How to Meditate - Part 2

H O W  T O  M E D I T A T E - Part II

Methods of prayer of St. Teresa of Jesus.
(The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila,
Translated by Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh, ocd. Bangalore 1982)

In our first talk we spoke about how to learn to concentrate. We had proposed some methods both from the East and West that would help us to come to this concentration. Here we would speak of some of the methods that St. Teresa teaches in her Life and Way of Perfection, though some of them may be latent in those already taught. St. Teresa of Avila says: "mental prayer, in my view, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with Him who we know loves us" (Life, chapter 8:5). She says that it is an exercise of love. And what is required for prayer is love and habit. It is surrender, and surrender in love to a loving father.

We are familiar with the words of St. Augustine: "Behold you were within me, and I outside; and I sought you outside . . .. You were with me and I was not with you"(Qtd. Confessions of St. Augustine, The Divine Office III, 225*). St. Teresa would say, once we are able to recollect, we should learn "to consider the Lord as very deep within their souls" (Life 40: 6). Prayer for Teresa, the teacher of spiritual life, is the constant loving awareness of God. It is not just accepting the presence of God, knowing that there is a God, but it is being aware that he is here. It is being aware that He is looking at us lovingly. "Though we are always in the presence of God, it seems to me the manner is different with those who practice prayer, for they are aware that He is looking at them" (Life 8:2b).

Our effort is to be constantly aware of this presence of God. The path of prayer is very hard till we come to enjoy the experience of God, especially in the earlier stages. "The greatest labor is in the beginning because it is the beginner who works while the Lord gives the increase" (L. 11:5). "Beginners in prayer, we can say, are those who draw water from the well. This involves a lot of work on their part . . .. They must tire themselves in trying to recollect their senses. Since they are accustomed to being distracted, this recollection requires much effort. They need to get accustomed to caring nothing at all about seeing or hearing, to practicing the hours of prayer, and thus to solitude and withdrawal" (L. 11: 9b).

I. Reading: If we look at beginners who do not know what mental prayer is and how to come to it, the least one can do is to read good books, specially the gospels or something related to the mysteries of Christ and learn to feel the closeness of Jesus. Teresa speaks of it in chapter 4, ¶ 8 of Life. She writes: "Anyone who cannot benefit from such a practice (of discursive meditation) will derive more profit from spending a good deal of time in reading; and this is necessary since by oneself one cannot get any idea . . .. Reading is very helpful for recollection and serves as a necessary substitute - even though little may be read - for anyone who is unable to practice mental prayer". In the preceding paragraph she had said: "Most of the time I spent reading good books, which was my whole recreation". In itself, it may not be prayer. So this way of spending the time of prayer is justified only in case that you just can't do anything that we will speak about.

This ‘reading’ may not be the same as reading a point for discursive meditation. "I never dared to begin prayer without a book . . .. And many times just opening the book was enough; at other times I read a little, and at others a great deal, according to the favor the Lord granted me (L. 4:9a; cf. WP. 17:3). "Those who follow this path of no discursive reflection will find that a book can be help for recollecting oneself quickly" (L. 9: 5; cf. WP. 27: 10).

This 'reading' may also be equivalent for vocal prayer. For Teresa vocal prayer, if done well, is as good as mental prayer. But we can play with God with this vocal prayer. It seemed to me that, since in being wicked I was among the worst, it was better to go the way of the many, to recite what I was obliged to vocally and not to practice mental prayer and so much intimacy with God" (L. 7: 1b). At the same time, when one is unable to do prayer properly due to ill health or so, one could settle down on vocal prayers, which may not require much recollection and strength (cf. L. 38:1).

Sometimes vocal prayers may not fulfil any purpose except pacifying the conscience, as many people seem to do. In the Way of Perfection she complains about the vocal prayer of those who "are so fond of speaking and reciting many vocal prayers very quickly, like one who wants to get a job done, since they oblige themselves to recite these every day, that even though the Lord places His kingdom in their hands, they do not receive it" (WP. 31: 12).

II. Pictures and Images: Another method to come to recollection or concentration is the use of pictures and images. All know of her being impressed greatly by a statue which "represented the much wounded Christ" (L. 9:1) and helped her to see Jesus within her. "I could only think about Christ as He was as man, but never in such a way that I could picture Him within myself no matter how much I red about His beauty or how many images I saw of Him . . .. I liked images so much" (L. 9: 6).

She explains about the use of images when speaking of the prayer of quiet. "If you have to pray to Him by looking at His picture, it would seem to me foolish. You would be leaving the Person Himself in order to look at a picture . . .. Do you want to know when it is very good to have a picture of Christ and when it is a thing in which I find much delight: When He himself is absent, or when by means of a great dryness He wants to make us feel He is absent. It is then a wonderful comfort to see an image of One whom we have so much reason to love. Whenever I turn my eyes, I would want to see His image. With what better or more pleasing thing can our eyes be occupied than with One who loves so much and who has in Himself all goods" (WP. 34: 11).

For Teresa everything in nature was a sign of God's presence and would be a book to meditate on the grandeur and greatness of God. "It helped me also to look at fields, or water, or flowers. In these things I found a remembrance of the Creator" (L. 9: 5).

III. Discursive Meditation: This is the popular method of discursive medita- tion. In ch. 4, para 8 she describes how to go about it. "It is fitting for persons with this tendency (of discursive meditation) to have greater purity of conscience than those who can work with the intellect. This is what one can do: For anyone, who reflects discursively (a) on what the world is, and (b) what one owes God, and (c) how much God suffered, and (d) on how little one serves Him, and (e) what God gives to anyone who loves Him, deduces doctrine to defend oneself from thought, occasions, and dangers . . .. Discursive reflection is an extremely difficult thing to practice" (L. 4:8). "God didn't give me talent for discursive thought or for a profitable use of the imagination. In fact, my imagination is so dull that I never succeeded even to think about and represent in my mind - as hard as I tried - the humanity of the Lord" (L. 4:7c).

This is what she did: "I thought of the trials Christ suffered and that it would be no great thing if I suffered some for Him" (L. 3: 6b). Beginners, she advises "must strive to consider the life of Christ" (L. 11:9a).

We can meditate thus: "In thinking about and carefully examining what the Lord suffered for us, . . .in thinking about the glory we hope for, the love the Lord bore us" (L. 12:1). But "those who practice discursive reflection, I say they should not pass the whole time thinking . . . and without tiring the intellect" (L. 13:11b).

To give more details: "Let us begin to think about an episode of the Passion, let's say of when our Lord was bound to the pillar. The intellect goes in search of reasons for better understanding the great sorrows and pain His Majesty suffered in that solitude and many other things that the intellect, if it works hard, can herein deduce... This is the method of prayer with which all must begin, continue, and finish" (L. 13:12b). There may be many persons who are not able to practice meditation without reading and others who will be unable to meditate even with the reading " (WP. 17:3).

"There are many souls that benefit more by other meditations than those on the sacred Passion . . .. Some persons find it helpful to think about hell, others about death; some if they have tender hearts experience much fatigue if they always think about the Passion, and they are refreshed and helped by considering the power and grandeur of God in creatures" (L. 13:13).

"Now returning to what I was saying about Christ bound at the pillar: it is good to reflect a while and think about the pains He suffers there, and why, and who He is, and the love with which He suffered them. But one should not always weary oneself in seeking these reflections but just remain there in His presence with the intellect quiet. And if a person is able he should occupy himself in looking at Christ who is looking at him, and he should speak, and petition, and humble himself, and delight in the Lord's presence, and remember that he is unworthy of being there. When he can do this, even though it may be at the beginning of prayer, he will derive great benefit" (L. 13:22). It is because of this also that she used a book to get a starting point for discursive meditation.

Comparing our call to union with God, Our Mother says: "We are already betrothed and before the wedding must be brought to His house. Here below they don't try to make those who are betrothed renounce such thoughts. Why should they try to prevent us from thinking about who this man is, who His Father is, what country He is going to bring me to, what good things He promises to give me, what His status is, how can I make Him happy, and in what ways I can please Him and from studying how I can conform my way of life to His?" (WP. 23: 7; cf. 25: 3).

We can use other truths of faith as a basis for reflection, like "thinking of how I have offended God, and of the many things I owe him, and, of what leads to hell and what to glory, and of the great trials and sufferings the Lord endured for me"(L. 8:7a).

In the Way of Perfection she repeats this idea and says: "there are books in which the mysteries of the Lord's life and Passion are divided according to the days of the week, and there are meditations about judgement, hell, our nothingness, and the many things we owe God together with excellent doctrine" (19:1). Of course "You should not be thinking of other things while speaking with God, for doing so amounts to not knowing what mental prayer is" (WP. 23: 8b).

Later in the chapter comparing contemplative prayer with water from heaven, Teresa says that the meditation "through the medium of the intellect" is like dirty water "running on the ground". When "there is reasoning with the intellect" it is not the living water, real prayer (19: 6). Discursive meditation has the disadvantage of causing distractions, going against its own aim. "Not that this reason must be abandoned, but one must be fearful" (WP. 19:7). In Life she would say: "Those who practice discursive reflection, I say they should not pass the whole time thinking. They should put themselves in the presence of Christ" (L. 13: 11b).

IV. Representing Christ: Teresa desired to pray and was prepared to take the necessary steps. It was on reading "The Third Spiritual Alphabet" of Francisco Osuna that she made great progress. This is how she prayed. "I tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ, our God and our Lord, present within me, and that was my way of prayer. If I reflected upon some phase of His Passion, I represented Him to myself interiorly ". This is the "way of inability to work discursively with the intellect" that will easily bring one to contemplation (L. 4:7).

She writes a little later: "Since I could not reflect discursively with the intellect, I strove to picture Christ within me, and it did me great good . . .. The scene of His prayer in the garden, especially, was a comfort to me; I strove to be His companion there" . . . I remained with Him as long as my thoughts, allowed me to" (L. 9: 4b). This is prayer for Teresa.

"The soul can place itself in the presence of Christ and grow accustom-ed to being inflamed with love for His sacred humanity. It can keep Him ever present and speak with Him, asking for its needs and complaining of its labors, being glad with Him in its enjoyments and not forgetting Him because of them, trying to speak to Him" (L. 12:2). "This method of keeping Christ present with us is beneficial in all stages and is very safe means of advancing in the first degree of prayer, of reaching in a short time the second degree". "Keeping Christ present is what we of ourselves can do" (L. 12:3a & 4).

Teresa taking the Our Father as the pattern of prayer, tells us that the teacher "is very close. . .It is good for you . . . to remain at the side of the Master who taught this prayer" (WP. 24: 5). "Represent the Lord Himself as close to you and behold how lovingly and humbly He is teaching you. Believe me, you should remain with so good a friend as long as you can. If you grow accustomed to having Him present at your side, and He sees that you do so with love and that you go about striving to please Him, you will not be able to get away from Him . . .you will find Him everywhere" (WP. 26: 1). It is good to note that it is not thinking of Jesus, but "look at Him" (WP. 26:3). It is worth counting how many times she has used this phrase or its alternative in this paragraph and in ¶ 5. (I found 11 times).

Beginning to explain the prayer of recollection, in chapter 28 of Way of Perfection Teresa reminds us that the Lord is within. "All one need do is go into solitude and look at Him with oneself" (¶ 2). It is important that we don't "leave Him alone", see "the Lord is within us, and that there we must be with Him" (¶ 3), and " the soul collects its faculties together and enters within itself to be with its God" (¶ 4, 8). In it "we should see and be present to the One with whom we speak without turning our backs on Him" (29:5).

Conclusion: Prayer, "the soul's progress does not lie in thinking much, but in loving much" (Foundations 5:2). Meditation, discursive reflection, thinking is not really prayer. We should make serious effort and praying for one hour each in the morning and evening every day, "within a year, or perhaps half a year, you will acquire it [prayer of recollection](WP. 29: 8; 26:2; L. 7:12). The time of prayer should be for prayer (WP. 34: 4). Realize "the Lord walks among the pots and pans helping you both interiorly and exteriorly" (F. 5:8).


Fr. Walter Lobo, Parish Priest

Fr. Walter Lobo, OCD,
Carmelite Fathers
Fatima Chapel
Shellim,  Loliem-Polem post
Goa-403 728
Ph: 0832-2640363
Cell: 94233313151



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