Step 11 states, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” (Alcoholics Anonymous).
What immediately strikes me about the above words is that the authors name two different ways we can commune with our Creator: prayer and meditation, not prayer or meditation. Since these aren’t presented as either/or options, our question is this: Why do we need both prayer and meditation?
The word “meditation” often generates confusion and suspicion from certain traditional Catholics. I have often heard Catholics dismiss meditation as “an Eastern thing” or a “Buddhist thing,” and therefore something to be avoided as if it’s some form of deranged Paganism or Occult witchery. Unfortunately, the Western attitude toward Eastern wisdom has caused many Catholics to put up a wall that prevents them from experiencing this very deep form of communion with Christ.
I want to begin by examining three common misconceptions about meditation.
- Meditation is not thinking about a scriptural passage. I have often heard people say they are going to meditate on a Scripture passage. However, this form of prayer is better described as Lectio Divina. This beautiful form of prayer dynamically takes us deep into a Scripture passage, allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal a deeper understanding of the active Word of God. It engages the thinking mind as we examine details and imagery present in a particular passage. While meditation is certainly part of the process of Lectio Divina as we sit with the passage as an observer, once we begin to actively examine Scripture with our thinking mind we are no longer doing strict meditation in the way I’m using it here.
- Meditation is not a conversation with God. Conversational or colloquial prayer is a deep exchange we have with our Creator. We ask for what we need, give thanks for what we have been given and, as Jesus taught us, talk to God as a Father and friend. Meditation goes beyond colloquial prayer and instead focuses on the act of being. Meditation puts us into a space of receptiveness, trusting that God is with us in the reality of the present moment.
- Meditation does not open us up to demonic influence. Having an open and quiet mind does not open a person up to demonic influence, unless, of course, that is your intention! When we approach meditation as Catholics, we approach it with the intention of savoring the presence of God in the present moment. We acknowledge that we are truly in the presence of God and ask God to guide us throughout our meditation.
Meditation can be defined simply as the art of deep listening. Meditation is experiencing the reality of the present moment without the need to judge emotions, sensations, sounds, or thoughts. Meditation entails being free of regretting the past or worrying about the future.
In meditation, we become passive observers of the present moment and everything that exists at that moment. The psalms sum up the essence of meditation beautifully: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Meditation as Deep Listening
Those of us who have struggled with addictions, compulsions, and unhealthy attachments understand that temptations and cravings shout. Temptation can come on like a hurricane seeking to destroy any internal peace or serenity we have, attempting to drive us to engage in activities that lead us away from our savior, Jesus. Evil shouts. God whispers.
I have often experienced the guidance of God through a gentle whisper, what we might describe as an intuition. God’s guidance comes to us gently—compassionately—like a mother soothing her infant child. Meditation quiets our mind so we can hear the gentle whisper and open up our being so we can experience God’s healing presence in the reality of the present moment.
We can see how prayer and meditation complement one another; in prayer we ask, in meditation we receive. If all we ever engage in is asking God for things through prayer, though, we can miss the gentle answer God is sending us as we prayerfully chatter away.
Meditation as Gratitude
At the heart of our relationship with our Creator is gratitude. As the psalms beautifully state, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his mercy endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1). Most of us are taught from an early age to say thank you. We learn to say these words when we receive a gift or a blessing. There are also numerous psalms and prayers expressing gratitude to our Divine Creator. A healthy prayer life is one steeped in prayers of gratitude. Those of us blessed with the gift of recovery know the power of gratitude and how it can transform our lives and relationship with Christ. Traditional prayer is a wonderful way to express gratitude in a direct way.
However, meditation is another profound way we can show—non-verbally—the true depth of our gratitude. Besides, how many times have you said thank you but the words were hollow? We have all likely received an “ugly sweater” gift at some point in our lives and responded as though it were the best gift that we’ve ever received! While our response might have been well intentioned (we don’t want to hurt Grandma’s feelings for those itchy socks!), in those cases our gratitude lacks depth and sincerity.
Now imagine a time when you were given a gift that truly moved you to be thankful. Perhaps it was something you really wanted as a child that showed up under the Christmas tree or maybe an unexpected gift from your spouse that brought you to tears. When we receive a gift we truly love, we become totally present to the gift. Words cannot adequately describe the depth of our gratitude and our simple presence and focus reveals what words cannot.
Meditation reveals the depth of our gratitude for what we have in the present moment in a similar way. We savor the gift of life by being fully present to the gift of existence. Meditation becomes a pure way of showing God through our presence the love we have for the gift of creation and for Him.
In the second part, we will look at ways we can begin to practice meditation as part of our daily spiritual routine.
Trevor is a grateful Catholic and recovering alcoholic who joyfully proclaims Christ as his Higher Power. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and the founder of the non-profit Warrior Beat, where he teaches drumming and meditation to veterans struggling with PTSD.