When we talk about meditation, most of the people will immediately think of the Buddhist meditation. In fact, Christian meditation also has a very long-standing history. This time, in our Chat Over Coffee series, we gave our audience an introduction to Christian meditation. I am so honoured to have two very experienced practitioners from Singapore and Argentina to share with us their experiences.
If you can’t open the audio file, I have also summarized the important points in relation to meditation and other resources in this blog.
Speakers: Rosina from Singapore and Magdalena from Argentina.
Could you tell us what Christian meditation is? What is the history? And how is it done?
Rosina: Most people are not familiar with Christian meditation. In fact, the first time I heard about it was in the year 2010 from the newspaper in Singapore when they talked about the former Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, learning meditation from a Benedictine priest, Father Laurence. Then I got curious about it. I learnt more about it from the talk by Mr. Peter Ng. I found it very interesting and started looking into it. Years later, I began to study more about its history. It started from Jesus. He was in the desert for 40 days. It was a quiet time for him, alone in silence, in communion with the Father. During the 4th – 6th century, some Christians went to the desert (the Desert Fathers and the nuns). They lived like hermits. Meditation, contemplation were how they prayed. The monastic tradition began. At first, they lived like hermits individually and then they became a community. The focus was on prayers and the presence of God. One of the monks introduced Lectio Divina in which he talked about 4 steps: 1. to read the scriptures and then meditate which was to look at the text and understand it using your mind and reason to see what the text was saying to you and what caught your attention. Then it went to speaking to God (oratio) and then went to contemplation which was to become quiet and allow God to speak to you. That was practised since the monastic time so it has been in place over 1,000 years. It is in the church history. However, it seems to be a way of life for the religious especially for the monks and nuns and not something that the late Christians pray.
Meditation in modern days:
Magdalena: Meditation is available to everybody because of Fr. John Main. We have to be clear that when Fr. John Main introduced meditation to the west, he mentioned that it’s for everyone, not only for the monks. Meditation is in fact a tool but it is not a tool to get something or to get into something. It’s a tool for self-knowledge. Through meditation, we are putting together spiritual dimension which is the inner Christ for Christians. For children in schools, if they meditate, they can discover their inner self at 5, and not at 55. That’s important. At present, there are many meditation groups in Argentina and in our neighbouring countries.
Would you like to share with us your meditation experience?
Rosina: I began Christian meditation with WCCM. They have a group in Singapore. I tried to do it by myself but it was very difficult. After 2 months, I decided to give up. It wasn’t easy because I didn’t have the discipline. But a friend introduced me to a secular meditation which was Buddhism based and I found it easier to follow because we were meditating for 7 days in complete silence and solitude. People did not talk to each other at all. With that discipline, I went back to Christian meditation. Then it became easier. There is one thing that I learnt, having a community and having the discipline to pray is not easy if you are alone. Having that community is very important. For beginners like me who may not have the discipline that perhaps Magdalena in Argentina has, I just wanted to give up. But when I had spent one week of discovering the beauty of being in silence and connecting with God (that was the first time I actually had that personal encounter with God), then going back to Christian meditation became easier.
When people talk about Christian meditation, you may immediately think of Fr. John Main and Fr. Laurence Freeman to represent Christian meditation but it’s also a generic term that is beyond that. Christian meditation in the bigger picture is not just the WCCM Christian meditation.
Do you see the changes in yourself before you started practising meditation and after?
Magdalena: Meditation has changed my life completely. You don’t know in which way it changes your life. I fully agree to what Rosina said. Meditation belongs to the human. It’s not a matter of religion. It’s more recommended by doctors than by priests within the Catholic framework. In addition to Fr. Laurence, we have 2 or 3 other priests who practise Christian meditation.
Meditation has changed me a lot. It gives me a chance to pause, to try to see things in front of me. The quietness… and I am not an organised person but my situation has improved since practising meditation.
Meditation is the key. Silence. You have to keep the silence and be with yourself and don’t hurry. The only thing you have is the present. If you are old, let’s change your framework because the only thing you have is now. If you are young, don’t hurry because you have time. On the religious side, meditation is spirituality.
Rosina: Yes, I have seen the changes in myself but I think one thing that is very important here in Christian meditation is, our purpose is to be more aware of God’s presence in our lives.
The difference between Christian meditation vs other kinds of meditation is who is the centre. In our case, it’s God. It’s Jesus. It’s not anybody else. The benefit of meditation at the secular level, physical level, mental level is very clear. Scientists have studied and whatever you have read on the newspapers about the benefits in the body and mind is indeed true. However, for Christian meditation, our aim is to be in the union with the divine, with God, with Jesus.
You have the benefit of the health in the body then your mental capacity also improves and you get the benefits of these things but the key is that it brings us closer to God. This is one thing that I find that has changed in me: my relationship with God is a lot deeper now.
Magdalena: What Rosina said was completely true. In meditation, you experience the Presence of God and experience God which is the ‘mystic’ that the Orthodox tradition has and which the Roman Catholic has left aside for a time. To experience the presence of God which enlightens everything you do, think and project… Rosina has put it so perfectly.
Questions from the viewers:
How do you avoid falling asleep when you are meditating?
Magdalena: This is a big problem. People confuse relaxation with meditation. Meditation is attention. It is not sleeping or relaxing. Yes, you have to relax when you meditate. But don’t meditate after your gym class or after you watch a horror movie. You have to be alert.
Rosina: We need to be kind to ourselves. If you are tired, then sleep. Don’t force yourself to meditate when you are tired.
Two things you can do: do not meditate in a sleeping position, like lying down, because you will fall asleep. One thing we have learnt from other religions is sitting with our back straight helps. Meditating in a lotus or semi lotus position also helps. For those who cannot do it, just sit with your back straight on your chair with your feet down and be attentive.
The second thing is, find a time when you are the freshest. If you know that you’ll get tired and you’ll sleep say by 10pm, do not meditate at night. Make a discipline to wake up say half an hour earlier and meditate when you are very fresh, before you pick up your cell phone.
How do you deal with distractions when you are meditating?
Magdalena: Distraction is a continuous friend we have next to us. I want to use ‘an elephant in a shop’ as an example. If the elephant is going into a shop, it sways. But if you put a banana in front of it, it walks straight. Two steps: 1. you need to understand you need attention. 2. start practising, use a word to help you to take you back on track. Accept distractions and be humble.
Rosina: Our mind is very busy. It needs something that it can match on to. That something can be your breathing, or a word, like in WCCM, the word they use is ‘Maranatha’. In the Eastern Orthodox, the sacred word is ‘Jesus’. Even focusing on your heartbeat, or thinking of the word ‘love’, basically choose one thing that will hold your attention and your concentration can help. When you are distracted, it’s ok. Go back to the sacred word or your breathing or whatever you choose to hold your attention. It’s fine. Be kind to yourself. If you are distracted, go back. Just realising that you are distracted is already training your muscle.
Magdalena: When distraction comes, that means 99% of our lives is being distracted, meditating or not. When distraction invades you when you are meditating, remember, that is you. The real you are being distracted the whole time. That is something that you can use your mind and reason to see, ‘oh, this is me so I have to change in this way and that.’
Rosina: We all need practice so just continue doing it. You will find that you are distracted all the time. Some days will be better than the other. It’s ok.
It was indeed a very informative, helpful, insightful and invaluable session.
Thanks to our two speakers who candidly shared so much with all of us.
And to all the viewers and my readers too! Thank you so much! I hope you have enjoyed this session or the written summary and have learnt more about Christian meditation. I do hope you will start practising it too.
If you would like to share with us your experience in Christian meditation or if you have further questions about Christian meditation, feel free to leave your comments in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box below. I look forward to seeing your responses. 🙂
Some useful resources:
WCCM mentioned by the speakers above stands for The World Community for Christian Meditation.
‘Maranatha’ means ‘Our Lord comes.’ If you follow WCCM’s practice, this word can be recited in your mind in a regular rhythm ‘Ma-ra-na-tha’ when you get distracted while meditating.
I find this book really useful. It is written by Fr. Laurence Freeman but it is not just targeting Christians. People with different faiths or have no faith can also benefit from this book.
For those who are in France, you are lucky. You can travel to the new international meditation retreat centre in the country even during this COVID-19 period to have a retreat there. When everybody can travel again, I want to go there too. 🙂
For those of you who are interested in our past ‘Chat Over Coffee’ event, you can find our previous conversation between me and other volunteers who volunteered in Cambodia here. You can learn about our lives and our experiences as a volunteer in Cambodia.
If you think this article can be helpful to anyone around you, your family members, friends and colleagues, feel free to share it with them so that they can also benefit from Christian meditation and discover their inner selves and encounter God in silence.
Thank you again. 🙂
May God bless you.