This article is from Wikipedia. Christian meditation. (2009, April 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:14, May 19, 2009, from
Christian meditation is meditation in a Christian context. The word meditation has come to have two different meanings: (1) continued, intent, focused thought; and (2) a state of quiet, intentionally unfocused, "contentless" awareness. This double meaning has contributed to misunderstanding and disagreement about the nature, role, and even the appropriateness of Christian meditation. Traditionally, the word meditation (meditatio) had the first meaning, and another word, contemplation (contemplatio) was used for the second.
Christian meditation is often associated with prayer or scripture study. It is rooted in the Bible, which directs its readers to meditate. In Joshua 1:8, God commands his people to meditate on his word day and night to instill obedience and enhance relationship and fellowship. This brings us in close touch with God’s reality, power, grace, faith and miracles. The psalmist says that "his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night" (Psalm 1:2). The Bible mentions meditate or meditation twenty times.
In the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words for meditation: hāgâ (Hebrew: הגה), which means to sigh or murmur, but also to meditate, and sîḥâ (Hebrew: שיחה), which means to muse, or rehearse in one’s mind.
Formal Christian meditation began with the early Christian monastic practice of reading the Bible slowly. Monks would carefully consider the deeper meaning of each verse as they read it. This slow and thoughtful reading of Scripture, and the ensuing pondering of its meaning, was their meditation. This spiritual practice is called "divine reading" or "sacred reading", or lectio divina.
Sometimes the monks found themselves spontaneously praying as a result of their meditation on Scripture, and their prayer would in turn lead on to a simple, loving focus on God. This wordless love for God they called contemplation.
The progression from Bible reading, to meditation, to prayer, to loving regard for God, was first formally described by Guigo II, a Carthusian monk and prior of Grande Chartreuse in the 12th century. Guigo named the four steps of this "ladder" of prayer with the Latin terms lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio.
The Cloud of Unknowing (14th century)
The Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous treatise written in England in the 14th century, is a concise and practical primer on contemplative prayer. The author’s premise is that, to experience God, one must strive for a "darkness about your mind, or as it were, a cloud of unknowing." To do this, one must fix one’s heart on God, forgetting all else.
St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556)
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola contain numerous meditative exercises. For example, the practitioner is encouraged to visualize and meditate upon scenes from the life of Christ. His Contemplation to Attain Love (of God), is, in a sense, a method that combines intellectual meditation and more affective (emotional) contemplation.
St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
St. Teresa of Avila practiced contemplative prayer for periods of one hour at a time, twice a day. In her Life she recounts that she found this very difficult for the first several years. She had no one to teach her, and taught herself from the instructions given in a book, The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna. Her starting point was the practice of "recollection". Recollection means an effort of the will to keep the senses and the intellect in check and not allow them to stray. One restricts the attention to a single subject, principally the love of God. "It is called recollection because the soul collects together all the faculties and enters within itself to be with God", she says in The way of perfection. Because St Teresa found it difficult to concentrate, she would use devices such as short readings from an inspiring book, a scene of natural beauty or a religious statue or picture to remind her of her intended focus. In due course, the mind becomes effortlessly still. The initial practice St Teresa viewed as the voluntary effort of the individual, while the subsequent stillness and joy she saw as gifts from God.
Her best-known book on meditation and prayer is The Interior Castle.
Madame Guyon (1648–1717)
Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (1648-1717) was a French mystic and writer. As a 19-year-old, she was greatly influenced by an encounter with a Franciscan priest who had just emerged from a five-year retreat. She asked him why she was having such difficulties with prayer, and he replied: "It is, Madame, because you seek without what you have within. Accustom yourself to seek God in your heart, and there you will find Him". In her mid-thirties, Madame Guyon wrote her Moyen court et très facile de faire oraison, which in English is titled A short and very easy method of prayer. (Note that the book Experiencing the depths of Jesus Christ, which poses as a translation, is in fact an interpretive revision.)
The mysticism of Madame Guyon is generally considered a form of quietism, which is very strongly discouraged, even to the point of being considered heresy, by the Roman Catholic Church.
The 20th Century
Two contemporary forms of Christian meditation emerged during the twentieth century.
- Fr. John Main, O.S.B. (1926–1982) was a Benedictine monk and priest who presented a way of Christian meditation which utilizes the practice of a prayer-phrase or mantra. In his method, one recites a prayer-phrase as a means of placing everything aside. In this way, instead of talking to God, one is just being with God, allowing God’s presence to fill his heart, thus transforming his inner being. Fr. Main’s teachings drew on parallels he saw between the spiritual practice taught by Desert Father John Cassian and the meditative practice he had been taught by the Swami Satyananda in Kuala Lumpur. His work is continued by Fr. Laurence Freeman, O.S.B.
- Fr. William Meninger, O.C.S.O., Fr. Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., and Fr. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O., were the leading proponents of the Centering Prayer method. Here a sacred word is used to express only the intention to be in God’s presence, placing everything else aside. As with Fr. Main’s method, the goal is for one to just be with God, allowing God’s presence and action to fill his inner being.
- The forms of prayer described above are part of the apophatic tradition and are quite distinct from, for example, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
- Richard J. Foster, an Evangelical Quaker, supports Christian meditation or contemplative prayer in Chapter 2 of his work Celebration of Discipline.
Theology of Christian meditation
In Hinduism, meditation as a component of Yoga is one path to attain enlightenment, union with (or company of) God. Christians agree that meditation is an effective technique to quiet and clear the mind, as preparation for God’s inspiration. But meditation is not an alternative to Christ as a means to salvation or theosis, but only a method of spiritual discipline like prayer and fasting. For Christians, meditation can be considered a form of worship, centered in love.
The official Catholic position
As stated in the catechism of the Catholic church
- "2705 Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain. We are usually helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: the Sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history the page on which the "today" of God is written.
- 2706 To meditate on what we read helps us to make it our own by confronting it with ourselves. Here, another book is opened: the book of life. We pass from thoughts to reality. To the extent that we are humble and faithful, we discover in meditation the movements that stir the heart and we are able to discern them. It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light: "Lord, what do you want me to do?"
- 2707 There are as many and varied methods of meditation as there are spiritual masters. Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate regularly, lest they come to resemble the three first kinds of soil in the parable of the sower.5 But a method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ Jesus.
- 2708 Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina or the rosary. This form of prayerful reflection is of great value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him."
Christian meditation: many strands
- Centering Prayer
- Ignatius of Loyola
- Thomas Merton
- Bede Griffiths
- John Main
- Gregorian Chant
- Prayer beads (Rosary, Jesus Prayer)
- Divine Mercy
- Sacred Heart of Jesus
- Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship – ‘Soaking Prayer’ and ‘Soaking Music‘
- Quakers, including Richard Foster
- Unity Church
- Emerging Church
- Johannes Kelpius