Merton on Meditation

10 Feb

I am no mystic, but I believe the human heart can encounter the heart of God.

I am no master in the classic, spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith, but I am learning to pray.

Meditation is one of those disciplines, one of those practices, of Christians both historic and contemporary. It seems to be more common to talk about meditation in the practice of other religions, but there is a Christian art of meditation. Simply put: meditation is thinking in the presence of God. This definition makes meditation more attractive to me, because I seem to be more of a thinker than a mystic. However, meditation is more than thinking; it involves an awakening of our hearts to God. Here are some thoughts on meditation from Thomas Merton:

 “Meditation is almost all contained in this one idea: the idea of awakening our interior self and attuning ourselves inwardly to the Holy Spirit, so that we will be able to respond to his grace. In mental prayer, over the years, we must allow our interior perceptivity to be refined and purified. We must attune ourselves to unexpected movements of grace, which do not fit our own preconceived ideas of the spiritual life at all, and which in no way flatter our own ambitious aspirations.

We must be ready to cooperate not only with graces that console, but with graces that humiliate us. Not only with lights that exalt us, but with lights that blast our self-complacency. Much of our coldness and dryness in prayer may well be a kind of unconscious defense against grace.” (Merton, Seeds, 79-80)

Meditation goes hand and hand with prayer.

Meditation is thinking in the presence of God.

Prayer is both speaking and listening in the presence of God.

The thinking part of meditation is what Merton calls “attuning ourselves inwardly.” When we practice Christian meditation we are using the power of mind and will to lead our own hearts to the God, to remind our stubborn, distracted selves that there is a God and he is near. This practice puts us in a place where we can respond to the grace of God. Merton reminds us to be prepared to respond (and cooperate) with BOTH graces that console AND graces that humiliate.

I hate the grace that humiliates.

I need the grace that humiliates.

When my heart is misaligned, when my heart overflows with pride, when my wondering mind is distracted, I need a grace that humbles. The beauty of the work of the Holy Spirit is he both humbles and comforts; he both convicts and encourages. The same grace that humiliates is the grace that consoles.

Thanks Merton, for the reminder.

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Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Life, Theology


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