As I continue to explore the topic of Christian meditation, I find that I am uncomfortable with the approaches of Centering Prayer and of the meditation practice of Fr. John Main, OSB. While I do not criticize either practice, for me the essential practice of meditation is being in silence in the presence of God. As I sit in silence, I wait to sense the presence of God, a presence that is not within me, but which surrounds and embraces me. As I sit in silence, I sense God comforting me, giving me confidence, affirming the direction in which I am going, and reassuring me that God is always present. The silence of my time of meditation sustains me throughout the day. The silence allows me to acknowledge the presence of God at the beginning of the day, and this awareness remains with me through the busy-ness of life.
I have no problem with using a mantra or sacred word which is repeated as an aid to a time of meditation for the purpose of relaxation and stress relief, and this is a technique with which I am also experimenting. Using a phrase such as "God is love" or "Come, Lord Jesus" serves to impart a sacred intent to this meditative practice, but, for me, it is not prayer. It is more about my inward experience. Prayer is about the Other, about God.
When I was younger, we often sang hymns such as "God Himself is with us, " which contains the phrase, "All within keep silence," or "The Lord is in His holy temple, Let all earth keep silence before Him." Such hymns are seldom sung now, probably because it is ironic to sing a congregational song about being silent in God's presence, but such songs did acknowledge that we often find God in the silence. I once worked with a minister who insisted that there be no silent periods in worship. He wanted every moment to be filled with either speech or music because he believed that silence made people uncomfortable. My wish is that in our services of worship there would be more silence. I believe that if we made time for sacred silence as we worship, we would have a greater experience of God in our worship.
One of my fondest memories of my years as a high school music teacher was an experiment that I conducted each spring. I would insist that my students come into the rehearsal in silence and that we sit in silence for five or so minutes before beginning class. After the period of silence, I asked them what they had heard. Most were amazed at the many noises of which they became aware: the singing of birds, yelling of students in the courtyard below, a teacher talking across the hall. All of these had always been there, but we were unaware until we stopped to listen. Perhaps we don't hear God, because we don't stop to listen, and for me, that is what my meditative prayer is about.