1. Wonder / Awe
Wonder is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to all Christians at baptism. As John Main pointed out, “What we all require is the child’s sense of wonder, the simple childlikeness to worship before the magnificence of creation.” (Moment of Christ, p130) “When wonder becomes a fundamental attitude of our spirit it will confer a religious character to our whole life, because it makes us live with the consciousness of being plunged into an unfathomable and incommensurable reality.” (Cavalletti, Religious Potential of the Child, p139) Wonder helps us see reality with the correct perspective: our potential and God’s grandeur.
For St. Thomas Aquinas, “Contemplation consists in the simple enjoyment of the truth.” Joy, a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is one of the signs of a truly spiritual person. Just as Mary’s heart rejoiced when she found out she was to be the mother of Jesus (cf. Lk 1: 47), so we discover joy as we realise that we are temples of the Holy Spirit and that Jesus dwells within us. Because Christ’s joy is within us, our joy is complete. (cf. Jn15:11) As John Main observed, “to be is to be joyous”. (The Present Christ, p257)
3. Paying attention/listening
In order to pay attention, we must live in the present moment. “Learning to pray is learning to live as fully as possible in the present moment.” (John Main, Word into Silence, p34) Pére de Caussade called this attitude the “sacrament of the present moment”; Rabbi Abraham Heschel called it “the eternal now". When we live in the present moment we no longer worry about tomorrow. As Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” (Mt 6:34) We cast aside all worries in the experience of God's love for us. (cf. 1 Peter 5:7) We live, now, in God’s presence. That is why St Francis de Sales said, “The past must be abandoned to God’s mercy, the present to our fidelity, and the future to divine providence.”
Jesus insisted that true prayer is humble. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners that others may see them.” (Mt 6:5) The word humility means ‘like the earth’. Humble people have both feet on the ground. They know their limitations and need for God’s grace. As Blessed John Ruysbroeck wrote, “Christ shines into the depth of the humble heart; for Christ is always moved by helplessness whenever a person complains of it and lays it before him with humility.” John Main agreed: “The more we contemplate the wonder of our vocation the more humble we must become, the more poor in spirit.” (The Present Christ, p331)
Interiority and stillness are essential to contemplative prayer. “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” (Mt 6:6) As the Psalmist says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10) John Main explains further: “In meditation, our stillness is not a state of mere passivity but a state of full openness, full wakefulness to the wonder of our own being, full openness to the wonder of God, the author and the sustainer of our being, and a full awareness that we are at one with God.” (Word into Silence, p20)
Jesus teaches silence in prayer: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.” (Mt 6:7) St Ignatius of Antioch said: “It is better to be silent and real than to talk and be unreal.” As John Main says, “Prayer is not a matter of talking to God, but of listening to God, or being with God ...Only in and through silence do we become fully conscious.” (Word into Silence, p22, 83) Pope John Paul II, speaking to teachers, strongly emphasised the importance of silence in catechesis. “Help your students not to suffocate but rather to nourish their innate amazement in the face of creation and to reflect on it in order to grasp its perfection. To educate to this attitude, it is indispensable that the child be led to a real and profound interior silence which is the first requisite for listening.” (December 6, 1984)
Faith-filled people trust that God is always with them and always works for their good. As Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Mt 6:8) St Paul says: “All things work for good for those who love God.” (Rm 8:28) John Main explains: “What Jesus is advocating is not an irresponsible or fanatical indifference to the external aspects of our life, but rather he is urging us to develop a spirit of trust; of absolute trust, in the Fatherhood of the God who not only created us, but sustains us in being from moment to moment.” (Word into Silence, p77)
Prayer leads to an unselfish way of life. As Jesus taught us: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.” (Mt 6:10) In prayer we leave self behind. We focus fully on God. “The prayer of faith consists not only in saying ‘Lord, Lord,’ but in disposing the heart to do the will of the Father.” (CCC #2611) In Christian Meditation, “we learn to empty our heart of everything that is not God”. (John Main, The Heart of Creation, p107)
9. Peace/Harmony with others
Christian prayer is peaceful and leads us to make peace with others. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” (Mt 6:12) As John Main points out, “We have not really experienced peace if we think of it as the cessation or absence of violence. It is really the harmony of all the mighty forces that, disunited, lead to violence. Peace is not so much a consolation or an escape as a power in its own right.” (The Present Christ, p306) Peace is not cowardly. It involves an ultimate type of courage, based firmly on faith in God, that leads to non-violence.
10. Oneness/communion with God and others
John Main assures us that “The day will come when the mantra ceases to sound and we are lost in the eternal silence of God...Gradually the silences become longer and we are simply absorbed in the mystery of God.” (Moment of Christ, p103) Eventually, the practice of Christian Meditation leads us to this experience of communion. As John Main says, “The journey into our heart is a journey into every heart...Our love for others is the only truly Christian way of measuring our progress on the pilgrimage of prayer.” (The Present Christ, p262)
Jesus encourages us to be persevering in prayer, just as the poor widow pleaded her case before the unjust judge. We are to ask, seek, and knock (cf. Mt 7:7), or, as Jesus said to his apostles, we are to “remain here and keep watch with me ...Watch and pray.” (Mt 26:38, 41) John Main, too, urges us to persevere in meditation. “All you have to do is to find your word (mantra) and then faithfully to repeat it. But don’t let me mislead you. Actually to say the word morning and evening, day in and day out, winter and summer, whether you feel like it or don’t feel like it, all this requires a good deal of grit and steel in the spine.” (Christian Meditation: The Gethsemani Talks, pp21-22) “The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may encounter.” (CCC #2710)
12. Healing/wholeness/peace within
After his Resurrection, Jesus greeted his disciples with the phrase “Peace be with you.” He means the internal peace that flows from oneness with God. John Main says “Meditation is our way into the peace of Christ because he dwells in our heart, and in meditation we seek him in our heart because ‘he himself is our peace.’ ... Meditation breaks down all the barriers set up within us, between our outer and inner life and brings the whole of us into harmony.” (Moment of Christ, p127)
“Learning to meditate is not just a matter of mastering a technique, it is much more learning to appreciate what we have been given.” (John Main, Word into Silence, p13) Prayer enables us to see God’s hand in everything that happens and in every person we meet. And as a result, we become grateful for everything God has given us. We view everything as gift, for which we give thanks.
14. God’s unconditional love for us
Christian meditation helps us open ourselves to God’s love. “In union we experience ourselves as known, loved, cherished, cared for.” (John Main, Moment of Christ, p140) We not only realise that God loves us unconditionally, we also realise that we have meaning for God. As John Main explained from his own experience, “The Spirit dwells in us as absolute gift, unconditionally. It dwells in us in our ordinary humanity, a humanity that is weak, vain or silly, that knows failure, mistakes and false starts. Yet it persists within us with the complete commitment of love.” (The Present Christ, p247)
15. Kindness/compassion/empathy for others
True prayer will lead to social action, loving relationships, and greater involvement in the world. Because of our prayer we are strengthened to build community with others, to serve the poor, and empower the marginalised. Through contemplation
“we are bound to express what we are: people bound in love to others, in a love that is outward-looking and redeemed. The Church, then, is not so much something outside us that we enter; it is rather the Church that enters us, and emerges from deep within us.”
(John Main, Essential Writings,p158)