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 | By Doug Culp

Christian meditation is a quest

In the previous column, we considered the first of three major expressions of prayer in the Christian Tradition, namely vocal prayer. Now, we turn our attention to the second of these expressions, meditation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2708) tells us that meditation, or mental prayer, is a prayerful quest that “engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire.” In meditative prayer, we seek to understand the “why” and “how” of the Christian life in order “to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ.”

Christian meditative prayer differs from many of the Eastern meditation practices which seek to empty the mind. In contrast, Christian meditation is a very active mental task. It attempts to engage the mind in prayer so as to answer the question, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (CCC 2706) This involves seeking a closer union with Christ through experiencing the presence of God, growing in understanding of God and God’s truths, developing the spiritual life, growing in faith, and bringing divine peace to life.

The place of meditation

In the parable of the sower, Jesus describes how a sower goes out to sow seed. Some of the seed falls on a path where birds come quickly to consume it. Some falls on ground that is rocky. Because the soil is not deep there, the seed grows quickly but it just as quickly withers in the sun as it lacks adequate roots. Still other seed falls among thorns and is choked. In all three cases, the seed produces no fruit. Only the seed that falls on the good soil produces a bounty.

Now consider what the Catechism says: “Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate regularly, lest they come to resemble the three first kinds of soil in the parable of the sower.” (CCC 2707) The importance of meditative prayer in the life of a Christian is clear.

Meditation methods

There are many methods for meditative prayer. For example, many Catholics meditate on the mysteries of the rosary. Then, there is the practice of “Divine Reading.”

“Divine Reading,” or Lectio Divina, is a traditional practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer. The goal is to promote communion with God and to increase one’s knowledge of God’s word. As such, it does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied or analyzed. Instead, it seeks to enter into the living word of God.

Did You Know…

Lectio Divina had its roots in the 3rd-century writings of Origen. It was taught to St. Augustine by St. Ambrose. It was established as a monastic practice in the 6th century by St. Benedict. However, it wasn’t until the 12th century that a Carthusian monk named Guigo II formalized Lectio Divina as a four-step process.

The four-step process of Lectio Divina

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes the four steps to Lectio Divina formulated by Guigo II, a monk from the 12th century.

1. Lectio (Reading):

The goal is to take a reflective stance toward a short Scripture passage, pausing on a single word or phrase that resonates with our mind and heart.

2. Meditatio (Meditation):

We reflect in a deep, unhurried way upon what we have read.

3. Oratio (Oration):

We take time to talk with God about what we have read, heard, or experienced, and we ask the questions that have arisen in hearts.

4. Contemplatio (Contemplation):

We are called to rest in the Word of God and listen to the God who speaks within us with “a still small voice.” It is during contemplatio, by God’s grace, that we are able to connect any newly discovered insights to daily life experiences.

Doug Culp is the chancellor for the Catholic Diocese of Lexington.

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