Marsha Sinetar, in her book Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics, says that during the early history of the church, up to the 12th century, religious tradition encouraged contemplative personal religious experiences. During this time the “methodless” prayer of the monks wove prayer, meditation, and contemplation together. Then, in the 12th century, prayer began to be analyzed and categorized.
When I reflect on this, a certain truth about the organic wholeness of prayer resonates against the “categories” into which I’ve placed the routines of my own prayer life. Instead of wholeness to my prayer, I perceive it as various pieces. There is my morning and evening vocal prayer, the Mass, discursive meditation, these letters, and contemplative/centering prayer. I gather much information about prayer from books and various internet websites. What I conclude from them is that it’s true – most people do categorize prayer and analyze each category separately. And it’s because I’ve been exposed to so much of this categorization that | perceive it the same way in my own life.
But the truth that pops out of this, right from the very beginning, is that it’s all an error of perception. We give names to categories of prayer and so we perceive that they exist in reality. The categories generally describe an attitude, state of mind, posture, or level of consciousness, etc., but they are only descriptive of that – not of prayer itself. The act of placing oneself in the presence of God is an act that is substantially one essence with many attributes. There is not one idea behind vocal prayer, another behind meditation, and another in contemplation. All hold a place in the organic wholeness of our moment-to-moment relationship with You in the present.
So, the pre-twelfth century monks had it right. Our whole life is, ideally, the organic embodiment of prayer, We are prayer!