I have learnt the value of reading Christian material from denominations and streams other than the one I was brought up in. This excellent one is from the Roman Catholic stable. It is
Contemplative Meditation by Matthew McGettrick ODC (Catholic Truth Society, 2001)
and is a short, 40-page booklet.
There is huge interest in ‘meditation’ these days in society at large. Some explore ‘mindfulness’, while others experiment with Hindu or Buddhist variations. But Christianity has a noble contemplative tradition, and many Christians today are finding that the normal routines of church and Christian activity, including their received patterns of prayer, while fine in themselves, leave a void which only some form of ‘contemplation’ can fill.
Fr Matthew introduces us to the practice of laying aside the chattering of our thoughts in order to just ‘be’ in the presence of God in his infinite greatness. I used to think that ‘emptying the mind’—a key step in that direction—was a dangerous thing that might invite sinister elements to take over. I no longer hold that view. Instead, I have found it immensely helpful to dismiss thoughts with the aim of ‘leaning into God’. It is what some call ‘centering prayer’.
The book is highly practical, with advice on how to deal with wandering thoughts, the value of a ‘mantra’, the practice of self-discipline and giving God priority in all we do. Anyone who has sought to draw ever nearer to a conscious awareness of God will recognise that the author has been treading the self-same contemplative path, and will find his insights and experience helpful.
If this is something new to you and you want to explore it, this little booklet might be a good place to start.
Here’s a selection of quotations, with page numbers.
[Re relaxing for meditation] Let thoughts come to your mind, let them wander in and wander out but do not lay hold of them. Let your mind gradually subside. This is something one ought to do particularly on going to bed at night. (p4)
As far as your thinking mind is concerned God means for you simply nothingness because He is the infinite, He is the unbounded, and so you reach out in your heart, in your will, beyond every distinct thought and every distinct mental picture and hold yourself in an attitude of attentiveness to the unbounded indescribable God. (p6)
The more you give [wandering thoughts] your attention in order to try to get rid of them the worse they get because you are focusing your attention on them and you are distracting yourself from your meditation. (p10)
Not only can a person use a phrase or a word for a mantra, he can also use a simple thought, so simple that it is not expressed in words, or only in very vague words. The thought, for example, of the presence of God. Just that God is here. God is all around you. God is within you. You are immersed in God. You are enveloped in God. (p11)
We are being attentive to nothing, to no thing, to nothing we can picture or describe because we are going beyond all that. We are being attentive to a Being that is beyond all thinking and beyond all picturing and therefore we do not try to think or picture, and whatever thoughts or pictures come into our mind we take absolutely no notice of them, we just reach out in love; peaceful, quiet and attentive. That is contemplative meditation. (p15)
We are not expecting anything to happen for the simple reason that everything is happening. God is working deep in our soul. (p15)
Through the light and strength that we get in meditation we become enabled to develop a similar harmony throughout the rest of our lives, a harmony by which we keep our attention focused on God and withdraw our selfish desires from everything else. (p18)
We must find time to give to God alone. Because if we don’t keep ourselves in contact with the source of all goodness, with the source of our being, then we shall not have within us what we should give to others. (p25)
Because now our selfish desires are very much under control, and because the Spirit of God has got full power in us, we live with the spontaneity that comes from the Holy Spirit. It is the freedom of the Spirit by which we are lifted up above our own selfishness, and we enjoy all the wonder of a life that is spontaneous and joyous in the power of the Spirit of God. That is what we aim at. (p30)
There is what you might call a force of gravity at work within ourselves, a spiritual weight, that makes us want to fall into the centre of our being, that makes us want to fall into the source of our being, into God, and this double element, God attracting us and our desiring to fall into God, develops in us a strong desire for God, to possess Him and to be possessed by Him. It is when we are in the quietness of contemplative meditation that this attraction exerts its power. (p32)
Sometimes in the silence of meditation God absorbs our entire attention, He draws us into complete inner silence, but that is God’s doing. It usually only lasts a short time, but for the most part our imagination wanders. (p34)
If there were no God life would not be worth living for anybody, but because there is God life is worth living for everybody regardless of what it is like because everything can be turned into a means of finding God. (p36)