Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
There are four kinds of prayer, distinguished by the purposes for which the soul approaches God: namely, to praise Him, to thank Him, to propitiate Him, or to invoke His help. But we note now another division of prayer. That which we have referred to depends upon the motive of the soul, this upon the maimer of the act of prayer itself. The Psalmist, having prayed that he might be cleansed from sin, and "innocent from the great transgression," proceeds further to desire that he may become pleasing to God — "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight." In these words he provides us with the main division of prayer, based on the organ or faculty which is employed in it: by "the words of my mouth," vocal prayer is suggested; by "the meditation of my heart," mental prayer is described. Mental prayer is transacted entirely within the soul; vocal prayer employs the ministry of the tongue, or in some other way finds expression. The order of the Psalmist is that of acquirement and attainment. We learn in childhood first to say prayers, afterwards to think them: we govern our words first, and then bring under subjection our thoughts. All prayer is either mental or vocal. Mental prayer includes meditation and contemplation. Vocal is such as is used in the services of the Church.
I. FIRST, WE WILL DEAL WITH THE PRACTICE OF MEDITATION, and consider —
1. Its authority, which is derived from the Scriptures. We have instances of it in the Old Testament, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, of whom it is first expressly spoken (Genesis 24:63). In the New Testament it is twice told of Mary how she "pondered in her heart" the things that were told her. Christ Himself gives examples of this kind of prayer (John 18:2; Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12). Mary of Bethany. The apostles also (Acts 1:14; 1 Timothy 4:15; Galatians 1:17, 18). And so in the writings of the saints we have constant reference to the practice of meditation. St. bids us "exercise ourselves in meditation before conflict, that we may be prepared for it," and in a striking passage describes the nutritive effects of meditation; he says, "we ought for a long while to bruise and refine the utterances of the heavenly Scriptures, exerting our whole mind and heart upon them, that the sap of that spiritual food may diffuse itself into all the veins of our soul," etc. St. enumerates the steps which lead up to "prayer," — "meditation begets knowledge, knowledge compunction, compunction devotion, and devotion perfects prayer." St. Basil enjoins mental prayer as a means of exercising the faculties of the soul. St. Gregory mentions the morning as a fitting time for meditation; he says, "as the morning is the first part of the day, each of the faithful ought at that moment to lay aside all thoughts of this present life, in order to reflect upon the means of rekindling the fire of charity." St. Bernard represents meditation and prayer as the two feet of the soul, by which it ascends. St. Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercise, systematised it. St. Theresa declares it "essential to the Christian life."
2. Its dignity. It involves a continuing in communion with God in tender and affectionate intercourse, growing into a holy familiarity and friendship. St. in his confessions records the joy which he experienced when his soul found its resting place in God — "Sometimes thou bringest me to certain feelings of tenderness, and to an extraordinary sweetness, which, should it still increase, I know not what would happen." Such communion is surely a preparation for heaven and a foretaste of beatitude. It is said of St. Francis de Sales, that one day when he was in retreat, and holding continuous and close communion with God, he became so overwhelmed with joy that at last he exclaimed, "Withdraw Thyself, O Lord, for I am unable any longer to bear Thy great sweetness."
3. Its importance. This is because of its rich productiveness in the fruits of prayer; we have found that, whether it be regarded as a good work which stores up favour with God, or as an act of compensation for past neglect, or as a means of adding force to our petitions, or as to its subjective effect on our life — it outstrips other kinds of prayer in the number and quality of its effects.
4. Its nature and exercise. There are preliminary acts, such as —
(2) Preparatory prayer that we may have the aid of the Holy Ghost.
(3) The endeavour to picture to yourself the event upon which you are to meditate.Then there will be called into exercise: memory, that you may have the subject of meditation before the mind; understanding, that you may reflect upon it and investigate its meaning; the will, for we have to stir ourselves up to this exercise. The will acts On the body, by causing the muscles to contract; on the mind, by determining what trains of thought it shall pursue; on the spirit, by holy resolve: this its most wonderful power. Such resolve must be definite, and its execution not delayed. And the meditation will end with appropriate devotions and inquiries. But mental prayer includes also —
II. CONTEMPLATION. It is a gift which is very rarely possessed. It is said that, besides a peculiar elevation of soul towards God and Divine things, on the natural side contemplation requires certain qualities of mind and character, and is seldom attained except after a process of spiritual trial and purification; so that, in passing from the consideration of meditation to that of contemplation, we feel that we are going off the thoroughfare into the byways of religion. Some of its special features.
(1) There is no labour in it, as in meditation, but the soul beholds truth intuitively, and remains gazing upon God. The amazement of delight fills the soul as it beholds the things of God. So that it is(2) a foretaste of eternal bliss, like to that which St. Peter enjoyed on the Mount of Transfiguration.
(3) Another feature is repose. It is restful calm, and closes the senses to the external world. It is ever associated with the idea of rest. Mary sat at Jesus feet and heard His word.
(4) The union of the soul with God is another mark, and is the first object of contemplative prayer.
III. A DIFFICULTY IN THE USE OF THIS MENTAL PRAYER. It is dryness of spirit.
1. Its causes are —
(1) The condition of conscience, — some sin, perhaps hidden, may have come between the soul and God; or(2) bodily health; or(3) the providence of God. He sends it as a spiritual trial, and this form of it is the most severe. (Job 29:2-4; Psalm 22:1:l, 42:5, 143:7.) If we find no sin in the conscience, after diligent search, it is best to leave the matter in the hand of God. Only, never let dryness of spirit cause us to give up mental prayer. Let us not think that because we have not happy feeling therefore our prayer cannot be acceptable to God. God may delight in that which gives us no delight. As when the moon is in crescent, there are a few bright points still visible upon its unillumined part; and those bright points art supposed to be peaks of mountains so lofty as to be able to catch the sunlight; so in the darkness of the soul, the withdrawal of grace is not total, but there are still, as it were, certain eminences, which the Sun of Righteousness now and then touches with His glory. But whatever the dryness or the darkness be, if we persevere, the light will return at last.
(W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.