Meditation is an old, traditional term closely linked to profound and heartfelt Bible reading. Such reading leaves an indelible impression upon one’s memory, emotions, and tongue.
According to patristic tradition, meditation is the key to all graces. It makes him who practices it biblical in every thought, word, and feeling. He also becomes advanced in every gift and full of divine understanding.
When he opens his mouth, the words of the Bible flow spontaneously from his lips without embellishments. Divine thoughts proceed from his mouth in amazing succession. They are like waves of light that submerge the hearer’s mind in the light of divine knowledge. They stir his heart and set aflame his emotions.
The word meditation in its Hebrew origin is hagig, and in its Greek is meleti. The verb is meletao, which indicates studying and delving deep into meanings, together with mental and inner exercise. Meditating on wisdom (meletao sofian), then, means studying it in depth and with diligence as well as putting it into practice.
Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life
Reflection – I want to spend a few days looking at some of Abba Matthew’s thoughts on meditation. For those who may have missed my previous reference to this writer, he is a contemporary Egyptian Coptic monk who is at the heart of a renewal of Egyptian monasticism, a new flowering of the desert for that persecuted church. His writings draw on the spiritual tradition of both Eastern and Western Christianity and flow from his own direct experience of God in prayer.
The reason I want to highlight this section is that I have been, well, meditating on meditation quite a bit lately. The subject seems to keep coming up with my directees and others. The key and crucial role of Scripture study is something Catholics still tend to underrate, I think, at least based on my unscientific sampling of the population.
The rosary and the liturgy – check! Mental prayer, the Jesus Prayer, devotional prayers – check! Intercessory prayer – check, check, check! Even silent contemplative prayer – check!
But I find that we tend, still, to neglect or at least underrate praying with Scripture. But this cannot be – it is far too important in a rightly ordered spiritual life. Matthew the Poor puts it so well: ‘it makes him who practices it biblical in every thought, word, and feeling.
The truth is, from earliest childhood – even earlier, from the very womb – we are being formed in patterns of ‘thought, word, and feeling’ that may not be quite, exactly, precisely biblical. All sorts of human words are presented to us as the truth which may not be entirely true. All sorts of thoughts can start rolling around in our heads from as soon as we have heads that may or not reflect the Thought of God which is Jesus Christ. And those words and those thoughts can create a whole host of feelings and passions that can lead us into sin and away from God and into perdition.
There is a great inner purification that needs to happen on the level of the mind, a purification of error and illusion. And it is the Word of God that achieves this in us, when we study it and act on it. But studying comes first: how can we act on it if we haven’t learned it?
So, meditation. The slow, careful, repetitive reading of the Scriptures. Just to take a little passage – one parable, or one bit of the Sermon on the Mount, or one healing miracle, say, and read it, read it, read it. Read it three or four times. Read it out loud, to make the words your own. Read it slowwwwwwwly.
Memorize it, if you can, although this will just happen naturally if you do all of the above. And then, only after reading it like that, slowly, carefully, repeatedly—think about it. Whassitmean? What’s going on in your life that this passage speaks to? Do you believe this? Are their attitudes or opinions or ideas in your little brain (or my little brain!) that contradict this passage. If so, which will you choose, God’s word or yours? And then, is there some action you can take to practice faith in this passage?
That’s meditation, and that’s how our inner minds, our hearts get evangelized, penetrated, transformed by the Word of God. As long as this is not happening, the Gospel remains at the surface of our lives – nice ideas that our Lord Jesus tells us, but we have our own thoughts about things. It is meditation that interiorizes God’s thoughts and makes them our own thoughts, so that we become living Gospels for others.