A METHOD OF MEDITATION
As a remote preparation try to remain conscious of God as you go about your daily schedule. Frequently remind yourself of this truth: God is everywhere and is very interested in my welfare.
At the beginning of the meditation make a deliberate act of faith regarding God’s presence. Ask Him for pardon of any faults. Ask for help to make a good meditation. Add a Prayer to our Blessed Mother and other favorite saints and angels –even from the holy Souls in Purgatory.
Read for a few minutes from the Bible-or other spiritual book. Ask yourself: What have I read? What does it teach me? How have I acted in regard to this till now? What shall I do about it in the future?
Since the advantage of meditation is not so much in the thinking as in the praying that it leads to, it is important to devote the greater part of meditation to affections (short prayers from the heart), petitions (requests for help from God), and resolutions practical plans for changing your life for the better, with God’s help).
AFFECTIONS: ‘Lord, I am sorry for having offended You.’ ‘Thank You for the blessings You have given me.’ ‘ I want to love You above all things.’ ‘Your will be done.’ ‘Sweet Heart of Mary, be my Salvation.’ ‘St. Joseph, pray for me.’ ‘Holy Guardian Angel, assist me.’ ‘Holy Souls in Purgatory, intercede for me.’ ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in You.’
PETITIONS: Ask for whatever you need: for example, forgiveness of sins, greater confidence, help in a stressful situation, specific graces to forgive someone, to be more patient, for good physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, for the grace to die a holy death.
RESOLUTIONS: Make them short and specific: for example, to stop gossiping with … , to be kind to…. not to lose patience with …. to get the needed rest and/or recreation or vacation, to be more faithful to times of prayer, etc.
THANK God for the insights and graces gained during this meditation, your resolutions,
ASK for help to keep your resolutions, and
CHOOSE some special thought or short prayer to carry with you during the day.
IV. Further Suggestions for Meditative Prayer
Do not do all the talking yourself. Stop now and then to listen to Our Lord. The inspirations He gives on occasion are wordless insights or sentiments that you ‘hear’ in your heart.
Do not try to ‘feel’ the acts of love, and other affections you express. They are acts of your will, and usually do not spill over into felt emotions. If you experience dissatisfaction because your mind keeps wandering, have patience with yourself. Enduring this inability to pray is a valuable part of your prayer.
If you are drawn at times to thinking about or ‘looking’ silently at God –or you become vaguely aware of His presence– simply go along that way. But if you find your mind wandering, return to expressing affections such as love, praise, sorrow. Some people maintain this simple focus on God by slowly repeating a phrase — for example, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’ –or a single word such as ‘God,’ ‘Jesus’, or-‘Mary.’
The ideal way of meditating’ is taking a ‘quiet’ time during the day. But in an active world this is not always easy. As one grows in experience in meditation, one learns how to use the time they have for a ‘quiet’ time, such as washing dishes or washing a car by yourself –or even quietly working in the garden helps be with your good thoughts. Some saints have used their time well in this regard– especially those who were active and/or married. And you can do it too with persevering effort and God’s grace.
Remember too, there are many different ways that aid meditation. The above is only one example. As one gets the experience he or she both learns and tries other ways to find out which suits them best.
A form of mental prayer, also known as discursive prayer, during which the mind dwells on some religious truth for the purpose of eliciting salutary acts, e.g., faith, hope, charity, and formulating good resolutions. Since the 16th century it has become common to follow a particular method in making a meditation, e. g. , the method proposed by St. Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises, and the Sulpician Method, or the Alphonsian Method, the Carmelite or Franciscan method and so on. Generally speaking, growth in holiness is impossible without mental prayer, a truth stressed by various popes and all spiritual writers.
Any of the non-verbal forms of prayer, i.e., those in which no set formulae of words are used. Commonly three forms of non-infused mental prayer (as distinguished from the infused mental prayer of mystics) are considered:
1) MEDITATION, in which the mind dwells on and reasons about some religious truth for the purpose of eliciting salutary acts, e.g., faith, hope and charity, and formulating good resolutions.
2),AFFECTIVE PRAYER, less discursive than meditation, and characterized by the predominance of affections.
3) PRAYER OF SIMPLICITY, in which the multiplicity of affections characteristic of affective prayer yield to one dominating affection. Usually progress in the spiritual life through the purgative, illuminative and unitive way is marked by the advance from meditation through affective prayer to prayer of simplicity.
Vl. End Note
SAINT TERESA counsels us. Do not be discouraged if you cannot meditate:
“I want to treat of the substance of perfect prayer. For I have run into some whom it seems the whole business lies In thinking. If they can keep their mind much occupied in God, even though great effort is exerted, they at once think they are spiritual. If, on the contrary, without being able to avoid it, they become distracted, even if for the sake of good things, they then become disconsolate and think they are lost. It is fitting that we receive advice with regard to all these misunderstandings.
I do not deny that it is a favor from the Lord if someone is able to be always meditating on His works, and it is good that one strive to do so. However, It must be understood that not all imaginations are by their nature capable of this meditating. But all souls are capable of loving! I should like to explain that the soul is not the mind, nor is the will directed by thinking.. Hence, the soul’s progress does not lie In thinking much but In loving much.” –The Foundations. ch. 5, #21
One of the many gifts handed down-through the church from the early monastic tradition is a ‘method’ of meditation known as Lectio Divina. No doubt the rediscovery and return to the practice of this method can be attributed to the realization of its simplicity and to the experience it provides of being supported in prayer by a text.
In this tradition of prayer, one discovers its elements –lectio, meditatio, and oratio–being essentially linked and interdependent. The lectio, or reading of the text, is for the sake and support the meditatio or dwelling on the text in the mind, which in turn is to lead one into oratio, or dwelling of the text in the heart. Let now consider spiritual reading in the light of this monastic tradition and it’s relationship to meditation and prayer.
One can see that in this tradition there be no effort made to distinguish between spiritual reading and meditation make such a distinction would be as useless as making a distinction between the ingestion and digestion of food. These life functions are of course distinct actions in terms of process, but they are one in terms of dependency upon each other and in terms of the end assimilation. Quite simply, you can not digest food which you not taken in, and there will be no growth as a result of these two processes unless what is eaten is assimilated. This common analogy of eating to reading and studying seems obvious enough.
In spiritual reading our desire must be to assimilate the material read, not primarily to inform our minds, but to reform and transform our hearts and thereby our lives. Spiritual reading is not studying. When we read to study, our mind is primarily attentive, but in spiritual reading the heart must be the most attentive faculty. To ‘spiritually’ read the Scripture, for example, we do not open the Bible to learn some facts or to simply gain information. The same holds true in our reading of any book dealing with spirituality. There is a need of course to study the Scriptures and to learn theology.
In a balanced and integrated Christian life there should be a blending of many activities: prayer, study, finding God in the truth of our work and play, especially the ‘play’ of celebrating together in the liturgy. We are not saying that spiritual reading should not involve intellectual activity and learning. We are saying it is not done primarily for this purpose. The difference between ordinary reading and spiritual reading will be in the approach. We approach spiritual reading not with a do-attitude, but with a be-attitude. We are reading our text to be with Someone and thereby to become someone, the person we are created to be.
When we engage in spiritual reading, we are really looking for Wisdom. What we want is something dynamic, something that relates us to life. We are seeking that which is geared to growth and change within. Through spiritual reading we are seeking motivation for the Christian life more than information about the Christian life.
Basically, then, the art of spiritual reading is an exercise in the art of listening to the Word of God. As such, it is the first base and the backbone of Christian meditation. It is the first base because spiritual reading is usually where you start in preparing and disposing yourself for meditation. It is the backbone, it will support the work of meditation no matter how advanced or proficient a person might become.
If we have this attitude toward spiritual reading then it will become for us the door to an in-depth personal prayer. Understanding and practicing spiritual reading with this mentality will enable its practice to lead us into prayer, and to support and sustain us in our prayer. Failure to so engage in spiritual reading can be a hindrance to the development of a prayer life of substance and perseverance.
When we approach spiritual reading as an opportunity for listening to the Word of God, we are approaching it with attitude of a true disciple. Susan Muto in her writing on the art of spiritual reading emphasizes that it is the practice of one who has learned to sit at the feet of the Master. The Master is always Christ whether we are reading His words in the Gospels, or an interpretation of His words in the writings of one of His gifted followers such as Teresa of Avila. We are seating ourselves ‘beneath’ our book or text as Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, simply drinking in what He has to say.
We learn to savor what we ‘hear’ by learning to read our text with the care and appreciation of a gourmet tasting a fine wine: slowly, swishing it about the palate of our minds, allowing it to linger as long as necessary on the taste buds of our sensibilities so as to taste the fullness of what it has to provide us about the Word of God and about life in Christ. The written word which we read we ‘hear’ pronounced within. This means that our heart must be ever listening as we read, for the Word pronounced within the words we read. To paraphrase 2 Peter 1:19: our attention upon what we read must be as a lamp shining in a dark place until the first streaks of dawn appear and the morning star rises in our hearts.
In a sense, Blessed Isaac of Stella remarks, every Christian can be seen as ‘a bride of God’s Word.’ When we read the scriptures or other spiritual writings we are not just reading words for the understanding of the words. Reading comprehension in spiritual reading takes on a deeper significance. It becomes part of the spiritual reader’s striving to be united with Christ. St. John of the Cross writes of the soul as a Bride seeking the Bridegroom: ‘…the soul enamored of the Word, her Bridegroom, the Son of God, longs for union with Him through clear and essential vision.’ Comprehension of what one reads spiritually can be seen as another effort of such a soul toward ‘comprehending’ Christ, i.e., seeing him as He is with the knowledge that a bride has of her groom. As the soul in John of the Cross’ Spiritual Canticle seeks Him in all the signs and symbols of creation, so the soul of the spiritual reader seeks Him hidden within the word symbols of the text.
Of course, the primary source of God revealing Himself in the Word must always be the Holy Scriptures. If the Scriptures are to be spiritual reading, we must not read them simply as literature or as an interesting account of the development of a culture and people. The Protestant theologian and biblical exegete, Rudolf Bultman, points out that reading the Scriptures requires two levels of understanding. First, it requires a preliminary unraveling of the meaning of the texts themselves which is essentially knowledge acquired by study. Secondly, it requires a deeper level of appreciation, a vital insight which grows out of personal involvement with the text. Only on this second level is the Bible really grasped. Only if we strive to understand the Scriptures at this level can we be said to read them spiritually.
Our Rule of Life affords us an opportunity to read daily from the Scriptures by making the Divine Office the source of our morning and evening prayer. And, if we pray the Office of the Readings, we are in daily contact with the minds and hearts of the early Church Fathers as well. If we attend Mass as often as possible, as our Rule encourages, we also have Scripture readings provided by Holy Mother Church. What this means is that we have two daily guides as to what text to read from the Scriptures..
Often individuals feel they need to read the Bible word for word in the order it is presented. Reading the Bible straight through this way over the course of a period of time can be a wonderful accomplishment. Sometimes that is a problem. It becomes an achievement, a plaque to hang on the wall or our memory which we may even take down at times to show others.
We should not feel a compulsion to read the Bible word for word, prodding through it at all costs from Genesis, through Revelations. Nor do we have to go to the other extreme of taking a haphazard approach, picking a text at random here and there. Allowing the Church to be our guide in our daily reading of the Scriptures provides us with a most suitable structure by which in the course of the liturgical cycles we can discover the essence of our salvation history. We do not have to restrict ourselves to just reading the selections presented in the liturgy of the day, but can read the context of the particular text as well.
So, for example, when the Church presents passages from the Gospel of St. Mark, we can read the whole of Mark’s Gospel during that time. Then, when we read or hear the selected passage in the liturgy, we have the advantage of having the context of the passage in our immediate memory. This may be an aide to us in relation to the selection read in the liturgy in a more meaningful and prayerful way. By the way, striving to understand the relatedness and connections inherent in the two or three presented in the Liturgy of the Word can be a fruitful source of stimulation for our mental prayer.
Of course, we want to enrich our lives with other forms of spiritual reading besides the Scriptures. Our problem today may be a plethora of spiritual writings rather than a scarcity. Although we have many books calling us, few should be chosen. Not everyone writing about spirituality can be considered a genuine spiritual writer. A genuine spiritual writer is a prophet. He has had an experience of Christ and has been called to proclaim the message he has received to others. Like John the Baptist, the spiritual writer is a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord into the heart of his/her readers. Such writers have this power because the Word of God has made their hearts His dwelling place and so the words which flow from their hearts onto paper strike not only eye of their readers, but their hearts as well, if the readers are properly disposed. The texts constructed by these writers build up the hearts of those who have ‘the eyes’ to read their message, for their message is Christ.
Another sign of a genuine spiritual writer is that, like John, such a writer makes it clear that he or she is the voice who breaks his or her silence to prepare the way for the Lord. The writer’s gift may be great, but he or she uses it only to present Christ and not him or herself. Gifted writers such as Thomas Merton often attract a cult of admirers, but they do not take advantage of this to further their own glory, but to always point to Christ and have their expression of His message decrease so that His Word may increase in the hearts of their readers. As St. Augustine comments: Prepare the way for the Lord, he (the spiritual writer) says, as though he was saying: I speak out in order to lead Him into your hearts, but He does not choose to come where I lead Him unless you prepare the way for Him.
In conclusion, the art of spiritual reading is the art of seeking the Lord in the reading of the text, of listening for His voice in the sound of the written word, of striving to further union with God through the comprehension of what is read. The light by which we comprehend what is read must be Faith.
The written word is only another image, another form of symbol, pointing to an inexpressible reality. We must not be disappointed or surprised as we move more deeply into the meaning of the text and find there only a mirage of what we are really seeking. John of the Cross clearly warns us that God cannot be contained within the limitation of any concept or symbol. In a trek through a desert the mirage has a value. It keeps the lost wayfarer going, providing a kind of hope in at least the reflection, albeit false, of the reality being sought. Even though the words of our text cannot contain the reality they struggle to reflect, they motivate us in our search by stimulating love. And love is both the means and the end of our journey.
In the Constitutions she wrote for her nuns, Our Holy Mother St. Teresa makes sure time is set aside in the daily schedule for Spiritual Reading:
“An hour before the Office of Readings, let the bell be rung. This hour may be spent in reading if the nuns are drawn in spirit to spend the hour after Vespers in prayer. They may decide in accordance with what most helps them toward recollection.
The prioress should see to it that good books are available, especially a good Life of Christ, the Lives of the Saints, the Imitation of Christ, a book about Religious priests and nuns, and those books written by holy and learned writers. This sustenance for the soul is in some way as necessary as is food for the body.” –The Constitutions of Teresa of Jesus, #7-8