The end of the first Christian Millennium brought its fair share of decay, upheaval and transition. The almost universal expectation of the 2nd Coming had been shattered; kings lusted after the Church's power and wealth...bishops behaved like prince-lings; the Gospel was becoming increasingly "buried" beneath grimy layers of tradition and culture.
"For the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God." (Mt 15.6)
Within this disillusioning and all too familiar context, God's "river" of prayer once again burst out and onto history's surface. Bernard of Clairvaux decisively reformed and renewed Benedict's disciples. And Bruno of Cologne abandoned clerical warfare, and high in the Alps of south-east France forged an altogether new kind of prayer house...integrating the best of the Desert Fathers (hermits) and Benedict. These two prayer movements (the Cistercians and the Carthusians) are still flourishing today...in spite of dire Protestant imprecations and predictions.
We (English-speakers) usually associate the 16th C Protestant Reformation with the end of the contemplative-prayer tradition. But this really has more to do with Henry VIII than anything else. This dissolute king's "dissolution" of prayer communities throughout his kingdom in fact had everything to do with economics and very little to do with reform and spirituality. That is why so many abbeys and convents were turned over to Henry's pals...a little "thank you" for services rendered to a man who ended his days more like unto a megalomaniac murderer, than a sovereign and head of the church.
Nevertheless, the "river" of prayer did surface during those sometimes savage times. In Spain a young man and a young woman (both with Jewish ancestry) combined their callings and considerable gifts (of the Spirit) to reform and revitalise a prayer movement founded on Mt. Carmel in the 13th C. (2)
Juan de Yepes (John of the Cross) and Teresa y Ahumada (Teresa of Avila) were both aware of the Reformation in northern Europe. While Luther, Calvin and Knox et al were undoubted men of prayer (3), the great work as they saw it was theological and organisational. John and Teresa saw the need for reformation (4), but hurled themselves along the pathway of a profound alteration of the Church and their society through intercession born of the deepest possible conversion and illumination. (I.e. "Union with God"!)
To this end they laboured unceasingly and extremely sacrificially to reform existing Carmelite houses of prayer, and also to plant new, reformed communities all over Spain.
Tragically, the English Reformation of those days is largely responsible for our current, hesitant condition, so far as prayer is concerned. (It is most commonly seen as the prelude to some great work, rather than the work itself.) It drove the "river" of contemplative prayer deeper underground than usual by attaching the fear of being labelled a "papist" or a heretic through any kind of (often imagined) association with monasticism or mysticism. This "guilt by association" is still "at-large" today. I have recently read articles in which Christians automatically and negatively connect contemplative prayer with the "evils" of Rome and the occult?