Today, in reading a meditation from "Watch the Light," (an Advent book that I mentioned a few days ago on the blog), Loretta Ross-Gotta uses the word "recollection." (1) At first, I thought she was using it the way most of us understand the word--as the act of recalling or remembering. But recollection is a type of prayer, similar to what some of us understand as contemplative or Centering prayer. (2) Her experience of recollection is a lot like my own experience of Centering prayer: it sounds lovely but it can be strangely harrowing to practice such open prayers, where we attempt to lay aside our own expectations and agendas and ask for God to be present with us. (3)
In trying to research the differences between various kinds of prayer (and there are many...follow St. Teresa of Avila's levels of prayer rabbit-hole and just see for yourself), I found this description from Contemplative Outreach helpful:
There are many levels of relation with God that can be manifested by the way we pray. There is vocal prayer (the saying of your prayer), there is meditation (the thinking about and reflecting on your prayer), there is affective prayer (responding from your heart), there is centering prayer (a receptive silent prayer of consenting, which also can express a desire to be gifted with contemplation), and there is contemplative prayer (the gift of resting in the Lord). Another way of expressing it is: meditation is thinking about God, Centering Prayer is consenting to God and contemplative prayer is loving God.
What does all of this have to do with Advent?
I think Advent is a season that prepares us to approach and know God in ways that we can approach and know him in all seasons. When we pray, there are many ways that we, as mortal creatures, can make things happen of our own volition. We may speak these vocal prayers, decide to meditate, and even contemplate. But in mystical prayer it is God who does the moving, the choosing, and the acting. Many mystics, like Teresa of Avila, experience God in these ways after a lot of contemplative prayer. But, even with all that preparation, mystics can never make a mystical act happen. That is God's choosing.
That, you might already guess, is what all of this has to do with Advent. Advent reminds us once again that God acted and still acts. Our actions are important as we choose to reach out to God in relationship through spiritual disciplines of prayer, bible reading, singing, and worshipping in community. But ultimately, it is still God who does the work. It is God who chooses us, who offers us grace and healing, who gives us wholeness and love. It is God who descends to earth as a baby, giving up power for vulnerability, comfort for suffering, security for an embracing love.
Even if feeble and minuscule, all God asks of us is a turning toward Jesus. God has already done the rest.
Oh Light by Gungor
1. Ross-Gotta's whole meditation is also online here.
2. There are many types of prayer that I'm still learning about. A robust prayer life should consist of many types of prayer. If you pray a lot, you're probably already doing more than one type without knowing it. Quiet contemplation, vocal prayer, praying a Scripture, etc.
3. It can be harrowing because it is in the quiet that we are often confronted with ourselves and our own darkness. This is necessary, though, in order to ask for Jesus to heal us.