The Latin word mediato means I think, so strictly speaking meditation is thinking, but in the religious context it denotes thinking in a reflective way about religion. All religions have their own meditation tradition, but in recent years the image of meditation common in the West has been drawn from Eastern faiths. Hinduism and Zen Buddhism have been a major source of this Eastern image. Hindusim has given us the idea of a person contemplating the sacred slyllable om, whereas Zen Buddhism has given us the koan, the practice of reflecting on a question with no rational anwer, such as what is the sound of one hand clapping. It is clear that each religion has its own meditation tradition tradition that distinguishes it from other religions. I intend to outline the Christian meditation tradition tradition here.
In Christianity meditation involves finding a quiet place, but it does not end there. It is a way of drawing closer to God by thinking on him [I use the masculine pronoun here by necessity not because I think that God is male.] Meditation is a way of approaching communion with God. The Christian ideal is to enter into this communion, which is a union of distinct beings in love, as opposed to some Eastern ideals where you attempt to lose your individuality in unity with the divine.
The Jesus prayer originating in the Orthodox church but now used across Christianity is the practice of repeating the name Jesus until he completely fills your mind and and heart. This has proved popualr and successful with orthodox monks, and many find it a useful means of prayer.
In the Western, Catholic tradition there are several methods.One that is found useful is to take a prayer, such as the Lord's prayer, and reflect on it line by line. Sometimes people do this with a hymn. Having a prayer with a set text takes the strain off an individual's imagination, which is useful because you can dry up when praying. Others take a scene from the Scriptures and reflect on it.This may be the crucifixion or the resurrection, or one of Jesus' healing miracles. Using a picture to support this is found useful by some worshippers. Others may read a Bible passage and then reflect on it.
Yet there are higher states of prayer than meditation. The higher state is contemplative prayer. This is an attempt to focus on the divine presence and communicate with God. The contemplative is aware of the divine presence, to varying degrees of intensity, and enters into close communion with him. Contemplation is a profound means of prayer. It cannot be easily accessed and it is something to which a worshipper must rise over time. It is linked to the prayer of silence, when a person ignores words and simply focuses on the presence or idea of God. Those who enter these higher realms sometimes require spiritual support from experienced spiritual guides, as there can be ups and downs and spiritual difficulties that are better not faced alone.
The christian meditation tradition has not been as well proclaimed as it might have been and has been overlooked in the last few years for more fashionable eastern ways, but my aim here is to help readers become familiar with its outlines
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