Christian Meditation

Sep 15, 2010 by

Christian Meditation

Some people hear the word meditation and immediately think of eastern practices, Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, etc.. But there is a Christian form of meditative prayer.

One way of thinking of God’s presence is as a river of life deep within – a river of God’s flowing compassion.We are sustained in being by the love of God, flowing through the universe, and through our own depths.The question then becomes – If God dwells in us, if there is this river of God’s love deep within, the question then is “how can we take a dip in the river?”

And one of the answers is through meditation, or contemplative prayer, or centering prayer as it is sometimes known. This has been a submerged tradition within the church, but one that goes back right to its beginnings.

Jesus took himself off to the hills on numerous occasions to pray- early in the morning or even overnight. Do we imagine he talked with God all that time, or was he still and quiet? We don’t know for sure, but we do know about the Desert Fathers, the monks who took themselves off into the deserts of Egypt and Syria to find time for God and spent hours and days in meditation. It was out of these desert communities that the first monasteries formed, with their emphasis on the discipline of prayer.

John Cassian, one of the Desert Fathers in the 5th Century, recommended that anyone who wanted to learn how to pray, and to pray continually, should just take a single short verse and repeat this verse, over and over again. Prayer then becomes more a listening, and to listen, we must become quiet and still -repeating a short verse or word is the way to do that.

In the Orthodox church, this was developed in the Jesus Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.This was repeated continually in all prayer times, until it became a constant prayer happening at a subliminal level.It is astrong tradition still today in the east.

Other people recommended the same practice. A thousand years after Cassian, the English author of a very influential book, ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, said “We must pray in the height, depth and length of our spirit, not in many words, but in a little word”

In the western church, this teaching has been rather submerged since the reformation, but a number of teachers of contemplative prayer and meditation have emerged in recent years, particularly John Main. His teaching has been the essence of simplicity, drawing on the teaching of John Cassian and the earliest traditions of the church.

“The view of meditation that many people are encouraged to take, is as a means of relaxation, of retaining inner peacefulness throughout the pressures of modern life. This is not essentially wrong in itself. But if this is all it is seen as being, the view is very limited because, as we become more relaxed in ourselves, and the longer we meditate, the more we become aware that the source of our new-found calm in our daily lives is precisely the life of God within us.”

“In meditation we do not seek to think about God, but to be with God, to experience him as the ground of our being.” John Main

How to meditate

From the ‘World Community for Christian Meditation’

“To meditate seek a quiet place, and find a comfortable upright sitting position. Close your eyes gently. Sit relaxed but alert. Silently, interiorly, begin to say a single word or short phrase. We recommend the prayer phrase maranatha. It is utterly simple. Say it like this, ma-ra-na-tha. Four equally stressed syllables. Some people say the word in conjunction with their breathing. The speed at which you say the word should be fairly slow, fairly rhythmical. Maranatha is in Aramaic, the language Jesus himself spoke. It means “Come Lord”. It is probably the most ancient Christian prayer. St. Paul ends Corinthians with it, and St. John ends the book of Revelation with it. Listen to the word as you say it gently but continuously.

Do not think about the meaning of the word. Just give your attention to the sound of it throughout the time of your meditation, from the beginning to the end. Whenever distractions arise, simply return to your word. Meditate for 30 minutes each morning and each evening, every day of your life.John Main always said: “Just say your word.” Meditation is a way of pure prayer marked by silence, stillness, and simplicity.”

Fruits – don’t expect anything dramatic to happen during the meditation time – it is a discipline that allows the opening of the heart, so that the divine presence can begin to bloom. The fruit will be changes in behaviour, relationships, inner peace, godliness. The end goal is an increase in compassion – taking a swim in the river of God’s love.

The followers of John Main’s teaching have formed what is now the World Community for Christian Meditation. There are other organizations as well that use silent prayer: The Fellowship of Contemplative Prayer, Contemplative Outreach, following the teaching of Fr Thomas Keating, Julian meetings, and many others. They all practice one form or other of silent prayer.

Christian meditation is simplicity itself in its concept – the difficult bit , as with all prayer, is maintaining it on a daily basis. One of the best maxims about prayer is ‘Pray as you can, not as you can’t’, and its good to remember that whenever we encounter a new way of prayer. Try it, experiment, find what’s right for you.

“We meditate simply to prepare ourselves to receive that fullness and life and light for which we were created.”
John Main

“Meditation will laways lead us back home to where we belong: the heart. Prayer today has become very cut off from the heart and this is the crisis of religion in our time. The meaning of meditation in the tradition of the Desert Fathers is prayer, and prayer in this tradition is the prayer of the heart or continuous prayer: “stable tranquillity and permanent purity of mind”. That is the goal and path we tread in meditation, bringing to life and ancient wisdom in the midst of our modern crisis. We need to understand this tradition to be fully open to its transforming influence on our own lives, and to be able to hand it on to satisfy the spiritual hunger of our time.”
– Laurence Freeman,  leader of the World Community for Christian Meditation

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