There are many styles and methods of meditation and contemplation.
Here, I offer you three styles that are common and that I find helpful at different times and in different settings to assist in meditating on a passage of Scripture leading into contemplation on it.
Meeting the Lord
in Imaginative Prayer
Richard Rohr of the Centre for Action and Contemplation (www.cac.org) explains this method.
We at the Center often teach the transforming effects of silence and unknowing. It has been my personal practice for years. At the same time, one of the great gifts of Jesuit spirituality is to teach us how to draw closer to God through images, words, verbal prayer, our imaginations, and the Bible itself. Here is how writer and retreat leader Margaret Silf invites people into the riches of Ignatian contemplation: Click Here
Lectio Divina is a method of prayer that uses Sacred Scripture to facilitate one’s relationship with God. This form of spirituality is distinctly Catholic, but similar methods are found in other religions. Traditionally, there are four steps in the process – lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. Each step is often thought of as “rungs on a ladder” leading up to the pure “experience of God” in contemplatio. The process is also sometimes conceptualised as circular, with each step enhancing the experience of the others. Click Here
Richard Rohr of the Centre for Action and Contemplation (www.cac.org) explains this method.
My friend and CAC teacher James Finley is a true contemplative! I watch the crowds—from conferences to Living School students—settle in his presence almost immediately. He is so centered in himself and in God that he is at peace and “transmits” the message with peace everywhere he goes. Here he offers gentle, loving instructions for what many consider traditional meditation: Click Here
Meeting the Lord in Imaginative Prayer
The call to friendship with God invites us to allow our lives, with everything we most truly are, to become more closely linked to the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord and to everything he truly is. . . . One way to allow this closer linking to happen is to enter imaginatively into scenes from the earthly life of Jesus, in what is called imaginative meditation [or contemplation].
Choose a passage that seems to speak to you in some way—a favorite Gospel scene perhaps, or one of the healing miracles. If you don’t know which passage to choose, just rest, relax, and ask God to guide you; then wait to see whether any particular scene or event comes to mind. . . .
When you have chosen a passage, read it several times until it is familiar and you feel at home with it.
Now imagine that the event is happening here and now and that you are an active participant in it. Don’t worry if you don’t find it easy to imagine it vividly. . . . And don’t worry about getting the facts right. You may well find that your scene doesn’t take place in first century Palestine, but in Chicago rush-hour traffic, or that the desert tracts of the Good Samaritan story turn into the sidewalks in your neighborhood.
Ask God for what you desire—perhaps to meet God more closely or to feel God’s touch upon your life.
Fill out the scene as much as you can by, for example, becoming aware of who is there, the surroundings, the sights, the smells, the tastes, the weather, and the feel of the place (peaceful or threatening). What role do you find yourself taking in the scene—for example, are you one of the disciples, a bystander, or the person being healed? Listen inwardly to what God is showing you through your role in the scene. . . .
Talk with the characters in the scene, especially to Jesus. Speak from your heart simply and honestly. Tell him what you fear, what you hope for, what troubles you. . . . Don’t worry if your attention wanders. If you realize that this is happening, just bring yourself gently back to the scene for as long as you feel drawn to stay there.
There are two absolute rules:
- Never moralize or judge yourself.
- Always respond from your heart and not from your head. . . .
Our purpose in prayer is not to defend or condemn ourselves or to come up with any kind of analysis or sermon, but simply to respond, from our inmost depths, to what God is sharing with us of God’s own self.
Present, Open, Awake
There is no single way to meditate. There are, however, certain acts and attitudes inherently endowed with the capacity to awaken sustained states of meditative awareness. . . .
With respect to the body: Sit still. Sit straight. Place your hands in a comfortable or meaningful position in your lap. Close your eyes or lower them toward the ground. Breathe slowly and naturally. With respect to your mind, be present, open, and awake, neither clinging to nor rejecting anything. And with respect to attitude, maintain nonjudgmental compassion toward yourself as you discover yourself clinging to and rejecting everything, and nonjudgmental compassion toward others. . . .
Keep in mind that these guidelines are but suggestions for you to explore as part of your ongoing process of finding the ways to meditate that are most natural and effective for you. What matters is not which method of meditation you use, but the self-transforming process by which meditation leads you into more . . . openness to God. . . .
Go to your place of meditation. . . . You might say a brief and simple prayer expressing your gratitude to God for having been led to the path of meditation and asking for the wisdom, courage, and strength to be faithful to it. . . .
[Then] let go of all that is preoccupying you at the moment. Choose to be present in the immediacy of the present moment by simply relaxing into being right where you are, just as you are. Settle into the intimate, felt sense of your bodily stillness. Settle into being aware of your breathing and whatever degree of fatigue or wakefulness you may be feeling in your body at the moment. Be aware of whatever sadness, inner peace, or other emotion may be present. Be aware of the light and the temperature in the room where you are sitting. In short, simply be present, just as you are, in the moment, just as it is. Cling to nothing. Reject nothing. Rest in this moment. . . . Relax. Give yourself a break. Simply sit in a “Here I am, Lord” stance. . . . Know and trust that God is already perfectly present in your simply being alive and real in the present moment just as it is. . . .
Be humbled and grateful in knowing that you are learning to awaken to your true nature in learning to be like God. . . . Jesus said, “Judge not and you shall not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Sitting in meditation, we put this teaching of Christ into practice in remaining present, open, and awake to ourselves just as we are, without judging, without evaluating, without clinging to or rejecting the way we simply are.
The first step in the process of Lectio Divina is lectio – a slow, prayerful, deliberate reading and re-reading of Scripture. The passage used is generally a small section of Scripture, perhaps one verse or even part of a verse. In this step, the key is to slow down and focus fully on the passage at hand. The passage is read and re-read until one has entered fully into the text. An example of a short verse from the Christian Scriptures which may be used comes from Galatians 5:22-23:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
After one slowly and deliberately reads and re-reads the text, they move to the next step – mediatio, or “meditating” on the text. In this step, one continues to “chew on” the text, pondering its meaning. In the passage above, one may meditate on the true meaning of “patience” or “goodness.” The practitioner focuses on whatever part of the text they are drawn to, and the specific section which grabs their attention is often thought of as being guided by the Holy Spirit. Throughout the entire process, one strives to be open to how the Spirit leads them through the text.
Meditatio naturally leads to oratio – “praying the text.” This step of Lectio Divina is often conceptualized as “having a conversation with God” about the text. The goal of this part of Lectio Divina is to discover what the text means to me, or how God addresses the individual through the text. Oratio is thought of as being deeper than simply thinking about a passage, and is conceptualized as a true relationship with God.
The final step of Lectio Divina is contemplatio – “contemplation.” In the Christian tradition “contemplation” doesn’t mean “thinking deeply about something,” but rather the opposite – moving beyond thought to an experience at a deeper level than the mind. In the process of Lectio Divina, contemplatio is often referred to as resting in God, beyond thoughts, beyond words, beyond images. One can dispose themselves to contemplatio by willingly opening themselves to the experience, but the experience itself is seen as a pure gift of God, which He gives at the times and in the measure He chooses.
Lectio Divina is often associated with the Benedictine monastic tradition of Catholicism. Although sometimes thought of as a method only suitable for monks, there has recently been a strong push in Catholicism to bring this type of prayer to all within the faith.