Summary of A Guide to Christian Meditation by John Bartunek, LC

A Guide to Christian Meditation by John Bartunek, LC, Circle Press, 2010. 

The Importance and Benefits of Christian Meditation

“Daily meditation keeps your faith, that pearl of great price, lively, supple, and relevant. It irrigates the soil of your soul, making your sacramental life more fruitful, keeping your other prayer commitments meaningful, and continually opening up new vistas along the path to spiritual maturity” (11).

  • “Many say the Rosary, the Office of the Blessed Virgin, and perform other works of devotion; but they still continue in sin. But it is impossible for him who perseveres in mental prayer to continue in sin: he will either give up meditation or renounce sin” (St. Alphonsus Ligouri).

“But it’s not enough just to do a daily meditation; you need to learn to do it better and better” (12). That’s why we have this book to help us.

The Fundamentals of Christian Meditation

Christian prayer is eminently Christ-centred. Meditation is “a loving dialogue between Christ and the soul that deepens your friendship with Christ” (25). “God is the real protagonist of Christian prayer. Prayer is the soul’s response to God’s initiative” (19).

Christian prayer is intensely personal. We each have a unique relationship with Christ. Meditation is essential for us to foster this personal union with Christ and to experience the fruits of such a friendship.

Meditative Prayer VS. Vocal Prayer: “Meditation is less formulaic than vocal prayer. It consists of lifting the heart and mind to God through focused reflection on some truth of God’s revelation. It involves the intellect, the imagination, the memory, the emotions – the whole person” (23).

Meditative Prayer VS. Contemplative prayer: “Contemplative prayer consists of a more passive (and more sublime) experience of God. If meditation is the soul’s inspired quest to discover God, contemplation is God’s lifting of the soul into himself, so that it effortlessly basks in the divine light” (25).

Meditative Prayer VS. Spiritual Reading: Whereas spiritual reading forms your mind in the truths of the Christian faith (like taking a class from Jesus), meditation forms your heart in the unique word that Christ wants you to hear right now (like taking a leisurely walk with Jesus).

The 4-Step Structure of Your Meditation

“The four-step method of meditation is not an end in itself nor is it an arbitrary concoction. Rather, this method sets out the basic elements of any heart-to-heart conversation with God, as gleaned from experience and theology. In so doing, it provides a dependable framework for your personal encounter with God in spite of the persistent and sometimes almost overwhelming obstacles to prayer that suffice” (29).

“Learning to pray better is like turning a wild, overgrown plot of rocky ground into an ordered, fragrant, beautiful garden – God supplies the sunshine, the water, and the soil, but you still have to dig and plant and prune, and then keep on digging and planting and pruning… Think of the four steps of the meditation as your gardening tools” (30).

Step 1: Concentrate

4 Goals: (1) Recall that God is truly present, listening to you, paying attention; (2) Recall that God has something He wants to say to you; (3) Recall that you need to hear that word; (4) Renew your desire to hear that word.

Step 2: Consider

“Slowly and thoughtfully read the text you will be meditating on. You reflect on it, you examine it, you dig into it. You read it again, searching to discover what God is saying to you through it in the here and now of your life. You exercise your whole mind: intellect, imagination, and memory. You involve your emotions, relating the passage to your own life experience” (37).

“Meditation is a prayerful quest engaging thought, imagination, emotion, and desire” (CCC 2723).

Consider this “prayerful quest” to be like a spiritual workout in the virtues of faith, hope, love, humility, and trust.

If nothing strikes you right away, you can intensify your quest by asking questions, like: What is happening in this scene? How is each person reacting? What strikes me? How is this passage relevant for me today? How can I apply this passage to my vocation as a husband/wife, father/mother, worker, etc.?

If many things strike you, stay calm, don’t rush. Be like a bee extracting nectar from a blossom. Stay with it as long as your heart is being moved.

Step 3: Converse

The core of Christian prayer is a heart-to-heart conversation with God, a personal response to God’s unique revelation to you.

Throughout your time of meditation, it will be common for your responses to naturally come to a close. Then, we can turn back to the meditation material, waiting for the next inspiration from God.

“Whatever its specific form, this third step of your meditation, Converse, consists in letting down the guard around your heart, so that God’s word for you today penetrates, regenerates, and inflames the most secret depths of who you are” (44).

Step 4: Commit

As your meditation comes to a close, you need to commit to a concrete resolution, hopefully something practical for the rest of your day. Journalling after you Commit can also help. What went well? What went poorly?

Difficulties in Prayer

You will always face difficulties in prayer. Just accept it… The difficulties stem from two sources – two unique qualities of your friendship with Christ.

  1. This friendship is mediated by faith. Since faith is a virtue, you must use “all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mk 12:30) to strengthen your faith and become aware of His presence.
  2. This friendship is not equal. Jesus is not just your friend but your Creator and Redeemer. We must exercise self-denial and docility to grow in relationship with Christ.

The difficulties flowing from this need for faith and docility come in two basic varieties:

  1. Sloth: A spiritual laziness that drains energy from your spiritual life. In the meditation itself, sloth can tempt you in numerous ways: procrastinating, not getting your material ready ahead of time, giving in to tiredness, rushing through your preparatory acts instead of really concentrating, simply reading for most of the time instead of really engaging in the quest to consider and converse, or finishing with a vague and half-hearted commitment that really has no practical effect at all in your daily life or the pursuit of spiritual maturity (50).
  2. Distractions. Distractions steer that energy away from God.

The best defense against sloth and distractions is a good offense.

  1. Follow a sound and simple meditation method. This will reveal more clearly when you steer away from what you should be doing during your meditation so that you can get back on course more quickly.
  2. Know that only giving in to temptations and distractions damages your prayer life. God permits them to give you a chance to grow spiritually. Think positively!

How Do I Know If I’m Praying Well?

Since your relationship with Christ is a deep friendship built on faith and love, the success of our prayer life goes far beyond our current feelings and emotional states.

“The fruit of a healthy prayer life takes time to grow and mature. Ultimately, it shows itself by growth in virtue, as you become more like Christ… Meditation supplies much of the spiritual nutrients that cause these virtues to grow” (54-55).

Some indicators my meditation went POORLY:

  • Gave into distractions.
  • Let myself fall asleep.
  • Skipped over Concentrate or did it sloppily.
  • Spent the whole time reading, thinking, daydreaming, or focusing on feelings instead of conversing heart-to-heart with Christ.
  • Didn’t commit to anything.
  • Shortened the time I had set for meditation for no good reason.

Some indicators my meditation went WELL:

  • Fulfilled the time commitment I had set.
  • Faithfully followed the four-step method despite tiredness, distractions, dryness, or any other difficulty.
  • Stayed with the points of consideration that struck me for as long as I found good material there to reflect and converse.
  • Spoke with Christ heart-to-heart.
  • Tried my best to listen to God. Finished with a strong commit.

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