August 19, 2011

Meditation - part I

 My daughter is a licensed acupuncturist and as part of her practice she often encourages patients to engage in some type of meditation. Meditation helps to reduce stress, anxiety and tensions in the body. It also helps clear the mind and allows one to focus better. It has been part of traditional Chinese medicine and Oriental spirituality for thousands of years.  There are many different types of meditation and beginning in the 1960's engaging in some sort of meditation has become very popular in the West.  Yoga and Tai Chi, physical exercises that often produce the same effects as meditation are growing in popularity. Within two miles of my home, I can find several places that offer some sort of meditation or meditative exercise to stressed out people in need of a way to relieve the stresses in their lives, and clear their minds. There are even Catholic retreat centers that offer Zen meditation, Yoga or Tai Chi as part of their spiritual programs, and there are Catholics who have written about the benefits of these practices both physically and spiritually.  But there are other Catholic writers who have warned against them saying that they open those who practice it up to the occult. One has to be careful when dealing with the spiritual life and that our focus always remains with God.

The Church encourages a form of meditation that is often overlooked by those seeking stillness, silence, and a way to connect with God. That practice is prayer.  Too often when people think of prayer they only focus on formal or vocal types of prayer, going to Mass and devotions, praying from prayer books, and reciting rote prayers. A traditional definition of prayer is lifting of our minds and hearts to God. What better way than to sit in silent meditation before Him who created us, and simply BE in His presence.  At his Wednesday audience on August 17, Pope Benedict XVI spoke on the need for meditation and silence in our lives.  In part the Pope said:
"In our own time, we are absorbed with so many activities and commitments, concerns and problems. Often, we tend to fill up all the spaces of the day, without having a moment to stop and reflect and to nourish our spiritual life -- our contact with God. Mary teaches us how necessary it is to find in our days -- with all its activities -- moments to recollect ourselves in silence and to ponder all that the Lord wants to teach us, how He is present and acts in the world and in our life: to be able to stop for a moment and meditate. St. Augustine likens meditation on the mysteries of God to the assimilation of food, and he uses a word that recurs throughout the Christian tradition: "ruminate." The mysteries of God should continually resound within us so that they might become familiar to us, guide our life, and nourish us as happens with the food that is necessary to sustain us. And St. Bonaventure, referring to the words of sacred Scripture, says that they "should always be ruminated on so as to be kept in mind by the ardent application of the soul" 

There are so many ways that we Catholics can practice meditation and once the practice takes root, most find that it produces many of the same physical, psychological effects as other forms of meditation.  The spiritual effects go beyond words. The important thing is to spend the time in silence, invite God in, and let Him take over.  For this to happen, we need to find a quiet place.  For me it is usually in church, or at the beach, or in my summer garden.  In these place I can find the peace and quiet that I need to focus my thoughts and my heart on God.  While it is true that we should always have our Our Lord in our hearts and in our minds, I find that it is through meditation that I make that special connection that allows God to speak to me and to work toward union with Him.  

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