Prayer, Meditation, Contemplation

Prayer, Meditation and Contemplation

   There are many good books on this subject.  Here is just an outline of the three topics.

   In today's noisy, shallow, fast changing culture, spiritually mature persons must bring an abiding sense of God's presence with them wherever they go and in whatever they do.      

1.  Prayer
   When we pray, we make ourselves consciously aware of our relationship with God. Prayer has been traditionally described as lifting our hearts and minds to God, or as having a conversation with God, or as listening to God.

    I like to consider spiritual writer, Richard Rohr's description of prayer as resonance. Imagine that you are a tuning fork.  God is sending out his "music" and you are picking it up and resonating with it, i.e., you are vibrantly alive with God's presence and sensitively able to respond to your ever growing awareness of God's intentions for you to help build his kingdom on earth by living and acting in his creative, healing and world-transforming love.

    Are our prayers always answered?  Jesus said that whatever we pray, "in my name you will receive." (Jn. 14:13).  The expression, "in my name," is all-important.  In the Scriptures, "name" means "person."  To pray in Jesus' name is to pray in his person, i.e., to pray as Jesus prayed as as he would pray today. 

    Jesus prayed with exquisite sensitivity and clarity.  He discerned the presence and will of God within himself and in the world at all times and in every situation.  Our prayers, therefore, should always be the result of clear discernment as to what God wants us to pray for in any situation.  We can, of course, pray for clarity.  So our first, or basic prayer should be to God to open us to know his will, to resonate with him as sensitively as possible.  Every prayer contains the thought, "Thy will be known, loved and done."

    Speaking practically, we can say that we should always pray to see what is the next successful thing we can reasonably and logically do, right here and now, to move ourselves and/or others forward in relationship with God and God's will, i.e., to move God's kingdom on earth forward.  In short, to pray is to live step by step in our lives with Christ.  For example, if a young person wants a successful career, it follows that he/she should prayerfully form an intention to find and get the best possible education or training, and then, strengthened by the knowledge that getting a good education is God's will for him/her at that moment of life, make a real commitment to get it.  In this way, his/her prayer will begin to be answered and come true.

   When, for example, we pray for such things as world peace, good government, help for the poor, etc., God always responds that God has enlightened us on what we can and should do to help our prayer be realized, and God intensifies love in our hearts and souls, so that we can act with greater love.  If we pray without opening ourselves to God's intentions and love for us personally, and if we then don't actively work to bring about these results in God's grace, then we are not praying.  We are wishing or engaging in childish magic thinking. 

   2. Meditation
   Meditation is a particular form of prayer.  It involves putting ourselves in a place that is free from distraction and conducive to relaxation and silence.  In today's hyper-active, noisy society, it can take up to 20 minutes just to relax enough to begin meditating.  Many people start by breathing slowly and deeply, and relaxing each part of their body.  Some use a repetitive practice, like reciting a word, or sound, or repetitive prayer, e.g., the Rosary. Some close their eyes and focus on an image of pure light.  Others keep their eyes open.

    Once relaxed, we can either continue our breathing or repetitive sound, or we can create a scene, e.g. from the life of Jesus, from a particular situation in our own life, or from something we have heard or read.  In peaceful relaxation, we simply let any distractions  flow through the scene unattended.  We focus deeply on the scene, as in watching a movie, and let God lead us to a deeper and more loving understanding of him, or of ourselves and our relationship with him, others and nature.

   Is meditation necessary?  Yes.  Some form of meditation or recollection is necessary, even if not daily.  The distractions of everyday life are so prevalent and strong that without stopping to meditate, we can easily get lost in the shallowness of our society and culture, to the detriment of ourselves and others.

    Meditation helps lead us to see that we live in a world of transcendent unity.  At root, all is one; we arise in our individuality out of a transcendent oneness.

3. Contemplation

   Contemplation takes place when open ourselves to living in transcendent unity and loveand permit God's omnipresent love to influence everything we do.  We learn to live in God's presence always--in everything we are thinking, feeling and doingFor example, contemplative monks can do farming, carpentry, etc., within the all-pervasive presence of God and their oneness in love with all the world. Contemplation engenders in us a deep, abiding orientation toward God, that we take with us wherever we are.  It is the deepest spiritual discipline and dynamic.

   St. Augustine said that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.  We do not stand in the world and look for God "out there," or "up there," at a distance from us.  We stand in the world, deeply aware that God is right here now, within ourselves, within others, and within the whole world.  We are saturated with God's presenceThe entire world is the divine milieu!  

    When we achieve contemplation and as 21st century expressions of Christ, we stand in this world and see ourselves, others, and the world with the all-loving eyes of Christ.  We see as Christ sees.

   While we can stop for a while to meditate, we don't need to stop to contemplate.  We can achieve "Contemplation-In-Action."  Contemplation becomes part of us, a habit that we take with us always.  We strive to do everything contemplatively.  In our everyday lives, secretaries can run offices while in the loving presence of God and our universal oneness in love.  Plumbers can fix leaks, doctors can examine patients, dentists can drill teeth, parents can tend babies, scientists can do research, executives can run businesses, artists can create works of beauty, students can study, athletes can compete, etc. contemplatively.  When Thomas Merton was in Bankok, he said the people and culture there are such that he could feel contemplation in everyone and everything as he walked down the street.
  Contemplation-in-action has been likened to the spirit that exists between two good friends. They can pay attention to and do many things within the spirit of their friendship, without paying explicit attention to the fact that they are friends. 

  A dentist once misunderstood what I was saying and asked me, "Do you mean that if I'm drilling your tooth, I should be thinking of God?"  I quickly responded, "No!  I want you to be thinking of drilling my tooth.  But I also want you to drill my tooth while you are enjoying the presence of God within you and within what you are doing.  In that way, you will drill my tooth as perfectly as possible, and as happily as possible."  

   In contemplation we are not always consciously thinking of God--that would be a distraction, at times even a dangerous one--but we are always acting within the milieu of God's indwelling presence, peace and love.     

  By doing our everyday work in the abiding presence of God, we grow in awareness and appreciation that everything we do and everything that exists, except sin, is sacredThe monk's jelly is sacred, the doctor's stethoscope is sacred; the secretary's computer, the plumber's wrench, the business's service or product, etc.--all are sacred.  The secular is sacred:  the whole world and everything and everyone in it are sacred. We walk in the presence of God, on hallowed ground.  

   The opposite of "secular" is "infinite/eternal;"  it is not, "profane."  

The Mass
   The Eucharistic liturgy is the church's great public prayer, our prayer service, (Greek: leitourgia, the work of the people.)  It is the summit toward which the activity of the church is directed, at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows." 
(Vatican II, Constitution on the Liturgy, No. 10) 

   The Mass gathers up the meaning of our life on earth.  All our experience of God, all our discernment of our gifts, talents, possibilities and opportunities, all our prophetic work in uplifting and correcting our individual lives, our families, education, work, politics, etc., in the grace of Christ--all are aimed ultimately at the Mass.

   All our prayers, meditation and contemplation, all our devotions and charitable works--all are aimed ultimately at the Mass.

   At Mass we gratefully and worshipfully gather together as the People of God and place ourselves, our families, our work, etc., before the altar, to be offered up, with the bread and wine, to become Christ-ed.

   When the rite is over, we are sent back out into the everyday world, to take to it the Christ we have received in the Word and Sacrament, to help build the Kingdom of God on earth, and thereby move Christ's salvation of our society, culture and the earth forward.  At the same time, we gather up our society and culture in order to present them anew at the altar when we return to Mass, to become Christ-ed anew.  In this way, we don't "go to Mass" on the weekend; we are always at Mass, always gathering up the world and bringing it to Christ, and always bringing Christ to the world. 

   In a special way at Mass, we see and appreciate that God is present everywhere and always in our Christ-ed world.  God is everywhere, Christ is all in all.  In our darkest moments we see the world luminously alive, as Christ-ed.    

  Our building up the Kingdom of God on earth, our gathering up of the world in the loving, saving grace of Christ, is the "raw material" that will determine the amount and intensity of glory we will give to God in eternity.  We must therefore not "waste" any of heaven!

  All that we do, we do for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ, to whom be all honor and glory now and forever.  Amen




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