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Meditation Group

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.

The Teaching

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 the apostles.

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 life today.

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 groups.

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