and Modern Methods of Meditation |
Isaías A. Rodríguez
is a centuries-old custom and deeply rooted in Christian spirituality. Above all,
it has remained alive and flourishing in religious orders; and some of them, like
the Discalced Carmelite Order, have greatly promoted this way of praying. Today
its practice is flourishing worldwide due to the influence of eastern techniques,
promoted by Buddhist and Hindu religions.
A traditional method.
best known method of meditation is based on the traditional Lectio Divina. The
practice was first established by St. Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century and
was then formalized as four-step process by the Carthusian monk Guigo II (1188-1193)
in a work called Monastic Ladder or Paradise Ladder [Scala claustralium
o Scala paradisi]. It deals with the four degrees of spiritual exercise: spiritual
reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation. St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)
formulate these parts in this way: "Seek in reading and you will find in meditation;
knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation" (The Sayings
of Light and Love, 158).
I am presenting the exercise of meditation
as it has been practiced for centuries.
Preparation. It should only
take a few minutes, and consists in placing oneself in the presence of God, abandoning,
during the time dedicated to meditation, any other concern. In James we read:
"Come near to God and he will come near to you" (James 4:8).
considerations. A theme for meditation is chosen. For this we normally use
a book that could be the Bible or any other book of a pious nature that invites
us to reflections aimed at improving our lives. A passage of the selected book
is read slowly, and for some time we analyze what has been read from all points
of view, always with the ultimate goal of achieving something practical for our
lives. The goal pursued is not to elucidate a theological or philosophical issue,
nor is it a matter of establishing comparisons between what we have read in the
book and the opinions that any author might have on the subject. Our reflection
must be simple, calm and focused on the issue that we hope will help us improve
If we read something from the Bible we do not do it in order
to learn that passage from memory. Nor should we entertain ourselves in professional
biblical analysis. Sometimes, a single word, and other times a single phrase,
may be enough to close the Bible and focus on what we have read and has touched
Once we have reflected on the subject sufficiently, we
must apply it to our lives. If we have thought of any passage in the life of Jesus
Christ, how do we act in comparison to the conduct of Christ? What can I do to
approach the model of Christ? If we have meditated on any virtue, charity, faith
or hope, do we live what these virtues imply, or do we constantly fail? What can
we do to strengthen our faith, consolidate our hope, and mature in love?
to this moment the whole exercise has been mental, and it is not the most important
thing in prayer, but is an introductory step.
Prayer or affections.
The last steps of the reflexive exercise brought us closer to this part, which
is the most important. The last considerations must have touched
us in our heart. From that moment, we leave the work of the intellect so that
the will is fully dedicated to creating emotions, feelings and affections, caused
by the reflection. In general we have to come to feelings conducive to avoiding
sin and strengthening our spiritual life, our character. Over time a great improvement
in life must be noticed in us. Moreover, with an intensive and uninterrupted practice,
over the years, our soul is predisposing itself to the next level, much more sublime,
Petitions. This is an important moment of
the meditation. Probably in our affective considerations we have concluded that
we are very far from perfection. Probably, in our fervor, we would like to change
radically in a few moments. Our goal might be very high. That is why we need divine
help. We must ask for protection to persevere in our objective. We can also include
other requests, for the church, our family, friends, etc.
If we have been sincere and consistent so far, we certainly want to formulate
some purpose. Maybe we would like to change our life in an instant. We have to
avoid making general purposes. A very specific one is the best. And we must strive
to comply it.
Conclusion. In a few seconds we thank God for the
graces obtained during the time dedicated to meditation, and forgiveness is requested
for any fault we may have.
I have not said anything about contemplation
because this is the final state that is reached after much meditation. Contemplation
is a grace granted by God to few people that God wants to lead to higher summits
of the spiritual life. According to St. John of the Cross, God gives it only to
those people who are willing to endure and face all the spiritual and psychological
sufferings that contemplative purification implies. Those who receive such a gift,
there comes a time when they achieve - always with divine help - total union or
transformation in God on this earth. This is a sublime moment reserved for very
Today, most the times, the word contemplation is used in a very broad
sense, without implying the superior state of grace granted by God that will lead
to the state of mystical elevation. Thus it is how we speak of contemplative prayer
in a generic sense, since contemplation in the strict sense is enjoyed by very
few people. Let´s listen to John of the Cross, "God does not bring to contemplation
all those who purposely exercise themselves in the way of the spirit nor even
half. Why? He best knows." (Dark Night 1, 9, 9.)
What is contemplation
according to St. John of the Cross? (Quotes from the Dark Night):
nothing else than a secret and peaceful and loving inflow of God, which, if not
hampered fires the soul in the spirit of love (1, 10, 6).
Is loving wisdom
of God [that] produces two principal effects in the soul: by both purging and
illumining, this contemplation prepares the soul for union with God through love
(2, 5, 1).
This contemplation infuses both love and wisdom in each soul according
to its capacity and necessity (2, 12, 2).
Because dark contemplation brings
the soul closer to God, it has all these characteristics; it safeguards and cares
for the soul. […] The spiritual light is so bright and so transcendent that it
blinds and darkens the natural intellect as this latter approaches it (2, 16,
Is the language of God to the soul, of Pure Spirit to pure spirit (2,
17, 4). Pure contemplation is indescribable (2, 17, 5, and 3). Hides the soul
within itself (2, 17, 6). Engulfs the soul in its secret abyss (2, 17, 6) [Leads
souls] into the heart of the science of love (2, 17, 6). Is the way that guides
de soul to the perfections of union with God (2, 17, 7). Is a science of love
(2, 18, 5).
In this state of contemplation until one arrives at the quiet
state: The soul never remains in on state, but everything is ascent and descent
(2, 18, 3)
Some considerations and other methods
of meditation that has occurred in some Christian circles comes from the type
of civilization in which we live (accelerated and secularized) and the preponderance
given to the liturgy or public worship. However, the primacy of the liturgy in
the church should not supplant individual and private prayer and meditation, but
instead place it in its proper place. The modern being, in addition to liturgy
or public worship, feels an urgency for private prayer that fills an inner emptiness.
The primacy of the liturgy or public worship as a source of spiritual
life does not refer to the external rites in themselves, but to the mystery of
salvation that is carried out in it, including all the biblical readings, collections,
hymns, etc., which are a source of spiritual enrichment. Luke tells us that "Mary
kept all these things, and meditated in her heart" (Luke 2:19). And the psalmist
assures that he meditated on the law of the Lord "all day" (Psalm 117:97) and
"day and night" (Psalm 1:2).
A method proposed by Benedictine monk John
Main, and of eastern inspiration, consists of sitting in a comfortable way, with
our back straight, our eyes closed, and continuously reciting a word or mantra.
You should not think about its content, but simply listen to what it says. When
distractions arise, you return, always effortlessly, to the phrase. The intent
is constantly staying in a passive listening attitude and allowing God to be present
until our heart is filled, transforming our whole being. This receptive attitude
was already highly recommended by Saint Teresa to her daughters: "I only ask you
to listen to Him" and "I only ask you to let yourself be looked at by Him." We
must, therefore, keep ourselves constantly in an existential situation of openness
to the Sublime, Transcendent. We are clothed by that inscrutable Mystery and we
don't realize it.
Another widespread method in the United States is the
one proposed by the Cistercian monk Thomas Keating and known by the name of "centering
prayer." The name was suggested by a group of provincials of religious orders
of both sexes who attended a retreat given by the Cistercian Basil Pennington.
Originally, the name seems to come directly from Thomas Merton, who used it in
one of his writings. According to Keating: "The method is based primarily on the
work of the fourteenth century The Cloud of Unknowing, and on the doctrine
of St. John of the Cross, of going to the center of ourselves, and is a further
effort to present the teaching of the early days in an updated format and giving
to it certain order and regularity." In essence it is a mixture of Lectio divina
and what is proposed by John Main. Lectio divina, as Keating very well
indicates, is not so much about reading in a run and reflecting on the biblical
reading but in slowly reading it and internalizing it, always accepting the divine
presence and its action in us.
According to this, there is no exact or
mathematical method that gives equally excellent results to everyone. St. Paul
exhorts the Romans to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated and
acceptable to God (Romans 12:1). All our living must be a liturgical act of prayer
and meditation. I cannot but think here of the famous French Discalced Carmelite
Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1614-1691) who reached the peak of mystical
life practicing the exercise of God's presence. He believed that this was the
best method to reach God. He tells us that he began to live as if only God and
he lived in the world, naturally always projecting that divine experience towards
Therefore, human beings in order to reach to God must remain unconditionally
open to the word of God and forget about their selfish tendencies; they must maintain
a loving dialogue with God; they have to go themselves searching for God, to be
in communion with him/her.