In teaching folks mental prayer and meditation, I have learned that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Earlier in my priesthood (i.e. last year), I generally taught based on my own experience of how I learned mental prayer.
For the most part, I did not learn meditation through a structured approach. From early on, my period of meditation was almost completely spontaneous. In times apart from these periods, I would engage in spiritual practices such as the liturgy of the hours, spiritual reading, study, and lectio divina, but within the set hour, I would allow my imagination and intuition to lead me.
Through a process of trial and error, I learned how to navigate the silence, and this formed the backdrop of how I viewed meditation. From that perspective, when I did learn more about the tradition and spiritual direction, I assumed that many people could benefit from my bold, more spontaneous approach.
Sometimes that is the case and sometimes it is not.
I am now realizing that some people like and prefer a structure.
For that reason, I am going to share with you the Carmelite Method of Mental Prayer as found in Fr. Jordan Aumann’s great work Spiritual Theology. Fr. Aumann does not provide detailed instructions on each step, so the descriptions will be mine.
Generally, the view was that methods of mental prayer should be abandoned when one feels called to a more spontaneous form of relating to the Lord.
I leave it up to your discernment.
The method is divided into three sections with individual steps in each.
Step 1 – Preparation
Generally it is assumed that there is some kind of transition between daily life and the period of prayer. The manuals would often talk about calling to mind the presence of God. In a certain sense, this can be any formal or informal ritual that helps delineate daily activity from the time of prayer.
In light of Catholic Mindfulness promoted by both Dr. Gregory Bottaro and myself, this might be an opportunity to connect with your breathing and body for the space of 5 minutes or so. Thus, feel free to adapt a ritual of transition that integrates mindfulness and other forms of entering into your period of prayer.
Step 2 – Reading
Before the time of meditation, the believer should select some type of spiritual and devotional material that is be read for a short period. There are many good works that can be used for this step. Abandonment to Divine Providence is a great example (https://www.amazon.com/Abandonment-Divine-Providence-Spiritual-Commentary-ebook/dp/B01NBF7JG9)
There are also works that were created by St. Josemaria Escriva which were meant to be used in this fashion… Maybe you could share materials you know about in the comment section? If you can, I am sure we would all love to see your suggestion.
The guideline we should follow is that our reading leads us to reflect upon the life of Christ or some truth of the faith. The material should be easily accessible and lead us to connect with our experience and our interior life.
Step 3 – Imaginative Representation of the Material
At a certain point, the believer should have sufficient information provided by the reading that they can know use the imagination to recall the events or other ideas related to the material.
Step 4 – Reflection or Meditation properly so called
The previous step should then lead to the active or discursive pondering on the reading. This can mean using our imaginations to form connections with our everyday lives or perhaps allowing a chain of associations to lead us to consider the spiritual life and our individual circumstances. Remember, the method is simply to help provide structure.
Step 5 – Affective Colloquy or Conversation with God
Having pondered the material, this should in turn lead to a stirring of the affections and a familiar conversation with God. Although not a traditional part of the method, this might be a good opportunity to do some journaling. Feel free to integrate writing into other steps as well.
Keep in mind that our devotion should be grounded in the three theological virtues, expressing faith, hope, and love to the Lord in words of tenderness.
Step 6 – Thanksgiving
After a period of conversation, we should move into acts of thanksgiving in which we express gratitude for whatever we have encountered. This can be particularly important when our prayer period was difficult or dry or when we experience suffering. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to the sadness of desolation.
Step 7 – Oblation
We should then offer our lives, our families, our works, our sufferings, our joys and the entirety of interior and exterior lives to the Lord. In a particular way, our oblation should be a habit of self-donation, mindful that we join our sacrifices to the sacrifice of the Cross made present in the Eucharist. This connection between our oblation and the oblation of the Church should be central to our devotion.
Step 8 – Petition
Now we should set ourselves on the task of growing in some particular virtue or line of action or thinking. We should resolve ourselves to some kind of mortification or area of growth, and then petition our Lord to provide the grace needed to carry out this inspiration. Thus, it is noble for us to set our minds to going back in the world with renewed vigor….
Your thoughts? Does this help? Does this make sense? Let me know if you try it out.