The Contemplative Tradition

The contemplative tradition – the prayer-filled life


This tradition has emphasized the fact that Jesus spent a good part of his time praying, in solitude. Prayer was a habitual practice and is probably what opened him up so completely to the presence of the Divine. This has been best captured by that famous prayer in Gethsemane: “Not my will but yours.”

The contemplative tradition plays out the notion of “falling in love.” It’s about falling in love with God, or an intimacy with God.. Entering into God’s great love for us and our responding love toward God is its abiding gift. Love is not some warm feeling or an abstract ideal. It is clear-headed action toward God and others rooted in Jesus’ own sense of living for others. The contemplative life is a deep inward movement that opens up into profound acts of love.

Here are some of the milestone names throughout Church history who could be considered in this Contemplative tradition. If you want to learn more about any of these, click on “bio” for a Wikipedia biography, or “biblio” for access to some on-line texts.


The Desert Fathers and Mothers (4th century) more info

Saint Benedict bio; biblio

Simon the New Theologian (949-1022) bio

Julian of Norwich (1342-1413) bio; biblio

John of the Cross (1542-1591) bio; biblio

Brother Lawrence (1542-1691) bio; biblio

Theresa of Lisieux (1873-1897) bio; biblio

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) bio; biblio

Thomas Kelly (1893-1941) bio and biblio

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) bio; biblio

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) bio; website


Typical of this approach today is the work of John Main and the World Community of Christian Meditation (WCCM). You can learn more about this here.

Another strong contemplative tradition is that of Thomas Keating and “centering prayer”, another approach to the Benedictine tradition. Learn about this here.

A third approach, similar in nature, but from a Franciscan perspective is Richard Rohr’s work. The Centre for Action and Contemplation produces a daily meditation based on Rohr’s extensive work. Subscribe here (free).