If you prayed over and meditated on the first three steps we outlined in my last post, you should have felt something stir. (No, not that…that was your third plate of lasagna from last night.)
Seriously, unless you’re a saint, any real pondering on the first three steps to deep devotion probably stung a little. But as muscle-bound brutes like to scream in the midst of their fifth set of curls with 55lb. dumbbells: “No pain, no gain!” (You can actually see the spittle sailing through the air.)
But let’s cast aside all fear and continue seeking hard after God by continuing with the next three steps (4, 5 & 6) outlined by St. Peter Alcantara’s Finding God Through Meditation (edited by Dan Burke, author and president of the Avila Institute).
4. Solitude – First of all, it’s kind of hard to sin against others when you’re alone. (Though unlike a tree falling alone in the forest, slander is still heard even when the subject is not present.) But while solitude is all well and good for hermits (who can be crabby), what about the rest of us? We’re made for community. We’re made to live in families. So for most of us, temporary solitude – alone time with God – is the only kind of solitude we’ll ever get or really need.
Solitude is a necessity for meditation. Let’s be honest. We’ve enough distraction between our ears that we don’t need any help. Plus, you can’t hear God if your ears are filled with something else. Spending time alone with God is one of the absolute necessities in any healthy life of prayer.
5. Reading of spiritual books – This is huge. In fact, I’m getting this list from my spiritual reading. Like you, I’ve got shelves of books waiting to be read and absorbed. If you’re wondering where to start, it easy. Begin with Scripture. But also turn to the masters of the spiritual life. They’re totally inspiring! They show us the way!
I realize that sometimes older books can be a bit hard to plow through, so here’s one of my modern favorites: The Fulfillment of All Desire, by Ralph Martin (which just happens to be on big-time sale right now). It’s great because it provides a lot of passages from saints at the top of the prayer chain (e.g. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Augustine, etc…) and gives understandable commentary.
So turn off the tv, radio, or podcast to which you’re listening for 15 minutes and read. (It can even be a book with pictures if you want.) It will help you grow in devotion.
6. Continual Memory of God – Sometimes you see this called “practicing the presence” of God. It’s a vital tool of devotion for people who don’t live in a monastery in the hinterlands. In fact St. Peter Alcantara says, it’s the “only remedy for those who have neither time nor place with opportunity to insist to long prayer and meditation.”
One of the best ways to stay in the presence of God, says Augustine, is to practice ejaculatory prayers – spontaneous aspirations thanking and praising our Lord as you go about your daily routine. Try putting that into practice this week and see what happens.
So there you go: solitude, spiritual reading, and practicing the presence of God. Three more keys to deeper devotion to God. But remember, devotion doesn’t just happen. You’ve got to follow through!
P.S. Did you see I’m leading a pilgrimage to see Our Lady of Guadalupe in February? Join me!
Thank you for these two articles. Just over one year ago, I was diagnosed with an illness which has forced me to stay at home, mostly alone. I am in pain and the meds have my mind rather dulled. Here’s the thing, I’m not complaining about the illness. In fact, it has allowed me time to be still and know that He is God. The thing is, though, Matthew, I don’t know what God has in mind for me with this illness. I feel like I am wasting a lot of time, when before, I was helping the poor and teaching, etc. I felt like I was doing good in the world. I read your articles and realized what I kind of already knew – that I am watching too much TV, not praying enough, not reading enough of the many, many wonderful, theologically sound books on my shelves, and not getting to know God. The articles gave me the ideas I need to start fresh and not waste any more time. I’m still not sure why God allowed me to have trigeminal neuralgia, but I’ll always believe that Romans 8:28 is Truth. Thank you again.
Thanks for your comment, Janet. I will do my best to remember you in my prayers. Dealing with suffering is obviously difficult in many, many ways, especially when we don’t understand why God allowed it to happen. But don’t ever forget that He loves you more than you can possibly imagine, and knows EXACTLY what He is doing with you, Janet. Anything and everything the Lord does and allows is designed to move us toward our eternal salvation. God always has our future in mind. The hard part is abandoning ourselves to him. Thanks be to God that you’ve felt the move of the Spirit to draw closer to Him. That’s a gift! Throw yourself into His arms and trust that he has you exactly where he wants you. God bless you!