Meditation tips from the world’s great mystics

Published: Monday 1st February 2016

In a new book Spiritual Formation: A History of Mysticism ACU Professor Peter Steane and Dr. Don Gates highlight the unique methods some of the greatest Christian mystics and theologians used to achieve deep meditation.

St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)

St Ignatius was a Spanish knight who later founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

Proponents of meditation methods of Ignatius utilize all their five senses in an imaginary journey to Biblical times and in particular, the life of Jesus. He had a ten-point plan:

1. Selecting a suitable topic

2. Prayerful preparation

3. Adopting a suitable place and position

4. Petitioning for spiritual outcomes

5. Visualizing and reflecting

6. Listening and reflecting

7. Contemplating and reflecting

8. Achieving some practical outcomes

9. Having a meaningful discussion with God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus.

10. Closing with the Lord’s Prayer

Ignatius’ spiritual formation teachings were an outcome of mystical experiences with God and his spiritual are valuable tools to use while meditating.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity's role in the secular world have become widely influential.

Bonhoeffer commenced daily silent and meditative periods and believed inward clarity would be achieved only through deep study of the Sermon on the Mount.

His preachers’ seminary set aside 30 minutes silent mediation between breakfast and the commencement of the theological program for the day. Meditation revolved around a few pre-arranged scripture verses that were not related to the theological work.

“In our meditation on we ponder the chosen text on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say for this day and for our Christian life that it is not only God’s word for the church, but also God’s word for us individually.

The important thing is that “we faithfully and patiently adhere to our daily meditation period, even during times of spiritual drought and apathy, and humbly centre all our attention on the word of God, trusting that God will hold to his promise.”

St Francis de Sales (1567-1622)

St Francis was a Bishop of Geneva and became noted for his deep faith and his gentle approach to the religious divisions in his land resulting from the Protestant Reformation.

He drew a distinction between the two concepts of meditation and contemplation.

“Meditation considers in detail and as it were piece by piece the object calculated to move us, but contemplation takes a very simple and collected view of the object which it loves, and the consideration thus brought to a point causes a more lively and strong movement.”

He had a fourfold approach based on “preparation”, “consideration”, “affections and resolutions” and “conclusions”.

For de sales “meditation is the mother of the love of God and contemplation is the daughter of the love of God”.

Participants pass through from meditation to contemplation through the process of petition that occurs when after considering “the goodness of Our Lord, His infinite love, His omnipotence, we become confident enough to ask for and entreat Him to give us what we desire.”

Catherine Booth 1929-1890

Catherine Booth was the wife of William and widely  considered to be co-founder of The Salvation Army with him.

Their partnership in ministry was built on passionate practical evangelical endeavour. Catherine was no stranger to poverty or injustice, and witnessed to Christ’s love in outreach to the marginalised in their travels.

Catherine defined holiness as an “inward transformation in the likeness of Christ”. It was the understanding of this transformation, founded on daily meditation and prayer, that she characterised as a ‘yearning’ and ‘dispositon’ of the soul.

In a time of a male-orientated  Christendom, Catherine advocated that women had a right to minister by preaching the gospel. Her contribution to spirituality is in its evangelical dimension, with its proclamation of commitment, and spiritual growth through learning and experience. For Catherine, this experience stemmed from her daily reflection on the scriptures and fellowship with Christ.