A living faith and a loving heart are the very breath of all true contemplative prayer. In prayer, Saint Teresa reminds us, “the important thing is not to think much, but to love much.” Prayer is not just having nice thoughts about God or experiencing fine feelings or emotions. Rather, it is a being with him in faith and a looking toward him in love: an entering into the mystery of a real and personal God in whose love we share.
In the same way, to meditate means to think, to reflect or to ponder. But the meditation we are concerned with here is not a mere thinking process, with God as the end result. Rather, it is a deep, prayerful attentiveness by which we get in touch with our own inner selves, so that we can be more open to God who is within.
The word, “meditation” comes from the Latin stare in medio, to stand or abide in the center. The centering is not on ourselves, but on God. This loving and attentive pondering on God and on his word is what the desert fathers called “the prayer of the heart”: the prayer of the whole person standing before God.
Contemplative meditation, then, is a way of prayer and a way of love. In contemplative meditation, loving is more important than thinking, listening more important than asking, being more important than doing, and a deep and attentive silence the most important of all.
Contemplative meditation is essentially a prayer of presence. It is in this sense that prayer has been described as “being present to Presence.” in prayer we do not have to make God present. He is not “here” or “there”. He is one, unique and indivisible, and through creation he has communicated his presence to all things: “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28).
The glory of our human nature is that we can consciously reflect, and lovingly respond to this self- communicating presence of God. And this, not only to him as the creator-God who holds all things in being by his power and his knowledge, but as a friend and father who comes to dwell within us “the sweet Guest of our soul.”
As in human friendships, so also in divine: it is the quality of the relationship that determines the presence. With God there is both physical presence and a relationship of personal love and friendship. He is totally present to us in love: he loves us unconditionally and without distraction. “However quietly we speak, he is so near that he will hear us,” Saint Teresa reminds us. “We need no wings to go in search of him but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look at him present within us.”
Awareness is being in a state of wakefulness and attentiveness, it is the very opposite of a stare or a drifting into an objectless void. Rather, it is an active attentiveness on one particular aspect of reality here and now present. Awareness is always concerned with the present moment and the concrete reality of its immediate experience. “Remember how important it is to understand this truth,” Saint Teresa says, “that the Lord is within and that we should be there with him.”
The mantra is a phrase or word that helps to focus our attention on God and keep our mind from wandering. It is a short and simple and can be spoken repeatedly in the mind, in the heart and in the spirit. Not only has it got direction, but it also has power as well: power to deepen our awareness, power to create stillness and carry attention into the deeper silence where God reveals himself beyond words, thoughts and images.
It is important to use a scripture phrase or word for which you want a deeper meaning revealed. It should be meaningful for you personally. Once you have found your phrase or word, all that is necessary is to say it slowly, with full attention. You don’t need to think a lot about it or to force meaning into it, rather, it should reveal its deeper meaning back to you. As you find that silent stillness of mind the mantra has served its purpose and can be released from the current meditation session.
Further information regarding meditation can be found at the following links:
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Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
Patterns of Prayer by Eugene McCaffrey