Monday, June 7, 2010

Meditation - Our invitation to commune with God

In the past week, I came across two different people who told me that they are either very cautious or confused about meditation. They also voiced concern about whether meditation is compatible within the Catholic tradition. Actually, I have heard many such comments from God-fearing folk as well as God-hating folk alike, and often, they come with a certain mental backdrop that somehow influences or determines why they think this way about meditation.

One of the more common comments about meditation is that nothing happens during the time of the prayer. Well, that’s the point. It’s not meant to be anything that excites and titillates our senses. It’s precisely because our senses seem to be running on overdrive in just about every area of our lives that we need some training or discipline to quell this buzz of hyper-activity to be able to have our heartbeats beating in tandem with the heartbeat of God. And meditation came way before the advent of the likes of Face book and Twitter, which incessantly keeps our minds occupied.

Kenosis, which is the Greek word for “the emptying of the self”, has always been at the heart of Christian discipleship. St Paul used this word to describe Christ’s taking on of humanity in his letter to the Philippians. In Christian spirituality, we are all urged to also empty ourselves of all that is not of God, and all that doesn’t auger well with the Christian life. Included in this list would be attitudes like selfishness, pride, the false self and the like. Sin in its various forms would find its heart in any one of these.

That is what meditation helps us to do – to become truly empty vessels so that God can ring out loudly in our lives. Mary has always been for us, the model empty vessel, who allowed God to resonate in and through her the greatest clarion call to all humanity of his love for humankind. And because she was so empty of herself, her ego, her agenda, she was filled so completely by God that she was full of grace.

One of the common fears or misconceptions about meditation is that when you empty yourself, the devil can somehow ‘fill’ that space. My response to this is that this means that there should be so many empty minds around the world for there to be so many people who seem to be filling their lives with ungodly pursuits. But the contrary is true, because evil has lurked in the lives of many people who were hardly empty of themselves. On the contrary – it is when we are so filled with our egos, with our own ideologies, and agenda that we can put so much focus on the self and so little on God. Besides, it would also necessarily mean that Mary would be the ideal vessel not for God, but for the devil. Yet, this is not true.

My suspicion is that many people actually fear facing what God ultimately wants to reveal to them in deep and intimate prayer - their raw naked selves. When the false self gets stripped away, when all the external trappings and d├ęcor and facades reveal themselves as cosmetic, the only thing that can emerge is the raw true self. It is at that raw level that we become aware of how silly, arrogant, egotistical, proud and fearful we really are. That is the self that meditation helps us to reach, to come to a conversion point and reach the need for metanoia – getting a new mind.

The fruits of meditation are never going to be during the prayer period. Perhaps that is what turns many novices off. We are too mired in a world of instant results, and we expect some feeling, some lights and some consolation during the prayer.

But in my experience with meditation through the years, it has been revealed that the fruit of meditation comes not during the silent moments, but after that – when the errant driver cuts into my lane in traffic; when someone keeps me waiting with no apology or explanation; when people around me display some degree of ignorance or when someone seems to be irascible. That is when the fruit of meditation will show itself. It may not always happen, as is the case with myself, but when it does, it becomes a true moment of kenosis and I know that the heartbeat of God has been felt.

In one of my travels, I remember seeing a very clever bumper sticker that said “Meditation – it’s not what you think”. How true.


  1. Thank you Fr Luke, for your instructive & sensitive sharing of your view on meditation -a traditional discipline of prayer of the Church which has been mothballed & castaway to coventry till recently because of fear/ misconception from both the clergy & the laity.

    You mentioned that people are " hardly empty of themselves", or so full of themselves - that that is why there is no space for them to accommodate God.This struck a chord with me, for I recall Fr John Main, ( Benedictine monk & spiritual teacher of Christian Meditation)- who using St Paul's letter to Ephesians ( Eph3:14-19)-reflected that 'as Christians, as humans, our destiny is to come to fullness of being....' This fullness of life can be savored only if we are willing "to leave the narrowness of our own ego behind.." - to uncover the spirit of life & the spirit of love which Jesus told us is to be found in our hearts. Fr J Main showed us we can do this if we humbly allow ourselves to sit - still,silent & in a state of undivided consciousness/attention - ie if we meditate.He believed that this is a truth/reality within the reach of each one of us if only we would commit ourselves faithfully to the practice/journey of meditation.

    Thus I believe that if we do not take up this challenge - we are actually short-changing ourselves for we are refusing to develop our God-given spiritual potential; we are in fact depriving ourselves of "being fully human, fully confident - confident to love and to be loved." Perhaps we may even be 'depriving' God the glory that is his for St Irenaeus did say...." the glory of God is in man fully alive...."

  2. Dear Fr Luke, for many years now I've been going to the adoration rm to spend an hour with God. Each time I tried mediating for about 20 mins I get nothing, but a lot of other thoughts not relating to God. I get very disturbed so I gave up and what I do during that hr is read the bible, Word Among Us and Daily Bread, then I spend some time to reflect. Of late, I've this urge to meditate again so I started by setting 20 mins on my watch and just remain silent. I do some deep breathing n consciously try to clear whatever other thoughts come to my mind (dont know if this is right). Seems to be working, and now the 20 mins passed so fast that I stretch to 25 mins. Though nothing happens (dont see light or hear anything) I feel a deep peace. After meditaion, I start to read the bible and this time it's so different (just cant express it). I can read on and on and every word means so much to me, and I would copy on my notebk those verses that I would like to share with my goddaughters and friends during our scc mtg. I believe that meditation does have an effect on me, just have to persevere and not give up too quickly.

  3. I enjoy centering prayer (CP) - a form of meditation. We do lectio divina and it does give a sense of peace and calm. I went for a CP retreat once...tears just flow during the sit in a circle for 20 minutes. There were about 25 of us. I didn't mind the tears but when the nose starts to drip - it can be a bit unsightly....I don't tear that easily at mass nowadays after that retreat. Some say its the letting go of all past hurts, anger and all past sins...I do appreciate being in the palms of is a beautiful feeling that I'll cherish...God bless. mat.