Meditation and Contemplation
“But thou when thou shalt pray enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to the Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee.” (Matthew 6:6)
If you want to pray, enter your inner room (leaving behind the external tumult, the concerns of the moment and entering into the spiritual level of our being), close the door (turning off the nearly continuous conversation we have with ourselves all day long as we evaluate, judge and react to persons and events around us), and pray to our Father in secret (in a most deep, open and personal way), and your Father who sees in secret (who knows us better than we know ourselves, and loves us more than we can love ourselves) will reward us (by ‘speaking” with us beyond the sounds of words) (Thomas Keating, ‘Open Mind, Open Heart’, Amity House, 1986). P.3. This paraphrase of Matthew is also a description of contemplative prayer which is at the center of the tradition of western mysticism. From the earliest years of the church, laity and religious alike used the reading of scripture as an inspiration for entering into contemplation. This combining of scripture and contemplation was known as Lectio Divina (Thelma Hall, ‘Too Deep For Words’, Paulist Press, 1988).
Beginning around the sixteenth century Lectio Divina fell into disuse due to fears of heresy that surrounded spiritual confusions at that time. Lectio Divina, and with it contemplative prayer, became a practice reserved for those in monasteries and convents. Even priests were not encouraged to practice contemplative prayer. It was not until Vatican II that the church announced an explicit need for Lectio Divina as part of the overall need for a spiritual revival within the church as an institution, and within its members – the mystical body of Christ (T. Keating, 1986) ch.11.
We no longer need to look East to feed our spiritual hunger – our daily bread is at hand. Thelma Hall (1988) gives an excellent introduction to Lectio Divina in less than 60 pages followed by 500 scripture references organized in themes and topics of interest.
“And I say to you: Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find:
knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9).
St. John of the Cross’s paraphrase of this verse provides us with an outline of the four steps of Lectio Divina:
Seek in READING
And you will find in MEDITATION;
Knock in PRAYER;
And it will be opened to you in CONTEMPLATION.
Step 1: Lectio: Reading with an emphasis on listening and hearing the word of God. Be present
Step 2: Meditation: Reflecting on the word of God as if it were addressed directly to you- a personal analysis of the word.
Step 3: Oratio: Allowing the word to touch our heart as we come to realize ever more deeply God’s love for each of us.
Step 4: Contemplation: Entering the silence that is too deep for words and resting in God (Thelma Hall, 1988) ch. 3 & ch. 4.
Thomas Keating (1986) suggests the use of a sacred word or phrase as a help to entering into contemplation. For example, the name Jesus can be repeated when we find our thoughts pulling us from stillness. Once we are again centered we can let go of the sacred word until it is needed again as a gentle reminder to get us back on track with our spiritual intention. The sacred word is meant to be a loving non-judgmental encouragement, as if it came from the loving God who seeks a deeper relationship with each of us.
Another author who I have found to be very helpful is Richard Rohr in his book ‘Things Hidden – Scripture as Spirituality’ (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2007). For most of us the New Testament is not unfamiliar, but I personally find the Old Testament overwhelming in volume and themes. Father Rohr’s book is a very manageable overview of the continuity of our salvation story from the Old Testament through the New Testament in just over 200 pages of informative, interesting and encouraging prose. I would also like to recommend you to his website (http://cacradicalgrace.org/getconnected/index.php) for daily meditations which I have frequently found to be illuminating, freeing, challenging and inspiring.
(Words in italics are mine)
Pro Christo Rege,
I hope this minimal introduction to contemplation (which I feel so unqualified to write) whets the appetite of your spiritual hunger.