The breath of life

From time to time I read about the grand mystics like Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. And I have a picture in my mind of these great souls sitting quietly while the Holy Spirit fills them. The are no words, no prayers – just an openness to the divine presence. But I am a poor meditator and so I need help. I would like you very much to share your experiences of meditation on the Blog – whether you are an incompetent like me, or whether you have made some real progress.

The matter is in my mind because the Radio 4 programme ‘Something Understood’ discussed the question of breath last Sunday. You may have heard it, and it is still available on the Internet. The concept of breath is relevant because it is really the same word as spirit or ghost, and so has at least a verbal connection with the Holy Spirit. And maybe a deeper connection than that.

An expert in probability (John Allen Paulos) calculated that the odds of us inhaling molecules of the last breath of Julius Caesar, when he was assassinated, are better than 99 percent. So breath is something that literally connects us to each other, and all the time.

The programme discussed breath as the taking inside of something from the outside, holding it inside to take life from it, and then returning it to the outside. Our first breath is when we are born, and our last is as we die. A Yoga instructor described it as a sort of cleansing process: yoga breathing helps us to recognise how we are conditioned and so enables us to see how we really are. We, so to speak, come to terms with ourselves. He suggested that the common emphasis in Yoga on physical movement and postures was really beside the point; breathing is at the centre. And, even more importantly, the pauses between breathing – through which we exercise control, and so deepen our awareness.

I have never practised Yoga but this does make sense to me because I regularly use ‘mindfulness meditation’ which puts emphasis on breathing as the quiet place which gives us refuge from our whirling minds. I am confident that these periods during which I become more fully aware of myself are very beneficial, and certainly help to control worries and regrets which might otherwise invade my psyche.

But there is nothing spiritual about these; they appear to me to be only psychological. I am by nature a very verbal person and I cannot see a connection between the necessary silence of such meditation and God. I realise that I must be mistaken about this, but I need an explanation. Or is there no explanation?

So if you are able to use spiritual meditation I would like to know about it. Equally, I would like to know about those who share my problems. I would even like to hear from those who think the whole thing to be a waste of time.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Quentin queries, Scripture, Spirituality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

91 Responses to The breath of life

  1. Brendan says:

    I’ ll just start this off Quentin by agreeing with you ; there is nothing spiritual about ‘ advanced ‘ breathing techniques as a prelude to ” resting in God .” – The Logos . At best it is neurological in its use and is beneficial to ‘ the body ‘ in a psychological sense ; it may reach the ‘ metaphysical ‘ , but it is not ‘ GOD ‘ you reach but some reflection of your ‘ inner ‘ self ….. whatever that may be. From the 60’s on wards ( largely due to people like The Beatles ) Eastern methods of ‘ finding oneself ‘ practicing methods like yoga and transcendental meditation became vogue . Even Thomas Merton the Trappist Monk with his penchant for mixing eastern with western spirituality , beckoned a curious West into this milieu of ‘ spirituality. In short ,I do not see any union between the recorded tradition of Christian mysticism in the West and the worlds great Eastern religions.
    I was introduced to a meditative practice called Centreing Prayer ( in the early 80’s ) made popular by the English Trappist monk , Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O. . He based it on an anonymous book of mystical spirituality called ” The Cloud of Unknowing ” , of the 14th century. It would seem that St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross were heirs to this tradition – although few can emulate the heights of their success in ‘ knowing God . ‘ It has nothing to do with concentrating on a measured breath , but on the quietism ( not theological ) induced by measured breath while on ones prayer-journey ,and the encounter with the Other ,called ‘ resting in God. ‘ This way of praying is truly Christian in its form and end ; and reflects the nature of The Holy Trinity as one opens oneself to the Living God in ones very being..
    I’ll leave it at that for the moment to allow comments and perhaps for someone to describe its use – while I collect my thoughts. It is not an easy thing to comprehend or even explain ; but I have found it beneficial in my faith- journey to God.

  2. John Candido says:

    Saint Padre Pio referred to meditation as, ‘Through the study of books one seeks God; by meditation one finds him.’

    He also said that,

    ‘The person who meditates and turns his mind to God, who is the mirror of his soul, seeks to know his faults, tries to correct them, moderates his impulses, and puts his conscience in order.’

    You have to ask if what Padre Pio meant by ‘meditation’ is the same as ‘mindfulness meditation’ which is what we are discussing today. I don’t think that Pio practiced mindfulness meditation formally and as we know about it today. As someone who prayed the rosary, said the mass daily, lived in a Franciscan monastery and prayed constantly; these things would have brought his mind to experience stillness and mindfulness anyway.

    As ‘mindfulness meditation’ or ‘Christian meditation’ has been practiced by monks and nuns for centuries, it matters little. If you go by what Padre Pio says about meditation; that should tell you that it can assist you with your spiritual life. Other quotations that are useful are,

    ‘Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to God’s heart. You must speak to Jesus not only with your lips, but with your heart. In fact on certain occasions you should only speak to Him with your heart.’

    Speaking with ‘your heart’ is similar to mindfulness meditation. He died in 1968 and it is worth noting that Pio was a very conservative figure. There is nothing new-age or trendy about Pio! Especially when you read this,

    ‘The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self; there is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.’

    Or these two quotes,

    ‘The longer the trial to which God subjects you, the greater the goodness in comforting you during the time of the trial and in the exaltation after the combat.’

    ‘The most beautiful act of faith is the one made in darkness, in sacrifice, and with extreme effort.’

    Suffering and effort cannot be avoided.

  3. Brendan says:

    Thank you for those quotes John Candido . The experience of the .. ‘ dark night of the soul ‘.. not in a therapeutic/ psycological sense ( although the two maybe connected in some way ) , but in the mystical sense as a prelude to purging oneself of self- delusions in ‘ finding God ‘ as described by the great mystics.

  4. Quentin says:

    I am finding these descriptions of meditation very helpful. and I look forward to further discussion. including some from those who have found it difficult and have, perhaps, abandoned the practice.

    • St.Joseph says:

      The homily this morning at Mass was about clogging our minds up and the necessity to unclog them from time to time, alllowing time with the Lord. in our hearts.
      .
      Thank you John for those quotes of St Pio. he was the cause of my late husbands conversion.during our visit to his Cannonisation One of St Padre Pio’s famous quote is
      ‘Pray, Hope and Dont Worry!. It is written on my husbands Headstone.

      It is difficult for young people to meditate unless they are inclined to be religious, the 60s and onwards their minds have been filled with all sorts of media Rock Groups etc.
      It does not encourage minds to be open to meditation. as we know it.
      Families with young children who work have their mind on necessary obligations for their welfare and upbringing, and start looking for employment as soon as they go to nursery. school.
      Getting over those distractions. I think I can speak about meditation,and the difficulty I found with having a busy work lifestyle I didnt have much time to think only at daily Mass, , and Exposition, leading a Rosary Circle of Our Lady of Mount Carmal. Active in parish work.
      My mind used to be filled with thoughts and I had to go somewhere quiet to hide myself to write it down. It was very distressing for me at the time as for years I could not get these spiritual thoughts out of my head.I only kept one and that was pages and pages of verses for a hymn to St Joseph, to the music of Beethoven’s.:9the Symphony, (Ode to Joy) where my grandson typed it all up and presented me with it at Christmas, I was pleased I did not burn that! He has just left Canterbury Uni, He joked that he would ask the choir at Canterbury Cathedral to sing it.
      In the end I burnt ever single thousands of writings, and got a grip on myself. and knew what the Lord was asking me to do, (I expect you all know what that was!!)
      So there we are, my experience of meditation was restless for a better word.so I now since being a widow for 10 years find peace at Mass and in the Presence Of Jesus in the Eucharist. .Or else not thinking about anything,just a peaceful, comforting presence with The Lord. (Unless on the SS Blog of course.)
      I am going away with my family for a weeks stay in Devon tomorrow .
      I had very good results from the Consultant yesterday, Pancreas tumour and Liver have not spread, and I look so well they think it is’ amazing’! I thank you all for your prayers.
      I am taking my Kindle with me so I will look into the blog a little.as I wont be moving about much, just resting.

    • milliganp says:

      Quentin, I’m with you – I find meditation extremely difficult. However, is there a problem of definition – we need meditation to be something. I once stood on a mountain in Italy and surveyed “God’s grandeur”; sight, smell and sound and felt momentarily elevated. There is a poem of the same name by Manley-Hopkins who says:-

      Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
      And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
      And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
      Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

      But goes on:-
      And for all this, nature is never spent;

      Perhaps there is a spirituality of the lived life, being always sensitive to the divine spark in man and in man’s deeds. Some meet God on the mountain, some on the street.

      When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
      They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
      For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
      They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

      Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do, ‘
      And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
      The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
      And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.

  5. Horace says:

    The old idea that breathing, or its absence, is an indicator of life, or death, is not really very helpful. The concept that breath is “the taking inside of something from the outside, holding it inside to take life from it, and then returning it to the outside” while splendidly poetic is hardly relevant.

    When I was a Medical Student I spent a considerable time working in Casualty (today known as A&E) and one of the many things that I learnt was to listen to a patient breathing (something, I suspect, that few if any, doctors do today!). {For example; at its simplest – if the pause between breaths occurs after breathing in, then there is something wrong, if after breathing out, then all is well.}

    It is fairly obvious also that breathing, in the absence of physical activity, reflects mental activity. Meditation, obviously, does not require mental activity like composing a speech or poem, or understanding a concept like ‘original sin’ and indeed such activity would surely be incompatible with meditation proper.

    So ‘quiet breathing’ reflects a ‘quiet mind’ and therefore at least the appropriate milieu for ’spiritual meditation’.

  6. Iona says:

    St. Teresa of Avila said one can “find God among the pots and pans” in the kitchen just as well as in the chapel. She also said (I think it was she) that one shouldn’t worry about distractions in prayer (this applies just as much to meditative prayer as to verbal prayer) since every distraction gives one an opportunity to turn back to God.
    Yes, Quentin, I do try to meditate – or to pray meditatively – but far more days go by when I don’t even start than when I do. I am always very reluctant to start, and I think of all sorts of things that I’d “better” do first.

  7. Brendan says:

    For those who want to understand more about ‘ Centreing Prayer ‘ ; an organisation called Contemplative Outreach led by Father Thomas Keating ( online ) gives an explanation of the stages which this use of meditative prayer goes through, from meditation – contemplation – resting in God. By use of a spontaneous ‘ sacred word ‘ or short phrase throughout where necessary eg. My Jesus , mercy ; one centres oneself to accept but not fight against external distractions or inner thoughts / turbulence by repeating the sacred word to move to a ‘ resting in God ‘ experience , achieved through The Spirit of God … ” a loving attentiveness towards God. ” – Saint John of The Cross.
    This is just the ‘ mechanics ‘ of its use . It needs perseverance to move from need of Gods love to experiencing Gods total love ( resting in God ) I personally have not been successful on every occasion ; but even the contemplative stage produces positive results by ones ‘ closeness ‘ to God in strengthening ones faith, and fruits corresponding to leading a virtuous life. The total effect of centreing prayer is to carry His presence within you in daily life – for a short time at least. Perhaps only the great saints can testify to this disposition totally.
    While living in Gods moment ( where time is irrelevant ) — an hour of centreing prayer can seem but a few minutes. One can practice it in a quiet area comfortably sitting down upright on ones own or it may be conducive for ‘ begginers ‘ to form a circle in the presence of The Blessed Sacrament to quiet oneself before entering prayer. The key is a humble letting go of oneself ( the ego ).

  8. Ignatius says:

    This is a tricky subject to deal with. The seeds of confusion are sown early on in the thread when the word ‘meditate’ is used without constraint or definition. I’ve just had a quick flick through my copies of Teresa’s Interior Castle and John’s Dark night. As I thought, the word ‘meditation, is barely used, if at all. Most likely the same for Ignatius Of Loyola’s exercises. It is also a mistake to try and separate ‘natural’ and ‘neurological’ devices away from ‘spiritual’ methods. Since the human being is body soul and spirit inseperable, then there will be overlap simply because of what has been termed elsewhere ‘the structure of creation’
    Best to understand one or to things.
    Broadly speaking we use the term ‘meditation, to describe a conscious and deliberate attempt to quiet the mind from its monkey gibbering. We do this IN ORDER TO achieve some kind of end. We attempt meditation usually as a mental discipline to aid clarity or gain restful alertness so that we will feel better or find ourselves better equipped for a particular task. That task may be an overtly religious task such as lectio divina or it may be simply to improve our faculty at thinking, being simply present without mental clutter or even to improve at sport. The contemporary usage of meditation or ‘mindfulness’ generally sources its origins within Buddhist/Daoist practice since these routinely used the meditiative arts and the martial arts as devices for sharpening the alertness and awareness of the moment in order to gain an advantage in personal development.
    Pretty much anyone can have a go at these meditative arts. They require practise and may not suit all but if a person were to aim at 20 minutes per day of meditation then, barring neurological/ metabolic malfunction, most could do so after a month or so and find benefit. However temperament is a strong force and may disincline us to a particular way.
    The Christian mystics, as far as I can make out, were not remotely interested in meditation as above described. Theirs was the domain of contemplation, of desire, of will, of infused love; completely different. Yes there might be some overlap between mental alertness and the process of trying to sit for an hour in the presence of God but the focus is completely different. That is why Theresa was not remotely concerned with the emptying of the mind, she thought the attempt of emptying was a form of mutilation, I agree with her.

  9. Ignatius says:

    Having set out the shop a little I may venture my own experience. I began ‘meditation’ in the 60’s as a teenage wannabe hippie. I graduated over the years to Yoga and martial arts type breathing exercises becoming an instructor in Tai chi along the way. Then becoming a Christian I took eventually to contemplation, mainly of icons along with lectio divina meditations on scripture. All that accelerated rather when I became a catholic and began to spend long periods of time before the blessed sacrament which led me slowly into the understanding that the inner dynamic of contemplation is not quietist but fiery in nature. As to temperament and inclination I think its hard to categorise. My own tendency is towards attention deficit so, for me, the above practices were a way out of the torment of mental overactivity.
    These days my prayer life consists mainly of humming or quietly singing hymns! My job as an osteopath allows this and my patients seem to have become quite acclimatised to my near silent songing. This practice is, if you, like a kind of religious mindfulness which is comparatively easy to achieve but quite a delightful way of keeping ones mind fixed on God yet free to engage in daily life. I still of course have times of focussed prayer which involve a mixture of the daily office of morning/evening prayer and the office of readings. I find that if I want to spend an hour or so with God in the mornings then I have to allow myself say 10mins of spiritual reading (any text or book) a further 20 mins of liturgical prayers which I try to make meaningful by applying their meaning to my self. This is followed by a time of prayers for others and I personally find the divine mercy chaplet very helpful. I try also to spend 10-20 minutes or so in simple silent gazing at the divine mercy image with a lit candle before it. By all means pray some !! My own experience teaches me that drawing near to God is, at first very very hard work…this view chimes with the view of Teresa of Avilla’s discussion of the mansions of prayer. If you want to contemplate then the answer is perseverance until the desire for God overcomes ones resistant heart.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Ignatius.
      I find your posts very interesting and straight from your heart.
      I am wondering how your spiritual life is in unity with your married life.
      The reason I ask is that in my post above and when I was going through the stages of spiritual writings and, what bothered me most was the effect It could have on my marriage.. In other words my husband not being a catholic, I had to hide all that from him.
      It was like living’ two lives’In other words not to seem to be too catholic. apart from, going to Mass etc.etc etc;I suppose it helps to be both catholics!
      My husband in the last three years of his life, due to St Pio’s intervention I believe prepared him for death, as he became very contemplative and he seemed to understand with the Grace of God the depth of our faith and the reality of the Sacraments and became a catholic.Although he had been defending the faith for 40yrs.Looking back I seem to think he was defending the Catholic Church from New Age Creation Centered Spirituality Abortion Contraception and femenism etc.Only in his last three years did he realise there was more!

  10. Ignatius says:

    St Joseph,
    The desire of the heart for God is not specifically ‘Catholic’ but more a reflection of being human; this means it can be shared. My wife and I are both catholic so we do discuss stuff. We go for walks and sometimes lapse into a contemplative mode together. We spend time during holidays walking the beach and praying/praising God as seems fit. We do not pray together very much in the mornings or evenings in ordinary life simply because we don’t get to it due to our different temperaments and timetables…we have yet to manage a shared retreat together !

    • St.Joseph says:

      Ignatius.
      Thank you.
      They say that marriage’s are made in Heaven and yours seem to me to be one of those.
      It is wonderful when one is compatible in the spirit with one’s soul mate

  11. G.D. says:

    Quentin,
    Silent contemplation (in my experience) is the ‘surest way’ – the repeating of a short phrase or ‘mantra’, that leads to the inner silence and stillness that in turn leads to simply Being Present to God.
    SIMPLY focusing on the mantra, refocusing when distracted. (But also letting the distractions be part of the ‘Present Moment’ as they are simply ignored not fought against).
    Discipline and regular practice is advised; especially so when it all seems pointless – that is the ‘death of self / ego’ the space between breaths!
    Spirit will give, is allowed! to give, meaning when we accept that ‘death’ before dying!
    Words fail (me at least) so miserably when trying to explain a ‘process’ that can only be experienced as it is given.

    I would highly recommend ‘Monestry Without Walls’ by John Main O.S.B (and his other books).
    You can get a taste of the ‘teaching’, and more, from The world community for Christian Meditation based in South Kensington, who have many groups of meditators throughout the country. (They are bonifide Catholic/Christrian). See the Web site
    http://www.wccm.org/content/daily-wisdom-archives
    (um .. no link? copy and paste into browser)

    Sitting silently is only part of the contemplative process however ……
    All ‘form’ of prayer, meditation, contemplation, has the goal of opening to the Presence-of-God-Now, The Sacramant of the Present Moment (made famous by … ?? one of the mystics down through the ages) is a permanent ‘state of being’, of ‘perfection’, offered to all.
    The only criteria ‘demanded’ is to SIMPLY pay attention to it. Whatever enables a persom to actually respond With and Through and In that Present Moment is a ‘prayer’ form.
    Anything that concetrates the person’s whole being on the Spirit (in Christian terminology) and takes the focus off self awareness, and so self reference.
    That could be anything from coming to a realisation of the other ‘as Christ’ to playing a piece of music and ‘loosing oneself’ in the act; and many other instances where the Spirit breaks through our habitual way of seeing & responding to ‘the reality’ we experience. (Create in our own image?).
    (Subjective evaluations are still present though, as discernment, not judgements of thought image or feeling).

    To sit with a ‘goal or aim’ is not really important – that’s a self reference – and is to be treated as other distractions.
    To be open to the Spirit is an ‘attitude’ not a goal.
    The practice of which spills over into the everyday life of the person, ‘The Sacrament of the Present Moment’ happens and we are ‘Surprised by Joy’.
    Distracted and frustrated at times, but the surprise of joy is still an expetant awareness lingering on the edge of every moment, waiting to break through with it’s own Spirit filled realisation of ‘Simple Reality’.

    • G.D. says:

      Particularly today’s meditation!! Synchronistic!?

    • St.Joseph says:

      G.D
      Have you read Fr Laurence Freeman, OSB The Eucharist and Silence.?
      He is mentioned in your daily archives.

      • G.D. says:

        St. J. …… No haven’t read that one. Fr. Laurence is the ‘director’ of the WCCM, was a ‘novice’ of & co-founder with John Main of the WCCM, first housed in Canada.
        His works and J.M’s are used for the daily meditations.

  12. ignatius says:

    De Coussade I think his name is and his book ‘Abandonment to Divine Providence’ is truly marvellous to read providing as it were an aid in itself to contemplation.

    “To sit with a ‘goal or aim’ is not really important – that’s a self reference – and is to be treated as other distractions.
    To be open to the Spirit is an ‘attitude’ not a goal…”

    In a sense this is the point. Teresa Of Avilla was famous for the image of her sitting at her hour of prayer tapping the side of the hourglass so that the sand would move quicker! Sooner or later one begins to realise that God comes at God’s own speed and that we as recipients of grace have very little idea as to what is going on or how long it will take. This tends to free us from over concentration or what is called above self referential struggling, we just have to accept we are not in charge and ‘get over it ‘ . This is both a delight and an irritant but a very freeing experience overall as we gradually learn that all we have to do is place ourselves in God’s presence…we are there anyway so might as well enjoy it! 🙂

  13. milliganp says:

    I’m giving in to the temptation of a post titled “Don’t try this at home”.
    Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross were both Discalced Carmelites, members of an order dedicated to an enclosed life of prayer and contemplation; they lived by a rule and within a structured environment, all day – every day of their lives.
    Similarly the Lectio Divina of the Benedictines exists within a rule of life that again encompasses literally every hour of the day.
    The life of a lay person has entirely different structure, responsibilities and needs and is not the same vocation as those in religious orders. If your meditation is interrupted by the thought that the grass needs cutting it might be better to mow the lawn and offer it up as a prayer. Even the life of a secular priest is essentially different to those priests in religious orders.
    Thus some form of meditation or meditative prayer may form part of our spiritual life but it will never be the same as that of those whose lives are dedicated to the rule of religious life.
    There is a real danger that an inappropriate (to us) personal spiritual practice can actually harm us. If we want to conjure up God we may end up instead with satan or actually damage our mental wellbeing.
    As a Deacon I meet many lay people but especially those obsessed with some form or religious practice. Our parish has a woman I call the Main maniac, she believes everybody should do a particular meditative practice -and it’s pretty obvious it hasn’t done her a lot of good. Another is the “spiritual tourist”, shell will attend and try every novelty as if there were such a thing as “more religion”.
    If I use an analogy from the secular sphere; there are those who choose running as a sport, there are those who run to keep fit but there is no necessity for every person to run – we are far better served by living a healthy lifestyle.
    We all need to feed our spiritual dimension but a healthy spiritual life is not co-terminus with any particular spiritual practice.
    I work next to a school and so the hours of my day are marked by the sounds of children at play; to me it’s a music of celestial magic; God is in heaven – All ‘s right with the world!

  14. Geordie says:

    A very good summary, Milliganp. I like it very much.
    I should try to be the saint that God wants me to be; the saint He is making me into. I shouldn’t try to be Saint Therese of Lisieux, or St Francis of Assisi and so on. The message of all the saints is “submit to the Will of God”; not easy but if I do submit, God will do the rest.

  15. Ignatius says:

    Yes, I agree with this up to a point, but only up to a point. The sensible adage ‘Pray as you can not as you can’t’ covers Milliganp’s and Geordie’s post above very well. Teresa of Avilla would have agreed. On the other hand it is the case that spiritual growth seems to follow along certain principles which are fairly clearly laid out both in biblical and liturgical history.

    If we desire to grow in God then we pray, we allow the word of God to dwell in us richly (using both our intellect and imagination). As well as this we fast, we give, we do good to others. Of course we must be ‘ourselves’ but the discovery of the true self in its relatedness to God IS THE aim of spiritual life. We discover who we truly are as we forget ourselves in service. If we pursue the bespoke path too rigorously then we tend towards idiosyncracy and the obsessionality Milligan P was discussing in his last post. One meets very often persons whose whole identity is ‘Marian’ for example, or who see the dilemmas of the church entirely as an outworking of ‘Vatican2’
    If anything is true of Catholic life it is that the presence of Christ in his church should act as a magnet drawing persons into deeper communion with God, mostly this just happens over time and through the application of sacraments but there is also a way of devotion, adoration, inspiration and obedience which is by now a well trodden path though each of us must take that path seemingly alone and as if for the first time, encountering many obstacles along the way.

  16. RAHNER says:

    The reality is that much traditional “spirituality” is based on an Platonised/dualistic theology that is implausible and often damaging. We need a new language to explore our experience of God as we can no more rely on much traditional spirituality than we can rely on the traditional readings of Genesis…..

    • Nektarios says:

      Rahner
      What new language are you suggesting? Are you suggesting the language of the philosopher, the psychologist, the scientist or perhaps the liberal theologian?
      The trouble I find with all this naval gazing spirituality so- called, is as you say to understand ones experience – well you appear to have the wrong starting point.
      My, or your, or our experience is not the starting point, but God if we would truly understand ourselves and our experience.
      We get to know God truly in His Word, what His plan of Salvation is in Christ, whom He sent into the world to redeem us what he says about Himself and what he says about us as individuals, or humanity generally, then, what He has to say about those He has adopted as son of God.

  17. Ignatius says:

    Rahner,
    You’d need to flesh that out a bit to make any sense. Remember that ‘traditional spirituality’ is being continually refreshed by reflection on experience. Exegesis of the spiritual exercise of Loyola for example looks very different today than it did in Ignatius’ time. So too a contemporary reading of the Interior castle. Spirituality has its own witness and so is different than discussions over doctrine because each of us has valid experience within our lived lives that we can draw from.

    I see where both you and MilliganP are coming from in terms of expressed caution however and would agree that spiritual excess is very dangerous. If you read around the subject however it becomes plain that a legalistic excess of spiritual practice often led the famous writers, John of the cross, Avilla, et al etc, into what we might term today as the ‘freedom of the spirit’. Furthermore it is those very writers who come to the conclusion that their narrow way was only really apt for persons such as themselves, living an intense interior life in a particular situation.

    Personally speaking I don’t see the subject as being as dangerous as is being portrayed here, religious inclination seems to produce legalistic interpretation and the process of breaking out from that interpretation is a painful one; I don’t think this is due solely to cultural/historical factors or misinterpretation of zealous methodology, rather is something in the nature of the endeavour itself.

    Finally it should be said that Quentin asked for experience of those interested in the pursuit
    of prayer through meditation. There is the sense that for many if not most people the esoteric pursuit of God simply just does not happen and that the religious sense, beyond ‘saying ones prayers’ and ‘leading a good life’ is not much developed. No one ever said that we should all take up the daily hour, begin weekly fasting or arise with the dawn but for those who feel that pull then there does exist a rich vein to follow. Ruth Burrows: Ascent to Love and Radcliffe’s ‘ What is the point of being a Christian’ are two texts that spring to mind as works which come out of the spiritual tradition yet look forward through it. Let us be under no illusion, the interior journey is perhaps fraught with difficulty (read a bit of Karen Armstrong for example) but it is also the road to joy both today and for the future..

    • Brendan says:

      Well said Ignatius , the pursuit of the contemplative life is not for everyone … not even as far as the foothills. But it is best used by everyone on occasions , if inclined …..” for no man shall pluck them out of my hand ” , John 10: 28.

    • RAHNER says:

      Look at the wreckage of Irish Catholicism. No doubt there are many social and cultural causes for this. But it seems plausible to suppose that the kind of spirituality prevalent in Ireland in the last century is also a factor.

      • Brendan says:

        Let’s posit another possible ‘ spiritual ‘ disaster in Gods Kingdom over our time……The German Church ? Do we really believe that these two Countries have been well served by Apostolic Leadership ?
        What ever their relative positions in Gods plan for Creation ; do we honestly think that we will find our way through the morass without constant pleading our case in different forms of prayer ( spiritual exercise ) ? I think not !

      • St.Joseph says:

        Rather.

        Are we now the laity hitting back and blaming the Church for our failures.
        What kind of spirituality prevalent in Ireland do you speak about.?

      • milliganp says:

        I have a friend who believes Irish Catholicism was strongly influenced by Jansenism which layered on top of Celtic pantheism and superstition. During penal times, the Catholic Mass alongside recitation of the Rosary at home became the definition of faith and after independence de Velera gave enormous power to the church. Without wishing to insult anybody much of Irish Catholicism was a superstition called Catholicism, spilling salt and counting Magpies alongside daily recitation of the rosary and ‘hearing’ Mass on Sunday – with a definite preference for the 20 minute Mass. There was much good, but it was not a faith that would mature to face the challenges of the second half of the 20th Century. A younger, better educated, Ireland was not offered a mature adult faith but stories of clerical abuse and pompous Bishops. The problem with cultural Catholicism (Spain and Italy are similar) is that it doesn’t survive a change in the prevalent culture nor will people endure a church which seems hypocritical.

  18. ignatius says:

    Rahner,

    Yes there is that. But I meet many Irish catholics in the retreat houses and monasteries of England who are not wrecked. Also Irish people at large who are not wrecked.More or less everyone I have heard on this topic senses an authoritarian error in Ireland ..and a political culture allowing of it.Certainly the spirituality of the John of the Cross, Teresa of Avilla period was not especially authoritarian since it came under the rod of the times itself. There is probably a tension between doctrine, politics and spirituality Rahner but I think your case here is simplistic.
    Nektarios:

    “..What new language are you suggesting? Are you suggesting the language of the philosopher, the psychologist, the scientist or perhaps the liberal theologian?
    The trouble I find with all this naval gazing spirituality so- called, is as you say to understand ones experience – well you appear to have the wrong starting point.
    My, or your, or our experience is not the starting point, but God if we would truly understand ourselves and our experience…”

    This above approach of yours seems to be a good example of that danger of dualism we were hoping to avoid.

    • RAHNER says:

      John of the Cross and Teresa are clearly major figures in the history of spirituality but I am sure you would agree that there is a need for us to reinterpret their work for our own culture.
      (A priest friend of mine once asked me if John of the Cross was a Christian!)

      • ignatius says:

        Ha ha ha!

        Yes I do agree about the reworking Rahner, I agree very much. But I think that reworking goes on as we go. As I say if you get a copy of Ruth Burrows’ Ascent to Love you will see a contemporary reworking in practice. The way we encounter God must, by neccessity, be a hundred percent contemporaneous..present..immediate… now.

    • Nektarios says:

      Ignatius
      My understanding of `dualism in part is `two fold or double. Applied to the topic under
      discussion phiosophically, I don’t agree, or how you can say dualism is what I am advocating, when clearly it is not
      Please qualify a little more.

      • Ignatius says:

        Nektarios:
        I do like the way you state things so baldly:
        “Clearly it is not”
        So crisp, such a pleasing ring to it.
        “The reality is that much traditional “spirituality” is based on an Platonised/dualistic theology that is implausible and often damaging.”
        This is the dualism Rahner and I were discussing.

      • Nektarios says:

        Ignatius
        Thank you for your reply and explanation below. I can agree with both your points – I put things so badly, don’t I, and mis-reading what you were saying to Rahner. My first posting was to Rahner, asking, as I was concerned what would be used by way of re-interpretation of the Saints and religious well-known works?
        I have seen what they do to Holy Scriptures and the way modernizers see the spiritual life, which in many cases is just humanism, secularism, psychobabble with a religious face.
        When it comes to meditation the screen through which such see themselves, others, the world and so on, is built on so much of that present rubbish out there.

      • milliganp says:

        Nektarios. I believe it would be a fair criticism of Catholicsm that, prior to Vatican II our faith derived from the Catechism, not Sacred Scripture. Perhaps in an overzealous reaction to the Reformation, which emphasised scripture where Catholicism emphasised Tradition. Following on from my earlier comment on Irish Catholicism, prior to the 1960’s no Irish Catholic home would own a Bible. Pius XII was the first Pope to encourage scripture study and in the late 50’s Catholics started buying family bibles but they were usually kept in the same cabinet as the special tea-set for visitors and rarely looked at or read. My wife’s grandfather reflected this attitude when, in the 1930’s on discovering his son had a bible said “what are you doing with that Protestant book”.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Milliganp
        There has not been an increase to the Priesthood or Religious life since the Bible was considered to replace the CCC
        Don’t forget than we always had the readings at Mass
        In the Catholic school I attended we did not only read the New Testament but write it all down from memory.
        What did you mean by Irish Catholicism??

      • milliganp says:

        St. Joseph, the CCC was published in 1992. Prior to that there existed the Catechism of the Council of Trent promulgated in Latin by Pius V and intended for use by Bishops in their role of formation of their local churches. For most people the only Catechism they would have known were the various ‘Penny Catechisms’.
        Prior to the reforms of Vatican II the Gospel was proclaimed in Latin so those who did not have a Sunday Missal would not have followed it, and would therefore have had little or no exposure to scripture. Thus for most in the first half of the 20th Century Catholicism was defined by popular piety; Mass was heard but, for most, not followed (the popular practice was to say the rosary throughout Mass with the Elevation being a moment of pause to worship the True Presence) alongside this Benediction and the Rosary formed the other major devotional practices. This was simple faith and simple is not pejorative.
        However with the dramatic raising of educational standards (for the masses) after the 2nd World war and almost revolutionary social change that abandoned all general deferment to institutional authority the church found itself without the roots necessary to thrive. Catholicism survived in Ireland far longer than the rest of Europe, churches were still packed in the early 80’s but the Irish were cultural Catholics rather than people with a solidly grounded faith and the abuse scandal provided a catalyst to question that which had been just taken for granted.
        It is common for those of your generation to blame everything on Vatican II but the seeds of the social changes and abandonment of faith were sewn in the years between the two great wars. The fact that Irish Catholicism survived 30 years longer than Italy is a tribute to Ireland’s cohesive society but the fact that the faith of many in Ireland, once tested, failed cannot be placed at any other door than that of the institutional church and it certainly can’t be blamed on liturgical reform or Communion in the hand.

  19. Martha says:

    Quiet, meditative prayer with the Blessed Sacrament exposed seems to suit me best. I usually ask that my time and presence in the church will in some way bring an increase in the graces and blessings which Our Lord is already giving to me, to our family, friends and so on, expanding to His whole world, a tiny part of a little drop maybe, but actual petitions come later, after hoping first to join in praising and glorifying God through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice renewed in the Mass, thanking Him for all He has done, and renewing sorrow for sin, the ACTS abbreviation, adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, supplication, but altering the order. After setting the scene so to speak, I try to kneel or sit quietly in Our Lord’s presence, sometimes with formal prayers, but very often without, and find the time goes by very quickly and peacefully, and I hope productively in the spiritual sense.

    I have heard and read a certain amount about breathing focussed meditation, but I have not got round to trying it properly. It took me some years to sort out how it might relate to spiritual meditation as I had understood it, taking a passage or thought from the Gospel, and dwelling on that, which i have not done much either.

    I find that saying the Rosary is a very good way of meditating on Our Lord’s life and on our Redemption, and very suitable to say at home, partly because families can be rather self conscious about more spontaneous prayer, and prayer with a more open ended time scale, though there is a scene in Brian Friel’s play. “Dancing at Lughnasa,” which unfortunately does not show it in a very good light, and is probably the sort of thing Rahner has referred to. “Saying prayers,” would be much better replaced by “praying,” “time to pray,” “let us pray.”

  20. Quentin says:

    I have found this discussion most interesting, and very helpful. Thank you everyone (so far — because the discussion may well continue). What I have achieved in the light of the discussion is this. First, I use mindfulness meditation to clear my mind. I see this as a housekeeping job. Then I make a deliberate decision to invite Our Lord in. There are no phenomena — I just feel quiet and contented. It seems right. I don’t know what the future holds, but it is a good start. No sign of a halo just yet!

  21. ignatius says:

    Quentin, If you find any halos please send me one..

  22. Martha says:

    By coincidence, I have just found, not halos, but this quote from Julian of Norwich:

    “When our courteous Lord of his special grace shows himself to our soul, we have what we desire, and then for that time we do not see what more we should pray for, but all our intention and all our powers are wholly directed to contemplating him. And as I see it, this is an exalted and an imperceptible prayer, for the whole reason we pray is to be united into the vision and contemplation of him to whom we pray.”

  23. St.Joseph says:

    Jesus said ‘Unless you eat my Body and Drink my Blood you can not have life in you.!
    Last Sunday we had the Gospel of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand from five loaves and two fish. This was the forerunner to His Sacrifice on the Cross. The spiritual Food for our soul. And our journey.
    If Jesus did not mean this to be the one true way to meditate on Him.or.if their were another way,why did he Come and suffer and die like He did as a Sacrifice for us.
    If everyone who believed in this Food .meditated on the Cross and the BLessed Sacrament.in or out of the Tabernacle and to spend time in His Real Presence it would satisfy our souls.
    Martha I feel the same as you
    The Gospel to proclaim to the world.!

    • milliganp says:

      One of the major recoveries of the Second Vatican Council was that the Eucharist was instituted primarily as spiritual food rather than merely an object to be worshiped. That is why the practice of Mass followed by Benediction was abolished. There was no such thing as Eucharistic Adoration in the early church, the Blessed Sacrament was solely reserved for the sick. The Tabernacle didn’t enter church buildings till the 16th or 17th centuries and one of the changes of Vatican II was to specifically move the Tabernacle so that we didn’t confuse the “becoming present” of Christ at the consecration with the perpetual presence of Christ reserved in the Tabernacle.
      In my own Archdiocese our previous Archbishop made it a requirement, during Episcopal masses in parish churches that the Blessed Sacrament be removed from the Tabernacle before mass so that this confusion was removed. In Cathedrals the Blessed Sacrament is almost always reserved in a separate chapel. Because almost all the churches in the UK and Ireland were built in the last 200 years the Tabernacle was always central and so we don’t realise that there was once a time when it was an innovation to move the Tabernacle onto the high altar.

      • Martha says:

        Milliganp., the history of the tabernacle is interesting, but I think that devotion to the Blessed Sacrament as a focus for adoration as well as spiritual food, must have been practised earlier. The story of St. Clare repelling Saracen invaders in the thirteenth century with a ciborium containing the Sacred Host illustrates the veneration which already existed then and continued developping as a very important part of Catholic spiritual life.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Milligan
        Where does Vatican 2 say that the Tabernacle was to be removed from the main Alter?
        I am not aware that we worshiped the Tabernacle. It is the place where the Blessed Sacrament presides
        One modern catechism after Vat 2 called it the box that kept the bread in!

      • milliganp says:

        St Joseph, I never said we worshiped the Tabernacle (read the post again). I’ve replied on the liturgical reforms to another of your posts.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Milligan p.
      I did not mean.to imply that you ‘said’ that the Tabernacle was worshiped!
      However the Tabernacle remaining on the High Altar while Mass is celebrated implies
      that were confused and not to understand the Mass
      Catholics are more confused today than ever..
      At least we had faith to hold on to in those days and not have so many fads and fancies that came into the mind of progressive Bishops that confused the laity in the past that has resulted in the loss of so many souls. They will have a lot to answer for!
      Also 0ur Blessed Mother asked for the Rosary to be recited .Perhaps with the lack of it now in the homes ,many in Ireland have lost theirs .

  24. ignatius says:

    Thats right Martha.

    The principal difference between meditation and contemplation (I know these words are useless but we have no others) is that contemplation has God as its immediate end, nothing else. Meditation as I understood it has all sorts of aims and goals none of them neccesarily to do with our desperate thirst for the divine which will be slaked by nothing else. Here is Ruth Burrows from Ascent to Love:

    “Our aim is certainly not freedom from emotion or such a levelling of emotion that we are never ruffled, never elated,never saddened, ceasing to respond vitally to things. What dull, half -persons we would be! We work to ensure that we are never governed by emotions, recognising that often our feelings do not tell us the truth about reality and then, gradually, by dint of constant effort our emotions will to a great extent behave themselves and function appropriately. We go on liking many things, having our natural preferences, but we choose to want only one thing – Gods will. He becomes so much to us that it is impossible for us to be profoundly moved by anything except in so far as he is concerned..”

    Ascent to Love

  25. Iona says:

    In the church I go to, there is (usually) weekly Adoration with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, and Benediction. This is for half an hour. I attend this most times it takes place. On much rarer occasions I have attended a full hour of Adoration. As it seems to take my mind about half an hour to stop tearing around like a mad thing, the full hour is much more “beneficial” (for want of a better word) to me. I can’t say exactly what it does for me, but it certainly does something.

  26. St.Joseph says:

    Iona.
    If one sees Jesus’s Real Presence in the Host one would want to spend more than an hour a week with Him.
    A young priest gave that homily at one of my grandsons First Holy Communion.
    Another priest not so long ago said ‘If Jesus was going to be in a certain place people would flock there to meet Him.!
    I wonder sometimes now that the Tabernacle is moved out of sight why do people go into Church and not acknowledge Him first! Speak to friends though. Do some think He is not a Person?

  27. Ignatius says:

    Iona:

    ” As it seems to take my mind about half an hour to stop tearing around like a mad thing, the full hour is much more “beneficial” (for want of a better word) to me. I can’t say exactly what it does for me, but it certainly does something…”
    I can’t remember if was Archbishop Ramsey or Runcie but one of them when asked about prayer once said he prayed for about 5 mins in the morning but that it took an hour to get to the 5 mins…very true I think…but worth it nonetheless. We are, in the main, poor frazzled things bothered by many phantoms so it takes awhile for us to settle down.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Ignatius.
      I find speaking to Jesus helps in silence in His Real Presence Just as you would speak to a friend. He knows all our movements ,but I tell Him anyway..Then when you have told Him you will relax.

      • Martha says:

        Yes, St. Joseph, turning distractions and concerns into prayers was the way we were always advised, and it does still the mind, perhaps it is a form of mindfulness to do that? There is a prayer by Michel Quoist which I sometimes use:

        In silence
        To be there before you Lord, that’s all
        To shut the eyes of my body,
        To shut the eyes of my soul,
        And to be still and silent,
        To expose myself to you, who are there. exposed to me.
        To be there before you, the Eternal Presence,
        I am willing to feel nothing, Lord.
        to see nothing
        to hear nothing,
        Empty of all ideas
        of all images,
        In the darkness.
        Here am, simply
        To meet you without obstacles,
        In the silence of faith,
        Before you, Lord.

    • milliganp says:

      Ignatius / Iona, I think this is actually the ‘problem’ that mindfulness attempts to address – to get us to a point of stillness where prayer can not merely speak but listen. I’m sure, like most, that 90% of the things that trouble my mind are not on God’s “to do list” for me to fulfil God’s purpose for my life.

  28. Ignatius says:

    Nektarios,

    “My first posting was to Rahner, asking, as I was concerned what would be used by way of re-interpretation of the Saints and religious well-known works?
    I have seen what they do to Holy Scriptures and the way modernizers see the spiritual life, which in many cases is just humanism, secularism, psychobabble with a religious face…”

    Yes, you are right. On the one hand scripture from Genesis to Revelation speaks, nay sings, whispers and thunders, of a God who comes to speak with his people, see for example todays readings Ex ch33 v 7-11, psalm 102, Matt ch 13 v36-43. From this perspective it is clear that God can speak as God wishes to people, with or without a bible open on the table, and has spoken through mediums and donkeys amongst other things according to the need. I vividly remember leading a man to faith and his first encounter with the Lord was through a modern psychology book where a chapter about Love mentioned John’s Gospel. On the other hand you are correct in saying that man throws up false idols of God almost as reflexly as he draws breath. Paradoxically it was this ‘duality’ that Rahner was speaking about…the false duality of ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ which has tended to produce an unhealthy ascetism and a hatred of the body…yet it is with our bodies we encounter God. As ever Nektarios we all see as through a mirror darkly and speak with muffled voices, which is why scriptural exegesis is so crucial.. but it will not always be like this. I’m off to Walsingham this week for the New Dawn charismatic catholic conference. I will pop into that little Greek orthodox shrine while I’m there!

    • Nektarios says:

      Ignatius
      Thank you for your reply. Glad we agree on somethings and perhaps disagree about other matter – perfectly healthy in this life.
      I am also glad you see scriptural exegesis as crucial, but with so many voices and prevailing attitudes, such people who will spend the time and effort required on exegesis especially for preaching is indeed rarer than it once was. That is why in a past post I saw a need throughout all the mainstream churches for `revival’.
      Have a nice week at Walsingham, and the Lord bless your visit to the little Orthodox shrine of St. Seraphim’s in Little Walsingham.

  29. Ignatius says:

    “I wonder sometimes now that the Tabernacle is moved out of sight why do people go into Church and not acknowledge Him first! Speak to friends though. Do some think He is not a Person?…”

    Mainly we do acknowledge the presence of God in Church don’t we..? Isn’t that why we genuflect? When I genuflect before the tabernacle though it is as Moses, removing his shoes and bowing low before the burning bush.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Ignatius.you misunderstood what I said.
      I am speaking about the Blessed Sacrament placed on the side Altar out of view from the congregation coming into church.
      I made that quite clear in my comment!
      There has been a lack of respect shown towards the Blessed Sacrament since Vat 2 and if you have time to read ‘ where does it say in Vat 2 that the Tabernacle should be moved.You will also read that Bisops are putting it back because of this.y

      • milliganp says:

        Vatican II called for reform of the Liturgy with the intent of removing accretions (mainly private prayers of the priest said as part of the Mass) and a return to “noble simplicity”. The document on Scripture and tradition, Dei Verbum, called for the restoration of the authority of scripture. The council itself did not decide on the specific details of the reform which were left to the Pope, advised by appropriate Cardinals and Bishops. The council did not ‘decide’ to have Mass said entirely in the vernacular or that the Priest should face the people or that churches should be re-ordered. All of the latter were initiatives of local Bishops conferences (as was Communion in the hand). The decisions made by Bishops conferences are no less valid than decisions of Rome other than that they only apply in those areas within the competence of the Bishops.
        The phrase “lack of respect for the blessed sacrament” is a difficult one as it presumes that a certain type of obsequiousness is co-terminus with respect. The Eucharist was instituted at a sacred meal and intended to be spiritual food, so it was intended for all in the church. The same people who had “great reverence” for the Blessed Sacrament rarely received the Eucharist as food. It was inevitable that the change of practice would change the relationship between the people of God and the Liturgy. The fact that we are encouraged to love God and enter into a personal relationship rather than live in constant fear of condemnation is hardly cause for alarm.
        The fact that a particular Bishop should call for Tabernacles to be restored to high altars does not illustrate that the previous move was wrong, it merely proves that the matter is part of the competence of the local Bishop which itself validates his predecessors decisions.

  30. ignatius says:

    DISTRACTIONS:

    I don’t know about anyone else but I find that the more I struggle with distractions the worse they become…so nowadays I just notice them. In fact they can be quite funny in an odd sort of way showing as they do ones relative helplessness and the embarrassing preoccupations one has.
    I think this not bad because it does begin to develop a real humility. More importantly though I find that if one can just tolerate ones own foibles and carry on with the time of prayer then sometimes an impulse of love or moment of intuition might come and these moments can be quite devastating in their strength and their clarity.
    However if I struggle grimly with my distractions then the soul is reduced, instead of receptivity, to a kind of bare knuckle fight with the imagination. By analogy we need to walk simply up the mountain rather than grimly inch up it, fighting for every step armed with crampons and axe!!
    I do find also though that, like any experience which is repeated, one develops the ability to place oneself in the presence of God…the problem is then just to stay there… Then of course complacency sets in and its a long tumble down the hill again 🙂

    But I agree with what has been said…the best place to do all this is in front of the sacrament. But since we cannot have a tabernacle at home we must make ourselves at home with with scripture, icons, candles, statues, rosaries, etc etc.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Ignatius

      A Hymn or song.that I feel says it all when I walk into church.

      When I walk through the doors I sense His Presence.
      And I know this was a place that Love abounds.
      For this is the Temple , the God we love abides, Oh we are standing in His Presence
      On Holy Ground.

      We are standing on Holy Ground and I know., I know there are Angels all around.
      let us Praise Him, Pralse Him now.For we are standing in His Presence on Holy Ground

      In His Presence I know there is joy beyond all measure.And at His Feet, sweet peace of mind can still be found
      For when we have a need He is still the answer,Oh reach out and claim it, for we are standing on Holy Ground. .
      That touches.my heart! I could stay there for ever!

  31. ignatius says:

    MilliganP,
    I really liked your thoughts about Irish catholicism. Jansenism etc.

  32. Iona says:

    Ignatius – I really liked your quotation, whoever it was, – “I pray for 5 minutes a day but it takes an hour to get to that 5 minutes”.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona.
      As I have been unable to go to Mass very often over the last 14 months, I have found EWTN a wonderful blessing.
      Holy Mass daily. The Rosary with Mother Angelica, Litany of the Sacre Heart.,The Divine Mercy Chaplet , also other many interesting programmes 24 hrs a day.
      One need not feel it difficult to pray. I think God does not mind how we find the way to pray.Even listening to the Tv.
      God calls us all in different ways. We are not all the same, nor should we strive to be so,and that goes for other nationalities. As long as it is the Lord we are worshipping.

      • milliganp says:

        There is a Jesuit joke where a priest asks his spiritual director if it is acceptable to smoke while praying and gets told off for having such a sacrilegious idea. On his next visit he asks if it is OK to pray while smoking and is commended for his admirable attempt at making all things holy.
        St. John Vianney would notice a peasant come to his small church every day and sit on the last bench, apparently doing nothing. One day he went up to him and asked him, “My good fellow, what are you doing here? Are you praying? You seem to be doing nothing.” And pointing to the Blessed Sacrament, the peasant said in reply, “I look at him – and he looks at me.”

  33. G.D. says:

    Contemplation is simply a way of being-with-God.
    Our attempts (no matter what format they take) to be ‘with God’ are always pleasing to God.
    (I even go so far to say any SINCERE attempt at selfless love, by anybody and everybody, of faith or not, brings one closer to God! Who is Perfect Love).

    The ‘intent’ behind ‘prayer’ constantly needs ‘purification’. So allowing the ‘Spirit’ to express through us. A purifiction which happens in as much as we ‘give up’ our own ‘intentions’.
    (Our ego driven consciousness & unconscious selfish intentions; for many varied reasons).

    For anyone to come to a ‘state’ where the Spirit is willingly allowed to ‘direct’ attiudes, thoughts, imagination, wills, we need to come to a ‘place’ of ‘silence and darkness’. A place where no thoughts feelings imaginings are. Where no ‘distractions’ of ours are given attention. A place where we ‘die’ to them.
    Please be aware, I am trying to express a ‘state’, embraced by us, for mere seconds (or a ‘timeless’ period!) within the actual ‘experience of contemplation’.
    Which can happen within whatever form of ‘prayer’ is right for you.

    The ‘awareness’ we may have when nearing this ‘dying place’ is of a ‘little ego death’, and can be uncomfortable/fearful. It’s there, with trust in God, that the Spirit is allowed to ‘become’ our ‘attitude’.

    Personally my own experiences are in regular silent sittings using the biblical mantra ‘Maranatha’; and being open to ‘dying’ to my own thoughts feelings et ( mere distractions!).
    And (selfishly!) would think everyone should give it a good few months trial before knocking it.
    ‘Navel gazing’ and being open to ‘evil’ influences has nothing whatsoever to do with contemplation.
    True, our own ego driven dualistic attitudes (the either this or that kind set) can lead us into many false paths but, attempting to give up self (thinking feeling et) and sitting silently before God is anything but dualistic or ego driven.

    The way I see it, contemporary ‘Contemplation’ and the ‘experience of God’ can only be synonymous. And as God can not be limited to a ‘prayer’ form, is open to everyone.

    Contemplation ‘happens’ when we give up our own ‘duality’ in those brief encounters, and this gradually changes (heals?) our way of being; enabeling us to be more open to the ‘action of the Spirit’ in our everyday life.
    And being tremendously disatisfied when we aren’t!

    Many fear, or intellectually (and dualistically) defend against ‘encountering Silence’ because of the ‘small ego death’ it brings. I suggest this is the ego demanding / controlling for it’s own selfish motives.

    ‘Silence’ is the ‘pearl’, is the ‘one thing neccessary’.

    • milliganp says:

      C S Lewis, in one of his books, identified the death of silence as one of the most destructive forces of evil. It is because it is in moments of silence that the heart asks and considers the profound questions of existence, “why am I here”, “what is my purpose”, “is death the end”. Part of the death though is also the modern need to be always doing something as if sitting quietly doing nothing is a fault.
      We live in a world of constant pervasive noise created by technology. Noise can be silent to the ear in the noise of the internet, text messaging and -dare I say it – blogging.
      With mobile phones and tablets the noise is with us 24 hours a day, every day. Even in the workplace there is never an excuse not to be doing something -all these labour saving technologies call for our constant attention.

      • John Candido says:

        I completely agree with you milliganp. That point from C. S. Lewis about the human and/or spiritual need for silence was marvelous!

        I am not one for literature and reading stories. After searching Google I found the quote which I think you are referring to. It was taken from ‘The Weight of Glory’, which is an anthology of sermons, essays and addresses by C.S. Lewis.

        ‘We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.’

        Here is another quote by C.S. Lewis.

        ‘True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.’

        I think that both of these quotes can be used as a springboard to thought and discussion about prayer and meditation.

    • John Candido says:

      That was a lovely post about meditation G.D. Are you new to SecondSight or have been around for a while but failed to notice you?

      Sincerity or purity of purpose is so important in any form of prayer or meditation.

      ‘And (selfishly!) would think everyone should give it (Christian meditation) a good few months trial before knocking it.’

      I agree with you.

      ‘Navel gazing’ and being open to ‘evil’ influences has nothing whatsoever to do with contemplation.’

      I have no hesitation in agreeing with that.

      ‘The way I see it, contemporary ‘Contemplation’ and the ‘experience of God’ can only be synonymous. And as God cannot be limited to a ‘prayer’ form, is open to everyone.’

      Yes to that too.

      While Quentin, you and I seem to regularly practice what is known as ‘Christian meditation’ as taught by the late Fr. John Main OSB, it is really important to de-emphasise any inflexible narrowness concerning a single path to contemplation and meditation. Let people choose whatever suits them.

      The rosary, Benediction, reading scripture, Stations of the Cross, the mass, formal or informal prayer, or whatever meditative practice that other people are attracted to is to be respected by all. Let people choose what they are interested in and find their own way to stillness and silence.

      I am not accusing you of being narrow because you certainly aren’t. You are showing some well needed enthusiasm for what I consider to be a simple but profound pathway of meditation that has been rediscovered by Fr. Main. Christian meditation is one more method of slowly coming closer to God over time. It certainly isn’t a way of becoming or being God. That would be the height of absurdity.

      Incidentally can anyone hazard a guess as to why there might be a connection between your pet cat or dog and meditation?

      • G.D. says:

        John, thanks for your kind response. Yes have been around for a while but only started commenting a fews months ago.
        I’d guess cats and dogs are being what they are as God made them ….. that’s the aim of contemplation for us ego driven humans.

      • Martha says:

        Is it that they live in the present moment?
        And, dogs, not sure about cats, love their master unconditionally?

  34. G.D. says:

    Any situation one finds oneself in can be one of ‘silence’. Whatever the external noise or distractions, an internal ‘attitude’ ‘state’ of silence (i.e. contemplative way of being with / open to God’s abiding Presence) can be attained.
    The regular practice of sitting in silent contemplation ‘eduactes’ the person to recognise the ‘still small voice’ ‘the Spirit’s guidance’ WITHIN one’s self in any situation, be it active doing or passive relaxation.

    Being aware of, open to and responding from this Presence (influence?) is contemplation. Is participating in the Life of God. (Named as God or not). We only have to desire it above all else; especially self! Then we are ‘surprised by joy’ at times. Real Joy.
    Nothing is taken away from us – our faculties are still our own, we still ‘control’ choose our own paths, we still have all we had before ….. but our responses are gradually conformed to ‘The Way’ and our lives & selves along with it.
    (I hasten to add I’m still searching for it, and ever will be! Sinner that I am!)

    My journey to this ‘experienced realisation’ is after thirty odd years of continuous prayer and varied and various meditation practices looking for the ‘taste of union’ i was given after my reception of the three sacraments of initiation in my late twenties.
    I spent two or three weeks living my daily life in a state of utter & complete inner silence, peace and stillness. I didn’t, and didn’t want or need to, consciously ‘do’ anything.
    Life was unfolding before me, in a much fuller and amazing way than i could ever produce of/from myself. (And still can’t!).
    And yet my participation in every situation was fully engaged; more adequately than i could ever do of my own volition. I was more a part of ‘life’ than i had ever been before, or been since.
    After that time of grace, which i have come to see as an ‘active contemplation’, all hell let loose around me. Why?
    The answer is recently becoming clearer to me. To lead me to trust & learn to listen to that ‘still small voice’ and respond to it totaly abandoned to it’s influence, yet also consciously of my own volition. Paradox!? Not when viewed non-dualisticaly.
    Thirty odd years of prayer & meditaiton practices and the ‘taste’ of the above returns, to varying degrees, by simply sitting in ‘silent contemplation’. And occasionally tips over into situations when it’s reciprocated in a like attitude. ……….

    All words fail to express adequately, but I hope the above shows something of that ‘still small voice’ in action. I hesitate to post it …….. but …..

  35. Nektarios says:

    With all the complexities of argument I have read, so far, I wonder what on earth one meditates about? One may say they meditate on God, but without knowing either Him or what He truly is,or how to approach Him, ones meditation is going nowhere.
    Others meditate on say, morality, personal or what is out there in th big wide world.
    Others may say they meditate on ones spirituality, or Christian spirituality. I was meditating myself
    on something of that – and what it really means to become a Christian? What is true vital living Christianity?
    I meditated upon Christianity and found there are many who are moral, good upright citizens, loving couple who love their children – yet, they would say they were not Christians.
    I meditated further, into the humanist, secular mindset prevelant today who would deny they were
    Christians, were living a life that was not Christianity at all.

    I continued to meditate on the being brought up to go to Church, to hear God’s word and so on, many even believe some of what they heard – was that true Christianity? Did such a practice or practices make one a Christian? If not, then what does?
    What therefore is true Christianity?

    • Quentin says:

      “Could you not watch an hour with me?” From what I have read in this most valuable discussion, it would seem that this question is at the heart of meditation. There are other times for thinking about our religion and exploring what it means to be a Christian. But there is also a time when we are asked only to watch with him.

      • Nektarios says:

        Quentin

        “Could you not watch an hour with me?” From what I have read in this most valuable discussion, it would seem that this question is at the heart of meditation. There are other times for thinking about our religion and exploring what it means to be a Christian. But there is also a time when we are asked only to watch with him.

        Yes indeed, but what does that mean in the present context with our risen Lord?
        Other religions meditate too who do not know God at all. For a child of God to meditate, or what they confusedly call Christian meditation, as though anyone can practice it. I am sorry to tell you, only the true born child of God can do that in actuality.

        Perhaps you were wanting the mere mechanics of meditation? But without being a child of God, which is not the same thing necessarily as being an RCC or a Protestant or Orthodox, the excerise would be useless and somewhat meaningless.
        This is is why I was meditating and I posted accordingly.
        Perhaps you are just a bit too quick off the mark to stop where I was going with all that
        that leads to meditation. So I will stop!

      • G.D. says:

        Quentin, yes ….. but also … the situation when Jesus expressed that teaching points to ‘an hour’ of acceptance of dying to physical life (the Father’s will?) that leads to ressurrection and …. True Life.
        Is it any different for each and everyone of us? Different ‘accidents’ of physical life, unique circumstances and situations, of course, but is Jesus asking for acceptance of God’s will, and to die to our own ‘physical’ life and so live ‘in the Spirit’ (dreadfull phrase!) as we go about ‘doing’ all the other things? ……….. To BE first and foremost, then do from that Being?

    • G.D. says:

      Nektarios ….
      One meditates ‘about’ whatever one needs to. But one Contemplates the Presence of God simply by being present to God. Utterly and simply, in trust and openess, knowing that Presence is offered to us UNCODITIONALLY.

      Unknowable, and inexpressible as God is to us limited ‘sinfull’ creatures, it’s God’s image and likeness (Christ’s Spirit if you will) within us that calls us, enabels us, to be present to GOD’S reality.
      By letting go of ‘our stuff’, by letting go of ALL we know think feel, judge, we stand before the Almighty in the simple reality of who we are. And, who we can be in union with God. Not because of anything of our own, or anything at all that we can do – think feel et. – but by simply letting go of judgements considerations evaluations and being aware of the Presence of God ‘within’ us. In the utter simplicity of being-with-God.

      As a catholic I pratice my faith as best i can, and fail miserably, as the sinner that I am. As a human being I know I have ‘fallen’ into an existance that is not in tune with God’s ‘original blessing’. BUT …… as a child of God I know I can’t fail because God, my Father does what is needed for me, GIVE’S me all I need, unconditionally, to BE as my Father would have me be.
      It’s in being (simply) with that Presence, whatever situation I am in, that enables me to accept, gradually, more and more of what my Father is offering me.

      By simply trusting God, and being with God in that SIMPLICITY I grow in the likeness and image of Christ …………….. the Son, that God, my Father, would have me be.
      Let Go : Let God.
      (can’t recall who said that, but it’s such a good mantra to meditate on ……. into the silence of God’s Presence. ‘Silent Presence’ because we can’t comprehend it’s utter fulness & completeness. But God reveals it through and in the union of SIMPLICITY, deviod of our duplicity of thought and feeling et. Yet again words are not enough …… )

  36. St.Joseph says:

    Quentin.
    You asked how others meditated..
    I have told you what suits.me :/ :/
    So.I will leave it at that.,without going into any further discussion on the inappropriate action of my faith!

  37. St.Joseph says:

    Ps I don’t know how the funny faces ended up on my comment!!!! I don’t have them on my Kindle!0

  38. Ignatius says:

    Quentin,
    “Could you not watch an hour with me?”

    Yes this is apt. I believe I am not alone in discovering eventually, after years spent trying to impress God and earn my keep in all kinds of busyness, that God just wants me to sit with him from time to time in companionable silence – as if we were friends.

  39. Ignatius says:

    And here is another nice little quote which sums up thee whole thing well:
    “…In a similar way, Mother Teresa experienced precisely this desire of wanting to know the person of Jesus Christ as He wants to be known. In response to the question, “Who is Jesus to me?”, she answered with a litany that places him at the heart of human existence: “my God…my spouse…my all in all…my everything”
    Bringing these two theological approaches together, it seems that both are based fundamentally in silence and mystery. They show first the deep desire of all men to know, and yet they hold fast to “the task of theology to preserve God’s wonder as wonder,….to glorify God’s mystery as mystery, an echo of the mysterious awe and wonder experienced by Moses as he approached the burning bush…”

    Mathew Roche-Saunders Christology of the 20th century, a study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and MotherTeresa of Calcutta

    • St.Joseph says:

      Quentin.
      I wrote.my last comment before I read yours..You said that in a few words
      St Francis said Only use words when necessary(words to that effect}’
      ‘Could you not watch an hour with me’.
      Jesus was alone in the Garden whilst his Apostles were sleeping!
      So many too are sleeping. To the inner sanctuary of their souls.Seeking God whilst He is right here Present in the Sanctuarys of our Churches His Real Presence
      The importance of WorshIp in the Sacrifice of Holy Mass is the place where we are in touch with God .I will say it again and again that the sacrifice of the Mass is the closest we will be to Him. As His Apostles were in the’ Garden’!.

      • Quentin says:

        I am sure that is right, St Joseph. While Christian meditation can take different forms according to need (for example, meditation on a passage from Scripture, or on a relevant doctrine) simply ‘watching’ with Christ seems to me to be basic. But I am just a novice, as you know.

  40. St.Joseph says:

    Quentin with all the thinking you put into Second Sight Blog I would not believe you to. be a novice.It is what you create that’s gets us thinking.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Quentin.Where I am at the moment in Christow’ Devon the WiFi goes off. But I meant to add There is so much we can do as a Catholic we don’t necessarily need Scripture to think about. We are living a continuation of Scripture now in doing our duty as a Christian.carrying.out where Jesus left off.as the laity in communion with the Church and using our energy in so many ways ,so when we leave that behind us and face God we can say in all good conscience ‘I hope I have made a difference in the World I have left.’!
      Then He might say ‘Come now you good and faithful servant. Enter.into my Kingdom.

      I found that out many years ago as I said in an earlier post,and tore up all.my thoughts and did some work for Him.with love as He did for us with love ,to die and suffer on a Cross for us.
      Those are my thoughts.so if any one finds the need to disagree with them so be it.

      • Ignatius says:

        St Joseph,

        “But I meant to add There is so much we can do as a Catholic we don’t necessarily need Scripture to think about. We are living a continuation of Scripture now in doing our duty as a Christian. carrying.out where Jesus left off.as the laity in communion with the Church and using our energy in so many ways ,so when we leave that behind us and face God we can say in all good conscience ‘I hope I have made a difference in the World I have left.’!…”

        This is true. I can’t think of anywhere in scripture where Jesus , or the apostles, or the prophets, recommended people to sit down and engage in Bible studies. I can think of dozens of places where we are told how to live and love, what to do with our money etc. Most of Jesus’s exhortations were about the way we actually live, his main instructions were towards fasting, giving, taking care of our neighbour and receiving eucharist. There is a sense in which WE ARE the word of God. You are right here.

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