The contemplative exercise

As part of a prayer group, or at a retreat or quiet day, you will probably use a full contemplative exercise, which may last for up to an hour in total. There are three parts: we use our minds, our hearts and our wills as we listen to God's word in the silences. During the last part we use the saying in intercession for others.

The exercise is led by a single person, called the Witness: their task is to manage the timing of the exercise and to provide a short introduction to each silence which helps the group to focus on the saying being used. They are witnessing to the word of God and are part of the group which is praying - it is the Word which is at the centre of the exercise, not the Witness.

Having tried to understand the saying first of all with our minds, then with our hearts, during the periods of silence that follow we try just to listen. We give our full attention to the words. Finally, in the third part we use the words in intercession, allowing them to be spoken through us to others.

Before starting it is important to be alert, comfortable and relaxed so beginning with a time of relaxation is often helpful.

A full contemplative exercise then follows this general pattern:

  • The Witness says an opening prayer (see below).
  • The Witness says the Divine Invitation (Matthew 11.28): 'Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest'. During a minute or two of silence, we listen to these words.
  • The Witness announces the chosen saying and introduces it - not for too long, but focusing on the meaning, biblical background, etc. For example, we may think about what it was like for those who heard the saying for the first time. This is followed by up to 10 minutes or so of silence as the saying is received into the mind.
  • The Witness develops the chosen saying, considering how we apply it to the context of our own lives, and of our human nature. Again, we listen to the words during a period of about 10 minutes silence as the saying is received into the heart.
  • The will is used as the chosen saying, which has become part of us, is given to others. We can say a name - there is no need to make a petition, just to hold that person or situation in God's presence. The saying is repeated for each name.
  • We conclude with a thanksgiving - the Witness uses one of the closing prayers below (which include the Fellowship Prayer of Thanksgiving) and the Grace is said together.

Opening Prayer

O ever-loving Father, we ask you to be with us through this exercise together; may I be a faithful witness and may we all be faithful sharers of the riches of your word.

Some closing prayers

Father, we thank you for the gift of your Word. Your Word is a light to our path. Your Word is Truth. Let it be to us according to your Word.

Ever-loving Father, we offer you ourselves, our souls, our bodies, so that everything that we are and everything that we do may be to your glory - until heaven and earth and all creation is filled with your glory and power.

We thank you Father for your divine love, and present to you, as far as we are able, all that we have and all that we do as an emptiness to be filled by you, until you are all in all and we are complete, through him who is your incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.

Lord, we praise you and bless you and adore you for your healing, transforming, life-giving Word of love; and we offer and present to you, as far as we are now able, all that we are, all that we have and all that we do, as an emptiness to be filled by you and your Word, until you are all in all and we are complete, through him who is the embodiment of your Word, Jesus Christ.

The Fellowship Prayer of Thanksgiving

Ever-loving Father, we thank you for your unsearchable riches which pour forth from you as light from the sun, in boundless profusion and generosity, whether received, ignored or rejected. And now we offer to you, in so far as we are able, as an emptiness to be filled with your divine fullness, our selves, our souls, our bodies; all that we are, all that we have and all that we do.  Amen.