As many of you know, I have been doing research on Christian prayer/ meditation and mindfulness meditation for a few years now. I want to present a simple four step method that harnesses genuine insights from the research done by psychologists while staying faithful to our Christian tradition. I have argued and will continue to believe that mindfulness adds nothing new to the Christian tradition on prayer. However, I think that it can help clarify aspects which may be neglected by some.
One premise that I have researched is what I call the double revelation of prayer. First, through prayer, God reveals himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Second, through Jesus Christ we discover our true identity. In this way, I would argue against any dichotomy that pits prayer against self-knowledge. This dichotomy would have been foreign to early Christians and the saints throughout the ages.
I will take a simple method taught to me at the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF), and introduce helpful aspects that are borrowed from mindfulness.
We begin by acknowledging our experience. In a lot of Christian prayer literature, emphasis is placed upon the mental aspects of acknowledging. In this regard, authors state in varied ways that we should be attentive to our thoughts, feelings, and desires (this phrasing is borrowed from IPF). However, I would argue that we should be attentive to all aspects of our experience, including sensations within the body. Often emotions and thoughts manifest themselves in different ways in the body.
So we start with what psychologists call a “nonjudgmental awareness” of our experience. Not seeking to label or judge what we are experiencing, but simply looking upon it with curiosity.
Second, we relate this experience to the Lord however one feels comfortable. You can use an icon or other religious art to help with this, but the idea is simply to relate everything you are experiencing with honesty and openness. Do not try and dress it up. Take your example from Job who related everything to the Lord without constraint.
Now we use our imagination to consider how Jesus would respond. We want to follow our inspirations understanding that this by no means that every inspiration that arises is a work of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we use discernment to notice what arises and how it bears fruit.
Having received, we now respond to the Lord with words of gratitude or other expressions which arise.
Then we repeat the steps as often as we desire. The goal is not so much to master a method, but rather let these steps lead you to a dialogue with Jesus. Remember, that within the Christian tradition our relationship with Jesus takes on a variety of expressions. Thus, one can practice discursive meditation (as described above) or simply rest with the Lord (infused contemplation). For many people, they already practice these four steps intuitively.
Finally, this practice must be understood in the context of Christian living. Thus it would be tied to the regular meditating on scripture (lectio divina) as well as frequent receptions of the sacraments, particularly confession and the Eucharist. Within lectio divina, these four steps can be used to guide one’s meditation.