The Road to Transformation

September 28, 2023 by Daniel Wolpert
“Summer Sunset, Oil Painting” by Pobytov

My first awakening to the spiritual life and to the life of prayer occurred when I was twenty years old. I had finished college, and I decided to hitchhike from the Bay Area in California to Alaska. I was on a quest—for what I wasn’t too sure. I cared deeply about the world, about the problems of the day, and yet my involvement with politics and other secular approaches to these problems always left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. They never seemed to quite get at the heart of the matter.  

At the time I knew nothing about contemplative prayer. For me prayer meant reading the lines in the church bulletin or speaking a formula at meals. So it was unusual that as I got ready for my trip, I found myself sliding a book on contemplation into my backpack. 

Later, as I read this book by the side of the road in the vast wilderness of the Yukon and beyond, I suddenly realized that here was something that reached down into the core of our dilemma as human beings. Here was something that struck a blow at the evil separating us from one another and preventing us from loving our brothers and sisters. That something was this different kind of prayer—a deep conversation with God beginning with communion and leading to transformation. 

Today I still feel deeply convicted about the value of contemplative prayer. We are creatures who are lost and confused, trapped in the maze of our own little view of the world, and the only way out of that maze is the lifeline God offers us. Yet often we cannot even see that salvation—the solution to our estrangement from the divine—is right under our noses. Prayer opens our eyes. Prayer illuminates our minds, enabling the love of God to permeate all that we do. 

When we sit down and begin to pray, we enter into a new land, a land of many surprises, many challenges, and many rewards. Even though we enter this land immediately as we begin to pray, we must cross it; we have not reached the destination at the outset. 

This type of deeper prayer doesn’t happen right away; it takes time to adjust to this new way of being with God. After I returned from my trip, I began to spend time in silence, trying to undertake this new way of praying. Most of the time, all I got for my efforts was a sore back and numb legs. However, slowly but surely, something began to happen. I began to be aware that I was not alone in my prayer, that this thing called contemplation truly led to an encounter with the living Jesus.  

The slow transformation in our experience of praying is the journey, and the vehicles for this journey are tried and true prayer practices. When we enter into prayer, we who seek Christ today stand on the shoulders of the saints who have walked “the Way” before us, hoping to see the risen Jesus as he goes before us down the dusty roads of this broken world.

Daniel Wolpert, a healer and student of the spiritual life, has taught and led retreats in the fields of psychology, integrative medicine, and spiritual formation in numerous settings over the past 30 years. Co-founder and Executive Director of the Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing, a Spiritual Director, and a Presbyterian pastor, he is also the author of several books and multiple articles on spiritual life, leadership, and healing.

This reflection was adapted from the introduction to Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices, 20th Anniversary Edition (Upper Room Books, 2023).

Over the past 20 years, Daniel Wolpert's work has inspired many to reflect on a life of prayer and what it means to be intentional about creating daily life with God. In this edition, two new chapters ask how we can use the practice of prayer to engage a world in crisis. Learn more about Creating a Life with God here.

Journal Prompts

Can you recall a specific moment, experience, book, or conversation that sparked a deeper curiosity about spirituality or prayer in your life? If so, how did that shape your connection with God? 

Consider the idea of standing on the shoulders of spiritual figures who have walked the path before you. Are there historical or contemporary faith figures who inspire your spiritual journey, and why? 

Share your responses with others in the comments below!

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