Have you ever said to yourself or heard others say, “I can’t meditate. I don’t know how my mind races here and there, no matter how hard I try to concentrate.” These experiences point to the fact that all of us have been drawn from time to time to a quiet place to ponder where we are on the road of life and to seek God’s will for us now and in the future.
The art and discipline of meditative reflection is more familiar to us than we may think. Everyday experiences of creativity and conflict, of satisfaction and regret, of fascination and fear draw us to meditation and deeper prayer.
When distractions disrupt our reflections, as they inevitably do, we can train ourselves to let them buzz in and out like flies in an open-air restaurant without paying too much attention to them. We can let them move back and forth like waves on the sea while descending to the ocean’s depth where, as divers tell us, all is still.
Moving into meditation means diving under the tumult on the surface of our life and descending to that inner space where peaceful rumination is possible. There is where we seek God’s will as the wellspring of our peace and joy.
Meditation helps us to face each day with renewed faith and vigor. We see more meaning, for example, in the monotony of daily chores. We reflect on the teachings of Jesus and pray for the grace to apply them to where we are at the moment. We bridge the gap between our roaming thoughts and realistic Gospel directives that bring us closer to God and one another.
What happens if we move away from rather than into meditation? The danger is that we may neglect to focus on God’s way for us and miss the meaning we were meant to discover. The risk of neglecting meditation is that we identify with our own outlooks and fail to see shining through myriad events and encounters God’s providential light.
Meditative reflection opens us to the embrace of redemptive love; it helps to heal past hurts, to confirm God’s care for us in the present, and to regain our faith in the future.
The incentive for living reflectively stems from the conviction that God wants us to see signs of divine wisdom and truth in the ordinary unfolding of our day-to-day life. Many openings for intimacy with the Mystery await us, but too often we do not pay attention to them. What a blessing it is to have food on the table. To witness the transition from sickness to health or from a terminal diagnosis to a happy death. To partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.
There are reasons for reflection everywhere around us, provided we take time to meditate upon them.
What are some other benefits of living reflectively? One surely is that it heightens our awareness of the frenetic, unfeeling way we used to live; it arouses compunction and motivates us to change. It reminds us to modify our tendency to be overly judgmental and to begin to treat others as revelations of God’s eternal, infinite love for souls.
Meditative reflection widens our vision of God’s generosity. It gives us a fresh way to interpret disappointment and failure and to detect in every obstacle a formation opportunity. Once we behold daily situations in a divine light, our self-centered controls give way to other-centered cares and concerns.
A first step fostering this practice is to set aside quality time (perhaps as little as twenty minutes in the morning or evening) to bring ourselves and others before God with the intention of simply being present to the Divine Presence. As the psalmist says:
Negative thoughts disappear as we dwell upon the transforming effects of grace.
It may facilitate our meditation if we etch on our heart a word of truth, such as what Mary said in Luke 1:49 — “The Lord has done marvels for me. Holy is his name.”
Manifestations of the Mystery reveal themselves the more we meditate upon them. Trust melts the encrusted doubts that used to dominate our thoughts. Peace stills rumbles of useless worry. The Good Shepherd comforts us in times of loss and pain.
The fruits of meditative reflection last far beyond the episodes of trouble and turmoil we have to endure. They give us a renewed sense of our infinite worth and remind us of the truth that God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves. With the psalmist we pray:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.