Saint James Episcopal Church: Unveiling the Grace and Gifts of Contemplative Prayer
Jan 25, 2018 11:10AM
● By Gisele Rinaldi Siebold
Contemplative prayer is an ancient practice with deep roots that began in the desert tradition of early Christianity, dating back to the fourth century. Within this tradition is the understanding that by opening the mind and heart, contemplative prayer is a gift from God rather than something that can be achieved through will.
The discipline and practice of daily Christian meditation gained worldwide attention more recently through the life and ministry of John Main, Order of Saint Benedict, who believed that the prayer of the heart could guide modern people into a deeper knowledge of God’s love. The World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM), a global, inclusive, contemplative family that seeks to be a monastery without walls, grew from Main’s work of service to God and others.
Saint James Episcopal Church, located in Lancaster, is a member of the WCCM, and is bringing the art of contemplative prayer and practices to local communities. “There is a movement happening, a cultural shift to a more contemplative way of being together, in our local Lancaster community and throughout the world,” explains Kimberlee Peifer, associate for contemplative prayer and practices at Saint James Episcopal Church. “What has been so wonderful to observe is that participants are marrying what they learned about religion as children with what they learned about yoga, meditation, mindfulness and other spiritual practices as adults. They feel a sense of permission to explore where they sense God is inviting and wooing them to go and realizing that connections can be made.”
The graces of silence, stillness and simplicity are uncovered by exploring and integrating spiritual practices into everyday routines. The art of spiritual practices such as meditation, journaling, Lectio Divina––which is Latin for Divine Reading––and being in nature, to name a few, provide a pathway for contemplative prayer.
Program offerings help to facilitate a more experiential learning, and all are welcome to attend, regardless of age, gender, race, culture or religious background. Through the invitation to explore other spiritual practices, Peifer suggests that participants are learning a different way of being with God and expressing their faith. “Helping people discover how their faith and prayers can move from their head to their heart brings me great joy,” shares Peifer. “We focus not only on meditation but also on other contemplative spiritual practices, experientials, discussions and readings. Following this time of exploration, there is space and silence to process and share individual experiences.”
Under the guidance of Alyssa Pasternak Post, director of children, youth and family ministry, children and youth also learn about, and participate in, meditation. Children in kindergarten through fifth grade participate in Godly Play, a curriculum of spiritual practice designed by theologian, author and educator The Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman. Godly Play encompasses a creative, imaginative approach that encourages participants to nurture their belief and faith through wonder and play. The youth community, in grades 6 through 12, explores spiritual themes through scripture, art, history, creativity and contemplative practices.
Peifer conveys that becoming a contemplative parish involves being open to what the future holds. “As the programs and practices grow from the traditional foundation, we believe in not ‘pushing the river’ where we think it should go, but rather are paying attention to natural openings and stepping through them as the flow of the contemplative movement indicates.”
Helping others deepen their understanding of contemplative prayer on a personal level and initiate an inner dialogue that reflects upon experiences is the current focus. “Discerning the presence of God in our daily lives means learning to see God in the mundane and the magnificent,” avows Peifer. “Jesus exemplified the human side of living contemplatively by noticing God while eating a meal, working with his hands and being with his friends and family. If we learn to trust and be attentive, our lives will divinely unfold.”
Saint James Episcopal Church is located at 119 N. Duke St., in Lancaster. For more information, call 717-397-4858 or email [email protected] To learn about contemplative offerings, practices and retreats, visit SaintJamesLancaster.org.
Gisele Rinaldi Siebold is a contributing writer to Natural Awakenings magazines. Connect with her at [email protected]