Meditation, and its modern cousin, mindfulness, are in the air.
Yet many of us do not realise that meditation, as a way of contemplative prayer, has been present in Christianity from the beginning.
Jesus frequently withdrew to be alone, in silence, with His Father. And in one of his teachings on prayer he urged us to go into our private room (the inner chamber, our heart) and when we have shut the door, to pray to our Father who is in that secret place…not babbling as the pagans do (Matthew 6).
The first monastics, the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th and 5th centuries, said that they had inherited a prayer practice from apostolic times – ceaseless prayer by the constant repetition of a single “formula” or prayer phrase. A way to be continually aware of the presence of God, since we are, as St Paul wrote, “temples of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 8).
In the last century, Thomas Merton was one instigator of a contemplative revival; he wrote that “meditation or ‘the prayer of the heart’ is the active effort we make to keep our hearts open so that we may be enlightened by Him.” Its purpose was “to deepen the consciousness of the basic relationship of the creature to the Creator, and of the sinner to his Redeemer”.
Visiting the UK in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI stressed that we need to make space for silence, “because it is in silence that we find God, and in silence that we discover our true selves”.
Jesus urged his followers “to make your home in me as I make mine in you.” But too often we go walkabout – we are not at home! Fortunately, like the father of the prodigal son, our merciful God is always there waiting – and welcomes us when we do come home.
Meditation is a way of emptying ourselves of thoughts, plans, and fantasies. To take the spotlight of consciousness off ourselves. To leave self behind and to make space for God. To be and not to do, for once.
The practice is simple, though not easy (and yet young children take to it readily). “Unless you become like little children…”
Adults often like to meet together in groups to meditate, for support and encouragement of their individual practice. There are over 30 such groups within the area of Clifton diocese. Not all are in Catholic parishes – meditation is a natural way for all Christians to pray together.
If you would like to learn about ways of meditation, or to find a group near you, or to request an introductory session or course in your parish or school, email firstname.lastname@example.org. And/or you can find more on www.christianmeditation.org.uk.