Six core practices are foundational to Selah’s contemplative community.
Contemplative prayer practices should not be considered supernatural or magical channels to God. Instead, consider them figuratively as containers or spaces that provide structure for real, active, alive encounters with God’s Spirit. Six core practices provide awareness of God’s presence: breath (Breathing Prayer), daily experiences (Consciousness Examen), words (Lectio Divina), imagination (Prayer of Imagination), silence and stillness (Centering Prayer) and emotional experiences (Welcoming Prayer).
Additional complementary practices encourage growth in loving-kindness, gratitude, self-compassion, savoring, creation-encounter, discernment prayer and meditation.
Encountering God in every breath
Contemplative prayer begins with becoming present in the moment. Breathing prayer grounds the body and awakens awareness of Spirit, flowing through us with every breath. Conscious breathing provides a rhythm to encounter and attune to God’s ever-present Spirit.
Helpful insights and guidance for the Breathing Prayer
“God breathed the breath of life.”
In the practice of conscious breathing, we let our breath (and God) take the lead and show us the way. Most of the time we are not conscious of our breathing (or God’s indwelling Spirit). At the beginning or paying attention, the first reaction try to control or adjust our breath. The challenge is to become aware of our breathing without trying to change it. Learn to trust this natural rhythm (and God’s rhythm) keeping us alive and nourished since the day we were born. Develop gratitude for the breath’s tirelessly work and service.
Practice steps for the Breathing Prayer
- Set a timer (start with 5 or 10 minutes) and let it be sacred time.
- Sit comfortably, close your eyes and notice your breathing.
- Scan your body and notice how you know you are breathing. Tend to the movements and sensations you feel.
- Notice anxiety or struggles that arise when consciously trusting the natural rhythm of your breath. Begin to lean into trusting your breath and God’s indwelling Spirit.
- Spend time with your favorite sensation of breathing.
- Notice the pleasures and peace that may arrive.
- Notice when you are carried away by thoughts, and ever so gently return attention to the physical experience and sensations of breathing.
- Notice the in and the out and pauses in between.
- Join the rhythm of your breath. When you inhale, be aware of what nourishes life, and when you exhale, let go of what needs to be released.
- When the timer goes off, pay attention to this sense of presence affects how the body feels, and the movement and shift of spirit that has occurred.
- Feel gratitude and remember to breathe. Just breathe and know you are breathing the Breath of Life.
The Examen of Consciousness
An everyday reflective prayer practice
The Examen of Consciousness helps us learn to attend to our everyday experience, notice the movement of Spirit and to reflect on our response. It is an ancient prayer practice dating back to the 1500s given to us by St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit Order.
Helpful insight and guidance for the Daily Examen of Consciousness
The Daily Examen of Consciousness is both simple and profound. As we begin, we recall that we are in the presence of God, holding us in love. We ask the Spirit for help to become aware. We review our day, both the delightful and the difficult. We give thanks for what has been given and simply notice the ways we have embraced or resisted God’s movement. Finally, we open our hearts to become increasingly responsive to the Spirit’s gracious presence in our lives.
Practice steps for the Daily Examen
Make this time sacred, prepare the space and yourself.
- Prepare sacred space, remove distractions, set your phone to “do not disturb” and find a comfortable position.
- Move to your true center, slowly feel yourself moving downward from your thinking-mind into the fullness of your heart-space.
- Be still and find your inner silence held in God’s presence.
Remember what happened.
- See the day as a gift, even if there were hard or difficult experiences.
- Recall the events, the flow and movement of the day.
Awaken to deeper presence.
- Ask God to show you His presence and movement throughout the day.
- Pay attention to the moment of the day that comes to you right now, after asking.
- Wonder what God was up to in that moment and how God is inviting now.
- Tend to this moment and open to whatever God reveals.
Reflect on your response. What did you feel? What did you do?
- Recall your spirit responding to the Spirit of the moment. What did you feel? Notice what moved you, surprised you, or stirred you.
- Tend to that moment of the day. What did you do? Notice when and where you turned toward or away from the Spirit’s invitation.
Dialogue with God.
- Enter into dialogue with God about this moment. Let it be real and intimate, and let it deepen your bond and your union.
- Notice God’s invitation to you right here, right now. Choose how you wish to respond.
Offer gratitude and hope.
- Give thanks for this time and experience.
- Look toward the next day with hope and desire for more of God’s presence.
Lectio Divina – Reading Sacredly
A prayerful way to read
Lectio Divina is a way of reading with the focus of attention and awareness to inner movements – stirrings of the heart and nudges from God – during reading. It’s format encourages presence with the inner experience, and surrender to the possibility of being moved, changed and transformation.
Helpful insights and guidance for Lectio Divina
In this practice, it is not so much what you read as how you read that makes it a sacred invitation to engage life more fully. In contrast to reading for information, understanding or even entertainment, Lectio Divina is a way of reading prayerfully and personally through conscious awareness and responsiveness to what is happening in us as we read.
“The Word of Scripture should never stop sounding in your ears and working in you all day long, just like the words of someone you love. And just as you do not analyze the words of someone you love, but accept them as they are said to you, accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart, as Mary did. That is all…. Do not ask ‘How shall I pass this on?’ but ‘What does it say to me?’ Then ponder the word long in your heart until it has gone right into you and taken possession of you.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Practice steps for Lectio Divina
- Select a few verses from the Bible or a short spiritual reading, poem or prayer.
- Prepare your space, remove distractions, get comfortable and make this time sacred.
- Come to silence, held in God’s presence.
- Find your true center. Slowly feel yourself descending from your thinking mind down into the fullness of your heart space.
- Read the passage slowly, and pay attention to the word or phrase that grabs your attention, stirs an emotion, sparks your curiosity, or troubles you.
- No matter how small or insignificant the word(s) may seem, hold the word(s) in the presence of God.
- Read it again and let your awareness of the word(s) unfold. Pay attention to the context of the word(s) in your life as well as the reading. Notice the associations that have become attached to the word(s) in your life and in the reading. Tend to the space opening o you through the word(s) and to what God might be revealing to you. Wonder before God, “Why has this come to my attention?”
- Read it for a third time and be open to the invitation that God might be bring to you in this experience and choose how you wish to respond.
- Take a moment to rest thankfully in what God has given, before moving on.
- Commit to noticing how the word(s) and this experience may resurface and unfold in the coming hours, days, weeks and months of your life.
Prayer of Imagination
Encountering God in the realm of imagination
Prayer of Imagination is founded on our capacity to imagine. It is based on the premise that we cannot see or know an incomprehensible Spirit-God but we can experience Her presence, we can feel Him in our bodies, and we can imagine Them. Our imagination is a space that can be cultivated for encounter with God.
Helpful insight and guidance for Imaginative Prayer
We have the capacity to immerse ourselves into stories, scenes and experiences through our active imagination. As we imagine prayerfully God meets us in our imagination and we cocreate. Through imagination and desire for God, the scene and space for a spiritual encounter can unfold. We naturally put form to spirit, such as, imagining the face of Jesus, the wings of an angel or the image of God. These forms manifest out of our desire to connect with God and to understand our spiritual experience.. Through a heart of prayer God moves within imagination to develop connection. As sensations of our experience engage, our bodies join through activating the five senses. When we feel everything through the senses, it rounds out the fullness of our experience and gives rise to a deeper awakening and transformation through the practice.
Some suggested scenes and stories that can be starting places for Prayer of Imagination:
- Behold I stand at the door and knock …
- Jesus walking on the water …
- Walking on the road to Emmaus …
- Jesus healing the paralytic …
Practice steps for Prayer of Imagination
Beginning the practice:
For many of us we need a little help to get us going. Reading a Bible story that includes God or Jesus is a good place to start. Pick a story and then, through the steps offered below, allow yourself to be guided into the story.
- Get comfortable and quiet. Attentively ask God to open your heart to this prayer time.
- Read the story you have chosen, just to bring to mind the general unfolding of events.
- Ask God to help you remove any barriers and to open your heart to the free and expansive space of imagination.
Use your imagination and your senses to immerse yourself in the story:
- Begin to imagine the setting. Where are you? Enter the scene, turn around, walk around, look all around and examine it all. Fill in the details of the scene as they come into your awareness.
- Listen to the sounds. What do you hear? Draw your attention to them, wondering what they are and where they are coming from.
- Breathe in the air. What do you smell? Are there aromas and/or odors you recognize? As you breathe them become aware of how they make you feel.
- Become aware of your body. Are you hot or cold? Refreshed or tired? Tense or relaxed? What else do you sense in your body?
- Become aware of the sensations of your skin. Feel the clothes you are wearing and the stillness or movement of the air. Pay attention to subtle sensations. Maybe you feel the heat of the sun, the cold air, or the warmth of a fire? Notice the pressure points and become aware of what you are touching or what is touching you.
- Become fully present and alive to the experience of being a person in the story. Maybe you are already in character. Maybe you morph into one of the primary characters. Maybe you become a new character in the story. If you don’t feel inclined to be a central figure maybe you become a witness in the background or a person in the crowd. Once you have found yourself as a person in the story reconnect with all the senses you feel in this person’s body.
Encountering God in the story:
- Once you are fully in the scene and in character, draw you attention toward Jesus, God, or the central character you want to encounter. What do they look like? What does their presence feel like? What are they doing and/or saying? Do they notice you? Are they engaging you? What is beginning to happen? How are you responding? And what is happening to you?
- Allow yourself to be drawn into the experience, into dialogue, and into the unfolding of events. Wherever the story goes, wherever your desire to engage and your imagination takes you, let it be what it is no matter how strange it might develop. It is just like accepting a weird dream as it is and wondering what it means or intends for you.
- Pay attention to how you feel as it develops and stay with it until it comes to a natural end.
- When you feel like you have reached the end, take a moment to express gratitude for your experience.
Reflect on the prayer experience:
- Reflect on your experience over the days and weeks ahead and wonder what it has for you.
- Pay attention to the symbolic connections to elements of the story. For example: What is the storm in my life? How am I lame or blind? What am I drowning in? How do I find the courage to throw my nets on the other side? What religious or political power am I hanging onto? What are the beliefs or fears that keep me in the boat? What are the attachments I can’t seem to let go of? In what way is God there with me in my experience?
- Invite God into your reflections and let the dialogue continue.
Being present in silence to the presence of God
Centering Prayer is simply being present to God in receptive silence. Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk, formalized this ancient monastic practice for anyone to experience a intimate way of praying. Praying beyond words, deeper than thought itself.
Helpful insights and guidance for Centering Prayer
Jesus taught that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, entwined with us in an inner space that is deeper than thought or word. The mystics encouraged us to think of silence as God’s first language, and Thomas Keating went so far as to say, “Silence is the language of God. Everything else is a poor translation. In order to understand this language we must learn to be silent and to rest in God.”
Centering prayer is a listening and receptive prayer, yet we approach it with intentionality. We lean into the silence of the prayer with longing and consent, awareness and response. We long to awaken to God’s presence and movement in and around us and to consent to this indwelling presence, but we quickly discover that we get carried away in thought. We embrace the process of blindly getting carried away in thought, awakening to how far we have gone and returning to our heart’s desire of remaining in conscious intimate connection with God. The repeated awakening and turning towards God may feel disheartening but is actually one of the great blessings of this prayer practice. Silent stillness may seem passive, but we are actively, again and again, giving consenting to this divine presence that is active within us.
Practice steps for Centering Prayer
Guiding steps to a Centering Prayer Practice
- Ask God to bring to mind a word, a light object that you can hold in your hand or a simple mental image to use as a symbol for your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within you. When a word, object or mental image comes to mind make that your sacred symbol for this practice.
- Set a timer so you don’t have to think about time during the practice (15-30 minutes, as you wish).
- Sit comfortably with eyes closed and settle briefly into your seat.
- Silently acknowledge your sacred symbol as a reminder of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within you.
- After a moment, when you realize that you have drifted away in your thoughts, return ever so gently to your sacred symbol as an anchor for your intention to remain with God.
- At the end of the prayer period remain in silence for a couple of minutes with eyes closed. Acknowledge with gratitude the many opportunities you have had in this meditative practice to turn back towards God and be in his presence.
- Develop a daily practice of Centering Prayer and notice over time how it can facilitate “rewiring the brain” towards a more receptive posture and heart for God.
Praying into our emotional experiences
The Welcoming Prayer encourages us to prayerfully walk through our feelings towards a deeper Presence within us. The practice of Welcoming Prayer helps us dissolve our resistances (that disassociate us from life) and our attachments (that entangle us in the web of life) and opens the door to a fuller and freer experience of living. It is an active prayer for our more challenging emotional experiences. We ask God for the courage, strength, and wisdom to shift the inner dynamics of our lived experience so that we might find rest for our souls, even in difficult circumstances.
Helpful insights and guidance for Welcoming Prayer
Welcoming prayer is, first and foremost, an embodied prayer that we practice at a sensory level. In this practice we try to resist the tendency to analyze our experience until we have entered a deep awareness and inner hospitality for our embodied emotions. The thoughts related to an emotion tends to lead us to fixate and casts the narrative in stone. Whereas, tending to the physical sensations, with our hearts attuned to the indwelling spirit, opens up space for emotional energy to shift and the spiritual journey to continue.
The practice begins by longing for God’s indwelling spirit to guide us. Movement begins to happen when we awaken to an emotion and ask for the heart to welcome it. Then our welcome is deepened through awareness of its roots. Reminding ourselves that, though most of the time we are unaware, all our feelings are rooted and grounded in body sensations. It takes time to discover, awaken and grow our capacity to care about our sensate experience. It helps to scan your body with your mind’s eye and ask, “Where, specifically, in my body am I feeling something… and what sensation am I feeling there?” As we become more aware of an emotion’s deep-rooted presence in our body, we ask for more capacity to welcome the experience, allowing it to be what it is and giving it more space in the heart. As we give it more loving space we feel its condensed energy beginning to spread out and dissipate into the space we have offered it. We join in this inner movement by offering a willingness to let it go, releasing and relaxing its energy. We allow its energy to seep into the ground of our being where it can be nurtured by the breadth and depth of God’s indwelling spirit.
With repeated practice and presence we begin to notice habitual patterns emerge from our reflex tendency to grasp for security, affection, control or escape. We also begin to notice how graspi ng often serves to separate us from God’s indwelling spirit. As we wake up to our habitual patterns we find more opportunity to be intentional, open and trusting in our contemplative walk with God’s spirit.
Practice steps for Welcoming Prayer
- Shift and Attune: Shift your center of awareness from your head down to your heart and attune your heart to God’s indwelling presence.
- Feel and Sink into the emotion you are experiencing in the moment.
- Scan and Locate the feeling in your body and notice the associated sensations.
- Welcome and Allow the feelings, the sensations and the indwelling spirit.
- Open and Release: Expand your heart space with a deep breath in and out and let go by releasing the reflex tendency to grasp for security, affection, control or escape.
- Embrace and Trust: Embrace this moment as it is and entrust yourself to God’s indwelling spirit.
Try repeating the words (below) with heartfelt presence and allow your heart to shift:
“Welcome _____ (the specific feeling or sensation), Welcome ______, Welcome _____. I release my grasping for security… affection… control… or escape… and embrace this moment as it is and entrust myself to your indwelling spirit.”
(This 6-step movement has been adapted and expanded from for the 3-step movement of Welcoming Prayer (Feel, Welcome, and Let Go) as developed, defined, and refined by Mary Mrozowski and other leaders in the Contemplative Outreach movement for contemplative prayer.)