In the spiritual classic, Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales provides an astonishingly simple four step process of meditation. The book was originally undertaken as a guide to help the wife of an ambassador who struggled to find a way to live a life of devotion in the midst of court life. Because of this it is perfect for use by those who struggle with the same, finding ways to experience God in the business of modern life.
Preparation for Meditation
You should begin your time of meditation by preparing to encounter God. Meditation is an active, not inactive, spiritual exercise and so easing into it is better than just rushing into it. Pitchers and quarterbacks warm up their arms, cyclists and runners warm up their legs, before we meditate we should also prepare. First settle into an appropriate place and posture for meditation, as described here. Then there are three stages to preparation
As you begin to meditate think about the fact that God is in and behind everything that exists because he is present everywhere. He provides the air you breathe as well as the mechanism that enables you to breathe it, so your very breathing is charged with the presence of God. Become aware that he is with you everywhere and always.
Continue expanding this awareness to the fact that he is especially present to us in our hearts.
Know that God looks on your heart lovingly. You are made in his image, you have been adopted as his child, and he loves you not as you may be but as you are. When you come to meditation you are not coming to God so that he may love you, but just realizing that God was already with you because he loves you.
When you become aware of God’s loving presence ask Him for help in your meditation. Worship and service of God are a grace and ask God for that grace.
In meditation we are trying to commune with God in a way that is too deep for words. This is done through the Spirit who prays for us when we don’t know how (Romans 8:26). Ask God to help you in your prayers and for the Spirit to deepen them beyond your words as he guides your meditation.
The final step in preparation is to begin to develop a mental picture of what thing you wish to focus on during your meditation. You could read scripture, you could begin to appreciate the beauty of creation around you, you could imagine the person of Christ during his crucifixion or after his resurrection. Of course, these things are provided as examples and are not an exhaustive list. You are free to meditate on what ever the Holy Spirit brings to you.
Now is where your meditation really begins. Focus more and more on the object of your meditation. For example, if you are reading scripture cut your attention down from a passage to a single verse (and if possible, a single word) much like you would during lectio divina. If meditating on the beauty of nature cut your focus down to just one aspect of nature, to a single tree or to the beauty of the stars. Do not study these things and do not try to force some sort of profound spiritual insight out of them (the more you try to the more you will fail) but just focus on them. Allow the truth of the meditation to just be and it will begin to penetrate you. This can’t be explained or instructed, just allow it to happen.
As some truth strikes you take it and make a concrete resolution out of it. Perhaps you were struck by the love of the good Samaritan and resolve to love your neighbor in a more tangible way. Maybe the beauty of nature has led you to realize you should take a more proactive stand in protecting it. Maybe envisioning the risen Lord has awaken in you a real sense of hope and victory. Whatever it is do not leave it in your time of meditation as some impractical insight, but turn it into an actionable item and bring it into your day. That is how this meditation changes you.
Just as we warmed up with preparation we slowly exit intense meditation with a time of conclusion, and again we do so in three stages of verbal prayer.
First and simply, thank God for his presence and the gift he is given you in your consideration and resolution.
Oblation simply means something offered to God. Offer your self to God and offer your consideration and resolution to God. They were given to you from God to be returned to him.
Ask for the grace required to live out your resolution and for the blessing of awareness of God’s presence as you do.
More can be read online about this type of meditation from Francis de Sales.