The Christian Meditation Group meets weekly,
each Wednesday evening, at St. Patrick’s Basilica
For the past fourteen years a Christian Meditation group has met weekly
at St. Patrick’s, practicing a simple tradition of silent, contemplative
prayer that follows the teaching of a Benedictine Monk John Main (1926-1982).
The group meets Wednesday nights at 8:00 PM in St. Patrick’s (basement)
and welcomes newcomers to this ancient way of prayer. In addition
to the St. Patrick’s group there are 35 other groups that meet weekly in
various Catholic churches and other locations in the Ottawa area.
Benedictine monk, John Main, once said:
The all important aim in Christian Meditation is to allow
God’s mysterious presence within us to become more and more not only a
reality, but the reality which gives meaning, shape and purpose to everything
we do, everything we are…
Meditation is not something new to the Christian experience but
is deeply rooted in Christian tradition. However many Christians
have lost touch with this ancient tradition of prayer. Meditation,
also known as contemplative prayer, involves coming to a stillness of spirit
and a stillness of body. The extraordinary thing, says John Main,
is that, in spite of all the distractions of the modern world, this silence
is perfectly possible for all of us. To attain this silence and stillness
we have to devote time, energy and love.
The way to set out on this pilgrimage is to recite a short prayer
word. The prayer word is simply a means of turning our attention
beyond ourselves, a method of drawing us away from our own thoughts and
concerns. The real work of meditation is to attain harmony of body,
mind and spirit. This is the aim given us by the psalmist: “Be still
and know that I am God”.
St. Paul wrote (Rom. 8:26) that “we do not know how to pray, but
the spirit prays within us.” What this means in the language of our
own day is that before we can pray we first have to learn to become still,
to become attentive. Only then can we enter into loving awareness
of the Spirit of Jesus deep within our heart.
Meditation, is the prayer of silence, the place where direct contact
with Christ can occur, once the never-ceasing activity of the mind has
been stilled. In meditation we go beyond words, thoughts and images
into the presence of God within.
St. John of the Cross says God is the centre of my soul. Julian
of Norwich says God is the still point at my centre. Meditation
is this daily pilgrimage to one’s own centre.
The Tradition Of Silence In Prayer
The mind has been described as a mighty tree filled with monkeys,
all swinging from branch to branch and all in an incessant riot of chatter
and movement. When we begin to meditate we recognize this as a wonderfully
apt description of the constant whirl going on in our mind.
The task of meditation is to bring our distracted mind to stillness,
silence and attentiveness. In order to assist us to come to stillness,
we use a sacred word.
It was St. John Cassian, an early desert monk, who greatly influenced
St. Benedict, and who introduced the use of a prayer verse to Western Monasticism
in the late fourth century. Having himself received it from the holy monks
of the desert, Cassian placed its origin back to the times of Jesus and
Cassian recommended that anyone who wanted to learn to pray, should
take a single short verse and simply repeat this verse over and over again.
In his Tenth Conference on prayer, he urges this method of simple and constant
repetition as the best way of casting out all distractions and trivial
chatter from the mind, in order that it might rest in stillness in God.
The teaching of Cassian on prayer is based on the words of Jesus
in the Gospels: “when you pray do not be like the hypocrites … but go into
your private room and pray to your Father who is there in the secret place
… Do not go on babbling like the heathen, who feel that by their many words
they will be heard. Do not imitate them. Your Father knows
what you need before you ask Him.” (Matt. 6:5-8).
The Practice Of Meditation
The prayer word recommended by John Main is “MARANATHA” . This
Aramaic word means, “Come Lord, Come Lord Jesus.” It is the prayer
word recommended by Dom John Main (1926-1982), a Benedictine Monk who has
put into contemporary language this ancient teaching of prayer. It is the
word which St. Paul uses to end his first letter to the Corinthians (1
Cor. 16:22), and the word with which St. John ends the book of Revelation
(Rev. 22:20). It also has a place in some of the earliest Christian
liturgies. This Aramaic word is preferred because it has no visual
or emotion connotations and its continuous repetition will lead us over
time to a deeper and deeper silence.
The focus of repeating the prayer word is Christocentric. This
means that it is centered on the prayer of Christ which is continuously
poured forth in the Holy Spirit in the depth of each human being.
Thus, in this way of “pure prayer” we leave all thoughts, words and images
behind in order to “set our minds on the kingdom of God before all else”.
In this way we leave our egotistical self behind to die and rise to our
true self in Christ.
Meditation therefore is an inner journey of silence, stillness and
simplicity, and is the missing contemplative dimension of much Christian
The Teaching Of Dom John Main
How To Meditate
Sit down. Sit still and upright. Close your eyes lightly.
Sit relaxed but alert. Breathe calmly and regularly. Silently, interiorly,
begin to say a single word. We recommend the prayer-phrase ‘MA-RA-NA-THA”.
Recite it as four syllables of equal length. Listen to it as you
say it, gently but continuously. Do not think or image anything –
spiritual or otherwise. If thoughts and images come, these are distractions
at the time of meditation, so keep returning to simply saying the word.
Meditate each morning and evening for between twenty and thirty minutes.
The World Community For Christian Meditation
In order to support their daily personal commitment to mediation
people frequently join a weekly meditation group. These groups meet
in over 114 countries of the world, in parishes, homes, offices, prisons,
and schools. A simple format is followed: a teaching on meditation,
a meditation period, a time for discussion. The silent meditation
period is the focal point and main purpose of the meeting and through it
many people discover a deeper sense of the presence of Christ in their
lives and recognize the seeds of contemplation within themselves.
There are 220 groups in Canada and 2000 Christian Meditation groups worldwide.
In 1991 a World Community for Christian Meditation was set up to
communicate John Main’s teaching on this way of prayer. An international
Centre in London, England and a guiding board oversees the direction of
the Community, including a quarterly newsletter, the annual John Main Seminar,
a School for Teachers, and the coordination of Christian Meditation Centers
around the world. National Councils also exist in various countries,
including Canada, to pass on the teaching and nurture the weekly meditation