Question: "What is contemplative prayer?"
Answer: It is important to first clearly define what "contemplative prayer" is. For the purposes of this article, contemplative prayer is not just "contemplating while you pray." The Bible instructs us to "pray with our minds (1 Corinthians 14:15), so clearly prayer does involve contemplation. However, praying with your mind is not what "contemplative prayer" has come to mean.
Contemplative prayer has slowly increased in practice and popularity each year since the mid 1990s, along with the rise of the Emerging Church Movement—a movement which embraces many unscriptural ideas and practices. Contemplative prayer is one such practice.
Contemplative prayer, also known as “centering prayer,” is a meditative practice where the practitioner focuses on a word and repeats that word over and over for the duration of the exercise. According to Catholic priest Thomas Keating, this is how it is done: "Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God's presence and action within. When you become aware of thoughts, return ever so gently to the sacred word. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes."
Although this might sound like an innocent exercise, this type of "prayer" has no scriptural support whatsoever. In fact, it is just the opposite of how prayer is defined in the Bible. "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done" (Philippians 4:6, NLT). "At that time you won't need to ask me for anything. The truth is, you can go directly to the Father and ask him, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven't done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy" (John 16:23-24, NLT). These verses, and others, clearly portray prayer as being comprehendible communication with God, not an esoteric, mystical meditation.
Contemplative prayer, by design, focuses on having a mystical experience with God. Mysticism, however, is purely subjective, and doesn't rely upon truth or fact. Yet the Word of God has been given to us for the very purpose of basing our faith, and our lives, on Truth (2 Timothy 3:16-17). What we know about God is based on fact; trusting in experiential knowledge over the biblical record takes a person outside of the standard that is the Bible.
Contemplative prayer is no different than the meditative exercises used in Eastern religions and New Age cults. Its most vocal supporters embrace an open spirituality amongst adherents from all religions, promoting the idea that salvation is gained by many paths, even though Christ Himself stated that salvation comes only through Him (John 14:6). Contemplative prayer, as it has come to mean in the modern prayer movement, is in opposition to biblical Christianity and should definitely be avoided.