Contemplative life for all Christians!

Welcome to the Stillness at Home website about contemplative life for all Christians and making your home a sanctuary.  You will learn what contemplative life is, its meaning, and how to do lectio divina.  This first and main post is the definition of contemplative life and how to begin contemplative life. 

In the Spirit of the desert fathers and mothers, Saint John Cassian, Saint Benedict, Saint Gregory Palamas, Saint Teresa of Avila, the Philokalia, and Abbess Cécile Bruyerè, OSB, I welcome you as Christ. was launched on Easter Sunday, 2023.


Intended Audience— The percentage of the population in western cultures who become monastics (monks, nuns, and sisters) is very small, perhaps the lowest it has been in the last 1700 years. A more alarming sign is that the percentage of the lay population in western cultures who live a quiet, contemplative away from the world’s distractions is perhaps the lowest since Jesus taught large crowds, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  
This website is for those who come here on that journey.

Contemplative Life Definition — Seven aspects of a life in God. It takes all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. But you gladly give all in love.

Questions About Contemplative Life — If these are not your questions, please ask them  in the comment section at the bottom of the page, and I will add them.

First Books for Contemplative Life — You will make your way easier and with more assurance if you read these books — or ones just as good from among the holy church fathers.

What is the main point of this website?  —You can read this, do it, and skip everything else!

Principles of the Definition —These principles are like handrails along a path.  They keep us on the path and clear of  stumbling stones and thorns.

Only by God’s Gift — God’s gift is available to everyone. So continue to persevere.  You know there is a way to God, everything you see around you says God wants you to be with him.  He even provides the way.

How to begin contemplative life. Man on boarding ramp to cross the water.

Intended Audience

I hope every visitor finds something helpful, even if it confirms they don’t want anything to do with contemplative life — at least not now!  But I have a particular audience in mind.

First, as mentioned on the Home Page, this site is for those on the journey to dwell with God.  It is written for Christians who know as a fact the Nicene-Constantinopolitan symbol of faith (the creed) is the truth and who desire to live closer to God in that truth.  That means there won’t be many posts on theology, institutional church disputes, or religious politics.

Second, posts are related to contemplative life for those with a spouse, an active family (often with grandchildren), a job, and more Christian books than they have room for in the house.  Could that group include people new to the faith who want to learn more about Christian doctrines? Sometimes. It is true that spiritual space created by avoiding the world is a good environment for new Christians.

But one reason this site may appeal to older Christians is they have seen more of the world, there’s little they have not done. They say, “I used to want freedom to live like the world. Now I want freedom from the world.”

Stillness at Home focuses on writings of early Christians and the long tradition that contemplative life is for all Christians — for lay people too!  Sadly too many people think contemplative life is wrongly considered a way of life only for monks, sisters, and nuns.

Every Christian should know Jesus calls all to perfection. There are not two standards, one for priests and those in consecrated life (monks, sisters, nuns) and another lower standard for lay people.  And contemplative life as a lay person is easier than you think!

What is the main point and idea of this site?

Here it is:

“A brother came to Scetis [an area of Egypt where thousands of monks lived beginning in the AD 300s] to visit Abba [Father] Moses and asked him for a word [a way to live]. The old man said to him, ‘Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.’” From “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers,” translated by Benedicta Ward, SLG, 1975.

For many people in western culture, that advice is best realized in the stillness of their homes and in a reordered life.  Contemplative life is for all Christians because every home can be made a sanctuary and protected from the world’s noise and messages.

Everything else I add to this website could be a footnote to Abba Moses’ advice.


To get started on the first “footnote” here is the general definition of contemplative life I use.

A contemplative life:

+ Desires God more than anything else.
+ Works to be free from the world’s distractions.
+ Follows elements of traditional monastic practice.
+ Reorders life toward God alone.
+ Seeks purity of heart.
+ Continues on a personal spiritual journey as one’s state in life allows.
+ Begins dwelling with God now as in heaven forever.

Saint John Chrysostom said, in speaking about baptism, but it applies to all who wish to live in that renewal and reorder their lives for that light:

“For he who is about to approach these holy and dread mysteries must be awake and alert, must be clean from all cares of this life, full of much self-restraint, much readiness; he must banish from his mind every thought foreign to the mysteries, and on all sides cleanse and prepare his home, as if about to receive the king himself. Such is the preparation of your mind: such are your thoughts; such the purpose of your soul.”

Chrysostom, John. “The Complete Works of Saint John Chrysostom.” (Kindle Locations 151096-151100).

There’s another factor as we explore reordering how we live toward God.  It’s how we think and talk about it.  Seems obvious, but there is something more. We will encounter an irony: As we consider the seven elements in greater depth the more imprecise the concepts become. The closer we look with our eyes and mind, the less we see. We enter the realm of uncreated light, of illumination, and God’s grace.  In the realm of mysticism we need a different way to see.

Fortunately, the holy fathers and mothers show us how to see with the eye of our heart — the nous. How that is accomplished is also part of this website.

With that overview, lets move right into the principles related to the seven elements.  That helps us stay on track.


Wooden block circle

Not steps. This is different.


PRINCIPLE 1. Those seven items are not steps. We don’t start with the first item and work our way to the goal of dwelling with God.

Each segment is better thought of as parts of a circle which might be arranged in a different sequence and in different proportions depending on the person and their state in life at a particular time — raising children or on a weekend, for example.

A person’s life might enter the circle and experience the segments in this sequence:

+ Begins dwelling with God now as in heaven forever.
+ Seeks purity of heart.
+ Desires God more than anything else.
+ Works to be free from the world’s distractions.
+ Reorders life toward God alone.
+ Continues on a personal spiritual journey as one’s state in life allows.
+ Follows elements of traditional monastic practice.

PRINCIPLE 2. There is a mystical dimension in the seven segments. The holy church fathers use metaphors when writing about the mysticism. Metaphors can have a part that helps convey the truth and a part that should not be applied literally. Contemplative life needs the discretion to know which is which.

Contemplative life is a way to become free of the world’s influence and bring our nous (eye of the heart) back to its place in the heart so we are not foreclosed to God’s work (the mystical).

PRINCIPLE 3. Contemplative life is more about how we live rather than what we know. We must know the truths of Christianity, but contemplative life is living closer to God before learning more theology.

Knowledge in contemplative life is experienced.

Those experiences come through purification, illumination, and deification/unification. But everyone’s state in life allows different ways in which those elements are lived.

“Hieromonk [monk and priest] Gabriel Bunge (1940- ) is a renowned Swiss theologian and Patristics scholar who was formerly a Roman Catholic [monk and priest] in the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB).” Source

As a Catholic Benedictine, Father Gabriel followed the Rule of Saint Benedict (a Rule of prayer). In 2010 Father Gabriel converted and joined the Russian Orthodox Church (not Catholic). But he still follows the Rule of Saint Benedict written about AD 530 about 500 years prior to the split of the Church into the primarily Catholic west and Orthodox east.

The point of this information on Father Gabriel is that even for the most advanced monks there is individuality in the forms of monastic practice while remaining anchored in its essentials and spirit.

Father Gabriel wrote what many say is the best book on The Rublev Trinity icon“As a Patristics scholar Father Gabriel has contributed numerous articles and books to spiritual and monastic journals, particularly on Evagrius Ponticus.” Source

What does Father Gabriel say about the importance of how we live?

He said, “Someone studying theology without the spiritual life will understand nothing.”  From Theological Study, the Spiritual Life, and Russia Today: A Conversation with Fr. Gabriel (Bunge).

Another modern theologian, Vladimir Lossky, said, “…[T]he teaching of the Church would have no hold on souls if it did not in some degree express an inner experience of truth, granted in different measure to each one of the faithful. There is, therefore no Christian mysticism without theology; but, above all, there is no theology without mysticism…Mysticism is accordingly …the perfection and crown of all theology.” Lossky, Vladimir. “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church,” Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976.

PRINCIPLE 4. It may also be helpful to see contemplative life as four activities and three phases:


Pray, Listen, Read, Work

Phases: (not steps but segments like of a circle)

Purification, illumination, deification/unification.

PRINCIPLE 5. It is not correct to think the material world is the foundation of reality to which is added a separate, distant, immaterial (spiritual) realm. The material realm is temporary and exists within the larger and permanent spiritual world. Reality is unified, the material is closely connected to its origins in the spiritual realm. The material realm is not isolated from the spiritual. We might say the spiritual holds the material together.

Our soul, heart, and body are closely connected to our origins in the spiritual. Our lives were created to be at home in the one full and complete reality and not isolated from the spiritual as the darkened world would have you believe.

God is the creator of the heaven and earth and we are made to dwell with him forever.



Question: Is contemplative life the only way to live as a Christian?

 Not the only way, but one
with a great track record

Answer: No. There are other ways. Contemplative life was common among the earliest Christians.

However, at the core of Christian life in the Orthodox Church is the practice of  hesychasm (stillness or divine quietness) as part of a life directed to purification, illumination, and deification/unification with God. This is the holy life and is the path of many saints.

The topics of illumination and deification/unification are examples of metaphors because some parts of those concepts are ineffable.  Another example is the “the prayer of the heart” and “mysticism of the heart” discussed in this article from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Question: Is contemplative life difficult?  

Slow and easy is not difficult,
and it’s the best way

Answer: No. Contemplative life is easy to enter and grow in. The process is slow and easy led by a person’s desire for God, not pushed by a person’s willed discipline.
For the lay person in the modern western world, the strict ascetic rigors common among monks and nuns in the AD 300s are not necessary in my opinion for reasons I will mention in a future post. The Eastern Orthodox traditions have deep roots in the spiritual life.
Of course there is nothing wrong with a lay person today following those strict practices, but the different conditions of modern life are better suited to a slow and easy process of loosening the world’s tightly constricted entanglements that bind the modern heart. That process is most effective at working directly to untangle the knots.
Question:  Is contemplative life only for monks and nuns?

and never was

Answer: No, contemplative life is not exclusively the domain of monks, sisters, and nuns, and it readily fits and fulfills the life of lay people who have a spouse, children, job, and mortgage.  In the last 30 years interest is growing regarding how lay people can find a path into the spiritual life. The Anamchara website has an article on some of the considerations. Perhaps the most well known practice of both monastics and lay people — the Jesus Prayer — serves them both to focus on God.
Question:  What are the goals or purpose of contemplative life?

Purity of heart
is first

Answer: Purity of heart is the first goal, but the ultimate purpose is our deification or unification with God, the vision of the uncreated Light, and the beginning of eternal life during this brief sojourn.
Question:  Does contemplative life improve a person’s quality of life?

In every
area of life

Answer: When we are willing, God’s grace pulls us toward him in everything. God provides what we need to shed our failings little by little as we grow in virtues. There is less worry in contemplative life.  There is more strength to move through difficult times. Contemplative life might seem a smaller, less active, and more restricted life, but the opposite is true. Fr. Luke Dysinger, O.S.B., has an excellent article on the active phases of contemplative life.  It is not accurate to think there is active life or contemplative life.  Contemplative life is the ultimate active life! Objects and task that seem ordinary are actually part of the full, sacred reality. You become a happier person in everything you do, from cooking to cleaning, to sitting in stillness.  You will develop a healthier diet too. Your world is infinite and eternal in the presence of God. You will have more energy and more time in your day especially if you follow some form of prayer rule which is praying and reading the Psalms and other spiritual materials eight times during a day — as your state in life allows. Each of the eight sessions is called an office or an hour (hour is the name not its duration). If you are able to do only the noon office once in a while, that’s super! In contemplative life grief is neither misery nor depression. Contemplative life is comfort during physical incapacity, strength during persecutions, and peace at death.
Question:  Is repentance part of contemplative life?

Every day and
until our last breath

Answer:  Yes. Contemplative life is penitential. We repent and confess our sins throughout our time on earth. We always miss the mark of the perfection Jesus calls us to live. But that also means we constantly acknowledge 1) our dependance on God, and 2) our progress in the spiritual life is not due to our own efforts. Those two understandings are essential for living closer to God.
Question:  How do I desire God more than anything else?

God helps

Answer: By the awareness of God or an encounter with God. People come to a strong desire for God in four primary ways. The first category are people who from the time they were children know God exists and they have always been aware of God’s presence. As they mature and see more of the world, that awareness increases a desire to be free from the world so they can experience more of God. They begin by rearranging their time — less of the world, more time alone with God. The second category is perhaps the largest group in the modern western world. These are people for whom God bursts into their heart after a major life event, birth of a child, getting fed up with the darkness of the world, becoming friends with a person living a contemplative life, repentance of grave sin, or when an active life comes to a complete stop because of some physical incapacity or tragedy — anything that causes a fundamental reevaluation of the meaning of life and reality. “Something is missing in my life.” “Vigils “ONCE I knelt in my shining mail Here by Thine altar all the night. My heart beat proudly, my prayer rose loudly, But I looked to my armor to win the fight. “God, my lance was a broken reed, My mace a toy for a child’s delight. My helm is battered, my shield is shattered, I am stiff with wounds, and I lost the fight. “Low I kneel through the night again, Hear my prayer, if my prayer be right! Take for Thy token my proud heart broken. God, guide my arm! I go back to the fight.” Aline Kilmer Source A third category is when a person who does not believe God exists is not consciously thinking about God, but something draws them to step inside a church, walk through a cemetery, visit a holy shrine, or look into an icon. Then in an instant their heart is opened, often with tears, and they experience a life-changing revelation of God. A fourth category is similar to the third, but without the connection to a church or something holy. I think this is the most infrequent situation, but here is an actual example. An atheist involved in criminal enterprises stayed at a hotel that had a grand central atrium. He had one of the higher rooms. He went out onto his balcony to enjoy the pretty atrium. As he watched the people and the activity below, the scene suddenly changed into a vision of hell and its despair. His life was reordered toward God from that moment. In each of those four ways there is an awareness, encounter, or an illumination by God.
Question:  I have the desire to seek God, to be closer to him. How do I start contemplative life?

that did it!

Answer: Answer: You already started. Follow that desire. Acting on that desire, what do you want to do? Whatever it is, do it. And the next and the next. Little by little, act on that desire for God, then search your heart for more desire, act on that. Let your desire pull you into freedom. You never leave the place where you began because that desire for God is an important destination. But if desire becomes like an ember covered with the ash of modern distractions, just wait. When the desire for God reemerges — in a night, on a weekend, or sitting at a red light, act on that desire, it was preserved for that time. Lectio divina is an important practice and a good way to maintain the energy and direction helpful to contemplative life.  That’s why the second post on this site is about lectio divina.  
Question:  I have a desire to seek God, to be closer to him, but my situation of health, family, work, or location prevents me from praying, reading, being in stillness, looking at nature, helping others, being in a small group, or attending church. Am I foreclosed from contemplative life?


Answer:  No. Do what you can when you can. If you cannot spend time in stillness, say a one word prayer (a monologion) while you are busy. Short prayers are the most common prayer in contemplative life. If you cannot stop during the day to follow a Rule of prayer or read a passage from a spiritual book, put a picture where you will see it or wear something as a reminder to turn your heart to God. Connecticut Lynn said, “Pressure to succeed is another thing people strive for in the world so it’s easy for people to feel if they can’t do things just right they failed and it’s just not for them.”  True, if you feel that way, rid yourself of such thoughts. Live contemplative life as you can and be thankful. Don’t regret or hold in contempt your opportunity to persevere.  It’s one of the highest virtues. By perseverance are you on a difficult path?  Who else follows such a rocky way?  With God alone as your strength don’t turn back, continue on.  You will see it leads to the narrow gate where saints have passed. The mark of a holy man or woman is one whose heart is set right and remains steadfast regardless of the number of religious practices they do in a day. In fact, in greater danger of derailing contemplative life and the journey to dwell with God is the person who so excels at keeping each detail of religious practice, such as following a Rule of prayer, that contemplative life becomes reduced to a set of actions rather than the condition of their heart. Their pride in performing the practices perfectly replaces any connection with God. “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’” Luke 18:11. If you cannot devote any time to prayer or reading, then recognize that you can sanctify your time, your activity, and the items you work with to God. With conscience intent, treat your day and night as set apart for God. Especially if you handle objects, treat them as sacred items on the altar. We are accustomed to see any activity as steps leading to a goal. The goal is the prize, less than the goal is failure. That’s not the way of God or contemplative life. Whether your life allows reading or prayer or giving alms to the poor is not as important as a heart turned to God. When Jesus was on the cross one of the other men crucified with him put his faith and trust in Jesus. The man couldn’t spend time praying or doing good works, but Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:42-43. “If you want to do something good, do it; and if you cannot do it, then resolve to do it, and you will have achieved the resolution even if you do not fulfill the action itself.” Nikodimos, Saint. The Philokalia (Kindle Locations 30733-30735). Kindle Edition. If you cannot do contemplative life practices, but have the desire to, when you do them, perhaps on a long weekend a couple of times a year, on a monastery retreat twice in your life, or when you participate in a church service less often, the condition of your heart and closeness to God is the same as if you had been doing those practices continuously all the time. That is how significant desire is and how much less important are the actual practices.
Question:  I started contemplative life, should I go through my closets and get rid of material things?

There are more
important tasks

Answer: No, at least not now. The time you would spend on it is better spent removing another way the world enters your home. Keep all your shoes and clothes.
Question:  How do I learn about contemplative life?

In stillness

Answer: The best way is to enter into the stillness at your home. Prevent the world from entering your home, let your home be filled with natural light from outside, periodically turn your heart to God in brief prayer, practice lectio divina, and read. For whatever time you can spend at home, your home should be a cloister, a place of stillness where the world does not enter.


Here are suggested books to read as you begin contemplative life — read some or all in the order you think best. If you want a specific recommendation, I would begin with at least a year of slowly reading Cassian’s “Conferences” and at the same time begin reading Bruyerè’s, “The Spiritual Life and Prayer: According to Holy Scripture and Monastic Tradition,” and when I finished reading Bruyerè in about a month, I would then read whatever captured my interest — so much depends on what’s on your heart and mind at the time. -Saint John Cassian, “Conferences.” Written in AD 429. Over 700 pages. Spend several months to over a year. -“Philokalia.” Compiled by two monks on the Holy Mountain of Athos in the AD 1700s, published in 1782. The Philokalia is a collection of writings from the AD 300s to the AD 1400s. Over 1,300 pages in five volumes. Spend several months to over a year. -Bruyerè, OSB, Cécile. “The Spiritual Life and Prayer: According to Holy Scripture and Monastic Tradition,” Mediatrix Press, 2016. Written in 1886 and translated from the French by the Nuns of Stanbrook Abbey in 1900. This amazing book has the substance of the great Benedictine Abbot Prosper Louis Pascal Guéranger of the Solesmes monastery. Among all spiritual books this is a beautiful white-winged dove. – Teresa of Avila. “The Interior Castle” in Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila Vol 2, ICS Publications, 2012. Written in 1577. Everyone should see reality through Teresa’s eyes. – Saint Benedict’s “Rule for Monasteries,” Translated from the Latin by Leonard J. Doyle, The Liturgical Press, 1948. Written in AD 530. The Rule is about 22,000 words. It is a small book. Doyle’s is the best English translation of the famous Rule. The Rule is based in large part on Cassian’s Conferences written 100 years earlier. In the 1,500 years since Saint Benedict wrote his Rule, no one has written a better 22,000-word book on how to apply Cassian’s “Conferences” to life (both for monks and lay people). -Ward, Benedicta. “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers the Alphabetical Collection.” Translated, with a foreword by Benedicta Ward, SLG, Cistercian Publications, 1975. (269 pages). Written in AD 300s to 500s. Sayings of desert monks of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine during those 200 years. Try taking one saying that captures your attention and let it roll around in your mind for a day or two. – Saint Athanasius. “The Life of Antony, and The Letter to Marcellinus.” Translation and Introduction by Robert C. Gregg, A volume of The Classics of Western Spirituality: A Library of the Great Spiritual Masters, Paulist Press, 1980. Written about AD 360. Many great truths for contemplative life: “…progress in virtue, and retirement from the world for the sake of it, ought not to be measured by time, but by desire and fixity of purpose.” – Saint John Climacus. “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2012. Written about AD 600. This is 30 steps up the ladder of virtues to the heaven of Christian love. For the topics in, the first rung of the ladder is a perfect statement. “The man who renounces the world from fear is like burning incense, that begins with fragrance but ends in smoke. He who leaves the world through hope of reward is like a millstone, that always moves in the same way. But he who withdraws from the world out of love for God has obtained fire at the very outset; and, like fire set to fuel, it soon kindles a larger fire.” It is better to read the older books especially those of the holy church fathers, but sometimes the antiquated English translations are cumbersome to understand. One practice is to read the early works first and primarily, but then find modern authors whose books faithfully explain the classic works. Here are four modern books to consider LeClercq, Jean. 1960. “Love of Learning and Desire for God.” Signet. This is an excellent description of the differences between the modern, widespread scholastic view of the Christian religion and the earlier monastic view. About the middle of the book it should become very clear and you will also understand the benefits of the monastic view for contemplative life. But as someone said, if you understand the book’s title in relation to monastic life, there’s no point in reading the book — the title is all you need! Vladimir Lossky. 2022. “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.” Lulu Press, Inc. Written in 1944 this book is filled with “so that’s what that means” moments, but also excellent insights on the defining differences between east and west, for example, “The theology of the Orthodox Church… has never entered into alliance with philosophy in any attempt at a doctrinal synthesis: despite all its richness, the religious thought of the east never had a scholasticism.” Page 104. Romanides, John. 2008. “Patristic Theology: The University Lectures of Fr. John Romanides.” Thessaloniki, Greece.: Uncut Mountain Press; The Dalles, Or. Transcribed and edited from Romanides’s university lectures in 1983-1984. “The chief concern of the Orthodox Church is the healing of the human soul.” Vlachos, Hierotheos. 1997. “St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorte.” Levadia, Greece: Birth Of The Theotokos Monastery. Written in 1991 this book gives a clear description of how St. Gregory Palamas’s teachings on hesychasm, energies and essence, and the uncreated light fit together and operate. Hagiorite means “of the Holy Mountain” “of Mount Athos.” “Hesychasm is the practice of stillness in the presence of God. Those who practice hesychasm are called hesychasts.” Page 395.
Sometimes contemplative life can feel like steps.  Wooden triangles form a rectangle.


“So, as I have said, we have to combine continual and diligent prayer with the seemingly good desire which is awakened in us, saying, every one of us: May it be Thy will regarding me, to accomplish in fact this good which I have chosen and which I desire to practice, if it concords with Thy will. To fix my will on it, is easy to me; to practice it, is however not possible for me without a gift on Thy part.” A. J. Wensinck with Isaac of Nineveh, “Mystic Treatises” (Amsterdam: Koninklijke Akademie Van Wetenschappen, 1923), 296.

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