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The Fruit of Contemplative Prayer

I live in an agricultural region 40 miles east of Lake Michigan. The soil is rich, and the climate provides an optimal growing season for a variety of crops. Area farms grow wonderful fruit – including strawberries, blueberries, grapes, apples, and peaches. The fruits ripen at different times during the year – providing a delightful abundance throughout summer and fall.

Each fruit grows at its own pace and ripens in its own time. The process can’t be rushed. The rhythm of fruitfulness is profoundly different than the dynamics of productivity. Productivity has the tendency to speed things up – often leading to frantic efforts to get things done as quickly as possible.

Contemplative prayer follows the pattern of fruitfulness. The discipline of entering into silence and opening ourselves to the God within has its own unique rhythm. Even when contemplation is a daily practice, the fruit it bears may take months or even years to grow and ripen. The fruit of contemplative prayer includes both inner healing and empowerment for service.

Inner Healing

Over time, my commitment to contemplative prayer has led to a slow but definite inner shift from anxiety to trust. For much of my life, I’ve felt a persistent anxiety that has driven my frantic pace and Martha-like activity. (Luke 10: 38-42) There’s a way in which I have lived in survival mode for years – exaggerating small worries until they seemed to threaten my existence. Slowly – very slowly – my chronic worry is giving way to a deeper trust that God is with me. That trust is helping me loosen my grip on life – letting go of my need to be constantly vigilant and relentless in trying to prove myself. I still have a long way to go, but the inner shift from anxiety to trust has begun and continues to unfold as a fruit of contemplative prayer.

The late Father Thomas Keating provides a helpful description of the kind of inner healing that is a fruit of contemplative prayer. He points out that every infant has three instinctive needs: security and survival, affection and esteem, and power and control. When these needs aren’t met – which is true in some way for all of us – they continue to unconsciously influence our behavior and decision making. Keating describes the process of healing that occurs during contemplative prayer as “divine therapy.”

Divine wisdom works in both prayer and action to free us from the undigested emotional junk of a lifetime that is warehoused in the body.¹

Keating provides a remarkable description of the healing brought about in contemplative prayer.

In the deep rest of contemplative prayer, the human body receives permission, so to speak, to evacuate the emotional junk of a lifetime. . . . Contemplative prayer gradually brings about the liberation of whatever prevents the presence of God from becoming part of our constant awareness.² 

I slowly came to realize that my existential anxiety was rooted in a childhood fear of abandonment. The struggles I endured while growing up in a chemically dependent family have taken a long-term toll. At a deep, emotional level, my childhood wounds – like those of so many survivors – have stayed with me throughout life.

As the presence of God becomes an increasing part of our awareness, we are gifted with a deep sense of being loved. The prayerful silence of contemplative prayer allows us to accept our woundedness and increase our openness to healing and love. Slowly, the awareness of being loved seeps into the dark and unredeemed places within us. The light of love gradually becomes more powerful, and it begins to chase the darkness away.

Empowerment for Service

Contemplative prayer is not just an inside job. The inner healing that we experience as a fruit of contemplative prayer creates a vital energy that empowers us to serve others.

Contemplative prayer slowly reveals our true motivation. For me, the early results weren’t pretty. I had to face the realization that much of what I thought of as serving others was – to use Keating’s phrase – “shot through with selfishness.” ³ My actions looked like service, but I was motivated by trying to look good, promote myself, and win approval.

Contemplative prayer slowly helps us learn to abide in the vine of Christ and open ourselves to the vinedresser. (John 15: 1) Our motivation continues to need pruning. As Jesus tells his disciples, “Every branch that bears fruit he (the vinedresser) prunes to make it bear more fruit.” (John 15: 2) Our self-interest needs to be cut away – freeing us to serve more wholeheartedly. Pruning is a lifelong process, and mine continues.

Authentic prayer impels us outward – preparing and empowering us to serve others. Sometimes that service involves significant organizational roles that are highly visible. Other times, it is a quiet and unnoticed loving presence among the least and most vulnerable. In whatever way our service is carried out and wherever it occurs, the love born and nurtured in contemplative prayer flows outward to heal, forgive, and reconcile.

When we have been loved, it moves us to become channels of love. The pruning that we experience removes the barriers that cause us to hoard love and impede it. As love begins to flow more freely through us, it reaches others unabated. One of my favorite expressions of such love is the Peace Prayer that is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

This prayer beautifully describes the way contemplative prayer empowers us to serve. We gradually become instruments – channels, conduits, passageways – that let God’s love flow through us to embrace those in need.

The fruit of contemplative prayer grows with its own rhythm and ripens in its own time. It gifts us with inner healing – slowly freeing us from anxiety and pruning our motivation. The love nurtured in contemplative prayer empowers us to serve others – allowing God’s love to flow through us to embrace a world desperate for healing and love. 

Invitation to Prayer

Join me in praying the Peace Prayer above – allowing the energy of God’s love to flow through us unabated in order to embrace those in need and heal a world desperate for love.

Notes

¹Thomas Keating, The Better Part: Stages of Contemplative Living (New York, Continuum, 2002), pp. 23-24.

²Ibid., p. 60.

³Ibid., p. 17.