Being Contemplative in the Digital Age: 6 Tips to Nourish Your Prayer Practice

Today’s post is by Carole Crumley (Previously published at Huffington Post Religion)

Prayer is often thought of as speaking to God but prayer doesn’t have to be about speaking. It can be about silence and listening. This practice from the Christian contemplative tradition can serve to help calm the storm of stimuli that is part of living in the digital age.

St. Benedict, a sixth century spiritual leader, advised his monks to “listen with the ear of the heart,” that is, to listen deeply, noticing the many ways God spoke to them in their daily activities as well as through scripture and worship.

There are many ways to pray, many ways to open to God’s living presence and nurture an awareness of the sacred in daily life. Whether you are just beginning on a spiritual path or seeking to deepen your spiritual practice, here are some ways to begin or begin again.

6 Tips on Contemplative Prayer

  1. Establish a daily set-aside time when you can honor your desire to open to God. We recommend 20 minutes of silent prayer time daily. For some that might seem like a long time. For others, it may be way too short. The exact number of minutes is not that important. Start with what is right for you. The important thing is doing it daily.
  2. Create a set-aside place, a space that honors your intent, where you can sit comfortably and uninterrupted for your prayer time. This might be a prayer corner or even a prayer chair. If a chair, just make sure it is different from the one you sit in to watch television, work on your computer or take a nap. A different chair will help you be more alert and attentive in your prayerful listening. You might also place a candle or flower or image in your prayer space, something that helps draw your focus to God’s presence.
  3. Begin with stretching and releasing any physical tensions. We carry the tensions of the day or night in our bodies. Notice the places in your body that are tight or constricted. Stretch into those places, hold for a moment or two, and then relax the tension. Sometimes a gentle body-stretching practice is all that is needed to quiet the mind and prepare the body for opening in prayer.
  4. Notice your breath. Your breath is a spiritual tool that you always have with you. It is your most intimate connection with God. Sense your breath as a living instrument of God’s spirit, ever cleansing and inspiring. At any time or place, you can notice your breath. Is it rapid or slow? Shallow or deep? Just noticing and slowing your breath can quiet the mind and draw you deeper into the heart of God. It is the most fundamental practice in the spiritual life.
  5. Open to God’s living presence, keeping your desire for your own and the world’s fullness in God before you in prayer. No words are needed. Simple, quiet openness and availability are enough. Trust that God’s healing, transforming power is at work whether you know it, you believe it, or not.
  6. Find support for your spiritual life. Support can come in many forms. Listen to music that stirs your soul. Go to a museum and feast your eyes on great art. Walk in nature. Read some of the great classics by contemplative authors. Study the lives of the saints. Find a spiritual director who listens with you to the movement of the Spirit in your life. Attend worship services that nourish your spiritual heart. Seek out others who share a similar desire and join with them for dedicated times of prayer.

We live in a noisy, busy world. Quiet, silent prayer is counter to our culture and yet it offers the missing spiritual resource our souls need. Contemplative prayer is not just for ourselves alone. Eckhart Tolle reminds us that, “To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift you can offer to the universe.”

Contemplative Prayer is a way of being rather than something that we do, a way of being open to God all the time. As you return to your busy day, remember, there are no right ways or wrong ways to pray. You can trust whatever is simplest and feels most natural for you.

How do you sense God is inviting you to pray in the midst of your daily activities? What do you find helpful as you seek to open your mind and awaken your heart to the living Spirit?


caroleCarole Crumley, Shalem’s Director of Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program, is an Episcopal priest with experience in three congregations as well as at the Washington National Cathedral. She is a widely respected leader of ecumenical retreats, groups, and conferences, and a seasoned pilgrimage guide to sacred sites throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Wanting to take some beginning steps into contemplative prayer? Or are you a seasoned contemplative who would like support for your daily practice? Join Carole starting this Sunday in Opening to the Spirit, a 6-week eCourse. Registration ends on Monday, October 19. Sign up today!

Six Ways to Experience Contemplation Online

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

We live an increasingly virtual existence. We have ongoing conversations with our friends—sitting in our home, or from our office, or while standing on the street waiting for the bus—while they are in a different home, in a different office, or on a different street.

Person-Using-iPhone-4SNews and weather alerts pop up automatically on our phones, keeping us forever in the loop. We update our status so the world can know what we had for dinner, or so that not just family, but every person we’ve ever known can see a picture of our kids on their first day of school. We plug in to our devices to keep up-to-date on the news, choosing a website or newscast of choice. Sometimes, rather than looking out the window or stepping outside, we pull up our favorite weather app to decide if it’s going to be a short-sleeve or long-sleeve day. A number of us even work remotely—something increasingly normal in our ever-connected world.

So how does one maintain and deepen a contemplative stance in such a frenzied, virtual world? One obvious solution is to unplug. Put the phone away. Turn the computer off. Go for a walk. Keep the radio off on the commute to work. Don’t leave a window open with Facebook always tempting you to glance at the latest cat video or Star Trek meme. Even now you’re tempted (don’t do it!).

We all need to unplug from time to time. But I’ve also found that the Internet can be a place to deepen my prayer life and connection to God.

Here are six suggestions:

1) QUIET MUSIC — Find a station on Pandora, iTunes, or your favorite streaming music site, and listen to something that brings you into a contemplative space. I often find myself listening to the yoga, relaxation, or ambient radio channels on Pandora. If you have a favorite channel or artist—feel free to share it in the comments below.

2) PRAYER WEBSITE — For years, I have enjoyed going to Sacred Space, a website run by Irish Jesuits out of Dublin since 1999. It invites one into a quiet, prayerful space online, and leads one through meditative prayer culminating in a Scripture to sit with for as long as one feels led. There are other spaces to explore as well. I’ve even adapted a daily prayer session on Sacred Space for large group use – leading a congregation in a contemplative worship service, and reading the Scripture using lectio divina and silence.

3) MEDITATION TIMER—You might take some more time for silence and meditation if you had some help, right? That’s one of the reason we enjoy silent retreats or yoga sessions – because they provide us structure and give us permission be still. Turns out technology also provides some aids for meditation. The Insight Timer is probably the most famous. A simple app for your phone or iPad, the insight timer creates the sound of beautiful Tibetan singing bowls, gently and peacefully guiding you through your meditation session. With this, your attention can focus inward and with a timer that you set – you don’t need to worry about the clock. There is even an online community around the insight timer – you can check in online or tweet about your meditation session. For those wanting to go deeper – Insight provides guided meditations by teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, and Eckhart Tolle. Shalem’s meditation timer is available here: Shalem Timer.

4) AN ONLINE COURSE—There are an increasing number of us who take classes online. Some for college credit. Some for continuing education. Some for personal enjoyment or growth. There are a number of people who offer rich contemplative eCourses. Abbey of the Arts offers an 8-day Monk in the World eCourse, which explores some of the elements essential to a contemplative practice in everyday life. In October, Contemplative Journal is offering an eCourse on Aging as a Spiritual Practice. And Spirituality and Practice is always offering something new. An online course connects you with experienced spiritual teachers while giving you space to practice and experience at your own pace. If you search online, you can find extended, year-long courses, some for a few weeks, and even some one-day retreats. Shalem has several online courses enrolling now: Shalem eCourses.

5) ARTICLES AND BLOG POSTS—There are countless books available that offer rich spiritual wisdom. But sometimes you want just a nugget, an excerpt, maybe a few paragraphs of spiritual insight to feed your soul before you continue on with your day. Well there are a lot of good blogs out there. Where to start? I’ll suggest a few that I enjoy: Richard Rohr provides daily meditations that you can receive via email. Here’s a nugget from today’s meditation:

Contemplation is no fantasy, make-believe, or daydream, but the flowering of patience and steady perseverance. There is a deep relationship between the inner revolution of true prayer and the transformation of social structures and social consciousness. Our hope lies in the fact that meditation is going to change the society that we live in, just as it has changed us. It is that kind of long-term thinking that God seems to be involved in and kindly invites us into the same patient process.

Contemplative Journal also provides a rich source of articles and columns—in fact, recently Shalem contributed a series of articles for Contemplative Leadership Week.

The Contemplative Society provides regular posts from Cynthia Bourgeault, who will be recognized with Shalem’s Contemplative Voices Award for 2014 this November. Cynthia is a modern day mystic, Episcopal priest, writer, and internationally known retreat leader, committed to teaching and spreading the recovery of the Christian contemplative and Wisdom path.

There are many other blogs worth following but these are a few to get you started. Want to share some you enjoy? Please share with us below.

6) SOCIAL MEDIA —A final suggestion would be to find contemplative organizations and individuals you enjoy, and follow them on social media. Social media is a great way to connect with contemplative photography, audio teachings and meditations, blog posts, as well as connect to the ongoing contemplative conversation online. Any of the groups I mentioned above would be great to connect with via Facebook. There are also some regular contemplatives on Twitter such as our friend Carl McColman – follow him on Twitter to catch his latest thoughts, quotes, blogs and teachings. Do you have a favorite contemplative that you follow on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? Is there a conversation group that you enjoy? Share with us below!

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably somewhat familiar with what Shalem offers for online contemplative connection. Seeking an online course? Check out our latest here. Shalem is quickly becoming a leader in providing quality online courses led by Shalem’s respected staff and faculty, and we have a 6-week course beginning this fall, as well as two online retreat days.

Looking for some social media connections? Shalem’s daily Facebook posts, comprised of contemplative photography and quotes, are enjoyed by nearly 6,000 people. Why not join them? Did you know that Shalem is also on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and LinkedIn? In each space, Shalem aspires to create offerings and moments of contemplative connection that expand awareness of the Spirit’s presence to all who cross our paths.

These are simply six suggestions that have nurtured and assisted my own spiritual practice. Whether you need a quick spiritual lift from a simple photo or quote, or you’re ready to explore contemplative life and practice in-depth, it may be only a click away. If you have something to share that has been particularly meaningful to you, please share below—we’d love to hear about it!


bryan1Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. Bryan lives with his wife, Christy, and four children in Holland, MI. You can see more of his writing at pubtheologian.com.

Interested in taking an online course with Shalem? We have several enrolling now!