Do Christians meditate? Or is that only something practiced in Eastern religions? For many people, “meditation” is merely associated with the activities so often attributed to Zen-like exercises: sitting cross-legged, breathing in and out, thinking of nothing. For some, there’s a temptation to think of meditation as something that happens on a yoga mat, but not in a church pew.
But meditation has been a part of Christian prayer since the beginning. The distinctive thing about Christian meditation is that it seeks not some union with nothingness, but the deepening of our union with God. In the Christian tradition, there are many ways that we can seek union with the Holy Trinity. One of these is a practice called “discursive prayer.” The idea is simple: We think about God so that we might come to love God.
So, what can you think about in discursive meditation?
Well, think about God and His attributes. Think about How God is perfectly good, or how He is all-knowing or all-powerful or always everywhere. Think about how God is a communion of three divine Persons: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Think about how the three Persons are equal in dignity to each other. Think about God’s love.
Those are the most central aims of Christian meditation, but we can think about many other things that lead us to God Himself. These are all the works and effects of God.
First and foremost is the work of God the Son as Jesus Christ. Think about His birth and His life. Think about His love for the Father and His love for us. Think about His passion and death, and how they liberate us from sin and earn for us eternal life. Think about His Resurrection and Ascension, His reigning in heaven and how He will return again. Also, think about His sending of the Holy Spirit, who acts in our souls.
Secondly, we can think about the created gifts of grace we have been given. Think about what it means to be given holiness. Think about the gifts of the seven sacraments and the Church and our Lady. Meditate upon the meaning of Christ’s parables. Think about the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. They are all effects of God’s power and plan that help us to know Who God is and to love Him more.
Thirdly, we can think about the moral virtues and everything that leads us to heaven. I can think about how good obedience is, how much it pleases God, in order to stir up my desire for it and receive the grace to practice it. I can think about meekness and remember how gentle Christ was when unjustly struck by the guard (John 18:22-23). I can think about the courage of the martyrs, and so desire to imitate them. I can think about how my sins offend the good God, and so regret them, be eager to confess them and make reparation, and firmly resolve to do what it takes to avoid them.
Fourth, we can think about how the natural and manmade beauties and wonders around us reflect the God Who is the source of their beauty and wonder.
These sorts of things are what we try to think about during discursive meditative prayer. How we think about them is another question, and there’s plenty of good advice out there. (And remember, there are other forms of prayer than just discursive prayer. Some of them, the saints teach us, are much higher, such as infused contemplation.) The most important piece of advice is to persevere. You’ll get distracted, you’ll get busy, but don’t give up. Set time aside on a regular basis, based on what you’re up to doing, and stick to it. Also, pray directly to God. That is, don’t just think things about God as if He can’t hear you. Pray to Him. Instead of thinking, “God is infinitely good,” tell Him, “You are infinitely good.” Don’t be shy; speak to Him. Leave time to listen, too. Finally, don’t just say words in your meditation. Do your best to mean the words you pray, really to think what you believe, truly to ponder the divine—and then you’ll be praying with discursive meditation.
“Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him” (C.C.C., 2708). May He bring us all to that union!
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission).