Squeezed inside a makeshift tent in the living room, a perfect hiding place for a granddaughter’s over-worked imagination. “What’s that?” I whisper. Her eyes widen, and a thin smile parts her lips. My eyes mimic hers in widening fear as we stare at one another. “The monster’s close, don’t move a muscle,” I say. Her giggles give us away, but I assure her, “don’t worry, you’re safe here with me!”
Imaginary monsters are a child’s pastime, but the older I get the more I must concede that outside my tent fortress real monsters loom, and I am susceptible. Today I want to talk about one of them, fear.
Over the years I’ve learned that fear’s antidote is not faith, but love found in God’s presence. When I hear PaPa-God’s voice within the hiding place, it’s more real than fear. He uses contemplative prayer to woo my heart into the hiding place, because it’s the kind of prayer that keeps me focused. The effect is like my granddaughter staring into my eyes for reassurance.
King David seemed to go to the hiding place often and for various reasons, whether for lament, calling calamity upon his enemies, or confession. I’ve learned to sidle up to him by reading a psalm a day. This way I can study the context of his songs, hear the tone of his voice, read the truthfulness of his heart, and most of all see the strength of his god in response. It’s here that I see one of the overarching reasons for prayer like this. It builds my sense of security in God. He is safe and wants me to know he will receive and absorb whatever I bring to him.
Which is another benefit of contemplative prayer, experiencing His love in the hiding place. Whenever it happens my response becomes more and more authentic, coming out of my most human depth. A friend shared this quote: “The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting and trustworthy conditions.” This is true in treasured friendships and can be just as real in our relationship with God. When the Holy Spirit invites us into contemplative prayer, and we respond, we are held by unconditional love. God’s faithful love quiets the unsettling sounds of self-doubt, distraction, restlessness, and most of all fear. We are then able to speak our truth to God, not just aim prayer-arrows at a bull’s eye.
Henry Nouwen once said that the greatest hindrance to people praying was a fear of God. He didn’t mean reverence, but actual trepidation! Getting too close to him felt dangerous. When I investigate my own heart I have to admit, it’s part of the reason at times for my own unwillingness to be still in God’s presence. Though I want to be fully surrendered, part of me is still held in reserve. What could happen if I cast myself upon his mercies, really spilled it all out? What if I could stay focused on the eyes of PaPa-God, under the blanket, know the hiding place is secure, and ignore the monster’s bluff?
In contemplative prayer we get that chance, over and over again. That’s because we aren’t reading the Word, it’s reading us. The Living Scalpel opens us, sees into us, and lets us see from God’s perspective as the word reveals it. Even though we can hear the sound of monsters, his voice reassures the racing heart, and delivers us from ourselves. “In his presence is fullness of joy, at his right-hand pleasures forevermore.”
In contemplative prayer God is God in the hiding place. When he shows up, no fear in you, nor any reason for fear outside you will stand up to his salient presence. That’s how contemplative prayer can turn us into a giggling pile of joy, wrapped in the arms of PaPa-God, who whispers, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” Or, in my KJY version, “don’t worry you’re safe here with me.”