Published in the The Holy Family Connection - Jan 2011
For many Catholics, prayer is about asking God to change the world for their benefit. It is a superstitious pagan understanding, almost like white magic.
Christian Meditation is a deeply Christian form of prayer. To fully understand this, we need to make a paradigm shift in our understanding of prayer. Prayer is not about asking God to fulfil our desires but letting go our desires. Prayer is a relationship with God, through Jesus. This is the understanding of prayer in Christian meditation.
In the theology of the Gospel, Jesus is both God and man, God incarnate in man. God became human so that man could be reconciled with God. The purpose of our life is to be in union with God through Jesus. Hence all Christian prayer is made “through Christ our Lord.” In meditation, we enter into the Trinitarian understanding, the deepest mystery of our faith. Jesus prays in our heart to the Father - his spirit is in us, constantly crying “Abba Father.” This flow of love to his Father is what we call the Holy Spirit. The upwelling prayer of Jesus never ceases as St Paul says “We do not even know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom: 8.26) The aim of all prayer is to lead us into the prayer of Christ. However there are many obstacles that block us from being in touch with the indwellingSpirit. The distractions of daily life, the pull of the ego, the illusory desire for happiness – all these prevent us from recognising the reality of God’s presence within us. We need to find a way to escape from these distractions.
Meditation is a direct path to this end. Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to follow me he must deny himself” (Mt 16:24). When we sit still in meditation and give our attention to the prayer word, we leave ourselves behind and turn our attention totally to God. The mantra leads us into union with Jesus. We lose ourselves in him. Our prayer is a tiny river flowing into the mighty ocean that is Jesus’ prayer. This is the goal of Christian Meditation - to clear the path to enable us experience the presence of the Risen Christ within us.
Christian Meditation conforms to Jesus’ teaching on prayer. In Mt: 6:6-7, Jesus tells us to go into the “inner room” – an interior place of silence and “Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.” Meditation is pure prayer, purified of words, thoughts, images, ideas - purified of desires. In the silence of our hearts, we lay aside our words.
The Rosary, Scripture reading, the Eucharist, various devotions are all valid forms of prayer. They can be portrayed as the spokes of a wheel, which meet in the centre - the mind of Christ (see front cover). The spokes are meant to bring us o the same place, which is the prayer of Jesus, eternally present in the human heart. Christian Meditation does not replace these forms of prayer which get simplified and deepened by meditation.
In meditation, our prayer flows into the prayer of Christ - his prayer then affects all our forms of prayer. It is a two way flow - our prayers grow in quality rather than quantity and we return to our community prayer with a deeper capacity for attention and we experience God’s presence more deeply. Our participation inthe Eucharist becomes more significant. The Scripture begins to speak to us.Our verbal prayer becomes simpler with fewer words. Our whole spiritual life is transformed.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Christian Meditation
Q What is the difference between Contemplation and Meditation?
Some older writers use the word “meditation” to refer to wordless (or apophatic) prayer, but themeaning of the word has changed somewhat over the years. Many methods of prayeruse imagination, imagery or word-based reflection, to bring the mind to Christ.This is often called Meditation, e.g. the Ignatian method of meditation.
Contemplative prayer is prayer without words, bringing the mind to stillness. ChristianMeditation is a form of contemplative prayer.
Q Is there a danger that if we empty the mind in meditation, the devil might come in, as mentioned in Mt Ch 12?
In meditation we do not empty the mind – we cleanse it of distractions, so that the indwelling Christ can fill it and take it over. There is no danger of the devil coming in.
Q I only meditate in the morning as I am too tired at night. Is that enough?
Like a medicine that is prescribed to be taken twice a day, you will get the full benefit if you meditate morning and evening. The mantra brings a rhythm of serenity into our life, as our meditation opens the new day ahead, and closes the day that is past. You may find it easier to plan your meditation time earlier in the evening, rather than late at night.
Q Can I play music while I meditate?
The tradition taught by Fr John Main is sometimes called “the Way of Poverty” because it does not provide any indulgences for the ego, the mind or the senses. Although music may be helpful in other forms of meditation, in this tradition it will be a distraction. We listen only to the prayer word in the silence of our mind.