Meditation is “probably one of the most misunderstood spiritual disciplines of our time,” says Fr. Matthew Spencer, host of St. Joseph’s Workshop. He’s not exactly sure why that is the case, but points to people wanting “enlightenment apart from obedience” or “trying to be spiritual without being religious”.
“I’m not sure, but I do know that deep down inside of my heart and inside of your heart, there is a desire for intimate communion with God. We were made for that—that is literally our destiny, at least if we are cooperating with God’s plan. Our destiny is intimate communion with him, and this is what heaven is all about—being face to face with God and witnessing him and being in such close communion with him that there’s nothing else we need or desire in life. Meditation is a discipline to get us to make our final destiny with God the priority of our life,” said Fr. Matthew.
There are lots of misconceptions when it comes to meditation—that you need to play a certain type of soothing music and sit cross-legged on the floor and breathe in a certain way. “Saint Teresa of Avila … in her book Interior Castle, describes the process of mediation, actually often called mental prayer, … as a contrast to prayer that is recited—to vocal prayer. But mental prayer is an exercise, essentially, in conversation with the Lord and in communion with him. Entering into a conversation with the Lord can be facilitated by posture, it can be aided by particular relaxation techniques, but these are not in and of themselves indicative of whether your meditation is good or not.”
“For Christians, meditation is fundamentally an encounter with Christ, it is fundamentally a conversation with Jesus.” Jesus must be at the center of our meditation, or it is not Christian meditation. Fr. Matthew explained that St. Teresa cautioned “against the sense that mental prayer is an intellectual pursuit—be it to empty the mind or to penetrate some deeper mysteries or be it to have some intellectual experience. She would say that it should lead us and its roots are found in resignation to the will of God.” When we reach that surrender and submission, we find peace and clarity in our lives.
This might be less appealing than new age practices that promise some sort of supernatural experience or perfect harmony in one’s life, but that’s not what our meditation as Christians seeks. Catechism 2705 states, “Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain.” It continues in 2708: “Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ.”