Back when I was about 15 years old, I happened to be sitting against a wall by myself after school one day, waiting for my mom to pick me up. I didn’t much feel like socializing that day, so I decided to take advantage of the down time and start praying a rosary.
I didn’t want to make a scene or draw attention to myself (…and when you’re in high school you feel like everyone is staring out you no matter what you do), so I shifted my eyes down slightly toward the concrete and tried to hold my rosary in my lap so as not to be “showy”. But somewhere in the middle of the tension pulling me at one end to mentally escape my high school campus and on the other to remain aware of my surroundings so as not to look like a weirdo, I didn’t notice that someone I knew was standing next to me.
I guess I didn’t pull off my prayerful nonchalance as well as I’d hoped, because I was startled mid Hail-Mary by a familiar female voice asking, “Are you meditating?”
It was an honest question and I knew right away that she was not at all asking because she thought it was weird. But as startled as I was by the abrupt question, I was even more surprised by the answer forming around my lips:
“Well…um—Yes,” I replied. But silently I finished the newly developed thought to myself: “…I guess I am meditating”
She nodded and kept on walking, and that’s really the end of the memory. I have no recollection of anything else I did that day—before or after that brief exchange.
The reason that story sticks with me to this day is because, prior to that moment, if someone had asked me hypothetically what the rosary is (or what we as Christians are called to in prayer), I would have told them in so many words that we are to meditate on the life of Christ. I may have even used the word, “meditation.” But it wasn’t until I was actually called out and asked by name, smack in the middle of my prayer: “Is that meditation?” that it actually hit me. What I am supposed to be doing with the rosary is meditating.
I think what kept me from grasping that concept up until that point was a false understanding of what mediation is. When I heard, “meditation,” I always pictured a Yoga class full of a bunch of women chanting with their hands pressed together, surrounded by burning candles. As I understood it, meditation was what you did when you wanted to “clear your head,” and essentially empty yourself of your emotions, desires, and thoughts. But that’s no way to enter into a conversation, and it’s certainly no way to seek a deeper understanding of who you are as a person.
In order for meditation to mean anything, you have to have a subject on which it I worth meditating. And what better a subject than the One to whom we owe our very life? Surely He understands our thoughts and our deepest longings; and desires to use those for His greater glory and our eternal happiness. If our meditation doesn’t lead us to seek true and lasting happiness, it’s a wasted effort.
CCC 2705: Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain. We are usually helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: the Sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history the page on which the “today” of God is written.
CCC 2708: Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina or the rosary. This form of prayerful reflection is of great value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him.