- Title: Studies in Soul Tending or Pastoral Work in its Relation to the Individual
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Prayer in General
- 3. Fasting
- 4. Fasting Communion
- 5. Meditation
- 6. Intercession
- 7. Scheme of Private Devotion
- 8. Thoughts of Divine Immanence in Worship
- 9. Priest’s Relations with His People
- 10. On the Practice of Auricular Confession
- 11. Treatment of Individual Souls
- 12. The Sick
- 13. Care in Preparation for Reception of the Holy Communion
- Appendix: Standard Theological Works
MEDITATION may be regarded as in a sense the highest form of private devotion; perhaps, also, the most difficult. It demands, and implies, a condition of actual nearness to the life of Christ, as well as direct and effectual consciousness of His Presence. The practice of this form of devotion is, perhaps, one of the surest means of testing the reality of one’s spiritual life. It may be said with truth that there can be no live Christianity without the existence of this practice in greater or less degree. No diligence in other forms of devotion can make up for the want of this one. It is in itself necessarily extemporaneous. Stated prayers naturally crystallise into fixed forms of words, and no doubt it is best that this should be so; the exercise of prayer may even gain in force and intensity by the use of this method of worship, the use, that is, of forms probably of one’s own composition and stereotyped by continual practice, the effort to use varying language often distracts the mind from the substance of the object sought for.
Meditation, however, is necessarily extemporaneous, and the idea of its nature is probably best arrived at by consulting the models of meditation which the Church has given to us in her earliest and simplest years. The typical instance which at once rises to our minds- is that model of this species of composition, 29
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St. Augustine’s Confessions a work which for nearly a millennium and a half has stirred the hearts of multi tudes as, perhaps, no other work, outside the Scriptures, has ever done.1 St. Ambrose, St. Anselm, as well as The Imitation of Christ (in its meditative portions) are also models of this form of exercise. The study of these works will provide a plain answer to the question: “In what does meditation, considered as a religious act, consist? ” It may be defined as a dialogue between the soul and its Lord. Herein consists its difference from a mere act of reflection; in the fact, namely, that there are always two per sons engaged in it. Hence, in the models to which reference has been made, meditation always takes the shape of direct address to God: ” Magnus es Domine et laudabilis valde,” beginsSt. Augustine’s Confessions.
A dialogue means a conversation between two, and the dialogue in this case consists in the fact, which every really successful effort at this form of exercise will bring about, that the man who habituates himself in this manner to address his inmost thoughts directly to God, will soon discover that the very act of so doing has the effect of introducing into his mind, as responses to his own utterances, thoughts which are certainly not originated there; thoughts deeper and higher than any of which he would be capable by his own personal mental efforts. It is not that anything in the shape of direct and consciously recognised response is to be expected. The worshipper is addressing to God, as they occur to his mind, what would appear to himself to be his own thoughts. He will find, however, that these thoughts, as they shape themselves in his 1 CompareSt. PaulandSt. John, on the one hand, withSt. Augustineand Thomas & Kempis on the other.
mind and find expression in words, are by degrees coming to be the expression of new ideas which are certainly not his own, of deeper purport than his own unaided mind could have conceived of itself. He will be conscious of a certain sense of inspiration, his soul kindled with a sense of nearness to his Lord, and personal contact with His Presence.
It will generally be found most natural to address your meditation to the Lord Jesus, His humanity being your point of contact with the Godhead, His humanity being wholly sympathetic with your humanity. In some cases, perhaps, it may be found more helpful to address the utterances directly to the Father, ever bearing in mind and leaning upon the mediation of the Son. An essential to meditation is the remembrance of the fact that there are two parties to it. The soul in addressing itself to its Lord does so in the distinct expectation of a response on His part which will, as it were, convey itself to the man’s mind through the medium of the mind’s own current of thought. It* is this view of the subject which affords the key to the effective performance of this form of worship.
Now comes the question of how to conduct it.
As a practical observance this form of exercise has been much hindered by making it a subject of rules and regulations such as those which are laid down in ordinary manuals. To enjoy the full advantage of the exercise the worshipper should be advised to keep clear of manuals. Avoid formality. Do away with the physical tedium which naturally attends per severance in any single attitude for any length of time, as this certainly detracts from the life of the exercise.
The attitude of kneeling is generally not desirable, and
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it is worth while remembering that ambulatories and cloisters were constructed with the object of affording opportunity for ambulatory prayer. Walking to and fro in church or chapel, or in a quiet spot out of doors, will generally be found most conducive to the exercise of meditation. Outside, indeed, the objects of external nature will generally become a help rather than a hindrance to the exercise of meditation, assisting the worshipper to recognise and appropriate as his own that Real Presence which pervades the universe. 1
In the practice of meditation two difficulties may be mentioned which naturally present themselves, (i) the difficulty of attaining anything like a distinct realisation of the presence of our Lord; (2) that of giving definite and practical shape to the exercise of meditation, and so making it really profitable. The first difficulty will soon yield to earnest endeavour.
You have only to make the Presence a reality to your self by treating it as a real thing, even though you may not at once attain that fuller sense of reality which is the object you are striving after, and which will come in due time. Even though this sense of conscious perception of the Divine Presence should be slow in making itself clearly manifest, do not worry about it. Though your eyes are for the time holden, it does not follow that your Lord is not truly present with you as truly present as He was with the travellers on the way to Emmaus, for even they were not certain until almost after the event present, listening to you and even answering you through the medium of your own thoughts, even as He directed the current of the thoughts of Cleopas and his companion. 2 The great 1 See notes on Divine Immanence appended to Scheme of Prayer, p.51 ft.
9 St. I*”ke 24:13-35.
secret of success is that of treating Him as actually present, only making sure that you are genuinely striving towards the realisation of that actual Presence, and not allowing yourself to be disturbed either by failure in realising it or by absence of fervour or warmth of feeling at first.
The second difficulty, that of giving practical shape to the meditation itself, calls for careful consideration, and must be explicitly dealt with. Meditation to be of any use must be a practical thing; mere devout dreaming is not the thing you are aiming at. The practice of this exercise with any degree of real benefit is no light or easy matter. It calls for steady and strenuous effort. Much depends upon the selection of your subject; this must be something clear and definite, something which you feel to be essential to your soul’s requirements. It may be a particular form of need, of difficulty, of sin, of infirmity, of sorrow, of perplexity, of anxiety, of joy or comfort, of thankfulness or praise some thought or question calling for an expression on your part, and seeking an answer on the part of your Lord.
A text of Scripture may oftentimes be selected as a starting point, and it is desirable to supply yourself with material for following up any thoughts which may occur. The Bible and Greek Testament will be essential, and a small Greek Testament Concordance will also be very helpful. It is very necessary to have a distinct and practical purpose before you, something definite to be kept in view, or there is a danger of degenerating into devout dreaming. You must take heed that your subject follows a definite line of thought, and does not diverge into by-paths. To avoid this latter you will need to preserve your recollectedness,
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your consciousness of the presence of Him Whom you are addressing, as well as the attitude of attention, as expecting, looking for, a response from Him, to be borne in upon your mind in the form of luminous and elevating thoughts.
This practice of meditation will be found to acquire a character of fascination belonging to no other form of mental or spiritual exercise. The worshipper will be surprised by the manner in which, apparently by the sole process of his own thoughts, difficulties will clear themselves away, while doubt and uncertainty, trouble and despondency, and mental disquiet, will give place to a sense of peace and comfort, and even joy. But in order that this happy result may follow it is necessary that plenty of time should be allowed.
Anything like haste will be fatal to its profitable observance. It should never be undertaken unless under circumstances which will afford sufficient time for the deliberate expansion of thought in which the essence of this exercise consists.
One very suitable subject for meditation would be that of hindrances to the spiritual life, in those special forms which most beset the worshipper at that particular time. The treatment of these generally conducive to a sense of comfort, and which is one of the usual accompaniments was exercise.