I was hardly out of my pram when World War II began. I may not have any war wounds to brag about but I do have memories, terrible memories of the fear that gripped me when the sirens began to whine. I would hear the planes and the rockets overhead and the sound of the bombs exploding, and the sight of incendiaries setting our houses on fire, as I ran to the air-raid shelter.
The Sacred Heart
As our family passed the picture of the Sacred Heart in the hallway, we would all pray for spiritual strength and support and to be saved from the horrible death that might await us at any moment. It helped me to realise the terrible fear that must have petrified the early Christians. Their enemies were not high up in the sky threatening to destroy them. They were all around them threatening to put them to death if they did not worship their gods or buy livestock to sacrifice in their temples, or if they did not conform to the Roman Empire that ruled over them. They even considered it an affront if Christians did not take part in their sordid games when slaves were killed for the fun of it, or in their all-night drinking parties and sexual orgies that were commonplace in those days. Even when there was no official persecution, neighbours would report them to the local authorities sending them to prison where torture, scourging and death were not the exception but rather the rule. I would have been far more terrified then than in the war, when at least the enemy was not on the ground and we had a strong air-raid shelter, with loving parents and caring nurses and hospitals to go to if we were injured.
The Risen Lord
But like us, the first Christians did have the same Risen Lord to turn to who had promised to be with them to the end of time. They did not have pictures of him in their homes as we did, because they still took the second commandment seriously and would not have any man-made images in their homes or in their churches, at least to begin with. That is why the first apostles, and the first disciples taught the faithful to picture Christ in their minds, in their memories and in their imaginations so that they could the more easily come to know and love him as they did while he was on earth. They even taught them to imagine him as they had seen him in the act of preaching God’s message of love, and then dying for proclaiming it to his people. They were taught to picture his agonising death, to see in their mind-eye, the length and breadth, the height and depth of his love for them. In the Resurrection they would see God’s love for his Son, and the other great mysteries of the faith that enabled them to receive this love for themselves.
A New Form of Prayer
It was in this way that a new form or aid to Christian prayer was born that came to be called meditation. Gnostics and Hindus had practised meditation before as well as Neoplatonists and Stoics, but that was different. In this new form of meditation Christians could see the love of God as it was made flesh in Jesus, as it flowed out of him onto others, and was daily and continually flowing out of him and into them after the first Pentecost. From the very beginning they had been taught to pray as before at certain times of the day, most especially at nine o’clock in the morning, midday, three in the afternoon and even at midnight. Now they were taught to practise the new form of prayer that would naturally arise from their meditations. Meditation on the most loveable man who had ever existed, in the act of loving and giving himself to others, naturally led the faithful to respond to him in the language of love. However, it eventually did even more than that.
When something life-changing happens
When you come to know someone closely and intimately and come to realise that they not only love you but are prepared to give their life for you, then something life-changing happens. You will want to be united with them, to be one with them at all times, to do what they do and experience all that they experience.
In ordinary circumstances, although it is possible to love someone who is dead, it is not possible to be united with them. However, we are not talking about ordinary circumstances, we are talking about the extraordinary circumstances that arose when God raised Jesus from the dead, and then promised at his Ascension that he would be with those who loved him at all times, to the end of the world. This would be made possible through the love that drew them all up and into his mystical body at the first Pentecost. This new form of prayer was not make-believe or play-acting but a form of inspired meditation. It would generate the love that enabled them to enter into Christ here and now, by leading them ever more deeply into his mystical body that would be forever with them. This form of prayer has been known and practised by Christians throughout subsequent centuries.
Union depends on Likeness
However, when meditation does generate the love that enables the Holy Spirit to lead believers into Christ’s mystical body, a profound purification begins. This enables our impure and imperfect hearts to be united with the pure and perfect heart of Christ, as we experience the mutual loving that continually flows between him and his Father. This new development in a person’s spiritual life is so important that we must describe it in far more detail because it comprises the mystic way as it is usually understood. If you want to make a resolution that can dramatically change your life, make a resolution to learn how to meditate in 2022. You will find books, blogs and podcasts to help you do this on my website, so why not begin now?
David Torkington’s blogs, books, lectures and podcasts can be found at https://www.davidtorkington.com/