Step 11 – “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God.”
Coming from a background in Evangelical Christianity, I was always cautious when hearing someone talk about meditation because I had learned to equate the word with New Age spirituality. After becoming Catholic, I then discovered certain Catholic authors and retreats emphasizing Eastern forms of meditation that have roots in Buddhism that should be avoided.
For these reasons, I was somewhat hesitant when my spiritual director encouraged me to begin setting aside 15 minutes each day for silent meditation. I knew he was a good orthodox priest, and so I trusted him. He also referred me to the Catechism, which explained what the Christian understanding of meditation is and how to begin practicing it.
“Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ.” (CCC 2708)
So in 2004, my journey began with 15 minutes a day of meditative prayer and over time has gradually increased to one hour. This practice has become the primary source of my spiritual growth and relationship with God the Father, the Holy Family, and the Saints. Today I cannot imagine living without it. I resonate with the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions when it states:
“I…would no more do without it than refuse air, food, or sunshine. As the body can fail its purpose for lack of nourishment, so can the soul.” (pg. 97)
I have come to see meditation as a conversation with God who loves me unconditionally. By providing Him with my “imagination, thought, emotion, and desire,” I have continually experienced “conversion of heart and a strengthening of my will to follow Christ.” Eventually, my meditation became the primary subject of my conversations with my spiritual director. Over the 14 years I’ve been meeting with him, I have learned that the spiritual life is an adventure unlike any other.
Knowing that my spiritual director would be asking me about my meditation practices kept me accountable in the beginning. I experienced times of dryness and desolation as well as consolation and dramatic spiritual growth. But as I persisted, I began to see a thread of God’s love weaving a tapestry of my spiritual progress. As I progressed, I found that I eventually wanted and needed to stay dedicated to this daily, conscious contact with God in order to make sense of how He was leading me.
I not only struggled to commit to prayer in the beginning but I also lacked a special place in my home to pray. I would go to the adoration chapel during the week but since adoration wasn’t available on weekends I wasn’t consistent with my commitment. Eventually, I set up a little area in my home with icons and a candle. I try to keep that area set aside exclusively for prayer in order to limit distractions. I’ve found that having a specific area dedicated to prayer has helped keep me focused and committed with my daily prayer and meditation practices.
And my decision to create a special area for prayer was again affirmed by the Catechism:
“Places favorable for prayer: For personal prayer, this can be a ‘prayer corner’ with the Sacred Scriptures and icons, in order to be there, in secret, before our Father.” (CCC 2691)
Many people, especially adult children, get so discouraged and ashamed by distractions that we give up on meditative prayer. My spiritual director taught me early on to bring my distractions into prayer. God knows what they are, anyway, so they’re not a surprise to Him.
One practice I have found helpful is to have a little notebook so I can write things down that are occupying my mind, quick reminders to help me let go of obsessive thoughts (things like errands, projects, or ideas). Also, in terms of distractions, I find that spiritual reading helps greatly in this area. I decide on a passage before prayer and, if possible, read through it. Then when I find myself distracted, I go back to the passage to refocus my attention.
As an adult child from a dysfunctional home, I have found that staying committed to regular, consistent prayer and meditation also involves gentleness and self-care. There have been times throughout my experience with meditation where I felt a strong reluctance to pray and have realized through recovery that this is directly related to those critical voices of the “the enemy” or the ones inside me that spew lies, such as “God doesn’t really love you unconditionally,” or “you’ll NEVER be like all the Saints you admire and go to for help,” or “who do you think you are, placing yourself in the presence of such holiness?”
What I have found is that the best way to combat these lies is not to fight and rebuke them. I’m too little for that (thank you, St. Therese!). Instead, I go to prayer anyway and imagine my little self in the midst of the Holy Family and all of my favorite Saints dancing around and receiving from them all the messages I didn’t receive as a child. As I swirl and twirl amongst them, I hear affirmations like “you’re beautiful just the way you are,” or “we love being with you and hearing about all of your feelings, hopes, and fears,” or “ you’re safe with us.”
These messages and invitations to love and be loved are what keep me coming back to prayer and fulfill that very important commitment in the first part of Step 11: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God.”
Born and raised Catholic, Chloe is an adult child of alcoholics who recently rediscovered the beauty of 12-step recovery through attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) and Catholic in Recovery meetings. For many years, Chloe was an Evangelical Christian before the Blessed Mother, the saints, and the witness of a dear friend eventually drew her back to the Catholic faith.