Christian meditation:different ways of seeing.

Look right

Different  people are drawn to different ways of praying. I keep being reminded of this in one to one conversations and  offering workshops.

There is no point forcing ourselves into a model and method of prayer that does not work for us.

So here is a list of some of the main traditions of Christian silent prayer and meditation.

As you read it try to notice if one of them catches your attention more than others. This might give some idea of the direction you might want to go next.  This paying attention is also a key element of many of the methods themselves.

Centering Prayer
A period of silence, using a word said silently as a focus to lead us into deeper silence and stillness.

Lectio Divina
A slow reading of scripture passage several times, while watching to see where our attention is drawn.Then sitting for a period of silence with the word or phrase to which we were drawn.

Ignatian meditation
A way of using the imagination to picture, hear, feel and even smell the scene of scripture.The asking ‘where am I in this passage?’ and sitting quietly with what comes to mind.

Ignatian review.
A way of looking back on the day to notice and sit with moments when we had energy and/or felt close to God and able to love, as well as those times when we felt drained of energy and felt far away from God and unable to love.

Prayer of the heart.
Placing the attention in the body, particularly the heart, and holding situations and people there so that they are both ‘in mind and in the body’.

Mantra or repeating phrase.
The Jesus Prayer is a good example of this where a phrase is used in formal prayer and during activities as a way of maintaining awareness and praying constantly.

Repeating prayer.
Both the Rosary and the Lutheran ‘Pearls of Life’ offer a structured physical way to pray, using repeated words to give focus and to get beyond the words.

Pilgrimage, labyrinths  and walking meditation.
These are all ways to use the movement of the body as prayer.

Practice of the presence of God.
A way of being open to the full experience including God’s presence during daily life.

Did you notice which drew your attention more than others? If so this might indicate something to explore further. If nothing clicked today, keep watching and observing!

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Many of these ways overlap with each other. One favourite method might not last a whole lifetime.

This article was first circulated as part of our weekly mailing week about different aspects of meditation and contemplation in Christian tradition. If you would like to subscribe to the list please contact me at



I used to be a human being too.


“An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.”


Here is a very long read by Andrew Sullivan.  He starts by describing how he detoxed from constant digital activity and distraction. Things had got serious (the full url for the article  is “technology nearly killed me”).

Sullivan describes learning to meditate and use mindfulness. He gives a good description of the process of slowing down and moving away from his frenetic online life. I think this will resonate with many of us. It is something we have conversations about in chaplaincy work with students and staff.

What surprised me, coming after this description of Mindfulness, was  his complaint about the lack of silence in contemporary Christian worship. Fair point. If you are interested in Christian mediation and contemplation keep going to the end!

This is a good long reflection on what silence, presence and connection could mean in the digital age.

The article first appeared in the New Yorker Magazine on 18th September 2016.

Warning – contemplation in process!

Sign for Secret Garden - a space for quiet contemplation and study

I have been watching the Facebook  posts from chaplains in London, around the UK, from the US and other parts of Europe.

Here at Imperial we have five more days to go till the start of the new academic year.

Five days before the great whirlwind of welcome events, orientation sessions, BBQs and hall parties.

I look forward to the great wave of energy that comes crashing in with the start of a new year, from the arrival and return of thousands of students.

Out for a walk at lunchtime in the early Autumn sunshine I saw this great sign at the entrance to Imperial’s ‘secret garden’. It is a hidden patch of green space in the middle of the city.

I love the idea that our urban, globalized, hyper-active academic community has this officially sanctioned place for ‘quiet contemplation’.

Even if it comes with a warning exclamation mark!

Secret Garden 2

Silence in September 2014


I am back from summer holidays and getting into the workaday routines.

In university-land here in the UK we  are preparing for the new academic year that begins in a few weeks.

It feels like a  ‘new year’ is about to dawn. Soon the campus will be full of an extra 10,000 people. Each day will be full of new encounters and new relationships. The ‘buzz’ will be deafening. So, I am going to use September to look for the moments of silence in my everyday life.

It is a good way of preparing, because in my Christian tradition silence has many meanings. Silence is itself a form of prayer, and it can be cultivated in meditation. Silence is almost interchangeable with solitude. There is the idea of listening to the silence around us so we can notice the noise or silence within us. This kind of inner silence can be the place from which we meet and listen deeply to others. And silence is the very presence of God.

Silence in September: looking back

Today I had an unexpected gift of a free hour in the delightful RCA cafe down at the Battersea campus. A chance to finish my ‘Silence in September Blog Project’.DSC_0510(2)

Looking back over the month, the first ten days of Silence in September was like being on a retreat in daily life. Silence allows a greater personal awareness and an intention to actions. Together this gives ordinary everyday actions, like washing up or walking down the street, a particular quality. I might call it being ‘present to oneself’.

Then, as expected, the family party and weekend guests changed the routines of daily life for over a week. So the third week was an experience of ‘restarting my prayer and meditation life’. The silence was there as an invitation – not as something I had created myself.

Then the move of the Chaplaincy Centre to new premises, followed by the start of term, demanded a complete shift into action and doing mode. There was packing, unpacking, and a long list of practical issues to do with our new building. We were working to get the new Chaplaincy Multi-Faith Centre open to  welcome groups and individuals. At the same time doing all the start of year welcome events.

Amidst all this activity silence returned in a new form. It came from my new colleagues Karuna and Hogetsu. Both follow Buddhist meditation practices. From our different meditation (for me prayer) traditions we have a meeting place in silence. So began the habit of using ten minute silences during our working day. So, for me as a Christian, it feels like the monastic pattern of silence at the start of the day, at lunchtime and at the end of the working day. The daily tasks and irregular working patterns constantly disrupt the pattern – but that is OK, the silence is always there, always an invitation, always a gift. Silence is for life, not just September.

Knowing the ways of silence

A conversation at the European Chaplains’ Conference sent me back to reading RS Thomas the Welsh poet and Anglican priest. Here is one of his poems that caught my eye during this month of seeking silence in daily life.

(The blog program wont let me use tabs and spacings to give the original line layout – which has some unusual gaps – hints at silence maybe?)

The Presence by RS Thomas

I pray and incur
silence.Some take that silence
for refusal.
I feel the power
that,invisible,catches me
by the sleeve,nudging
towards the long shelf
that has the book on it I will take down
and read and find the antidote
to an ailment.

I know its ways with me ;
how it enters my life,
is present rather
before I perceive it, sunlight quivering
on a bare wall.
Is it consciousness trying
to get through ?
Am I under
regard ?
It takes me seconds
to focus, by which time
it has shifted its gaze,
looking a little to one
side, as though I were not here.

It has the universe
to be abroad in.
There is nothing I can do
but fill myself with my own
silence, hoping it will approach
like a wild creature to drink
there, or perhaps like Narcissus
to linger a moment over its transparent face.


Seeking Silence – round up after 10 days

Some observations after the ten days of intentionally seeking silence – in no particular order.

I’ve not found any pure outer silence – there are always noises. Not a surprise. Waking in the night at a weekend is the most silent the city can be  – but with the occasional passing cabs and the clickety click of suitcase wheels of the night time travelers.


With no outer silence there can be inner silence doing everyday tasks, like washing up.

Yet inner silence in during daily activities does need some structured times of meditation or prayer.

Saying the short formal daily prayers of the church has become a way into silence – pleased that reading, and speaking out loud can create an inner silence.

I am shocked to find how frantically busy  I can become without noticing. I catch myself thinking ‘I ll do this, and then I can do that,and that, and after that I will clean this,email them and return that call.’

So, why am I hurrying? Will shaving 100th of a second off washing this plate really make a difference to the time it takes to clear the kitchen?!’

Inner silence is always there – to be returned to.

It is sometimes easier to have a cup of tea and sit doing nothing as a way into a structured time of meditation – by the time the tea has cooled I might just have got used to the idea that of being still and silent.

I was very glad that during a mindfulness day conference in Oxford there were short one minute silences between the different topics in our small group discussions. A chance to ‘check in’ and notice sensations, feelings and thoughts after one discussion and before the next – it seemed to help with moving between listening and sharing.

That’s all for now. Thanks for your comments and personal reflections, interesting things to hear about.

Silence and/or Solitude?

My project ‘Seeking Silence in September’ has been inspired by writers who describe their own experiences of silence.

The first inspiration is Sarah Maitland’s great ‘Book of Silence’ from 2008. It was given great attention in the UK media and with amazing sales for a hard back was immediately reprinted .


Maitland describes how over several years, and moving house twice, she found ways to greatly increase the silence in her life.  She describes a 6 week experiment living totally alone in a remote Scottish cottage. She compared her  experience with extreme accounts of isolation and silence recorded solo sailors and mountaineers.

She also explores the different types and textures of silence found in the desert tradition of Christianity, in the silence of forests, and in the fascination of romantic poets with the awesome silence of mountains.

At the end of my first week looking for the silence spaces in my own life I remember that for Maitland silence and solitude came to mean almost the same thing. By simplifying her sound environment – living alone in a remote rural place and not using TV, radio or anything that pinged or bleeped – she created a deeper and more embracing solitude.

In the heart of the city and with a life shared with many people there are always sounds. It is not silent.No surprise. But there are a great number of deeper moments of quietness that I had not noticed before. And there is more solitude – a kind of solitude in the midst of crowds and communication.

This focused for me the difference between my inner silence – those rare moments of calm, conscious self-awareness – and the noise or silence around me.

So, if you are interested in silence – from any tradition or practice – I welcome your thoughts on the following questions.

How can we keep an inner silence with noise all around?

Can we have an inner silence and still be fully communicating?

When does being alone turn into silent solitude?

Seeking Silence in September

This month I want to listen out for the everyday silences in my life.

I want to see where I can find the silences that already exist. I am not going to be extra silent or give up talking or seeing people. It is about seeking what is already here but overlooked (or rather unheard!).Freshers Fair CrowdSeptember is a great month for me to seek ‘everyday silence’. It is not going to be a quiet month. In two weeks the Chaplaincy Centre is moving to a new site in College – so I have meetings with the project manager, the contractor, and the removers.  The university is gearing up for the new academic year and so  I will also be doing the annual rounds of ‘welcome’ talks to new students.

My life seems to have little space for silence. I live in the center of a huge city full of noise and activity. Talking and sharing are vital to me and my partner, and our children.  I have job that is about communication and conversation. So, while affirming all of these good things, can I start to notice the silence around me?

Are there any times of silence that I have not noticed before?

Is there any silence, or just moments with less noise?

What is the connection between inner personal silence and the noises or silences around me?

Does silence help with conversation and relationships?

I welcome comments about how and where you find silence in your life and what it means for you.

Posts and tweets (@awillson1) to follow.

Christian Spirituality and Mindfullness

For a  year I shared the the weekly silence at the Royal College of Art with Aloka my Buddhist colleague. This was back in 2010-11. Since then I have been struck by the connections and differences between mindfulness and Christian meditation.

From the moment I first encountered mindfulness meditation practice I had a strong sense that  ‘this is familiar, I know this!’

Something similar to Mindfulness to be found in the ‘Centering Prayer’ of  John Main and the ‘World Community for Christian Meditation’Copy of DSCN4275 of Laurence Freeman. Both of these teachers were building on their monastic patterns of prayer. And there is also something in mindfulness of what Christians have called the ‘practice of the presence of God’ or sometimes ‘the practice of the present moment’.

Another connection is around ‘self-acceptance’. In Mindfulness we know that our minds will wander. The leader of the meditation often says that when we realise that our mind has wandered we could ‘simply and gently without any self -judgement return our attention back to observing our  breathing’. This learning of self-acceptance is also part of the Christian tradition of Ignatius and his daily review.

So, there is a long tradition in Christian meditative prayer that knowing oneself is a place of encounter with God – God meets us where we actually are. Clearly the belief frameworks that go with Mindfulness or Christian meditation are different. Yet, some of the actually experiences are very similar.

The other connection I can see is with Anthony De Mello’s  ‘Awareness’  – a book that came out in 1990. De Mello was a  Christian and a Jesuit priest from India who was very familiar with Hinduism and Buddhism. He was also a psychotherapist.

And now  my Buddhist and Hindu colleagues – Karuna and Sachi- tell me that Mindfulness and Awareness are both acceptable translations of the Sanskrit word ‘smriti’.

Which leads me to the Christian tradition of the ‘Prayer of the heart’ – which is certainly an invitation to move attention or ‘awareness’ from the mind into the body. But more on this, and Henri Nouwen’s writing about it, another time.