Jesus himself is the best example of the practice of contemplation. This example is not seen in Jesus healing the demoniac, the rebuking of the winds and calming the storm or in the Transfiguration, but Jesus’ own temptation in the desert (Mt 4:1–11). We need to remember that the test in prayer is fundamentally a struggle with thoughts. Those who have practiced contemplation down through the ages have noticed something vitally important in how Jesus dealt with the chatter by which Satan tried to trap him.
Jesus has passed on to us what He did when tempted by Satan. In the moment of battle, when demons attack us in order to deceive and seduce us, we must respond with a verse from the Holy Scriptures. Listening attentively to the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, one observes Jesus avoided getting caught in any sort of conversation with Satan. Instead, Jesus quoted lines of Scripture from Deuteronomy, in order to break the cycle of inner chatter that would only hold His attention captive the more He listened to it. Jesus’ own battle with thoughts becomes, then, the Christian foundation of the practice of contemplation. It is the quiet repetition of a scriptural phrase that helps to focus attention. This became a common practice among early Christians and continues till date for those who memorize passages of Scripture, sometimes lengthy passages, in order to break free of the snare of thoughts. Saint Augustine referred to these as “arrow prayers.”
Scripture also claims, however, that the name of Jesus itself casts out demons (Lk 10:17) Thus the quiet repetition of “Jesus” acts like an anchor in the midst of storms of life. We can pray the lengthy Jesus prayer. “Jesus Christ, Son of the living God have mercy on me a sinner.” The practice of contemplation enriches concentration and enables communication with Christ inspired by Scripture. Let the remembrance of Jesus be in every fleeting breath.