Christian Meditation graciously offers us a newly titled process of an ancient prayer form. It enables us to learn its practice, see its value, and bring it into our lives. In doing this Fr. Larkin uses his vast knowledge and experience of the Spiritual life to expand the reader’s spiritual horizons. The book is a collection of some of his past writings describing the meaning and experience of Christian Meditation. He also compares it with several themes of 20th century Roman Catholic discussions about Catholic spirituality such as desert spirituality, lectio divina, the apostolate, aspiratory and mystical prayer. John Main coined the phrase Christian Meditation and The World Community For Christian Meditation advocates for its practice. They published this book.
If prayer is understood as our articulated becoming with God, then Christian Meditation is the practice of prayer through the repetition of a mantra, usually maranatha, in a slow, repetitious manner, for a set period of time, assuming an appropriate body posture. The goal of the practice is to be with God as intimately as God allows. It is not the power of the will that results in this intimacy but the freedom, risk, and trust of mutual love that allows the unity of love to happen. Yoga meditation speaks of various centers upon which one may focus in mediation. Larkin, and the Christian tradition in general, speaks of the heart as the center. Here is where God, who is the center of our becoming, resides. It is not God “out there” in the heavens to whom we pray with arms raised high and voice stretched in song, but God “in here” at the center that we seek with eyes closed, and the body engaged, as the mind rhythmically recites maranatha. But is Christian meditation, like yoga meditation, entirely dependent upon us? No, says Larkin, it is both action, our doing, and contemplation, God’s doing.
Christian meditation is a type of contemporary contemplative prayer. In making such a claim he seems caught between his Carmelite tradition, where it usually means infused passive prayer, and the actual practice which “… is an active prayer, chosen on one’s own initiative and pursued as a human effort under ordinary grace?” (p. 24). He changes the contradiction into a paradox by reminding us that all prayer, and faith itself, is a grace (gift) of God.
Centering prayer and Christian meditation seek silent presence and quiet resting in God. At the same time they are active prayer, rightly called meditation, of a non discursive or contemplative type. They are not classical contemplation in the sense of infused prayer, but are products of human effort and ordinary grace. Aspiratory prayer is obviously active in the same sense. It uses the language of intense, passionate love and expresses the yearning of the heart and delights to rest in the Lord. The prayer of beginners was usually described as discursive meditation and affective prayer - first much thinking and then many affections. The next stage was contemplative, and it featured forms like simply looking at the tabernacle as in the Curé d’Ars’ “I look at him and he looks at me,” or today’s resting in God in centering prayer, or saying the mantra as in Christian meditation. Today, Larkin says, we probably pay less attention to the degrees of prayer, though we still honor them. Centering prayer and Christian meditation have democratized contemplative prayer.
Can the book be recommended to those seeking just such a democratization of prayer? I am not sure. Certainly it is an excellent primer for anyone knowledgeable in the discussions about various types of Catholic prayer and spiritualities or already practicing Christian meditation. He presupposes a previous knowledge, interest, and concern about controversies that may not exist among most contemporary readers. Even the title “Christian” meditation seems formulated from another time. Today one would expect, in picking up a book with this title, a discussion of how this prayer form compares with other types of mediation in the world religions rather than with Roman Catholic practice. At the same time, my hesitation may be caused by how he adapted the material to this book rather than his overall style. For example the chapters on aspiratory prayer in the book, while substantially the same as the article in Review for Religious, does not flow as easily as the one in the Review for Religious.
Yet my hesitation regarding the book’s target audience may be because of the book’s editors rather than its author. Fr. Larkin died shortly after finishing the draft upon which this book is based. It was a pleasure reading some of his last thoughts and sharing some of his prayerful experiences. I am sure he is missed by all who knew him.