Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Meditation remains an excellent and very safe way

"...[I]t can be seen that between discursive prayer and infused contemplation there is a state of prayer which consists in keeping a loving, confused, and general attention on God, and in giving Our Lord a glance that is full of love, but not distinct or particular. Spiritual writers have called this prayer by various names: the prayer of recollection; the prayer of simplicity or the simple glance at God. They also call it active or acquired contemplation.

This type of prayer is already a form of contemplation, but it is not of the mystical or supernatural type, in the sense given to this word by St Teresa. We can acquire it by our own generous efforts, aided by God's grace. There is already to be found in it the influence of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, although these are hardly perceptible yet. This type of contemplation rewards the efforts of generous and faithful souls fairly soon, especially those who are in the religious life.

However, we ought not to try to attain to this type of prayer before the time for it has arrived; otherwise, we risk daydreaming and accomplish nothing. St John of the Cross indicates three signs by which we can recognize whether a soul enjoys this kind of contemplation:

First, one finds it impossible to meditate, as formerly, and finds only dryness in this kind of prayer instead of the satisfaction which one used to get from it, or instead of the activity which made it possible.

Second, one does not feel inclined to think about other things, either external or internal.

Third, one feels attracted to God and wishes to occupy oneself with Him in calmness and silence, without making any effort at reasoning.

When these three signs are found together, then the soul must leave meditation for contemplation. This does not mean that we must never go back to discursive prayer. For at the beginning the soul is not yet established in perfect contemplation. If sometimes it finds itself favored by this contemplation as soon as it places itself in the presence of God, it will at other times be unable to enter into this state except with the aid of some considerations.

Besides, this initial contemplation is not always of long duration; and as soon as the loving attention to God slackens, one must revive it by considerations. It can even happen that contemplation needs to be initiated by means of some brief considerations. Then we must at once take up discursive prayer. To maintain that we can no longer return to it because we have enjoyed the beginnings of contemplation, even supernatural contemplation, would be the result of pride and would lead to idleness.

Meditation remains an 'excellent and very safe way, until Our Lord raises us to other supernatural things.' It is a form of prayer which is within the reach of all souls. As St Teresa says: 'all that is necessary is the habitual practice of love. For God will always give us the opportunity to practice it if we desire it.'

Over and above this prayer of recollection or active contemplation come the different kinds of infused prayer. These are a gratuitous gift of God; none of our own efforts can procure them for us, and one must not try to attempt the on one's own. According to St Teresa, a soul which God has not elevated to this degree of prayer will do well not to try to undertake it of its own accord. It could only suffer harm and risk falling into deception."

-- The Spirit and Prayer of Carmel by Fr François Jamart, ocd

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