Meditation in the Christian Tradition
Meditation is part of the universal wisdom of the human family. It therefore offers a direct way into the common ground we all share and that we need to re-connect with today so urgently. It is found in all the major spiritual traditions. At the John Main Center we teach meditation from the Christian tradition (as passed on by John Main) in an inclusive way that welcomes everyone, whether they have a tradition they identify with or not. In addition to the spiritual fruits of meditation, a growing body of scientific research has recognised its benefits for both physical health and mental well-being. Silence, stillness and simplicity – the essential qualities of meditation and of contemplative living – offer a bridge between a religious and a secular approach to life, with all its joys and its challenges.
John Main (1926-1982) was an Irish Benedictine monk and one of the major Christian spiritual teachers of this era. He recognized the need for a simple method of meditation open to all within the church. In the monastic Desert Tradition he found a way that resonates directly with the contemplative teaching of Jesus on prayer. The World Community for Christian Meditation (www.wccm.org), now present in a hundred countries, continues the work of John Main. His successor, the Benedictine Laurence Freeman, has a long and close connection with Georgetown and helped to found the John Main Center here in collaboration with the university and Jesuit community.
A Simple Way of Meditation
The repetition of a sacred word or phrase is a universal method of meditation that can be practiced by all ages and people of all backgrounds. A mantra is a word (or phrase) you repeat, silently and faithfully, during the entire time of your meditation. Listen to the mantra with full attention. Say it gently, without force, simply without self-evaluation, and faithfully, returning to the word whenever you become distracted by thoughts. Meditation is not what you think! So saying the word is a way to lay aside all thoughts. Stay with the same word throughout the meditation period (ideally 20 – 30 minutes) and in each meditation period – ideally morning and evening. It is better to chose a word not in your own language so that it doesn’t stimulate thought or imagination. This has a clarifying effect on the way you think and use your imagination outside the meditation times. We recommend the word ‘maranatha’. In the biblical tradition, it is an Aramaic word meaning ‘come Lord’. (You do not think of the meaning of the word as you say it). It is also a combination of syllables that is found in many similar words in other traditions and so may be used universally.
Ignore All Else
All thoughts, impressions, emotions, memories, and images – even good, holy, or edifying ones – are let go of as distractions during the period of your meditation. Don’t get frustrated when your mind wanders – that’s why we meditate – to become less distracted. Our usual ideas of success and failure don’t apply to meditation. Faithfulness to the practice is more meaningful than success. So, when you become aware that your mind is wandering, drop the thought, plan, memory, anxiety or daydream and simply resume the calm recitation of your word.
As with any discipline, learning to meditate takes time. Experience is your teacher. Showing up for practice means meditating morning and evening; perseverance simply means saying your mantra continuously for the 20-to-30 minutes of each sitting. If you need to start with less time, do that and gradually build up. Time the meditation. There is an app available o the wccm.org site. Gradually, you will notice benefits from the practice. Creativity, clarity of judgement, calm, and productivity are often cited by those who may meditate only for the health benefits. But this experience opens up deeper questions of meaning in the spiritual dimension as your personal wholeness grows.
Opening and Closing Prayers
Many Christian meditators and Christian Meditation groups use these opening and closing prayers.
Opening Prayer by John Main
Heavenly Father, open our hearts to the silent presence of the spirit of your Son. Lead us into that mysterious silence where your love is revealed to all who call, Maranatha…Come, Lord Jesus.
Closing Prayer by Laurence Freeman
May this group be a true spiritual home for the seeker, a friend for the lonely, a guide for the confused. May those who pray here be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to serve all who come, and to receive them as Christ Himself. In the silence of this room may all the suffering, violence, and confusion of the world encounter the Power that will console, renew and uplift the human spirit.
May this silence be a power to open the hearts of men and women to the vision of God, and so to each other, in love and peace, justice and human dignity. May the beauty of the divine life, fill this group and the hearts of all who pray here, with joyful hope. May all who come here weighed down by the problems of humanity leave giving thanks for the wonder of human life. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.