Psalm 46 – 10 “Be still and know that I am God, I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.“
What is the difference between meditation and contemplation?
If I might put it simply meditation describes the efforts we make to approach God whereas contemplation is more of an engagement with God. If we describe prayer as talking to God then there comes a point when we have to listen to God. Being still is an important part of this.
And the still pool of water? This I would describe as a use of the imagination in prayer.
For instance I might approach God through the use of a scripture such as Psalm 86 – 11, Teach me your way, O Lord , that I may walk in your truth.
Then I would wait for the Holy Spirit to talk to my spirit/soul. Spirit being a way of describing the deepest part of my being as it says in Psalm 43 -7 Deep calls unto deep. Romans 8 – 16 says The Spirit himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God.
If I imagine a still pool of water at the center of my being then I am waiting for God to drop something into this pool. I may not be aware of what this is but I may be aware of the ripples and that in some way I am changed.
During this exercise a number of things might happen;
- Nothing – but I will at least have gained from the exercise of the prayer discipline which will stand me in good stead for another time.
- God has dropped something into this pool and I am aware of the ripples.
- I have a greater sense of what God has dropped into this pool. I may have heard him with my own thinking voice but in a way that seems rather different from my own thinking.
What is the test of whether or not God has spoken? It is that the Spirit of God brings consolation and not desolation and that is the test. God builds, he does not destroy.
Why is it so important to be still? So that we can hear the still small voice of God as it says in the hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. That still small voice that Elijah hears in 1 Kings 19 – 12.
When I a say hear the voice of God, I have to say that at no time have I heard God speak to me in a distinct human voice. What has happened to me is that a thought arises which I hear with my own thinking voice, the same thinking voice I use when I read to myself, but the thought is rather left-field of my own thoughts at that time.
For instance, a few years ago I was in work doing a routine task and my thoughts were very much about how I was going to continue working when I knew why wife was struggling when I wasn’t there as she hadn’t been well for some years. Suddenly within all these thoughts about continuing to work another thought came and it said ‘Why don’t you just go?’. It was a thought which drew me up quite sharply and I thought if that is of You Lord, You will have to make it possible. Now I was at an age where early retirement was possible, with my firm’s permission, and I began to look into this and everything worked out so I could retire early. If I had ignored this left-field thought an opportunity, a divine opportunity, would have been lost.
Because I am not super spiritual I also wondered how many times something like this might have happened before and I had missed it.
As well as God dropping something into the still pool there is another possibility that God might cause something, a thought, an image, a picture or even a dream or vision to rise up out of this pool. If the Lady of the Lake holding up excalibur for King Arthur to receive springs to mind, that isn’t a bad analogy. Even if a little corny.
Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Being Still but not Empty Many non-Christian forms of meditation involve someone emptying themselves or being empty or emptying their mind. Scripture tells us this is dangerous because when we do that anything can come in.
Luke 11: 24-26, ‘when an unclean spirit comes out of a man it wanders through waterless country looking for a place to rest and not finding one it says, “I will go back to the home I came from“. But on arrival, finding it swept and tidied, it then goes off and brings seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and set up house there, so that the man ends up by being worse than he was before.’
This internal house must be filled with God or it will be filled with something else. This could be as innocent as a hobby, an obsessive interest or even a football team.
As St Augustine says, “Our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in You.”
And as Blaise Pascal says, “There is a God created vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”
So in Christian meditation we try to be still and focused. We may use a line of scripture, light a candle, or come before the Blessed Sacrament. We listen for God to speak to us, in a thought, or a picture, an impression or an assurance within. This may be just a sense of being held in His hands. Remember, what comes from God is always constructive and builds. Even when God tells us off it is gentle and to build us up.
A good book to read is “The Interior Castle” by St Theresa of Avila. In it she says; “I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions………..Let us now imagine that this castle, as I have said, contains many mansions, some above, others below, others at each side; and in the centre and midst of them all is the chiefest mansion where the most secret things pass between God and the soul.
Meditation, therefore, is only the beginning of entering into a closer relationship with God, of contemplation or engagement with God. Something which is both cooperation with the Holy Spirit and active surrender or submission to God.
Apologies if this has all got into a bit of a muddle, but the doing of it, the being still before God, is much easier than the description. Be still, let God’s Spirit speak to your spirit and see what God drops into your pool of still water.