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Meditation Made Easy
By James Van Vurst, O.F.M.
Many of us who are intimidated by the idea of meditating donít realize that weíre already doing it.

Q U I C K S C A N

Human Nature
Revealed Word of God
Life-changing Adventures
Time and Place
Three Simple Steps
Buried Treasure


PHOTO BY HAMMOND HSN/DESIGN PICS

IF YOU WERE TO ASK ordinary Catholics whether they ever meditate, I suspect they might say something like, ďHardly. Who do you think I am? Iím no nun or monk. I say my prayers; you know, the usual ones Iíve said all my life. I pray the Rosary. I even follow along in the missalette on Sundays, when the priest is offering the Mass prayers. But meditation? That sounds much too advanced for me. I really wouldnít know where to start.Ē

If these thoughts reflect your own, I have a surprise for you. Whether you realize it or not, you have probably meditated every day of your life. In fact, you have engaged in contemplation more than you think. Strange as it may sound, all human beings meditate and even contemplate, regardless of what their beliefs are or the kind of lives they live.

Human Nature

Let me explain what I mean by meditation and contemplation. One of the unique aspects of our human natureóthe way God made usóis that we have the power to reflect upon ourselves and our persons. In a way of speaking, we can step outside ourselves and think about who we are.

This is much more significant than just looking in a mirror and seeing ourselves. Reflecting about who we are, what we believe, our goals in life and so much more is the result of being made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26).

Animals cannot do that. Granted, seeing-eye dogs truly amaze us because of their ability to learn complicated tasks, be alert to danger signs and so much more. These wonderful animals allow blind people to get around, not just in the home but also almost anywhere in public. Some dogs assist wheelchair-using individuals and enable them to live full lives.

But only humans can reflect, consider and think about themselves. This kind of reflection is actually what we do in meditation. Meditation is part of who we are as human beings.

Consider a couple of examples: A mother thinks about what to prepare for her familyís supper. Itís a special occasion: One of her sons has been chosen captain for his eighth-grade basketball team. The family is rightly proud for him. And so this woman plans her familyís supper, even as she imagines in her mind what would fit this special day.

She sees herself preparing her sonís favorite food. She visualizes the table with her family sitting around it. Everyone is enjoying the meal and talking about her sonís new leadership position. In fact, she might even feel a kind of motherly thrill as she imagines them giving her looks of approval for the meal and asking for seconds all around. And her surprise dessert is still to come. All of this happens in her mind and imagination, even before she actually begins preparing the meal.

Another example would be a young couple contemplating marriage: Notice that word contemplate. Each one of them is doing some serious reflection on what the future holds for them as a couple.

When they were first dating, they were not sure that marriage was in the offing. But once they fell in love and began to consider marriage, they began to reflect, think and, yes, meditate on their lives together in ways they had not done before. They try to imagine how their personalities and values will mesh with their goals, attitudes toward work, finances, future children and even the in-laws.

The truth is that we all reflect about people, issues and situations that are important to us.

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Revealed Word of God

The meditation I am speaking about is centered on things of a religious nature, for example, God, Jesus Christ, our relationship to God and others.

Thereís no question that the greatest and most available source of material for meditation is the Scriptures, the revealed Word of God. We are particularly blessed to have the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Why? Because the Gospels reveal to us Jesus Christ, the Word of God in the flesh, who had a human nature and walked on this earth seeking his fatherís will in all things (see Philippians 2:6ff).

Imagine! Meditation does not require us to study heavy theological tomes or complicated mystical formulas that only a religious genius might tackle. Instead, consider the person of Jesus: his words, the stories he told and many of the events that occurred in his life.

Add to that the people who were touched by Jesus and the people who touched his life: That gives us a lifetime supply of material for reflection and meditation.

Life-changing Adventures

You might wonder about the relevance of Gospels that are 2,000 years old. Arenít they about people from a different culture who spoke a foreign language and had unfamiliar customs and attitudes?

Actually, human nature is the same, no matter how different the times, cultures, languages or customs might be. Love is love in any language and in any era. Hate is hate, sadness is sadness and faith is faith.

People have always wept and mourned for their deceased loved ones: They always will. Sickness and pain are the same for all people; it doesnít matter when or where it is experienced. This means that we can relate to Jesus and the people he met in the Gospels because we all share that same humanity.

There are dozens of events, parables, stories and sermons in the Gospels. We know many of them, at least in part, from hearing them so often. These stories and events are not at all boring. Rather, they are dramatic and often life-changing adventures.

For example, who doesnít know at least the basic outline of the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)? Most people list this as one of their favorite parables.

What about the dramatic incident in Johnís Gospel about the religious leaders dragging a woman caught in adultery before a large crowd of angry people who seem to be waiting for the signal to stone her to death (8:1-11)? For a moment, it appears her life is about to end. Then Jesus comes to her defense and the tables are turned on the accusers.

Picture the scene at Mt. Calvary, where Mary Magdalene and the apostle John stand by Jesusí mother, Mary, to support her and console her as they witness the terrible suffering and death of Jesus (John 19:17-30).

If you have a Bible, or even a New Testament, you have the Gospels right before you.

There are 35 miracle stories recorded in the four Gospels, and 25 of them deal with healings and cures by Jesus. There are 30 parables in the Gospels. Although some of them are difficult to understand fully, many of them are very clear, such as the Good Samaritan, the Rich Fool, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

Time and Place

Some people may think they need at least a half hour in which to meditate: Not at all.

A fruitful meditation may not require more than a few minutes. Five or 10 minutes could easily provide enough time to meditate, especially when just beginning this practice.

The time it takes to say a Rosary would also be more than sufficient for meditation. As the practice of meditation develops over time, you may find you need more time than you thought you could ever use.

Naturally, you need a quiet place or setting where you are alone, with no interruptions, although you canít always control those things. You certainly need not be in a church or a chapel. A couch in the living room, an easy chair in the family room or a rocker on the front or back porch are very appropriate settings for meditation.

Three Simple Steps

Letís look at three simple steps involved in meditation: read, reflect and pray.

1. Read

Material or ideas for meditation can be a biblical event, story or parable. Some people like to take a few minutes when they are free to skim through one of the Gospels, simply marking short sections that contain an interesting event or a story for later reference.

The Gospel of Mark is loaded with brief accounts of healings and cures. Matthew has lots of Jesusí sermons. And Lukeís Gospel has some of the most popular parables.

Once you find something that appeals to you or attracts your attention, read that selection. It is important to read it slowly and thoughtfully. Speed is not in any way part of meditation.

In fact, read it several times and even read it softly out loud to yourself. If you hear what you are reading, you will find that the material is much more impressed on your mind and imagination. Remember, it need not be a long passage that you read.

For the purpose of illustration, letís use the incident in Luke concerning the journey of the Holy Family to Bethlehem (2:1-7). Caesar Augustus has issued a decree that all people living in the Roman Empire must be registered. This means, of course, that Joseph, a descendant of the house of David, and Mary, Josephís wife, will have to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Thatís a distance of more than 80 difficult miles.

We know that Mary is well along in her pregnancy. We donít know if Mary was riding a donkey, but it is a common image weíve seen all our lives. It is perfectly all right to use your imagination and to add to the scene you are contemplating.

At the end of the journey, we know that Mary gives birth to her firstborn son, Jesus. Lukeís account is just seven verses long. But there is a great deal of imagery and information in that short passage. Mary herself is just a young girl of 14 or 15. Joseph, her husband and protector, is walking beside her. And of course, Mary is carrying within her body the Word of God made flesh: Jesus, the Messiah. Thatís all there is to gathering the basic story of this Gospel event.

2. Reflect

In the second step in this meditation, you actively enter this scene with your mind and imagination. Our imagination is a most wonderful faculty of our human nature. It is where great art, music and inventions originate.

For example, you can vividly picture in your mind Mary riding on the donkey, with Joseph walking by her side along a rugged road. They will look just as you imagine. After all, this is your meditation.

If, by chance, you happen to have seen the beautiful movie The Nativity Story, you might have powerful mental images of the Holy Family making their way toward Bethlehem through Jerusalem.

But when reflecting, you are not just observing this young husband and wife. In your mind and imagination, you actually join them on the walk. In your imagination, you enter the scene.

Look at Mary and Joseph. Become aware of Maryís discomfort being so far along in her pregnancy. Notice the look on Josephís face, his care and concern for his wife and for her unborn childís safety. He is as worried as any loving husband would be!

What do you imagine them saying to one another? What would this young couple be talking about? Listen with your heart to their words.

There is still more that you can do: You too can walk beside Mary while you talk to her and Joseph. What would you want to say to Mary? Would you tell her how much you admire her for her great courage in accepting the call given to her by God in her role as mother of the Messiah? What does she say to you? Does she thank you for being by her side?

What would you say to Joseph, who is so caring and protective of his wife? Would he say anything to you?

You may be surprised at the exchange of words between yourself and this Holy Family. It may be that not many words are spoken between you and the couple; perhaps it is just being there with them, walking with them, expressing your love and gratitude to them.

Take another example. It is not difficult to imagine being with the poor woman caught in adultery in Johnís Gospel (8:1-11), Could you talk with her, assuring her of Jesusí protection? Watch her as she realizes that Jesus is not going to condemn her. Rather, he will free her from the crowd, as well as from her own sins and despair.

How many times has Jesus come to us to pick us up after a fall and reassure us of his unconditional love? Imagine yourself at the Crucifixion: You are by the cross with Mary. You see the tragedy, the injustice, the hate directed at Jesus.

In your mind, you are there. You see and hear all the sounds, shouting and anger directed at this poor, innocent Savior. What must it be like for a mother to witness such a violent and unjust death for her innocent son? We realize that Jesus died for each of us.

This is a key part of meditation: reflecting in your mind on what you see in the incident you just read from Scripture. You enter the scene and become part of it.

3. Pray

If you stopped after the second step, you would not have completed your meditation. It might have been a wonderful religious experience, even with considerable emotions and sentiments involved. But there is something essential that should flow from this reflective meditation: What did this reflection mean to you? What can you draw from it?

For example, in the journey scene of Mary and Joseph, you could thank the Lord for the opportunity to be able to walk with Mary and Joseph and the unborn Jesus to understand a little of their own fears, concerns and worries on their journey to Bethlehem.

You might thank God for how privileged you are to have been given the gift of faith to believe that such an event took place.

You might be drawn to reflect on your own journey and how you may need to be more courageous in facing some unpleasant circumstance in your life, having now realized what Mary and Joseph faced in theirs.

You might well come to realize that Mary and Joseph can and do accompany you on your journey as well.

Every time you receive the Eucharist, you too carry the Lord within you. What a privilege to be able to experience something of what Mary experienced!

You might be drawn to pray for pregnant women worldwide and pray especially for women contemplating having an abortion.

This third step is a chance to make several resolutions that result from what you have read and reflected on.

Buried Treasure

Hopefully, you now understand that meditation is not something thatís beyond your ability. Discover what good can come from reflecting and meditating on those events and people we read about in the Gospels. Those Gospels provide us with a field of marvelous buried treasure which we can bring to life within our own hearts.

Keep your Bible handy in a quiet place to remind yourself how easy it is to meditate.


James Van Vurst, O.F.M., has written articles for this magazine and others. In addition to being spiritual assistant for a federation of Poor Clare monasteries and a columnist for Friar Jackís E-spirations, he enjoys golf and watercolor painting.

 


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