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Christian Counsel: 8: On Meditation

By Francois Fenelon

      When the solid foundations of a perfect conversion of heart, a scrupulous repentance and a serious meditation of all the Christian virtues have been laid, both theoretically and practically, we become gradually so accustomed to these truths, that we regard them at last with a simple and steady look, without the necessity of going back to examine and convince ourselves of each of them in detail. They are then all embraced in a certain enjoyment of God, so pure and so intimate, that we find everything in Him. It is no longer the intellect that examines and reasons; it is the will which loves and plunges into the infinite Good.

      But this is not your state. You must walk for a long while in the way of the sinners who are beginning to seek God; ordinary meditation is your lot, too happy that God condescends to admit you to it.

      Walk then in the spirit, like Abraham, without knowing whither you go; be content with your daily bread, and remember that in the desert the manna of to-day could not be preserved until to-morrow without corrupting. The children of God must be shut up to the grace of the present moment, without desiring to foresee the designs of Providence concerning them.

      Meditate, then, since now is your opportunity, upon all the mysteries of Jesus Christ and upon all the Gospel truths which you have for so long a time ignored and rejected. When God shall have entirely effaced from your mind the impression of all your worldly maxims, and the Spirit shall have left there no trace of your old prejudices, then it will be necessary to ascertain the direction in which you are attracted by grace, and to follow step by step without anticipating.

      In the meantime, dwell in peace in the bosom of God, like a little child on the breast of its mother; be satisfied with thinking on your chosen subject simply and easily; suffer yourself to be led gently to the truths which affect you, and which you find to nourish your heart. Avoid all exertions that excite the intellect, which often tempt us to believe that there is more piety in a dangerous vivacity of the imagination, than in a pure and upright intention of abandonment to God. Avoid likewise all refined speculation; confine yourself to simple reflections, and recur to them frequently. Those who pass too rapidly from one truth to another, feed their curiosity and restlessness; they even distract their intellect by too great a multiplicity of views.

      Give every truth time to send down deep roots into the heart; the main point is--to love. Nothing gives rise to such severe fits of indigestion as eating too much and too hastily. Digest every truth leisurely, if you would extract the essence of it for your nourishment, but let there be no restless self-reflective acts. Be sure that your exercise will not be acceptable unless performed without agitation or tumult.

      I am well aware that you will have distractions enough; bear them without impatience, dismiss them and recur quietly to your subject as soon as you perceive that your imagination has wandered. In this way these involuntary distractions will produce no injurious effects, and the patience with which you bear them without being discouraged, will advance you farther than a more continuous meditation, in which you might take more self-satisfaction. The true method of conquering wandering thoughts, is never to attack them directly with bitterness, and never to be discouraged by their frequency or duration.

      Suffer yourself, then, to be quietly occupied by the subject you have chosen; only let the exercise be as holy as you can make it, to which end take the following directions:

      Do not encumber yourself with a great number of thoughts upon a subject; but dwell upon each sufficiently long to allow it to afford its proper nourishment to the heart. You will gradually become accustomed to regard each truth steadily by itself, without flitting from one to another; this habit will serve to fix them deeply in your soul. You will thus, also, acquire a habit of dwelling upon your themes with pleasure and peaceful acquiescence, instead of considering them rapidly and intellectually as most persons do. Thus the foundations will be firmly laid for all that God intends to do in you; he will thus mortify the natural activity of the mind, that ever inclines it to seek novelties, instead of deeply imprinting the truths already in some degree familiar. You must not, however, forcibly restrain your mind to a subject which no longer seems to afford any nourishment; I would advise only that you should not abandon it so long as it still ministers food.

      As to your affections, retain all which the view of your subject naturally and quietly induces; but do not attempt to stir yourself up to great efforts, for they will exhaust and agitate you, and even cause aridities; they will occupy you too much with your own exertions, and implant a dangerous confidence in your own power; in short, they will attach you too firmly to sensible pleasures, and will thus prepare you great trouble in a time of dryness. Be content, then, to follow with simplicity, and without too many reflections, the emotions which God shall excite in view of your subject, or of any other truth. As for higher things, have no thoughts of them; there is a time for everything, and it is of the greatest importance that nothing should be precipitated.

      One of the cardinal rules of the spiritual life is, that we are to live exclusively in the present moment, without casting a look beyond. You remember that the Israelites in the desert followed the pillar of fire, or of cloud, without knowing whither it was leading them; they had a supply of manna but for one day; all above that became useless. There is no necessity now for moving rapidly; think only of laying a solid foundation; see that it is deep and broad by an absolute renunciation of self, and by an abandonment without reserve to the requirements of God. Let God, then, raise upon this foundation such a building as He pleases. Shut your eyes and commit yourself to Him. How wonderful is this walking with Abraham in pure faith, not knowing whither we go! and how full of blessings is the path!

      God will then be your guide; He himself will travel with you, as we are told He did with the Israelites, to bring them step by step across the desert to the promised land. Ah! what will be your blessedness if you will but surrender yourself into the hands of God, permitting him to do whatever He will, not according to your desires, but according to His own good pleasure!

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See Also:
   1: Of the Little Knowledge of God there is in the World
   2: Of the Necessity of Knowing and Loving God
   3: On Pure Love
   4: On Prayer and the Principal Exercises of Piety
   5: On Conformity to the Life of Jesus Christ
   6: On Humility
   7: On Prayer
   8: On Meditation
   9: On Mortification
   10: On Self-Abandonment
   11: On Temptations
   12: On Wandering Thoughts and Dejection
   13: On Confidence in God
   14: In What Manner We are to Watch Ourselves
   15: On the Inward Teaching of the Spirit Of God
   16: On Daily Faults and the Toleration of Ourselves
   17: On Fidelity in Small Matters
   18: On Transitory Emotions, Fidelity, and Simplicity
   19: On The Advantages of Silence and Recollection
   20: Privation and Annihilation, A Terror Even to the Spiritually-Minded
   21: On The Proper Use of Crosses
   22: On the Interior Operations of God to Bring Man to the True End of His Creation
   23: On Christian Perfection
   24: The Way of Naked Faith and Pure Love is Better and More Certain than that of Illuminations and Sensible Delights
   25: On the Presence of God
   26: On Conformity to the Will of God
   27: General Directions for Attaining Inward Peace
   28: Pure Love Only Can Suffer Aright and Love its Sufferings
   29: Interested and Disinterested Love Have Each its Appropriate Season
   30: On True Liberty
   31: On the Employment of Time


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