There are three times during the day you can actively turn your mind over to God’s Word in Christian Meditation. Just before you fall asleep, you can have God’s Word be the last thing that occupies your mind. Upon awaking, you can have God’s Word be the first thing to fill your mind to start the day. Finally, you need a specific time each day to be in God’s Word so it can speak to you throughout your day.
What should you focus on in Christian meditation? “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8, NASB).
Meditation is defined as a mental exercise of regulating attention, either by focusing it on a single object (“focused attention meditation”), or by keeping it open flowing through whatever is in your present moment experience (“open monitoring meditation”). It involves relaxing the body, calming the mind, going beyond discursive thinking, and looking inside. The objective usually is to take you to deeper states of consciousness, to experience yourself beyond the mind, or to “see things as they are”.
Meditation is a type of contemplative practice, which is a broader category. There are other types, such as prayer, inspirational reading, and visualization. Some theologians see meditation as distinct from prayer, but others do not; those who make a distinction define meditation as inwardly directed, and prayer as directed to something outside the self.
In Eastern traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Daoism) meditation is usually practiced with the purpose of transcending the mind and attaining enlightenment. On the other hand, in the Christian tradition the goal of contemplative practices is, one may say, moral purification and deeper understanding of the Bible; or a closer intimacy with God/Christ, for the mystic stream of the tradition.
The forms of Christian contemplative practice explored are:
Christian meditation “engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire” in prayer. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2708) It is also known as mental prayer.
Your faith cannot live without prayer, the “vital and personal relationship with the living and true God.” (Catechism, 2744 & 2558)
The basic truths about prayer are:
With your habit of daily Catholic prayer, you’re already doing the most basic action of mental prayer: speaking with God.
Catholic meditation seeks use the faculties of the mind to know the Lord, understand his love for us, and to move into deep union with him. Use of the mind “is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ.” (Catechism, 2708)
Put simply, our goal is to answer the basic human question: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (Catechism, 2706)
Christian meditation must immerse you in the Trinity: you surrender yourselves to the Holy Spirit, the master of prayer, so that he can unite you to Christ and perfect your prayer to the Father.
What you’ll need
Start by taking just 5 or 10 minutes, alone and in quiet. Early in the day is best, but if that’s not possible for you, find another time.
Give yourself a set time, and stick to it. Consistency is very important: don’t cut prayer short if you’re “dry” one day, and likewise don’t prolong it if you’re feeling wonderful.
You also need to find some written or visual material to use as the basis of your Christian meditation. The Gospels are the best choice. Pick one and read a part each day, or just use the daily Mass readings. You can read the daily Gospel passage in your Bible, subscribe to a monthly booklet like Magnificat, or read them online.
You can use many things as the source material for Christian meditation: Scripture, especially the Gospels, spiritual writings, liturgical texts, and even the “fingerprints of God” visible in the natural world itself.
Pick your reading beforehand, so you don’t waste your prayer time finding a suitable passage in the Bible.
Bible passages to get you started
These passages vary in length quite a bit. The first one, in particular, is very long. Pick just a few verses at a time from the longer readings. Remember, you’ll be reading for depth in Christian meditation, so shorter is better.
Again, two things are very important in Christian meditation:
This consistency is so critical because of what’s called the “battle of prayer”. As you grow in prayer, you’ll overcome many things: tiredness, distractions, boredom, the feeling that you’re not getting anything out of Christian meditation, etc. All of these things conspire to tempt you into stopping your prayer life.
Once you’re ready to start, sit down and quiet your mind.
Place yourself in the presence of God and ask for his help with a quick prayer. You can use your own words, or a written prayer. For example:
My Lord and my God, I firmly believe that you are here, that you see me, that you hear me. I adore you with profound reverence, I ask your pardon for my sins, and the grace to make this time of prayer fruitful. My immaculate Mother, Saint Joseph my father and lord, my guardian angel, intercede for me. (From Handbook of Prayers, James Socias)
Your Christian meditation session should generally follow this basic outline:
Let the passage provide material for a conversation with God: ask him questions, tell him things. Above all, listen to him, both in the words of Scripture and in how those words guide your thoughts.
If you need help with this part of Christian meditation, try something like:
The goal of Christian meditation is closer union with Christ.
You don’t want to reduce mental prayer to a simple reflection on the passage you’re reading. You should get to know Christ better, and love him more. You should learn of his boundless love for you, so you can grow closer to him. You should see how he acts and loves and gives his very life for you, so you can become more like him. You should see how he seeks and does the will of the Father, so you can, too.
The goal of Christian meditation is not just to think good thoughts about the passage. What counts is how you apply those thoughts to your life.
God communicates with you through your thoughts. You must take those thoughts, form resolutions, and act on them.
In prayer, God most often affects our thoughts to communicate with you. Often it’s a gentle, normal movement of thought. Occasionally it may be a sudden and strong realization.
You also sense God’s voice through your conscience, imagination, and even your heart and feelings. Christian meditation can use all of these.
When your thoughts drift during prayer, regain focus with the words of the passage.
And don’t forget: Form some specific resolutions based on your Christian meditation. Know how you are going to apply these thoughts to your life, today.
“What should I think about?”
Your thoughts during prayer will be as unique as you are.
Still, most people find that their thoughts in Christian meditation centres on some of the big themes found in Scripture:
The key to prayer in Christian meditation is to move beyond seeing only the general themes, and to see how they affect you and call you to change your life.
To form specific resolutions!
It’s a challenge because it calls you to change your life. And most people resist doing that.
The book Conversations with God has reflections that also contain a lesson on how to live something taken from the Scripture reading. Something like:
I thank you, my God, for the good resolutions, affections and inspirations that you have communicated to me in this meditation. I ask your help to put them into effect. My immaculate Mother, Saint Joseph my father and lord, my guardian angel, intercede for me. (From Handbook of Prayers, James Socias, ed.)