They say prayer is talking to God. Meditation, on the other hand, is listening to God.
Here are three simple steps for a richer, more meditative life.
If you were to ask ordinary Christians whether they meditate, I suspect many would say no. If you would answer similarly, I have a surprise for you: whether you realize it or not, you have probably meditated every day of your life. In fact, you have engaged in contemplation more than you think. Strange as it may sound, all human beings meditate and contemplate, regardless of their beliefs or the lives they lead.
Let me explain what I mean by meditation and contemplation. One of the unique aspects of our human nature is that we have the power to reflect upon ourselves. In a way of speaking, we can step outside ourselves and think about who we are.
The meditation I am speaking about is centered on things of a religious nature. There’s no question that the greatest and most available source of material for meditation is Scripture. We are particularly blessed to have the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John because they reveal to us Jesus Christ.
In fact, consider the person of Jesus: the stories he told and the many events in his life. Add to that the people who were touched by Jesus and the people who touched his life. That gives us a lifetime supply of material for reflection and meditation. Some people may think they need at least a half hour in which to meditate—not at all. A fruitful meditation needn’t take long. Five or 10 minutes could provide enough time to meditate, especially when just beginning this practice.
Naturally, you need a quiet place where you are alone. You need not be in a church or a chapel. A couch in the living room, an easy chair in the family room, or a rocker on the front porch all make for appropriate settings for meditation.
Let’s look at three simple steps involved in meditation.
1. Read. Material or ideas for meditation can be a biblical event, story, or parable. Some people like to take a few minutes to skim through one of the Gospels, simply marking short sections that contain an interesting event or a story for later reference. Once you find something that appeals to you, read that selection. It is important to read it slowly and thoughtfully. Then read it softly out loud. If you hear what you are reading, you will find that the material is much more impressed on your mind and imagination.
2. Reflect. In the second step in this meditation, you actively enter this scene with your mind and imagination. Our imagination is a most wonderful faculty of human nature. It is where great art, music, and inventions originate. For example, picture in your mind Mary riding on the donkey. Joseph is walking by her side along a rugged road. But when reflecting, you are not just observing this young husband and wife. In your mind and imagination, you actually join them on the walk. In your imagination, you enter the scene.
What do you imagine them saying to one another? What would this young couple be talking about? Listen with your heart to their words. This is a key part of meditation: reflecting on the incident you just read from Scripture. You enter the scene and become part of it.
3. Pray. If you stopped after the second step, you would not have completed your meditation. It might have been a wonderful religious experience—even with considerable emotions and sentiments involved. But there is something essential that should flow from this reflective meditation: What did this reflection mean to you? What can you draw from it? You might thank God for how privileged you are to have been given the gift of faith. You might be drawn to pray for the less fortunate worldwide. You might consider your family and friends—those who enrich your life.
This third step is a chance to make several resolutions that result from what you have read and reflected on. My fellow friar, Clifford Hennings, OFM, further explains the spiritual benefits of meditation below.