — have a long history indeed.
Hope you enjoy this recording. I’ll be releasing other recordings of meditations and prayer practices in the future.