Christian prayer is much more than Eastern meditation

File:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Prayer (1865) (cropped).jpg

The Prayer by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

A few years ago at Mass in another diocese, the priest began a homily on the importance of daily prayer. I was elated. We hear this far too seldom from the pulpit. My elation soon turned to disappointment, however. He talked about being aware of the world around you, and your own thoughts and feelings. Shockingly, he didn’t mention God at all! I realized the priest (apparently without knowing it) was not really advocating prayer, but a Buddhist-inspired form of meditation.

Both Christians and Buddhists use the term “meditation,” so it’s no wonder sincere people confuse the practices of the separate religions. But they are quite different.

Christian meditation centers on Christ

In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II noted that Buddhists seek to free themselves from the world, while Christians seek freedom from sin, through God’s grace, in order to be united with Him. Eastern meditation might relieve stress, but it cannot save souls.

Doctor of Prayer St. Teresa of Avila gives us further insight, when she writes in the 1st chapter of Interior Castle:

“If a person neither considers to Whom he is addressing himself, what he asks, nor what he is who ventures to speak to God, although his lips may utter many words, I do not call it prayer.”  In other words, true prayer recognizes how small and sinful we are and how great God is, and addresses itself towards Him. Eastern forms of meditation are not addressed to anyone.  The question of God’s existence and character doesn’t come into play.

Prayer’s purpose is union with GodFront Cover

Christian prayer is communication with God. The conversation we have in prayer goes both ways. In fact, God’s action during prayer is more important than our words, thoughts, or feelings.  Prayer is a search for God, who promises, “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you” (Jeremiah 29:13-14). As the Song of Songs envisions it, prayer is the Beloved seeking the One who loves her. This seeking (and finding!) is the purpose of our lives. You and I were made for intimate union with God. God is love, and He invites us to share in the very love that unites the Holy Trinity. The means to this union is prayer.

Union with God unfolds in stages. When we first start praying, we have to work hard to focus on God, to meditate on (that is, ponder) His goodness, and to worship Him. Faithfulness to prayer and to God’s will opens the door to the gift of contemplation, when God secretly transforms us and draws us closer to Himself. The early stages of prayer are concerned with seeking, the later stages with finding.

Non-Christian meditation aims too low. It cannot fulfill our longing for eternal love. Do not be afraid to lift your sights higher. Do not be afraid to seek the face of God in prayer!

Connie Rossini

Share with us: How have you or others around you misunderstood the purpose of Christian prayer? What insights from your own growth in prayer can you share?

About Connie Rossini

Connie Rossini gives whole families practical help to grow in holiness. She is the author of Trusting God with St. Therese and the free ebook Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints That Will Change Your Life. She writes a spirituality column for The Catholic Voice of the Diocese of Omaha, Nebraska, and blogs at Contemplative Homeschool. She is also a columnist for SpiritualDirection.com. Connie and her husband Dan have four young sons.
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12 Responses to Christian prayer is much more than Eastern meditation

  1. frabb says:

    Very good. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for visiting and commenting.

  3. Marcy K. says:

    I learned to be really careful of so-called “Centering Prayer” which really comes from Eastern types of prayer. Many in the Church have in recent years tried to clean it up a bit from what it was for awhile, a form of Transcendental Meditation which is not Christian. Eastern prayer is trying to have you empty yourself, not get closer to God. A lot is about suffering. Christian prayer embraces suffering that happens to you and it is redemptive and brings you closer to the Lord who helps you handle bad times. Eastern prayer has you empty yourself so that you don’t feel suffering because you wipe out feeling. Christian prayer is all about love – giving and receiving, with your creator and your fellow man. Eastern prayer is not about love or relationship, or even God.

    Many websites today, if you look up Contemplative prayer, are really still selling Centering Prayer which is more technique instead of a gift from God that only happens after some time with a deep prayer life. I’m talking about Infused Contemplation. Ignatian Contemplation, which is using your imagination to put yourself in bible scene is also a great Christian form of prayer. Trying to blank your mind with mantras etc. is not getting closer to God and fostering a relationship with your creator who loves you. Also try Lectio Divina, a slow reading of scripture or another serious Christian spiritual book, taking the time to absorb and think through the passage and sit in quiet for a few minutes and is another excellent Christian form of prayer.

    The best sources for prayer advice is anything by Fr. Thomas Dubay or St. Teresa of Avila. The Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction website is a great resource for authentically Catholic (Christian) prayer: http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/ and it has helped me a lot.

    • Marcy, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree with everything you said. I find there is a lot of confusion over not only meditation, but contemplation. You’re right: real contemplation in the Christian sense is infused by God. You can’t decide to sit down and contemplate whenever you want, and certainly not by using a mantra. Contemplation is not an altered state of consciousnesses.

      I think “centering prayer” can indicate something good or bad, depending on who’s using the term. I think Fr. Dubay uses it positively. But a lot of times, like you’ve said, it’s just a Christianized form of impersonal meditation. If we stick with the saints and a few good spiritual writers, we know we’re safe.

      I’ve blogged a lot about contemplation, Christian meditation, and some books to help people with that. I hope you take a look around at some of my other posts.

  4. oarubio says:

    It’s so important that you made these differences clear. Another area of my concern is those who refer to “Mother Earth” as a type of goddess. Yes, we must be good stewards of the earthly blessings given to us by God. The thanks and respect goes to Him, not to a pagan rendition.

  5. Nancy says:

    Connie, I thank God for your gift of making this very clear. Is it okay if I link to this post on my blog(s?) in the future ? I don’t know when, but I’d love to share your words. And having just learned to “pin,” (“saints and angels and pins, O my!”), I hope it’s fine with you that I put a link to it on my Pinterest Lectio board… like, now! Again, I thank God for your clarity. And I thank you for doing so much through this blog.

    • Sure, Nancy. Just make sure you give me a byline and link back to my blog (as I’m sure you would anyway). Ha, ha, I’ve noticed all your activity on Pinterest. I just started on there recently too, after Jenny from Suscipio pinned some of my photos. Either a great time-waster, or a great evangelization tool, depending on how you use it. Thanks for your kind words. Non nobis, domine…

      • Nancy says:

        Thanks, Connie. And I’ve decided Pinterest, for me, is both. I “learned” by pinning and pinning, so then I almost cancelled my account, and then my friend “Joy” said we could turn it into a cloistered heart space. Hmmm….

  6. johnnybet says:

    These are actually great ideas in on the topic of blogging.
    You have touched some good points here. Any way keep up wrinting.

  7. Gabriela says:

    Good information. Lucky me I came across your blog by chance (stumbleupon).
    I have book marked it for later!

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