Friday, April 16, 2010

Meditative reading, meditation and conversation with God - excerpts from 'Divine intimacy'

And he was gone forth to meditate in the field, the day being now well spent (Genesis 24:63)
Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence. But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree which is planted near the running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit, in due season. And his leaf shall not fall off: and all whatsoever he shall do shall prosper. Not so the wicked, not so: but like the dust, which the wind driveth from the face of the earth. Therefore the wicked shall not rise again in judgment: nor sinners in the council of the just. For the Lord knoweth the way of the just: and the way of the wicked shall perish. (Ps 1:1-6)
Give ear, O Lord, to my words, understand my cry. (Ps 5:1)
Be still and see that I am God (Psalm 45:11)
Let not the book of this law depart from thy mouth: but thou shalt meditate on it day and night, that thou mayst observe and do all things that are written in it: then shalt thou direct thy way, and understand it. Behold I command thee, take courage, and be strong. Fear not and be not dismayed: because the Lord thy God is with thee in all things whatsoever thou shalt go to. (Josue 1:8,9)
Meditate upon these things, be wholly in these things: that thy profiting may be manifest to all. (1 Tim 4:15)

The simplest way of conversing with God is the vocal prayer, but as the soul progresses in the spiritual life, it is natural for it to feel the need of a more interior prayer and so it spontaneously turns toward mental prayer. For some souls, no difficulty is experienced in recollection in God, however, there are souls that suffer from continual wanderings of the mind, in which "they go here and there, and are always upset, whether the fault is in their own nature, or whether God permits it" (St Teresa "Way of Perfection" 19). These souls are tempted to give up mental prayer, but St Teresa insists that reading devout book "will be a great help to recollection; let them read, therefore, even if only a little, but let them read" (Life, 4). St Therese, who suffered from aridity, often used this method. "In my helplessness," she says, "the Holy Scriptures and the Imitation (of Christ) are of the greatest assistance....It is from the Gospels, however, that I derive most help in the time of prayer; I find in their pages all that my poor soul needs, and I am always discovering there new lights and hidden, mysterious meanings (St Therese, Story of a Soul).

"O Lord, teach me how to seek You! Do not hide from my eyes, for I need to find You, to converse with You, to approach You, O infinite Love, to be inflamed and attracted by You" (St Peter of Alcantara)

St John of the Cross says: "The end of meditation and mental consideration of divine things is to obtain some knowledge and love of God" (Ascend 2:14). The purpose of it is to rest on "loving knowledge" which has its support in thought that is affectionate, permeated with love, and that surges from a loving heart. When we love a person we come to know him intuitively, better and more easily than those who might study him more minutely, but without love. St Teresa of Jesus speaks about prayer that consists "not in thinking much but in loving much" (Interior Castle 4:1), for thought is always subordinated to love. While we do think during meditation, our purpose is not to become more learned, but to increase our ability to love God more. Consequently, the work of the mind will be orientated especially to the realization of God's love for us; and this, by reflection on the various manifestations of infinite love. Mental prayer is an intimate conversation with God and although it is true that God is always present to us, but it is we who are not always present to Him. Therefore it is important we establish contact with Our Lord, and place ourselves near Him, by a conscious realization of His presence. We can do this for example by considering the Most Holy Trinity dwelling in our heart, or by drawing near to Jesus present in the tabernacle, or perhaps by picturing to ourselves interiorly some episode in the life or the Passion of our Saviour. Thus in the presence of God and beneath His gaze, we read the point of the meditation tranquilly, and reflect upon it calmly and gently, not as if reasoning with ourselves, but rather as if speaking to God in whose presence we are. The more the soul becomes accustomed to this way of reflecting, that is, treating and developing the subject of our meditation with God, the more quickly will this method attain its end, which is to enable the soul to converse with the Lord, to speak affectionately with Him as a son or daughter speaks with its father, as a friend with a friend. 
"Teach me, O Lord, how to meditate; teach me to pray, for I can do neither the one nor the other as I should, and You alone can teach me. Give me ears to hear You in the reading and in the meditation; inspire me with Your divine Spirit, so that He may enable me to know the subject on which I should reflect, what I should say and ask, and how I should ask in order to obtain it...Inspire me, O Lord, with a great love for Your divine truth and doctrines, so that when I read of them, I shall understand and relish them. Open my mind and my hearth; make me faithfully believe what You teach and practice what You command" (an ancient author)

Meditation, like meditative reading, is a means to attain to the heart of prayer which, according to St Teresa of Jesus, is 'nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse with Him who we know loves us' (Life, 8). it makes no difference whether we attain this end by means of meditation, or reading, or even by the slow, pious recitation of a vocal prayer. All these ways are good; the best for each one, however, will be that which will lead the soul more quickly to the end, that is to intimate converse with God, which is the heart of prayer. Once reached, we must learn how to persevere in it, in other words, to converse 'in friendly intercourse with the Lord'. Here, likewise, the manner will differ according to one's attraction and personal dispositions, which will often vary with the days and circumstances.
We must not believe that in order to treat intimately with God and to show Him our love, it is always necessary to do so by means of words. On the contrary - and this happens spontaneously with progress in the spiritual life - we will often prefer to be silent in order to fix our gaze calmly on the Lord, to listen to Him, the interior Master, and to return Him love in silence. The manifestation of our love thus becomes less lively and impetuous, but it gains in depth what it loves in emotion and outward appearance. We express our love more tranquilly, but the movement of our will toward God is much firmer  and more serious. Leaving aside reasoning and words, we concentrate all in a loving, intuitive look on God, and this gaze , far more than reasonings and colloquies, allows us to penetrate the depths of the divine mysteries. But let us repeat, this is not a speculative look, but a look of love which keeps the soul in intimate contact with God, in a real friendship with Him. The soul will not always be able to continue long in this contemplative look, this silent colloquy; now and again it will need to come back to reflection, to the verbal experience of its thoughts - it will be well for to do so rather often, in order to avoid vagueness and distractions. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that more is gained in these silent pauses at the feet of Our Lord than in a thousand reasonings and discourses.

'O Lord, You say to my soul, 'My kingdom is within you'  It is very comforting to know that You never leave me, and that I cannot exist without you. What more do you want, O my soul , and what do you seek elsewhere, since you possess within yourself your wealth, your love, your peace, your plenitude, and your kingdom, that is, the Beloved whom you desire and for whom you sigh? (John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle 1: 7,8)

St Teresa of Jesus recommends to interior souls another kind of prayer, much simpler and more profitable - the prayer of recollection. The foundation of this prayer is the divine presence in our souls: the presence of immensity, by which God is in us as Creator and Preserver in so real and essential manner that "in Him we live, and move, and are" (Acts 17:28), so that if He ceased to be present in us, we should cease to exist; the presence of friendship, by which in a soul in the state of grace, God is present as a Father, as a Friend and as a sweet Guest, who invites that soul to dwell with the three divine Persons: with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is the consoling promise of Jesus to the soul who loves Him: "If anyone love Me...My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make our abode with him" (Jn 14:23). Therefore, the prayer of recollection consists in the realization of this great truth: God is in me, my soul is His temple; I recollect myself in the intimacy of this temple to adore Him, love Him, and unite myself to Him. "O soul, most beautiful of all creatures," exclaims St John of the Cross, "that so greatly desireth to know the place where your Beloved is, in order to seek Him and be united with is a matter of great contentment and joy for you to see that He is so near you as to be within you. Rejoice and be glad in your inward recollection with Him, since you have Him so near. There desire Him, there adore Him, and do not go to seek Him outside yourself" (Spiritual Canticle 1:7,8). The soul who has the sense of the presence of God within it, possesses one of the most efficacious means of making prayer. "Do you believe," says St Teresa of Jesus, "that it is of little importance for a soul who is easily distracted, to understand this truth [that God is in it] and to know that, in order to speak with its heavenly Father and to enjoy His company, it does not have to go up to heaven or even to raise its voice? No matter how softly it speaks, He always hears it, because he is so near. It does not need wings to go to contemplate Him in itself." (Way of Perfection, 28). St Teresa also notes, that the prayer of recollection, which is the highest of the active forms of prayer, can be practiced by ourselves depending on our volition, for unlike a passive recollection that can only be produced by divine motion, the prayer of recollection is not a supernatural state, we can enter it by the help of God's grace of our own accord (Way of Perfection, 29).
St Teresa gives us also some practical hints how to practice of this kind of prayer: "The soul collects together [by a resolute act of will] all its faculties [the senses, imagination and intellect, which naturally tend toward exterior things] and enters within itself to be with its God" (Way, 28). The exercise of concentration on the interior things - the little heaven of the soul where the Blessed Trinity dwells - requires from the soul some effort and energy in the beginning. However, the Saint teaches, "let the soul try to cultivate the habit, despite the fatique entailed in recollecting itself and overcoming the body which is trying to reclaim its rights." Step by step, "as a reward for the violence which it has previously done to itself" (Way, 28), recollection will become easy and delightful; the senses will obey promptly, and even if the soul is not entirely free from distractions, it will not be so hard to overcome them. In this way, the soul will be able to concentrate entirely on God present within the soul, and there at His feet will be able to converse with Him to our heart's delight, and certainly, it will not be difficult to spend even the whole time of prayer in acts of faith, love and adoration, admiring and contemplating the great mystery of the indwelling of the Trinity in our poor heart, and offering our humble homage to the three divine Persons. We can also use other practices: "Hidden there within our soul, we can think about the Passion, and picture the Son, and offer Him to the Father, without tiring the mind by going to seek Him on Mount Calvary, or in the Garden, or at the Column"; or else, more simply, we can "speak with Him as with a Father, a Brother, a Lord, and a Spouse - sometimes in one way, sometimes in another...we can tell Him our troubles, beg Him to put them right, and yet realize that we are not worthy to be called His child" (Way, 28). The Saint concludes in these words: "Those who are able to shut themselves up in this way within this little heaven of the soul, where dwells the Maker of heaven and earth...may be sure that they are walking on an excellent road and will come without fail to drink of the water of the fountain" (Way, 28). 

"O my God, You are in me and I am in You. I have found my heaven on earth, since heaven is You, O Lord, and You are in my soul. I can find You there always; even when I do not feel Your presence, You are there nevertheless, and I like to seek You there. Oh! if only I could never leave You alone!" (St Elizabeth of the Trinity 'Letters')
"O Lord, You say to my soul, "My kingdom is within you." It is very comforting to know that You never leave me, and that I cannot exist without You. What more do you want, O my soul, and what do you seek elsewhere, since you possess within yourself your wealth, your love, your peace, your plenitude, and your kingdom, that is, the Beloved whom you desire and for whom you sigh?" (St John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle, 1:7,8)