A friend was recently talking to me about “meditation”: I thought this was some sort of Eastern pagan practice but apparently there is a Christian version. Would this be useful to me?
Many forms of meditation are today promoted as practices that might be “useful” by helping you to be in touch with your inner self, have peace, and be healthy, balanced and whole. Unfortunately many of them do have pagan associations and seek to align your chakras, be at one with a world spirit, or balance your yin and yang. I would advise you to avoid techniques billed as tantric, karmic, or yogic, or anything that involves a stranger massaging your head.
In fact, your friend was talking about prayer. Although prayer is indeed useful to us both for this world and eternity, its primary focus is not “me” but God: prayer is the raising up of the mind and heart to God as St John Damascene put it, or conversation with Christ to use St Teresa’s expression (to be understood not simply as words but also as communion with Christ.) In 1989, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a letter to the Bishops “On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation.” This warned us to avoid impersonal techniques which concentrate on ourselves.
The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius are a classic guide to Christian meditative prayer. St Francis de Sales gives much the same guidance in a more accessible form in his Introduction to the Devout Life. To begin with, it is helpful to feed our imagination on a passage from the gospel or some good spiritual book, and allow ourselves to be moved with love for God, sorrow for our sins or some other genuinely devout affection. Our prayer should also prompt us to practical Christian charity so it is also good to form some concrete resolution. If you set aside some time each day to pray in this way, you will grow in the love of God and grow in holiness. In time, God may give you the grace to remain silently in His presence simply contemplating his goodness and love.
Catholic Dilemmas column published in the Catholic Herald
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