We live in decisive times. And while perhaps that’s always true in some way, I think we can say that in a particle way about our times today. I don’t have to describe it for you too much, because you live it as well. Tensions are high. The pace of available information is frenetic. And there are very different and sometimes opposing descriptions of what’s going on, both on a national and international stage. How are we to make sense of everything? How are we to make any decisions about what we think, about how we see it, about what these things mean for our lives? In the face of so many tensions, who is really capable of taking a stand for something meaningful in a way that isn’t merely combative or isolating?
I think we understand the challenge at hand. And I’d like to offer one small thing that has been helping me lately to grapple with that challenge, one of the treasures that the Church has to offer us: meditation. And not just any meditation, but the meditation of very own lives. Before anyone starts thinking I’m advocating for narcism or ego-centrism, consider this:
“There are many Christians who faithfully accept all the defined dogmas. They believe in the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist, in the mystery of the Trinity, of the incarnation and in many others…Moreover, they know how to narrate many beautiful and joyful things about the intervention of God in the primitive Church, in the Middle Ages, or in the life of a few saints. The problem, the darkness, the crisis starts when they touch the incomprehensible things of actual history [today], and these things become the topic of discussion…It is not the God of Sacred Scriptures nor of religious books, nor the God of the altars, it is not God far away in the celestial heights nor in the closeness of the shrine of the heart that is questioned today primarily. The problem as such is the God of life, the God of actual life [is the God that is questioned today]. It is the Lord who in the storm of the actual times seems to sleep peacefully and doesn’t allow his slumbering to be disturbed by the impetuously urgent and anguished calls directed to him…He that doesn’t hear or see, who doesn’t know what it is happening. At least that is how it seems.” Fr J Kentenich **
In the midst of times such as ours it is perhaps easy to question God’s immanent presence. We can intellectually assent to what theology teaches us about God, and perhaps on an emotional and spiritual level we can connect with Him personally in prayer…but do we see His hand behind world events today? Given many of the crisis our times have seen (European immigration crisis, Syria, natural disasters….you don’t need me to name them), that seems like a tall, or perhaps impossible, order.
Meditation on life. How is the meditation of life helpful to find this God in history, this God who is Father, behind world events? You’ve probably already sensed the answer – when we meditate on the occurrences in life itself, when we put ourselves in the presence of God and allow all that happens in a day to pass again through our hearts, minds and souls, then we have the beginning of an answer. We are bombarded every day with so much input and so many impressions, both on the personal level and the broader levels of social groups and news. But when do we ever digest all those impressions? When do we let our heart rest with God, and ponder those occurrences? It is especially the uncomfortable, painful or difficult moments that beg to be meditated upon with the Lord.
And this isn’t primarily an intellectual exercise. St Ignatius of Loyola, a master of meditation says:
It’s not so much knowing, but tasting and savoring divine things that nourishes the soul.
Tasting and savoring! To sit with the flavor things – not to gulp without discretion, in haste. To sit with the experience, to remember how it was, to recall our response to the situation, and in a way, to savor it.
Three purposes behind this meditation on life will keep us on track:
- To integrate the experience interiorly – this means it involves not only our intellect, and not only our emotions, but the whole person. It is in this sense we can speak of letting the moments of our life pass through the heart, when the heart represents and captures all of one’s originality as a person: the will and reason, the body and emotions, altogether. The Catechism teaches us that “The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” (2563)
- To increase love (not knowledge)- when we dialogue with God in our hearts about the things that happen in the world, we encounter God. The heart is “the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant,” according to the Catechism (2563). When we let Him sit with us and face all the inscrutable and even awful events in our lives, noticing His presence in those events opens our hearts more and more. In this open conversation between friend and Savior, between child and Father, our soul grows in love…and even the most bitter or painful things can find a home in the Father’s love.
- To take decisions: The Catechism also teaches us that ” The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death.” (2563) This is where meditation can be so helpful- when we rest with God and speak with him, we gain the clarity and inner strength that allows us to take difficult decisions or positions in the face of obstacles, suffering, or pressure.
So now that we know the purpose and the need, how can we practically make this happen? I think it helps to start very realistically. It might be a challenge for some people to find 20 minutes a week to try this, let alone 10 or 20 minutes a day. But you know your own reality – and each must discern what God asks according to his/her state in life. It will require sacrifice and discipline as any great thing…but the fruits will speak for themselves.
Here’s 3 simple questions Fr. Kentenich offers to help get us started in meditating our own lives and experience:
- What does God want to say to me through this? (this event that happened, this impression, this text or homily…etc)
- What do I say to myself about it? (like a kind of examination of conscience; how have I understood this truth in relation to my life? How have I applied it?)
- What do I say to God in response? **
These are times that beg for people who are firm in their convictions, but not closed off; people who who can see God as Father behind all things while being incredibly realistic about what we face today; people who are so rooted in God and so interiorly integrated as persons that they walk freely, unburdened by insecurities or false notions of self, to give (and receive) love, encountering their brothers and sisters in such a way that leads to lives being transformed. Then others may clearly look at them — at us! — and say, God must be real, God is present…then we have taken a step in grace to becoming the salt of the earth, the light of the world.
**Words by Fr Joseph Kentenich, Founder of the international Catholic Schoenstatt Movement (translated from Spanish by me)