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I'm really surprised that most Christians do not meditate per se. "Prayer life" is normally considered to be either a simple freelance prayer or it's something rote, maybe said rather thoughtlessly. This isn't to say that there is nothing to be gained from either of those, but the Christian tradition is much broader than just winging it or mumbling through the responses at Mass. Christian meditation is alive and well, if you know where to look.

I want to make one thing clear, before I move on: I consider the terms "meditation" and "prayer" to be interchangeable. While we mostly think of meditation as a vaguely Eastern spiritual practice, and prayer as some sort of intercessory act, there are forms of meditation that are also petitions, and there are prayers that merely consist in resting with the Spirit. I realize that in vernacular the two terms have different shades of meaning, but I'm going to ignore that, because I don't think it's a helpful distinction.

The other thing I'd like to say at the outset is that this post is geared towards Christians; however, it needn't exclude anybody. I see the great depth of Christian prayer techniques as something much like a tool box: each person will want and need different tools, depending on themselves and their lives. I think it is very wise to mix things up, modify what doesn't work, learn from other religions, etc.

Also note that I am by no means being comprehensive. My own schema of distinction is in some sense arbitrary. One needn't feel confined to think that there are "these certain types of prayer", and that each individual practice must fall under some category in a clean way. Some techniques I am not terribly familiar with, and there are lots that I am completely unaware of! If anyone knows of other prayers, whether they are small variations or entirely different techniques, I would love to hear about them!

Lastly, nothing I list here is going to be anything "new age", whatever that means. In fact, none of it will be new. These are all ways of opening to the Spirit that have been used for hundreds of years, if not thousands, by Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, and others.

WAYS OF OPENING TO THE SPIRIT

Meditation is simply that: opening to the Spirit, or to God, or the Sacred or what-have-you. In a wonderful chapter in Marcus Borg's The God We Never Knew, he outlines many of the ways this is done. According to Borg, "Our problem - the reason that … the reality of God is not more apparent to us - is that we have 'hard hearts.' … What is needed is an open heart, a soft heart, a new heart … Thus the heart needs to be opened." (pg 114).

This, then, is the goal of prayer, of meditation, of the spiritual life. Borg notes that, "The process by which the heart is opened can be gradual or sudden" (115). He lists a number of religious practices which are effective at opening one's heart.

Collective practices are one way. These are simply practices done with other people or as part of a group or tradition. It can include sacred stories, rituals, time, seasons, sounds, music, speech, silence, images, space, journeys, laws, or worship. The depth and breadth of the many types of collective practices is really beyond my scope of patience to list - needless to say, there are lots of them.

I am concerned chiefly with those individual practices which a person can undertake on his/her own in order to open one's heart. I know we all have SA here, and so for some of us, individual practices have to provide the foundation for a spiritual life. Now collective practices, of course, incorporate prayer, but here I am mainly addressing prayer as an individual practice.

VERBAL PRAYER

This is the form with which most people are familiar. Verbal prayer can be completely impromptu: a person can just talk to God as if He were a person - they may even imagine a person (such as Jesus) as a way of making God more accessible.

When I was growing up, this is the only form of prayer I was ever taught. I was taught to pray in a very specific order: to open by saying "Heavenly Father", to first thank God for things, then to ask for things I wanted, and then to close the prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. And that is one way to do it. Within a Trinitarian framework, a person can legitimately pray to any member of the Godhead, whether Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. God needn't be given a male image, either: feminine images of God abound in the bible and in devotional literature. (In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, God the Father is considered to be genderless: Father meaning, in this case, a neuter gender. Because this doesn't exactly carry over into a person's mind, I see no reason why you couldn't pray to God the Mother as well as God the Father; indeed, it is much more theologically sound to do so.)

Verbal prayer needn't be freelance. There are any number of preset prayers. Hymns, songs, and the psalms are a few examples of rote prayers. Any Catholic will be familiar with preset prayers such as the "Hail Mary" or the "Our Father", and you can buy a prayer book with meditations for every occasion. These are often very nice when you don't know what to say: when you've been reduced to the "groaning of the heart", so to speak.

Verbal prayers can be intercessory or not. They can praise, or give thanks, or simply indicate a resting in God. St. Teresa of Avila advocates beginners simply talk to God as they would a person. For some people that works very well.

Intercessory prayers to Saints or other holy figures can also open one's heart. The most familiar form, where this is concerned, is rote prayers, but of course there is no rule saying that you can't just simply talk to the Virgin Mary or St. John the Baptist like anyone else. Given Christianity's emphasis on monotheism, many people might want to limit prayers to holy figures to simply petitions 'on behalf' of the meditator. I think it's a personal decision, really.

NONVERBAL PRAYER

This is what most people think of when they think of meditation. They may imagine it as mainly an Eastern religious practice, with no roots in monotheism. This is wrong. There are many forms of nonverbal prayer within Christianity.

Perhaps the simplest form is Centering Prayer. While it's been popularized by only a few writers, its roots are deep within monasticism, going back over 1400 years to Benedictine monks. (It was first comprehensively described in the book, "The Could of Unknowing" written in the 1300s, but it predates it clearly to the early desert fathers.) The more I have studied Centering Prayer, the more I am convinced that it is the same practice, in essence, as Mindfulness meditation within Theravada Buddhism. Centering Prayer is simply what it claims to be: a method of "centering" oneself in God, of becoming aware of God in all things. My biases are showing: I simply love Centering Prayer! Centering Prayer can employ a focus on one's breath, or one's body, or it can employ a focus on a sacred word or phrase (a 'mantra').

Mantras are somewhere between verbal and nonverbal prayer. A mantra is a word or phrase that is repeated, which opens one and calms the mind. Probably the most famous mantra is the rosary, which as you know consists of a string of Hail Marys interspersed with other prayers, and involves contemplation of different traditional events.

Rote prayers can be used effectively as mantras. As for myself, I find that I prefer them to be short, down to only a word or a short phrase. A very famous mantra is the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me". It is sometimes expanded to "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner". I like it short and sweet myself. I find that if I am saying a longer prayer as a mantra (such as the famous Our Father) I like to slow it down… way down… so that each word has an effect. Thus it may take me three or four minutes to say an Our Father, but each word is laden with meaning.

Almost anything can be a mantra. Many mantras employ very open, vowel-heavy words. "Om mani padme hum" is a Hindu mantra, and if you say it out loud you'll notice an emphasis on very open, back vowels. The same is true of a short and wonderful Christian mantra: the word "Alleluia". Each vowel is separated only by the 'l' sound, and it's wonderfully slippery and free. Mantras can be completely individual. Some people will simply use a word such as "peace" or "abba" or a short phrase like "Come Holy Spirit" or "Kyrie Elieson" (another very open, vowel-ly mantra).

Quakers have long practiced a collective form of nonverbal prayer in their meetings. Members often are silent for long periods of time, and speak when moved by the Spirit. Indeed, simply resting in silence can be an effective form of prayer. Even a nice nap in the shade of a tree can do it for some people!

Lectio Divina, or Praying the scriptures, is a very common form of prayer that is a combination of verbal and nonverbal. Perhaps the best introduction to Lectio Divina is the website, http://www.sacredspace.ie . Without burdening you with all the details, Lectio Divina is a method of slowly and mindfully reading a scriptural passage, noting what sticks out, and then talking to God about it. Lectio Divina is also by no means new: it has been the primary form of reading and understanding scriptures throughout most of the history of Christianity (and is only really being 'rediscovered' by popular Christian writers, when it was somewhat lost in the shuffling of the Reformation and Counter Reformation).

Ignatian contemplation fits easily and snugly alongside Lectio Divina. It is a more advanced form of meditation in some ways. Again, it is rather complex, and I admit that this is one method of meditation that I am only beginning to do for myself. In essence, once a person has read a scripture passage slowly and thoughtfully, they then re-read it, and look at the events from the perspective of one of the characters in the story. (Obviously this is mostly commonly used in the Gospels or in the Pentateuch or historical books from the Old Testament.) This is used to assist a person in not only knowing the story better, but in gaining multiple insights and multiple points of view.

DEEDS OF COMPASSION

I couldn't leave this out! Doing good for others can also be a form of meditation. I probably needn't elaborate on the how or the why; it should be clear. Needless to say, for many people, they find that their hearts are opened very well by serving and helping others. Whether something simple, like saying thank you to a parent or spouse for cooking a meal, or something more involved like helping at a psychiatric ward or joining the Peace Corps, volunteering and doing good to others is in some ways the optimal way of opening to the Spirit: it not only helps you, but you help others!

OTHER WAYS OF OPENING

There are some methods that just don't easily fit under a rubric, and that's okay. Lots of things, even everyday things, can be considered a prayer. Dream work, a hike in the woods, solitude, fasting, silence, spiritual retreats, reading, sex, listening to good music, good food, and talking with friends are all, IMO, in some way a part of the journey. I don't think that God should be a hobby. Everything we do can be a prayer.

I have learned much from other religious traditions, but most specifically Buddhism, in helping my own spiritual progress along. The concept of "Beginner's mind" in Zen Buddhism has been formative in my use of Centering Prayer/Mindfulness meditation, and I have been practicing Mindfulness meditation for years before I ever knew of its Christian correlate. The four yogas, or spiritual paths, from Hinduism have taught me that each person has a different temperament and that the best thing to do is to do what works best. Yoga (in the active sense; that is, movement yoga) is a wonderful way of calming the mind and remaining open to the wonders of the human body. I don't mind mixing and matching, really.

Reading Nietzsche challenges me; saying Compline comforts me; reading a Psalm enlightens me; reading literature from mystics (whether it's St. John of the Cross, Rumi, Lao Tzu, or Luther) all give me glimpses from fresh perspectives that I might otherwise never have gotten. Knowing biology inspires me with awe; watching Family Guy or South Park helps me to stop taking myself so seriously; drinking a glass of wine with an old friend helps me reconnect; making little kids laugh fills me with joy. That's how I work, anyway.

So take what you can, and will, and leave the rest behind. If something doesn't 'click', maybe it needs a better chance, or maybe it's not for you. I certainly don't know (and I'm no expert!). I only wanted to share what I've learned, in the hopes that someone out there will see something intriguing that might enrich their life. There's more than one way to skin a rabbit.
 

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Thanks for laying all this out. Giving us something to think about.

You seem to be feeling better and I'm glad to see that. :)

"If you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire." Nietzsche
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I misspelled the book "Could of Unknowing". It should read "Cloud of Unknowing". Lol

I don't think I explained Centering Prayer very well, but that's okay: other people have done so already, much better than I could. Some links - just what I already have bookmarked:

http://www.youthspecialties.com/article ... lative.php (Start here - written in easy, plain language)

Verbal Prayer:
http://www.cptryon.org/prayer/ (online prayer books and more)
http://www.bcponline.org/ (Book of Common Prayer - Anglican prayer/liturgical book)
http://www.liturgyhours.org/ (Liturgy of the Hours, i.e. Lauds, Vespers, etc)

Centering Prayer:
http://www.thecentering.org/centering_method.html (brief intro)
http://www.kyrie.com/cp/ (more extensive w/ links)

Mantras:
http://www.khandro.net/practice_mantra_ ... n%20Mantra (Orthodox mantras)
http://swamij.com/maranatha.htm (Using "Maranatha" as a mantra)
http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/ignaty_jesus.aspx (the Jesus Prayer)

Lectio Divina:
http://www.beliefnet.com/story/38/story_3879_1.html (brief intro)
http://www.sacredspace.ie (interactive)
http://www.osb.org/lectio/about.html (more extensive w/ tons of links)

Ignatian Contemplation:
http://www.geocities.com/goajesuits/pra ... lation.htm (short intro)
http://www.sentex.net/~jveltri/Chapter23b.htm (more extensive)

If it's not covered yet, it will be here: http://landru.i-link-2.net/shnyves/prayer.html (huge and extensive!)
 

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I do not think that there is any religion effects in meditation.Meditation is not for promoting the mantras or religions but it is used for the always keeping our body and mind active .The stress in our mind can be reduced by the help of meditation.So everyone can do it instead of religion,communities,locations etc.If you want to learn more about meditation see here
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mm so i wanna pray all the time via sex =D
 
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