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Christian Meditation: from the Mind to the Heart

(By Melania StefaniCentro Formazione Meditazione Cristiana) Meditation is normally acknowledged as a healthy practice, aimed at creating inner balance. With specific techniques, the intention is to somewhat “cleanse” the mind from the many thoughts that crowd it up, which often cause negative tensions and emotions. However, the mind is often the greatest obstacle for the meditating person who wishes to obtain a better self harmony. It has been compared to a mischievous monkey: the more you try to restrain it, the more it delightfully jumps around, creating distraction and defeating all efforts to quieten it down. However, with practice every technique can give good results. Among the many existing techniques, Christian meditation offers a different experience: rather than pushing the mind aside, this is actively engaged in welcoming what gets us closer to God, for example reading or listening to His Word, or viewing images that connect to Him.

We perform these actions through our mind at first, with the help of our external senses, but then we need to put the rationality aside in order to allow our internal, “spiritual”  senses to listen or view in another way. We thus land in a more profound dimension of being, where the Spirit of our Lord can reveal Himself: our deeper heart. Therefore, unlike other meditation techniques, Christian meditation intends to go beyond the pacifying of body mind and emotions in order to reach the dimension of the Spirit  through the listening silence, which offers the spiritual benefits human beings mostly need.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (hence CCC) also deals with meditation in the “Prayer in the Christian life” section (numbers 2705-2708). According to CCC, “Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion and desire” (2708) and this happens with the help of  the Sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history, the page on which the Today of God is written” (2705). Regarding the method, CCC points out that “ there are as many and varied methods of meditation as there are spiritual masters” (2707).

Truly, unlike what happens with some quite structured eastern techniques, there is no specific method in Christian meditation acknowledged as the exclusive way to travel from the mind to the heart. Many have been the spiritual masters in the history of the Catholic Church, starting with the Desert Fathers (e.g.: in Hesychasm the so-called “Jesus Prayer” or “ Prayer of the Heart” is practiced), through to the great saints of the Past (such as St. Theresa of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis of Sales – and plenty more, who also have written about the routes they envisioned), and on to more modern masters (such as the Fr John Main OSB, or Fr Mariano Ballester  SJ, or the trappist monk Thomas Merton).

There are schools of Christian meditation, such as the Centro di Formazione alla Meditazione Cristiana, existing in Italy since 1990, based on Ignatian spirituality and the spirituality of the Figlie della Croce (Filles de la Croix).   Within this variety of approaches to Christian Meditation, the common ground is the intention to stimulate, through “oxygenation”, a closer more intimate experience of the Spirit of God, that it may thoroughly pervade our deeper self.

Through the teachings of Jesus we are instructed and oriented. When He speaks to our heart, we inexplicably understand that we can yield to God’s mercy and providence, to His omnipotence and His love.  The journey towards harmony (based on the integration of the four levels body-mind-emotions-deep heart) starts from the “communion” between our deeper heart and God’s heart. As it happens between people in love, it is indeed through Love that solutions are found, truths are attained and fair, necessary corrections are perceived bringing wellness not just to the meditating person, but also to the surrounding other beings.   “To meditate on what we read helps us to make it our own by confronting it with ourselves. (…)  we discover in meditation the movements that stir the heart and we are able to discern them.

It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light: Lord, what do you want me to do?” (2706)   Even though CCC includes Christian meditation among the forms of prayer – together with vocal and contemplative prayer – (2721) it seems to us that it is something different, which does not replace prayer.   After all, CCC also states that “Meditation is above all a quest” (2705). Finally, in our opinion Christian Meditation  helps humans in their eternal quest, not only of peace and internal wellness, but also of the sense of their lives.

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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