What is the Church’s view of meditation (as silent sitting and “connect with your body”)?
When it comes to “meditation” as described in this question, the Church found it necessary to formally address this question in 1989 by way of a letter to bishops issued from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) of the Vatican (which, at that time, was overseen by Cardinal Ratzinger). The link for this letter is given at the end of this article.
The letter begins with a very concise description of prayer as having a personal and communal nature. Rooted in the works of God, and in particular, the truth of Christ taking on our human nature and accomplishing His saving works so as to lead us back to the Father, all Christian prayer rightly is founded upon and directed toward the life of each person in the Trinity – and therefore it is both “personal” in our relating to God “personally” and “communal” as the Trinity is a “Communion of persons,” and our prayer is done in union with the “communion of saints.”
Unlike many methods of meditation that are found today that seek to turn inward on one’s own consciousness or in some indeterminate sense of divine presence, Christian meditation always has its source in the revelation of God, who loves us and acts on our behalf to draw us to himself. (This is why meditating on God’s Word, given to us in the Sacred Scriptures, is both important and
rightly encouraged for us to do – as the content of Scripture roots the act of meditating in God Himself and His works). Christian prayer and meditation also have the characteristic of being an exchange or “dialogue” between God and man, wherein each one remains fully “who they are” while being drawn into more perfect union (as opposed to an effort so either self-actualize or somehow become part of God in such a way that our own self ceases to be). Likewise, Christian meditation leads us to live according to what is received from God’s revelation in loving Him and our neighbor as self – extending meditation to lived faith. Thus, Christian meditation is open to deeper life and union in God Himself, with God (as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) drawing us into such life and union.
Forms of meditation in other religious traditions are therefore to be evaluated as to whether or not they aid in facilitating such fundamentals as the self-revealing work of God and the goal of communion with the Trinity. More to the point, the use of non-Christian methods of meditation in Christian prayer can run the risk of reducing meditation to a purely internal and psychological act that, as the letter says “propose[s] abandoning not only meditation on the salvific works accomplished in history by the God of the Old and New Covenant, but also the very idea of the One and Triune God, who is Love, in favor of an immersion ‘in the indeterminate abyss of the divinity.’” Methods that seek to empty oneself of the world without remaining open to God and His works from outside ourselves (focusing instead only on emptying or interiorizing) are both problematic and misleading – as it can lead to denying of God revealing himself in what is created, and particularly the truth of God’s taking on our humanity in the Incarnation of Christ. Likewise, methods that focus on physical positions have risk of the positions themselves being idolized – as though peace and tranquility, or any other perceived benefit are from these postures and their symbolism – totally abandoning the Triune God as our source of life. To read more, simply type “CDF on Meditation,” into an internet search engine and a link to this letter appears.
For those who are viewing the bulletin online, “copy” and “paste” the link here to take you to the CDF letter to bishops on meditation: