Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thoughts on Christian Meditation (Part 1)

I mentioned in a recent post that this Advent I'm working on developing the spiritual practice of meditation in my life. I'm exploring two expressions of this practice – daily walking meditation and, starting this past Tuesday evening, sitting meditation with a group of fellow seekers through a weekly program at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality in St. Paul. The center and his programs comprise a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, a Catholic order of which I've been a consociate member since 2008.

Given all of this, I've decided that this Advent I'll share a series of posts on Christian meditation, starting this evening with the following from a brochure on the topic distributed by the World Community for Christian Meditation. The group that meets each Tuesday evening at Wisdom Ways is part of this worldwide community dedicated to encouraging and practicing Christian meditation.

Meditation is not something new to the Christian experience, but is deeply rooted in Christian tradition. However, many Christians have no knowledge of this ancient tradition of prayer. Meditation involves coming to a stillness of spirit and a stillness of body. The extraordinary thing is that, in spite of all the distractions of the modern world, this silence is perfectly possible for all of us. To attain this silence and stillness, we have to devote time, energy and love.

The way to set out on this pilgrimage is to recite a short phrase, a word that today is commonly called a mantra. The mantra is simply a means of turning our attention beyond ourselves, a method of drawing us away from our own thoughts and concerns. The real work of meditation is to attain harmony of body, mind, and spirit. This is the aim given by the psalmist: "Be still and know that I am God."

St. Paul wrote that "we do not know how to pray, but the spirit prays within us (Rom. 8:26)." What this means in the language of our own day is that before we can pray, we first have to learn to become still, to become attentive. Only then can we enter into loving awareness of the Spirit of Jesus deep within our heart. Silence is the language of the Spirit.

Meditation, known also as contemplative prayer, is the prayer of silence, the place where direct contact with Christ can occur once the never ceasing activity of the mind has been stilled, In meditation we go beyond words, thoughts, and images into the presence of God within.

St. John of the Cross says, "God is the center of my soul." Julian of Norwich says, "God is the still point at my center." Meditation is the daily pilgrimage to one's own center.

The mantra and the practice of meditation

The task of meditation is to bring our distracted mnd to stillness,silence, and attentiveness. In order to assist us to come to stillness, we use a sacred word or mantra.

There are various mantras which are possible for a beginner, but a good choice might be a word that has been hallowed over the centuries by our Christian tradition. Some of these words were first taken over as mantras for prayer by the Church in its earliest days.

One of these words is "MARANATHA." This Aramaic word means, "Come, Lord Jesus." It is the mantra recommended by John Main (1926-1982), a Benedictine monk who has out into contemporary language this ancient teaching of prayer. It is a word which St. Paul uses to end his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:22), and the word with which St. John ends the book of Revelation (Rev. 22:20). It also has a place in some of the earliest Christian liturgies. This Aramaic word is preferred because it has no visual or emotional connotation and its continuous repetition will lead us over time to a deeper and deper silence.

An inner journey of silence

Meditation, therefore, is an inner journey of silence , stillness and simplicity, and is the missing contemplative dimension of much Christian life today.

Meditation is a pilgrimage to our own center, to our own heart. To enter into the simplicity of it demands discipline, even courage. We need faith and simplicity; we need to become childlike.

If we are faithful and patient, meditation will bring us into deeper and deeper realms of silence. It is in this silence that we are led into the mystery of the eternal silence of God. The invitation of Christian prayer is to lose ourselves and to be absorbed in God. Each of us is summoned to the heights of Christian prayer, to the fullness of life. What we need, however is the humility to tread the way very faithfully over a period of years, so that the prayer of Christ may indeed be the grounding experience of our lives.

NEXT: Part 2

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Diarmuid O'Murchú on Our Capacity to Meditate: "A Gift Bestowed Upon Every Human Being"
Happy Birthday, Mum! (includes Thích Nhất Hạnh's thoughts on walking meditation)
Prayer of the Week – November 23, 2015
The Source is Within You
The Ground Zero Papal Prayer Service . . . and a Reminder of the Spirituality That Transcends What All the Religions Claim to Represent
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
In the Garden of Spirituality – Anthony de Mello
"Joined at the Heart": Robert Thompson on Christianity and Sufism
Sufism: Way of Love, Tradition of Enlightenment, and Antidote to Fanaticism
As the Last Walls Dissolve . . . Everything is Possible
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

Related Off-site Link:
What is Meditation? – The World Community for Christian Meditation.

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