A Word in Season
Prayer: The Heart of the Matter
Vocal prayer is the start of the journey of Christian prayer. It is a stepping-stone toward other forms of prayer.
Vocal prayer is most readily accessible to group prayers. Catholics are very aware of this because of our communal liturgical prayer at the Mass, or at other prayer gatherings.
Vocal prayer has external and internal components. It is vocal and engages the senses, yet it is also a welling up of what is within the person who prays aloud. Its direction is always toward a deeper connection with God. Using the "Our Father" as an example, we find our external words connect us to the inner reality of our being a child of God addressing a loving Father.
St. Teresa of Avila, the great teacher and mystic, describes this interior dimension of vocal prayer as "internalized to the extent that we become aware of him 'to whom we speak'. Thus vocal prayer becomes an initial form of contemplative prayer."
Indeed, we are not alone when we pray. Someone Else is there.
Vocal prayer is a launch pad, a starting point, and a good foundation to move us into deeper prayer.
In our cultural milieu, the word meditation conjures a number of things—anything from "thinking good thoughts" to "positive energy" to a stress-relieving time-out. Not all meditation "techniques" are created equal.
Christian meditation has Christ as its beginning, middle, and end. It is inspirational and illuminative: shining light on deeper conversion of one's heart and aimed at strengthening a person in following Christ.
Think of mediation as a quest.
Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain. We are usually helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: the Sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history the page on which the "today" of God is written (CCC 2705).
It is in our heart's best interest to meditate using the kinds of texts and resources suggested by this last paragraph. Such resources hold a mirror to our own lives, and challenge us to take what they teach and make it our own.
The true aim of meditation leads us to Christ; it's all about Jesus.
There are as many and varied methods of meditation as there are spiritual masters. Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate regularly . . . But a method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ Jesus.
Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire...
Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina [praying with scripture] or the rosary. This form of prayerful reflection is of great value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him (CCC 2707 & 2708).
Meditating on spiritual reading helps us in "keeping the Word." If our meditation is advancing us toward Christ, then our ultimate quest is for union with Christ, and "dwelling in the presence of God."
Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press. Subscribe to “A Word in Season” via email or RSS.