Means For Meditation

Most of us have had the experience of being apart from a loved one for a time, and have felt a longing to be together once again. When this happens, the mind is occupied in thinking about what the loved one is doing or feeling at the time, and the heart feels a deep yearning to touch their heart once again. At times, in prayer, we have a similar experience of yearning for God's presence deep in our hearts, and our minds engage in thinking about Him. This type of prayer is called meditation, or mental prayer.

Mary provides the perfect model of meditation, as St Luke commented: "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart." (Luke 2.19). Mary reflected deeply on the meaning and events in her life with her Son when she prayed.

The choice of content sets the stage for meditation, and helps to guide it to a fruitful end. The Word of God, particularly the Gospels, provides the best content for meditative prayer. The teachings of the Church and the writings of the Saints also provide supporting insight.

In pondering the Word of God, the voice of a well-formed conscience is an important guide in discerning the depths of meaning. Asking the Spirit to aid meditation with the gift of wisdom is crucial in supporting the natural light of reason, which, by its mortal nature, can often be the source of misguided interpretation.

Meditation makes use of the interior senses of imagination, intellect, and will. Imagination helps us explore the content of the meditation, while the intellect guides our pondering of the meaning, and the will provides the strength to take the meditation to heart. St John of the Cross explains meditation in this way: "Meditation…is a discursive action wrought by means of images, forms and figures that are fashioned and imagined by the interior senses, as when we imagine Christ crucified, or bound to the column, or at another of the stations; or when we imagine God seated upon a throne with great majesty; or when we consider and imagine glory to be like a most beauteous light, etc.; or when we imagine all kinds of other things, whether Divine or human, that can belong to the imagination." (Ascent of Mount Carmel, II:12.3)

The following poem explores the experience of a typical meditation and provides some insight into the role of meditation in the spiritual life.

Stage Of The Soul

As the eyes close, the curtain lifts;
A miracle opens the scene.
Luke narrates as the story shifts,
To ponder ten lepers made clean.

The Lord's lesson of gratitude,
Taught by the leper who returned,
Helps me question my attitude -
Is the Lord's grace embraced or spurned?

Meditation touches the soul:
Imagination sets the stage,
The intellect retains control,
As the Word's absorbed off the page.

By this means, the heart can be changed,
To reflect what the soul pondered:
No longer from the Word, estranged,
Nor scattered as the mind wandered.

To ponder with proficiency
Sates the heart's deep deficiency.

Holy Spirit, grant us Wisdom,
To enlighten our faculties;
In our hearts, form heaven's kingdom,
And guide us onward by degrees. Amen.


St John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2705-2708

prepared by:

Paul Buis

(c) Paul Buis, 2005