Prayer is foundational to Christian life. People pray formally in liturgical settings, and they pray informally throughout each day in a myriad of ways. However, the prayer style and approach that many employ takes either a petitionary or intercessory form. When examining Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing,” it becomes immediately obvious that this method of praying may not fully accommodate the Apostle’s intention. He seems to point to a different way, one that undoubtedly includes petitions and intercessions, but one that is more holistic in nature. Contemplative approaches to prayer satisfy this need. Contemplative prayer is a way of paying attention to God that has the effect of changing our outlook on the world, a vision that leads to an entrenched love of God and neighbor. It has a transformational quality, helping us to assume what Paul terms the “mind of Christ.” This mind sees the divine reality of humanity’s participation in the Trinity, a unitive perception that expresses itself through an overt sense of compassion and unity. The heart of this essay is a multi-disciplinary “proof-case” for this approach to the prayer life. It scours the Christian canon for textual samples that buttress the arguments for the goal of unitive perception and its attainment via contemplative practice. John’s gospel, Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and the Philippians, and other sources supply ample support for these claims. That evidence secured, it looks to the past to introduce a historical contemplative—Symeon the New Theologian—who embraced these biblical tenets, and whose life spoke to the perceptual outcomes posited in the thesis. Three of Symeon’s written works attest to his transformational experiences and teachings. Once that witness is vetted, the text relies upon contemporary neuropsychological sciences to provide empirical verification of the physiological and mental changes that contribute to the experiences of contemplatives like Symeon as a result of their practice. Magnetic imaging and other technologies help scientists map the processes that the contemplative brain undergoes, changes that directly or indirectly impact human perception. Lastly, the text forms a theological synthesis centered on Christ’s death and resurrection. It examines the contemplative’s death to “self,” and the resurrection-like breakthrough that can result from this type of intentional practice. The essay concludes with the entreaty for the broader dissemination of contemplative prayer. The compiled evidence speaks to the firm position these historically Christian practices hold within the greater spectrum of spiritual formation. These methods must be taught, as we do a disservice to the Body when we fail to make their illuminative qualities known.
Dr. James K. Lee
Dr. Ruben L. F. Habito
Dr. John M. Harman
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Woods, James E. II, "Putting on the Mind of Christ: A Rationale for the Role of Contemplative Prayer in Christian Unitive Perception" (2018). Doctor of Ministry Projects and Theses. 28.