Devotional Lectio Divina Meditative Contemplative Liturgical Family Further reading


Meditation Prayer

All prayer forms are inter-related and one can flow from one to another. Meditation, for example, is similar to contemplation and Lectio Divina, but it emphasizes thinking.

Meditation is a form of reflective, mental prayer of thinking about God. When we use meditative prayer, we take a passage or a verse or a phrase from Scripture, or we take a symbol like the cross or a truth of our faith, and we think it over.

But meditation is more than just thinking in the abstract, adds Bishop Untener.

"First of all, we try to get at the meaning of all this in our own life, not in the abstract. If we are mulling over the cross, we think about the cross in Christ's life, in Mary's lie, and in our own life.

"Secondly, we don't mull it over on our own. We do it with the Lord. We talk it over with the Lord, turn it over and over with him, and we ask the Lord's help to try to understand."

For example, consider the mistakes St. Peter made over and over -- his impetuousness, his overconfidence. "We think about this with the Lord who loved Peter so, and we think about ourselves, 'Why is it that I make the same mistakes over and over again? Help me to understand this, Lord, so that I can do something about it'," says the bishop.

In November 1996, Pope John Paul II cited the Eastern Churches' rich tradition of meditation as an inspiration to all Christians who wish to improve their prayer life. He called "productive" the Eastern method of repeating short, prayerful invocations frequently, until they become like breathing.

"Meditation increases our capacity to love," writes Norbertine Fr. Alfred McBride, in Catholic Update. "It fills us with enthusiasm (a word that means 'the God within') by putting us in touch with God.

"Doctors claim that meditation is good for our heart, reducing our heart rate, increasing the depth of our breathing and improving our body chemistry, which affects our level of emotional anxiety."

Although meditation often conjures up images of 1960s gurus in tie-dye tee-shirts, this prayer style is deeply rooted in Catholic tradition.

The Psalms, of the Old Testament, tell us that the blessed Israelite is one who "meditates day and night" on the law of the Lord.

The desert fathers called meditation "prayer of the heart".

Meditation became particularly popular during the late Middle Ages. Saints who helped shape meditative prayer include St. Bernard of Clairvaux (who outlined a formula for meditation), St. Bonaventure, the Franciscans (who popularized meditation on the life of Christ), St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Thomas Aquinas who said meditation was necessary for devotion. Meditation was the cornerstone for Carmelite spirituality at the beginning of the 13th century.

Perhaps the most influential writer on meditation was St. Ignatius Loyola, with his book Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius taught that meditation involves examination of conscience (taking a look at our lives), by scrutinizing our actions and intentions, in view of God's mercy and compassion. He believed that meditation was 'prayerful reflection upon the truths of the faith."

As meditative prayer developed, some proponents began to consider it a more advanced prayer style than vocal prayer (devotional prayer); those less enthusiastic felt meditation was simply a preparation for contemplation.

Finally, in the 17th Century, the Church warned proponents of the meditative prayer style not to look down on those who practice the contemplative style, and vice versa, and neither should hold vocal prayer in contempt.

At one time, the Code of Canon Law stated that clerics, religious, seminarians and novices should spend some time each day in meditation. John XXIII required priests who lived in Rome to make meditation a daily practice "to foster piety in souls."

Even today, meditation and contemplative prayer are usually associated with the monasteries and cloisters.

But "the instability of our time makes it enormously important for people to do meditation," says Fr. M. Basil Pennington, OCSO, an author known worldwide for his books on centering prayer. "I think that today, unless people meditate, they have real problems."

How does one do meditative prayer?

"Take the Scripture passage (or scene of nature, or music, or art work, or whatever can bring us into God's presence) and, in God's presence, think about it," writes Sr. Marlene Halpin, OP, author of Leading Prayer: Plain and Simple. "Thinking and gaining insight are important here. God's grace is essential. The message, information, is useful and valid."

Meditation "takes some thought and musing," she continues. "We can start it at prayer time. If it is something that 'catches' us, it can come to mind, on and off, all day long -- all week long, for that matter. It easily comes back to mind again while we are vacuuming, taking a shower, waiting for the bus, or talking to someone in the lunch line."

Even a devotional prayer, like the Stations of the Cross, can be used to meditate on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

When you're having meditation, you're entering into the scene of a Scripture passage and you're picturing yourself there. You're even taking on one of the characters perhaps and you're experiencing within your imagination that scene in Scripture."

With meditation, we can find where God already is within us.

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