How to Pray: Part 3 – How to Meditate

Today I will talk about meditation, or mental prayer.  If vocal prayer is talking to God, then meditation is listening to God.  To many people talk to God but never take the time to listen to Him.  It’s a one sided relationship.  How would a friendship or a marriage work if only one person did all the talking and never listened to the other?  Unfortunately that is the extent of many peoples relationship with God.  They talk and talk asking for this and that, but never take the time to shut up and listen to Him.  That’s all meditation really is:  learning to shut up and listen to the voice of God.

In chapter 19 of the First Book of Kings, Elijah is told to go to the top of the mountain to meet God.  There is a strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but he isn’t afraid because he knows those aren’t God.  He then hears a tiny whispering voice and then he is afraid because he knows that is God.  The story then teaches us that the voice of the Lord is not a big booming one out of the sky, but a tiny whispering in our hearts.  Meditation is the practice of being quiet and listening for that whisper.

There are as many forms of meditation as there are spiritual teachers.  Some of the most common are lectio divina, or divine reading, the Stations of the Cross, and the Rosery.  These forms of meditation engage thought, imagination, emotion, and desire.  It makes the stories in Bible, and the life of Christ real to us.  I find the Rosery especially unique in that as you repeat the Hail Mary it gives the mind something to do as you focus on the life of Jesus, but because it focuses so much on Mary many people are uncomfortable with it.  I will instead talk about lectio divina.

Lectio divina is a way of reading the scriptures where we let go of our own agenda and become “poor in spirit” and open ourselves to what God is trying to say to us.  There are four steps and is really very simple.

  • Fist is lectio, or reading.  Simply read the scripture slowly and reflectively so that it sinks in.  You can pick any particular passage, verse, or story  you want.  Or just open the Bible at random and start to read, it’s up to you.  As you read something will jump out at you.  It might be a single verse or line, or it could be a meaning you suddenly gleaned from the text or an idea.  Once this happens we move to the second step.
  • Meditatio.  This means reflection.  Think about what jumped out at you.  Go over it again and again.  If it is a verse or passage, read it over and over so that you can take from it what God is trying to give you.
  • The next step is oratio, or response.  This response is inspired by our reflection on the Word of God.  Put aside your thoughts and let your heart respond to God.
  • The final stage of lectio divina is contemplatio, or rest.  You let go of your own ideas, plans, meditations, and even your own thoughts, no matter how holy.  You simply rest in God.  You listen at the deepest level of your being to God who speaks in a tiny whispering voice to your soul.

Meditation is a quest.  St.  Teresa of Avila said the soul is a castle with many mansions inside, and God is in the inmost mansion.  We must pass through each of these mansions to reach God.  Prayer is the doorway, and whatever method of meditation you choose is your guide.  The important thing is to advance.    As you advance you will be transformed from within.  This transformation will have a profound effect of your life.  That is why it is so important to practice meditation regularly.  Yes we have busy lives, but we must make time everyday.

How to Pray: Part 2 – Vocal Prayer

How to Pray: Part 4 – Contemplation

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