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tree bark Often people use the word 'meditation' when they really mean 'contemplation', while the Ignatian tradition uses the word 'contemplation' when it is really referring to meditation! We feel it is more helpful to stand by the traditional understanding of the two words.

By 'meditation' we are referring to the active use of the mind, the feelings, the imagination, applied to a passage of scripture, or our own situation in life, or to any active way in which we try to understand God or ourselves in relation to God or God's world. This activity BRINGS IN a great richness and may well lead us to the expression of joy or wonder, thanksgiving, penitence or intercession. BRINGING IN rather than excluding.

Contemplative prayer is almost the opposite. Some temperaments, or some people at a certain stage of their life, come to find that the ideas, the images, the imagination, the feelings, good though they are, somehow GET IN THE WAY between God and themselves. They wish to be open to God AS S/HE IS without anything getting in the way. So in contemplative prayer we try to put aside all the thoughts and ideas that come to us, and simply focus on a single word or phrase or symbol.

This is not a question of self-hypnosis or trying to imagine we are having lovely feelings. Indeed after the first few months of practising contemplative prayer we might find ourselves in a desert of blankness, wondering whether there is any point in what we are doing and yet still unable to let go of something to which we believe we have been called.

We are simply waiting upon God, being open to God, being available for God, longing towards God in a kind of inner darkness, which though dark is nevertheless friendly.