Meditation vs. Contemplation

Have you ever wondered what’s the difference between meditation and contemplation? Are they different words meaning the same thing? Is one Biblical and one not?

Both are forms of prayer that bring us closer in our walk with God. Both include a working of God’s Spirit to reveal his presence. But there are important differences.

Meditation is primarily a work on my part to focus on the things of God. I use my faculties such as my mind and imagination to think of the character and greatness of God. It is my initiation and my effort to place myself in God’s presence. It is my quest for an encounter with God.

Contemplation is all God’s doing. I am doing almost nothing. When we come to God, usually from the place of meditation, God takes over and brings us beyond our own efforts to himself. It is purely a gift from God. In contemplation, God is the primary actor.

This gift of contemplation comes along as we mature in Jesus. Too much, too soon in our relationship with Christ leads to a follower who longs for the gift more than the Giver. God is faithful, and he gives us what we need at the right time.

Should we pursue this kind of prayer? I say absolutely yes! Jesus prayed that we would be one with the Father in the same way that He and the Father were one. Unity in the fellowship of believers and unity with Jesus. That’s the goal of the pilgrim.

So how does one begin?

Here are some guidelines from Fr. Thomas Keating who has taught extensively on Contemplative prayer.

  • First, it’s all about relationship, not a checklist.  God is pleased with your coming, not your perfection. You can’t do it wrong when to approach it with the intention of communion with God.
  • Find a time to sit still. Set a timer for how long you will sit. Begin with 10 minutes. As you get accustomed to ignoring the intruding thoughts, you may sit for longer periods of time.
  • Find a word or an image to hold in your mind. This symbolizes your coming to God and giving him consent to do whatever he wishes during your time together. Remember, contemplation allows the Lord’s agenda to be done, not ours.
  • This word or image will draw your mind back to God’s presence when it inevitably strays. Like music that plays in the grocery store, allow your passing thoughts to come and go without giving them additional notice. Don’t resist the thoughts with self-judgment. That only expends more energy away from God’s presence. Expect it. Notice it and allow thoughts to come and go. That’s what the mind does – it thinks. Simply bring yourself back to your intention with your sacred word.

All of the above “steps” have been meditation. The contemplation begins in the next part.

  • Let God’s love wash over you in whatever form he brings. Let God move to warm your heart with his presence. Have no set agenda except that you will be with the Lord.
  • Close your time of contemplation with a prayer of thanksgiving.

Meditation and contemplation are beautiful prayer forms that bring us into the presence of God. Both are helpful and both take practice. It is another area where we see that God longs to partner with us in our relationship.

“Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.” God – Jeremiah 33:3

Grace upon grace,