We all have an interior dialogue through which we filter our experience. This dialogue is composed of thoughts, feelings, and desires all of which are interconnected with our bodies. Thus we are a composite of a physical body and an interior life. All meditation, including Buddhism, somehow seeks to address and guide this interior dialogue towards greater harmony and balance.
The specific nature of Christian Meditation is that our interior dialogue is not a conversation simply with ourselves. Through the mediation of the sacraments, we are given access to the Divine life of the Trinity whereby we are given the grace to address God. This grace gives us access to who God so that we are able to hear and respond to his voice speaking within the fabric of our interior dialogue.
To learn to hear how God is speaking to us, we must gently sift through our interior dialogue and discern what is the work of the Holy Spirit and what is not. This is generally referred to as discernment in the West and discrimination in the East. The theory and practice of discernment will be discussed more in depth later, but for now it suffices to say that we must gain a sensitivity to how God speaks to as at every moment of every day. This is not an extraordinary grace, but the ordinary path to sanctity.
The tradition is filled with many excellent methods of meditation. These methods are expected to act as training wheels. When a beginner is comfortable spontaneously receiving and responding to our Lord with simplicity and directness, all spiritual masters recommend that methods be abandoned for the less formal kind of dialogue.
I will not present all the different methods, but a quick internet search will probably give you more than enough. The method I will present is the one I learned at the Institute for Priestly Formation. The method is simple and straightforward, and its key feature is that we make concrete our receiving and responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
The method calls for us to intuitively imagine what our Lord (or the saints) want to say to us. In my work with both adults and children, I have come to appreciate that most Catholics have an intuitive sense of what the Lord wants to say to them. Often, what keeps us from receiving is our desire for certainty and our fear of being led astray by illusion. The Church teaches that members of the Body of Christ have an intuitive grasp of the mysteries of the faith through the action of the Holy Spirit (sense fidei). I would argue that this principle extends to our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We have an intuitive sense of who God is and what he wants to say to us. The key is to allow ourselves the opportunity to hear his words of growth and consolation.
The method for meditation that I would like to introduce is composed of four movements of the heart, all of which are interconnected. We should move organically between them as we become more familiar with how they work.
The first step is “Acknowledge.” We start prayer by recognizing what we are experiencing in the moment and where our heart is at. This involves acknowledging our physical sensations such as tensions and discomfort. In addition, we must learn to acknowledge our thoughts, feelings, and desires and how they interact with our physical sensations.
The second step is “Relate.” Having acknowledged and “looked at” our interior dialogue and physical bodies, we now relate these to the Lord with simplicity and directness. At first, this may seem rather mechanical. However, with time it becomes more relaxed. For example, I might be actively talking with Jesus about my experience in what resembles a dialogue with a friend. Also, in time our relating need not involve words or concepts. Our relating can be more from the gut, simply pouring ourselves out before the Lord with our emotions and more subconscious parts of our psyche.
The third step is “Receive.” Now we use our intuitive sense of who God is and imagine what we wants to say to us or rest in what we perceive he wants to give us. At first, our receiving may lead us to doubt the authenticity of the message, but as we learn to let go of our inhibitions, we soon learn to trust that our Lord wants to communicate his love and compassion. Often, the Holy Spirit will inspire in us a particular passage of Scripture. Thus our receiving need not be original or unique.
The fourth step is “Respond.” Now we respond to what the Holy Spirit has inspired in us. Again, this movement of receiving and responding does not necessarily have to be tied with words, concepts, and ideas.
The goal of our meditation is not necessarily to move through these four steps in any particular way or in any particular sequence. They flow naturally one from the next, and soon we can internalize the principles and forget about the method itself. It is kind of like the mold a sculptor uses to create his art. Once we have begun our relationship with Jesus Christ, we need not explicitly make reference to these steps because we have internalized them.