Questions and Answers

Answers to questions about Christian Meditation that may be useful for members of the community.

Q&A Categories

The Mantra

1. Father Laurence, you mention we should repeat the word maranatha without thinking of it – the meaning. Would it not be better to repeat a word that has meaning for us, like ‘Come Lord’, ‘Abba’ or ‘Jesus’? Maranatha has no meaning for me. I do not understand it; it is not my language.

It is not your language, it is not my language, but it was the historical language of Jesus. It is a sacred word because it is in the language that Jesus spoke, and because it is the first Christian prayer. St Paul ends the First Letter to the Corinthians with it: Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus.

It is one of the very few words in the New Testament that is in Aramaic because, as we know, the gospel was translated from Aramaic to Greek. We don’t know the original words of Jesus, we only know his words in translation. And this is one of the few words in his own language in the New Testament. So it is a very sacred word and clearly a key word for the early Christians.

We do know the meaning of it. Maranatha means Come Lord, Come Lord Jesus, but because it is not in our own language, precisely because it is not in our own language, it doesn’t stimulate our thought or imagination. Remember, meditation is not what you think. We are laying aside our thoughts.

This is another approach to prayer than the one that we were usually taught at the mental level of prayer. So you have to get used to this. You will feel at times, ‘I don’t know if this is really prayer, this doesn’t feel like prayer. I’m not speaking to God, I’m not asking God for things…’. But those are other ways of prayer, at other times; this is a contemplative way of prayer. So it is helpful, I’m not saying it is essential, but it is helpful to take a word that is not in your own language.

(Laurence Freeman OSB, Meditatio Talk Series 2013-C, Meditating as a Christian)

2. Do we ever stop saying maranatha during meditation, or do we say it from beginning to end?

A very good practical question. We say the mantra continuously because we are letting go; we are selling everything we have for the treasure hidden in the field, as described in the parables of the kingdom. We are committed to poverty of spirit through saying the word continuously. But in God’s own time, we will be led into a deeper level of prayer. That is contemplation; and that is God’s decision, nothing to do with us.

Contemplation is a grace, it’s a gift. There is no technique that can twist God’s arm to give us contemplation, but we have to be prepared, we have to be ready for that.

So the meditation is our way of just being there, being ready, like in the parables of the kingdom where Jesus says you have to stay awake for you do not know what hour the master’s going to come back. Staying awake, staying alert, keeping your lamps trimmed – that’s what saying the word is.

When you first begin to meditate, you say the word for a few moments and then you become distracted. You feel you’re a failure and you should feel a failure because we do fail at this. We are not perfect.

However, we can be faithful. So we return to the word and we keep returning to it. Then, over time, the word begins to sink more deeply into your heart and it is as if you are sounding the word more gently and the word is beginning to take root in your heart. And then eventually, it becomes that you listen to the word. You say it with less effort and your attention is easier to maintain.

In all of these stages, you are being wonderfully enriched, wonderfully blessed and you will see the fruits of the Spirit appearing in your life. The deeper you go, of course, the more God can flood your lives with this love. It is just a question of whether we want to go deeper or not. So, you don’t have to evaluate your meditation. You don’t say: Was it a good meditation or a bad meditation? Just be faithful to it and you will see the fruits appearing.

Then in God’s own time, as I said, you may be led into complete silence, for a few moments maybe even, where your prayer completely becomes one with his prayer. Well, that is grace; that is gift. And as soon as you realize that you have stopped saying the word, come back to the word and start repeating it again. That is the discipline, and that is the simplicity.

You have to be clear about this. Sometimes when you are meditating you can come to a very quiet and clear place in yourself. It is what the Buddhist would call ‘clear mind’, where the mind seems to be like the sky that has no clouds. You say to yourself perhaps: ‘This is a good place to be. My mind is clear, my mind is open, I’m feeling peaceful. I feel the presence of God.’ And you may say to yourself: ‘I have no thoughts.’ But the thought ‘I have no thoughts’ is a thought. So, as long as you are thinking like that, you keep saying the word.

But over time, you’ll find that you say the word much more gently, more subtly, more peacefully. It takes root in your heart and it accompanies you throughout the day as well.

(Laurence Freeman OSB, Meditatio Talk Series 2013-C, Meditating as a Christian)

3. What is the function of the mantra?

John Main

The function of the mantra basically is to bring you to silence, to take you beyond thought, imagination, ratiocination.

(John Main OSB, Meditatio Talk Series 2012-D, John Main OSB & Laurence Freeman OSB respond to Questions on Meditation)

4. It’s a way to clear your mind?

John Main

Yes you could put it that way certainly, yes. Saying the mantra I think is very much what the English poet Blake meant when he talked of cleansing the doors of your perception. It’s very much like clarifying of your consciousness, but you have to be careful about too many images even in thinking about the mantra, because otherwise your temptation is to say at the end of your meditation, ”Well how much more clarification have I got this time?” Whereas you want to try and approach meditation in the least self-conscious way possible. That’s the purpose: to bring you to silence.

(John Main OSB, Meditatio Talk Series 2012-D, John Main OSB & Laurence Freeman OSB respond to Questions on Meditation)