What is Christian Meditation?
"Meditation is a form of mental prayer consisting in the application of the various faculties of the soul, memory, imagination, intellect, and will, to the consideration of some mystery, principle, truth, or fact, with a view to exciting proper spiritual emotions and resolving on some act or course of action regarded as God's will and as a means of union with Him." Catholic Encyclopedia (1918)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has more to say on meditation below that is worth noting.
CCC#2705: "Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain. We are usually helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: the Sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history the page on which the 'today' of God is written."
CCC #2706: "To meditate on what we read helps us to make it our own by confronting it with ourselves. Here, another book is opened: the book of life. We pass from thoughts to reality. To the extent that we are humble and faithful, we discover in meditation the movements that stir the heart and we are able to discern them. It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light: 'Lord, what do you want me to do?' "
CCC #2707: "There are as many and varied methods of meditation as there are spiritual masters. Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate regularly, lest they come to resemble the three first kinds of soil in the parable of the sower. But a method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ Jesus."
CCC #2708: "Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina or the rosary. This form of prayerful reflection is of great value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him."
The Bible Teaches Us to Meditate upon God, His Word and Works.
"Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence. But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree which is planted near the running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit, in due season. And his leaf shall not fall off: and all whatsoever he shall do shall prosper. Not so the wicked, not so: but like the dust, which the wind driveth from the face of the earth. Therefore the wicked shall not rise again in judgment: nor sinners in the council of the just. For the Lord knoweth the way of the just: and the way of the wicked shall perish." Duoay-Rheims Bible
As we can see from the following quotations from the Douay-Rheims Bible, meditation is very important and should be a regular part of our lives.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9: "And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart: And thou shalt tell them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising. And thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand, and they shall be and shall move between thy eyes. And thou shalt write them in the entry, and on the doors of thy house."
Deuteronomy 11:16-21 "Beware lest perhaps your heart be deceived, and you depart from the Lord, and serve strange gods, and adore them: And the Lord being angry shut up heaven, that the rain come not down, nor the earth yield her fruit, and you perish quickly from the excellent land, which the Lord will give you. Lay up these my words in your hearts and minds, and hang them for a sign on your hands, and place them between your eyes. Teach your children that they meditate on them, when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest on the way, and when thou liest down and risest up. Thou shalt write them upon the posts and the doors of thy house: That thy days may be multiplied, and the days of thy children in the land which the Lord swore to thy fathers, that he would give them as long as the heaven hangeth over the earth.
Psalms 62:1-9: "A psalm of David when he was in the desert of Edom. O God, my God, to thee do I watch at break of day. For thee my soul hath thirsted; for thee my flesh, O how many ways! In a desert land, and where there is no way, and no water: so in the sanctuary have I come before thee, to see thy power and thy glory. For thy mercy is better than lives: thee my lips shall praise. Thus will I bless thee all my life long: and in thy name I will lift up my hands. Let my soul be filled as with marrow and fatness: and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips. If I have remembered thee upon my bed, I will meditate on thee in the morning: Because thou hast been my helper. And I will rejoice under the covert of thy wings: My soul hath stuck close to thee: thy right hand hath received me."
Joshua 1:8: "Let not the book of this law depart from thy mouth: but thou shalt meditate on it day and night, that thou mayst observe and do all things that are written in it: then shalt thou direct thy way, and understand it."
Psalms 70:24: "Yea and my tongue shall meditate on thy justice all the day; when they shall be confounded and put to shame that seek evils to me."
Psalms 76:2-21: "I cried to the Lord with my voice; to God with my voice, and he gave ear to me. In the day of my trouble I sought God, with my hands lifted up to him in the night, and I was not deceived. My soul refused to be comforted: I remembered God, and was delighted, and was exercised, and my spirit swooned away. My eyes prevented the watches: I was troubled, and I spoke not. I thought upon the days of old: and I had in my mind the eternal years. And I meditated in the night with my own heart: and I was exercised and I swept my spirit. Will God then cast off for ever? or will he never be more favourable again? Or will he cut off his mercy for ever, from generation to generation? Or will God forget to shew mercy? or will he in his anger shut up his mercies? And I said, Now have I begun: this is the change of the right hand of the most High. I remembered the works of the Lord: for I will be mindful of thy wonders from the beginning. And I will meditate on all thy works: and will be employed in thy inventions. Thy way, O God, is in the holy place: who is the great God like our God? Thou art the God that dost wonders. Thou hast made thy power known among the nations: With thy arm thou hast redeemed thy people the children of Jacob and of Joseph. The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee: and they were afraid, and the depths were troubled. Great was the noise of the waters: the clouds sent out a sound. For thy arrows pass: The voice of thy thunder in a wheel. Thy lightnings enlightened the world: the earth shook and trembled. Thy way is in the sea, and thy paths in many waters: and thy footsteps shall not be known. Thou hast conducted thy people like sheep, by the hand of Moses and Aaron."
Psalms 118:9-16: "...By what doth a young man correct his way? by observing thy words. With my whole heart have I sought after thee: let me not stray from thy commandments. Thy words have I hidden in my heart, that I may not sin against thee. Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy justifications. With my lips I have pronounced all the judgments of thy mouth. I have been delighted in the way of thy testimonies, as in all riches. I will meditate on thy commandments: and I will consider thy ways. I will think of thy justifications: I will not forget thy words."
Psalms 118:117: "Help me, and I shall be saved: and I will meditate always on thy justifications."
Proverbs 8:7: "My mouth shall meditate truth, and my lips shall hate wickedness."
Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 6:37: "Let thy thoughts be upon the precepts of God, and meditate continually on his commandments: and he will give thee a heart, and the desire of wisdom shall be given thee."
Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 14:22: "Blessed is the man that shall continue in wisdom, and that shall meditate in his justice, and in his mind shall think of the all seeing eye of God."
Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 39:1-12: "The wise men will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients, and will be occupied in the prophets. He will keep the sayings of renowned men, and will enter withal into the subtilties of parables. He will search out the hidden meanings of proverbs, and will be conversant in the secrets of parables. He shall serve among great men, and: appear before the governor. He shall pass into strange countries: for he shall try good and evil among men. He will give his heart to resort early to the Lord that made him, and he will pray in the sight of the most High. He will open his mouth in prayer, and will make supplication for his sins. For if it shall please the great Lord, he will fill him with the spirit of understanding: And he will pour forth the words of his wisdom as showers, and in his prayer he will confess to the Lord. And he shall direct his counsel, and his knowledge, and in his secrets shall he meditate. He shall shew forth the discipline he hath learned, and shall glory in the law of the covenant of the Lord. Many shall praise his wisdom, and it shall never be forgotten."
1 Timothy 4:15: "Meditate upon these things, be wholly in these things: that thy profiting may be manifest to all."
Philippians 4:8-9: "For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things. The things which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, these do ye, and the God of peace shall be with you."
Christian Forms of Meditation
There are many methods of Christian meditation some of which are listed here. Along with what's covered in this lesson, I would recommend that you take a look at them and become familiar with different ways to pray and see what works best for you. The Catechism specifically mentions two forms of meditation, "lectio divina" and the "rosary". We will cover these two forms of prayer in more depth in this lesson.
Meditation methods can be simple or more involved. Below is a simple method of meditation including the main aspects used in most forms of Christian meditation.
A Simple Method of Christian Meditation:
Set aside around 15-30 minutes to pray and read your Bible. Find a time and place when you won't feel rushed or have pressures from the outside. Choose something to read that best lends itself to meditation, perhaps from the New Testament, Psalms or Proverbs (even though all Scripture can be used for meditation as it is God's word to us). You could also use a solid spiritual book as a basis for meditation such as the writings of the Saints or Catechism of the Catholic Church. Read a little until you find something that stands out to you that you'd like to ponder more in depth. Then think about what you have read and talk to God about it from your heart. Decide if and how to incorporate what you have learned into your life. If you find a good Scripture verse that you want to memorize, you could write it down and ponder it throughout the day and/or memorize it until your next prayer time. If you like, you could continue meditating on the same passage until you are ready to move on to another or until you've incorporated its message into your life. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide.
The first reason to meditate is to get to know God better by meditating on Him through His word and works. When we meditate we become inspired to love God more and serve Him better. By taking time to think about God and what He tells us, we begin to appreciate God and to love Him more. We learn His words of wisdom for our life, and we can make resolutions to put them into practice with the help of God's grace.
Secondly, if we don't take time meditate upon the things of God and His word, it is very easy to forget about Him. The reason is that even though we can know there is a God from all He created (such as the beauty and intricacy of the natural world), we do not see God Himself with our eyes or (ordinarily) hear Him with our ears. Rather God speaks to us through His son Jesus Christ, through his word in Scripture, and He speaks to us in the depths of our heart and soul. So if we don't take time to meditate upon God and His word and what He has done, we might forget about God and religion and get overly caught up and attached to the things of the world.
Thirdly, meditation upon God's word and putting it into practice brings us happiness and peace of soul. Philippians 4:8-9 tells us that if we "think" on the things that are true, modest, just, holy, virtuous, and do the things we have learned, received and heard, then God's peace will be with us. That good effect is a real life proof that the Bible is true, which will even further our strength and confidence in the Bible and God. God's peace is a great gift that Jesus came to give us.
The other Scripture passages we read above, all have a similar message. In order to be truly happy and at peace we need to focus and meditate on God and his word because God is the greatest good, truth and holiness. If we set our minds and hearts on lesser things over and above God, then we will be missing out on the best, which is God Himself and all He has told us.
For meditation to be prayer, it involves more than just reading or thinking. Below we will take a look at two forms of meditation recommended in the Catechism: lectio divina and the rosary.
The Vatican II Council invites all Christian faithful... to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the 'excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ' (Phil 3:8).
Dei Verbum (n.25) (from the Vatican website at www.vatican.va)
Lectio Divina: A Method for Meditation on Scripture
"Lectio Divina" literally means "divine reading". It is a traditional form of prayer that was developed in monasteries centuries ago where the monks read Scripture slowly, meditated on it, and made it the basis for meditation and contemplation. The method was developed with four parts: Reading "Lectio", Meditation "Meditatio", Prayer "Oratio", and Contemplation "Contemplatio". To put it simply, it involves reading Scripture, finding a passage or a few words that seem to speak to you, meditating on the meaning of those words, and making them a basis for your prayer.
Summary of the 4 elements of Lectio Divina:
Reading. Peacefully read a selection from the Bible (preferably out loud). Listen attentively. When a word, phrase or thought stands out and captures the imagination, stop and ponder it.
Meditation. Take time to dwell on the word of God selected in your mind. Keep listening to the words, repeating them over and over, letting them make suggestions to you. Perhaps memorize the text and let it soak in.
Prayer. Let these words of God from Scripture enter your heart. Respond to the word of God with prayer. This prayer may include a loving conversation, making resolutions, contrition for sins, silently sitting with the Lord, or a loving gaze as in contemplation.
Contemplation. Keep yourself open to hearing or experiencing what gifts God might give from inner harmony, peace, love, understanding to contemplative prayer. Be receptive if God is acting. Allow prayer to be a time to grow in love and union with God.
The following links have a good explanation of this method.
Optional Reading Assignments:
Read the first part of this article down to "Lectio Divina as a Group Exercise": Accepting The Embrace of God: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina by Fr. Luke Dysinger, O.S.B. (linked to the Saint Andrew's Abbey, Valymero, CA website at www.valyermo.com)
Please note: In general, whenever I put a link to another website I am referring you only to a specific article at that specific link (and not necessarily to other information at the linked website because I haven't reviewed all the material at the other websites).
The Rosary: A Meditative Prayer and Path to Contemplation
||The Rosary, precisely because it starts with Mary's own experience, is an exquisitely contemplative prayer . . . By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. In this way the unfathomable riches of these mysteries are disclosed.
John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The rosary is a centuries old prayer that includes a combination of vocal prayer and meditation. St. Dominic (d. 1221), who helped spread devotion to the rosary, is often credited for the modern form of the rosary. However its history seems to have been a gradual development dating back to earlier times where beads were used as a help for meditation. To read a short history of the rosary by Fr. William Saunders at the EWTN website click here.
The rosary has been called a "compendium of the gospel" because when you meditate on the mysteries of the rosary, you are meditating on a sequence of events from the lives of Jesus and Mary taken from the Gospels. The prayers are also mainly taken from passages from the Gospels.
Many of the popes and saints regularly prayed the rosary. Padre Pio prayed several rosaries per day and his last words were, "Love the Blessed Virgin and make Her loved. Always say the Rosary!" Pope John Paul II is one saint who was very devoted to the rosary. He wrote an apostolic letter on it called The Rosary of the Virgin Mary in which he called the rosary a "path to contemplation". I'd highly recommend that you read it here. Here is a quote from this encyclical:
A path of contemplation
"But the most important reason for strongly encouraging the practice of the Rosary is that it represents a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery which I have proposed in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte as a genuine training in holiness: What is needed is a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer. Inasmuch as contemporary culture, even amid so many indications to the contrary, has witnessed the flowering of a new call for spirituality, due also to the influence of other religions, it is more urgent than ever that our Christian communities should become genuine schools of prayer. The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation."
Pope John Paul II, The Rosary of the Virgin Mary
Below are some links to learn more about the rosary and how to pray it:
For more about the rosary, including a short history with links on how to pray the rosary from the EWTN website (www.ewtn.org) click here. To see a tutorial on the mechanics of how to pray the rosary at the Dominican's Rosary Center website (www.rosary-center.org) click here.
The Blessed Mother at Fatima and other places has asked us to pray the rosary especially for peace in the world and conversion of sinners. If you are not familiar with Mary's messages at Fatima, I would advise you to look over a summary as it is still very applicable today at the Dominican's Rosary Center website (www.rosary-center.org): click here.
||For the rosary to be a meditative prayer, one meditates on the mystery for each decade rather than focusing on the meaning of each word of each Hail Mary. Below is a short instruction on how to do this mostly taken from my book, How to Pray the Rosary as a Pathway to Contemplation. If you'd like a copy as a help meditate on the mysteries of the rosary click here.
Meditating on the Mysteries of the Rosary
Prayer is a communication between God and us. Our part in praying the rosary is to say the vocal prayers and to meditate (think about or dwell) on the mystery for each decade. The mysteries are events from the life of Jesus and Mary. The Joyful Mysteries are about Jesus conception, birth and childhood; the Luminous Mysteries about His public ministry; the Sorrowful Mysteries about His passion and death; and the Glorious Mysteries about events after His death.
When we meditate on the mysteries, we visualize or think about some of the main events from the lives of Jesus and Mary from the Bible. Each mystery has a message and meaning for our own life and our relationship with God. In prayer, God is very present and right there with us whether we perceive Him or not. The more we pray with the desire to hear God, the more we develop an inner ear to hear Him.
As we meditate on the mysteries, we put our inner focus on God and can expect that will bring us closer to Him. To really love God or anyone else, first we have to get to know them. We cant love who we dont know. Meditating on the mysteries of the rosary is a way to get to know Jesus and Mary better and therefore to love them more. It is more than an exercise of the mind and is not an emptying of the mind. Rather it is a refocusing of the mind from the outer realities to inner and spiritual ones. As we meditate on the mysteries of the rosary, thoughts and then sentiments are generated. We lift these to the Lord as part of our prayer. In this way meditation becomes not only a mental prayer but becomes an affective prayer, which means a prayer that engages our emotions as well.
In reflecting on the mysteries and opening our hearts to God, we begin to have more sentiments of love, praise, thanksgiving and intercession for others. We lift up our thoughts, intentions and feelings. Even if these remain unspoken, God reads our minds and hearts. As time goes on, God makes his presence known more and more and our relationship to God grows closer. This is perhaps why Pope John Paul II called the rosary a path to contemplation.
When we pray the rosary we say 10 Hail Marys for each decade while thinking about the mystery for that decade. My book, How to Pray the Rosary as a Pathway to Contemplation, has a passage from either Scripture or another meditation for each decade. You can also look up your own passages from Scripture regarding each mystery.
One way to meditate on the mysteries is to focus on a certain idea or phrase from the Scripture passage that particularly strikes you. Another way to meditate on the mysteries is to imagine yourself as actually present at the event or to think about what the Bible is teaching in the passage. What does God wish to communicate to us? What did Jesus and Mary do and say? What might they have felt? What would we feel if we were one of the actual witnesses or participants?
There is much more that could be said about the rosary and hopefully you will take time to read the links that were provided to learn more about this wonderful prayer that the Blessed Mother, Mary, herself has asked us repeatedly to pray in her many approved apparitions.
Some other methods of meditation
|A Short Method of Meditation
by St. Frances de Sales from An Introduction to a Devout Life. Click here for the entire method. The following is the first part and the rest is continued at the link above.
"And first, the Presence of God, the First Point of Preparation.
"It may be, my daughter, that you do not know how to practice mental prayer, for unfortunately it is a thing much neglected nowadays. I will therefore give you a short and easy method for using it, until such time as you may read sundry books written on the subject, and above all till practice teaches you how to use it more perfectly. And first of all, the Preparation, which consists of two points: first, placing yourself in the Presence of God; and second, asking His Aid. And in order to place your self in the Presence of God, I will suggest four chief considerations which you can use at first.
"First, a lively earnest realization that His Presence is universal; that is to say, that He is everywhere, and in all, and that there is no place, nothing in the world, devoid of His Most Holy Presence, so that, even as birds on the wing meet the air continually, we, let us go where we will, meet with that Presence always and everywhere. It is a truth which all are ready to grant, but all are not equally alive to its importance.
"A blind man when in the presence of his prince will preserve a reverential demeanour if told that the king is there, although unable to see him; but practically, what men do not see they easily forget, and so readily lapse into carelessness and irreverence. Just so, my child, we do not see our God, and although faith warns us that He is present, not beholding Him with our mortal eyes, we are too apt to forget Him, and act as though He were afar: for, while knowing perfectly that He is everywhere, if we do not think about it, it is much as though we knew it not. And therefore, before beginning to pray, it is needful always to rouse the soul to a steadfast remembrance and thought of the Presence of God. This is what David meant when he exclaimed, "If I climb up to Heaven, Thou art there, and if I go down to hell, Thou art there also!" (1) And in like manner Jacob, who, beholding the ladder which went up to Heaven, cried out, "Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not" (2) meaning thereby that he had not thought of it; for assuredly he could not fail to know that God was everywhere and in all things. Therefore, when you make ready to pray, you must say with your whole heart, "God is indeed here."
The second way of placing yourself in this Sacred Presence is to call to mind that God is not only present in the place where you are, but that He is very specially present in your heart and mind, which He kindles and inspires with His Holy Presence, abiding there as Heart of your heart, Spirit of your spirit. Just as the soul animates the whole body, and every member thereof, but abides especially in the heart, so God, while present everywhere, yet makes His special abode with our spirit. Therefore David calls Him "the Strength of my heart;" (3) and S. Paul said that in Him "we live and move and have our being." (4) Dwell upon this thought until you have kindled a great reverence within your heart for God Who is so closely present to you.
"The third way is to dwell upon the thought of our Lord, Who in His Ascended Humanity looks down upon all men, but most particularly on all Christians, because they are His children; above all, on those who pray, over whose doings He keeps watch. Nor is this any mere imagination, it is very truth, and although we see Him not, He is looking down upon us. It was given to St. Stephen in the hour of martyrdom thus to behold Him, and we may well say with the Bride of the Canticles, "He looketh forth at the windows, shewing Himself through the lattice." (5)
"The fourth way is simply to exercise your ordinary imagination, picturing the Saviour to yourself in His Sacred Humanity as if He were beside you just as we are wont to think of our friends, and fancy that we see or hear them at our side. But when the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is there, then this Presence is no longer imaginary, but most real; and the sacred species are but as a veil from behind which the Present Saviour beholds and considers us, although we cannot see Him as He is.
"Make use of one or other of these methods for placing yourself in the Presence of God before you begin to pray;--do not try to use them all at once, but take one at a time, and that briefly and simply."
Deciding to Pray
Since the goal of this course is not just to learn things but to put what we learn into practice, let's make a decision (if we haven't already) to set aside a time or place that we can pray each day. One idea is to write down now what that time or place will be and how much time you will allot to prayer. Then you make a daily check list and check off each day after youve prayed until it becomes a habit.
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (www.vatican.va website link) mentions possible places to pray as a prayer corner in your home, at church or a sanctuary. The Bible mentions our room as being a good place to pray. "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen..." Matthew 6:6. What quiet place can you find to spend time alone with God?
Besides a certain time and place for prayer, we can meditate as we can throughout the day as St. Alphonsus mentions below:
|"As regards the place of meditation, St. Alphonsus says: 'We can meditate in every place, at home or elsewhere, even in walking and at our work. How many are there who, not having any better opportunity, raise their hearts to God and apply their minds to mental prayer, without leaving their occupations, their work, or who meditate even while traveling. He who seeks God will find Him, everywhere and at all times.' " Lasance, My Prayer-Book, 1908, p. 136. Imprimatur, Archbishop of New York, 1908.
I would suggest you choose one of the methods of Christian meditation that we covered in this lesson that appeals to you and that you will most likely carry out. Then try to spend from 15-30 minutes a day or longer for meditative prayer. (If you regularly watch TV, one idea is to drop one of the shows you probably don't like that much anyway and spend that time in prayer.)
If some of the methods mentioned on this page are a bit complicated for you to start, or are not appealing to you at this time, and you'd like to start with something that is easy to understand, perhaps you'd like to try the "Simple Method of Christian Meditation" near the top of this page. It is similar to lectio divina.
Meditation can lead to infused contemplation, which is the highest form of personal prayer as it is given to us by God. We will discuss contemplation in another lesson including how contemplation takes precedence over meditation when God is granting it.
Here's one last thought from St. Teresa of Avila:
Lesson #5 will deal with Problems and Progress in Prayer.
"The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but the desire to please God in everything." St. Teresa of Avila
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