This month we’re focusing on twin disciplines: prayer and meditation. If asked “what is prayer?” you could probably come up with a natural answer. We seem to intuitively understand what it is, at least at a basic level. But meditation? That one tends to freak us out. After all, isn’t that an eastern-new-age-Buddhist sort of thing?
Let’s start things out this month with a foundational understanding of prayer and Christian meditation — how they work together and the role they can plan in our lives. Here’s my take on them, excerpted from my book The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival:
In its most basic sense, prayer is speaking to God. In prayer, we can speak praises, confessions, requests, thanks, questions, doubts, and random thoughts. Prayer can be practiced in specific windows of time but can also take place in a constant, ongoing conversation with God throughout the day.
Meditation is essentially prayerful listening to God. Thomas Merton described it this way: ”[Meditation] teaches you how to become aware of the presence of God; and most of all it aims at bringing you to a state of almost constant loving attention to God, and dependence on Him. The real purpose of meditation is…[to] enter into a conscious and loving contact with God.”
In meditation, we set aside words in order to focus our thoughts and attentions on God, on God’s qualities, on God’s Word, or on God’s World. There are many avenues of Christian meditation, including some practices we’ve already explored like intentionally quieting the heart, observing God’s qualities in nature, lectio divina, and pondering memorized Scriptures. In all the various forms in which meditation can be practiced, at its core meditation is, as a group of Christian monks has described it, “a tranquil listening of the heart, that allows God to enter through all its doors and passages.”
These twin practices of prayer and meditation—the cycle of speaking and soul-listening—function together to foster and strengthen our intimacy with God. C.S. Lewis emphasized this relational focus of prayer, clarifying that prayer is meant to be much more than simply naming requests to God: “Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us.”
In prayer and meditation, just as in human relationships, we come to know God better through speaking and listening. And through the very act of praying we assert something powerful: God is, God loves, God hears, and God speaks.