Pas­tors re­turn­ing to si­lence and con­tem­pla­tion to hear, reach God

The Beaufort Gazette - - Lowcountry Life - BY LAYNE SAL­IBA

The Rev. Stu­art Hig­gin­botham re­mem­bers spend­ing time on the banks of Lake Chicot in south­east Arkansas in or­der to find a lit­tle quiet, a lit­tle si­lence, as he was grow­ing up. Some­times, he simply went into the woods near his home.

“I’ve al­ways been drawn to this ques­tion of how trans­for­ma­tive si­lence can be,” said Hig­gin­botham, rec­tor at Grace Epis­co­pal Church in Gainesville, Ge­or­gia. “It’s al­ways been some­thing in my life that I needed.”

That’s why con­tem­pla­tive prayer is some­thing he prac­tices on a daily ba­sis. This type of prayer, Hig­gin­botham said, is focused more on si­lence and lis­ten­ing for God’s voice, in­stead of ask­ing God for things – how most of mod­ern cul­ture imag­ines prayer.

He said con­tem­pla­tive prayer is “grounded in the Bib­li­cal tra­di­tion of si­lence, still­ness and soli­tude” and “nur­tures a deeper aware­ness of God’s pres­ence in our lives so that the way we live in the world is trans­formed through com­pas­sion.”

Prayer and con­tem­pla­tion can some­times best be achieved by phys­i­cally and men­tally clois­ter­ing our­selves, ac­cord­ing to an­other local pas­tor.

“We re­ally do need to take that pat­tern from Je­sus him­self and go away, go into our rooms and quiet our­selves and find ways to ex­pe­ri­ence the rich­ness of what si­lence can ac­tu­ally of­fer us.”

The Rev. Car­olyn Clifton, as­so­ciate pas­tor at Gainesville First United Methodist Church, re­cently helped to lead her church through four weeks of cen­ter­ing prayer dur­ing Ad­vent. Cen­ter­ing prayer is a dis­ci­pline that of­ten leads to con­tem­pla­tive prayer, she said.

“The ben­e­fit of it is to find within your­self a cen­ter-place in God so that that be­comes the place that you live out of,” Clifton said. “In my mind, it’s how you achieve the pray­ing with­out ceas­ing, be­cause it be­comes a way of liv­ing.”

Hig­gin­botham said the orig­i­nal idea of con­tem­pla­tive prayer came from Je­sus, who demon­strated it when he went into the desert to fast and pray af­ter be­ing bap­tized. He said it was also ev­i­dent when Je­sus went to the Garden of Geth­se­mane to be alone and pray be­fore his cru­ci­fix­ion.

Hig­gin­botham men­tioned part of the verse Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Fa­ther, who is un­seen.”

“It’s a pat­tern in Je­sus’ own life and one that he en­cour­ages his dis­ci­ples to have, to take mo­ments to ac­tu­ally go and con­tem­plate,” Hig­gin­botham said.

Of­ten­times, when Hig­gin­botham en­ters his time of con­tem­pla­tive prayer, he said he is re­minded of poverty. His time of be­ing silent helps him un­der­stand the things he truly needs and the things he only wants. He said it also helps him make de­ci­sions. In or­der to not make “rash de­ci­sions,” Hig­gin­botham said it’s im­por­tant to be quiet – some­thing “the church as a whole” could ben­e­fit from.

“Tak­ing time each day to sit in si­lence and pay at­ten­tion to what rises up – what fears, what con­cerns, what hopes, what dreams – it re­ori­ents the en­tire way I see my life,” Hig­gin­botham said.

Al­though it’s a prac­tice that has been demon­strated in the Bi­ble, Hig­gin­botham said it was lost some­where along the way. Through­out sem­i­nary, he said he started study­ing many tra­di­tions of Chris­tian cul­ture, and he wanted to know more. He ended up do­ing his doc­toral the­sis on the sub­ject of con­tem­pla­tive prayer and is work­ing to help his par­ish and oth­ers know more about it. Grace Epis­co­pal is host­ing a Mind­ful Si­lence Re­treat 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 12.

“The truth is, where it was lost was when the prac­tice of Chris­tian faith be­came con­flated with po­lit­i­cal struc­tures of cul­ture,” Hig­gin­botham said.

Through cen­ter­ing prayer, Clifton said the fo­cus can be placed on God, which in turn, will help how in­di­vid­u­als see the world.

“If you’re cen­tered in God, then it changes how you in­ter­act with the per­son in front of you, or the news you hear on TV or so­cial me­dia or what­ever,” Clifton said.

The preva­lence of those things on TV or so­cial me­dia may be part of the rea­son cen­ter­ing prayer is be­com­ing more wide­spread and con­tem­pla­tive prayer is re­turn­ing to churches in the U.S.

“Ev­ery­thing is so com­pet­i­tive,” Hig­gin­botham said.

“It just feels cut­throat. And the toxic po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, eco­nomic uncer­tainty, real con­crete is­sues in peo­ple’s' lives, what does it mean to ac­tu­ally take time out and sit and pay at­ten­tion to your thoughts? At the end of the day, that’s what we’re called to do is to rec­og­nize God’s pres­ence in our lives and rec­og­nize God’s pres­ence in ev­ery­one else’s lives.”

Hig­gin­botham said con­tem­pla­tive prayer can be done in any de­nom­i­na­tion. He said “it is like a river that flows un­der­neath de­nom­i­na­tions.” Peo­ple from many dif­fer­ent back­grounds can iden­tify with it.

“The prac­tice ac­tu­ally shows that we can pray along­side each other.”


The Rev. Stu­art Hig­gin­botham

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