“One of the chief benefits of contemplative prayer is the lowering of anxiety and anxious reactivity. . . . Contemplative prayer forms us to love well because love requires calm presence over reactivity.”- Rich Villodas
“To live without speaking is better than to speak without living. For the former who lives rightly does good even by his silence, but the latter does no good even when he speaks.”- Abba Isidore of Pelusia
Rich Villodas concludes Chapter 4 of Good and Beautiful and Kind as he asserts that we need a ‘This Is Your Brain on Silence’ public service announcement. Because in recent years, there’s been much research regarding the effect of silence and meditation on the brain.
In his book How God Changes Your Brain, American neuroscientist Andrew Newberg reported on the effect of long-term contemplation of God and other spiritual values. These practices appeared to change the structure of those parts of the brain that control our moods. Furthermore, that change gives rise to our conscious notions of self and also shapes our sensory perception of the world. Newberg continues:
“Contemplative practices strengthen a specific neurological circuit that generates peacefulness, social awareness, and compassion for others.”
However, Rich observes, silence rarely saturates our lives. As a result, our speaking often comes from a place not rooted in God. Hence, our words tend to bear a marked resemblance to the words of the fallen world system.
Yet, contemplative prayer connotes more than a surrendering of words in silence before God. Such prayer also trains the soul for moments when we must surrender our words before others. Especially when we feel tempted to speak with harmful intent.
Finally, contemplative prayer presents his challenge: you rarely see fruit in the moment. Instead, you see the impact of this practice in retrospect. Therefore, you need to persevere in prayer. As Quaker Douglas Steere once said:
“Stopping too soon is the commonest dead-end street in prayer.”
Today’s questions: What Bible verses help you sustain calm presence over reactivity? Please share.
Tomorrow’s blog: “False and private self”