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The Pain of Meditation

What does Peter of Alcántara have to say about the pain of meditation? Find out in today's excerpt and reflection from Finding God Through Meditation.

Meditation Can Hurt - SD Finding God through Meditation -

Of Meditation

After reading follows meditation, which is sometimes of such things as can be represented to our imagination: as the life and Passion of our Blessed Savior; the final judgment; hell; and the kingdom of heaven.

Sometimes of such things as are subject rather to the understanding than imagination: as the consideration of Almighty God’s benefits, his bounty, clemency and other perfections which are in God. These meditations are called, the one intellectual, the other imaginary. Both of which, in these exercises, are to be used after a different manner, as occasion requires.

When the meditation is imaginary, so that the thing meditated upon has never had any actual existence or being (in an exact sense), we must so frame and represent it to our imagination, as though we were present in the same place and saw with our eyes those things which were there done. This representation will make the consideration of these things more vivacious and cause a greater impression in our souls; for if our imagination can comprehend whole cities and countries, with less difficulty can it comprehend one mystery. This helps much to the recollection of the mind; this will retain the same busied in itself as a bee in a hive, where she works and disposes all things diligently.

But in these things a moderation must be used; for to run with an overly active imagination to Jerusalem, to frame to the imagination those things which are to be meditated there, does oftentimes hurt the head. Wherefore, it is good to abstain from immoderate imaginations, lest nature, oppressed with too violent apprehensions, becomes infirm and weak.


If you would like to read the entire text, please click here and purchase Finding God Through Meditation from Emmaus Publishing.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • TabithaRaised

    I wish I had more will to meditate more with my imagination so my head would hurt!

  • Judy Silhan

    Try as I might, I cannot conjure up in my mind, our Lord’s passion, the Last Supper, etc. Perhaps, meditation and engaging one’s imagination comes with much prayerful seeking of our Lord’s help.

    • LizEst

      Judy — Although most people are able engage in imaginative prayer, some people have difficulty with it. And, that can stem from various causes. As well, the inability to be able to engage in meditation, by the use of one’s imagination, can also be an indicator of the dark night.

    • Dan Burke

      Judy – there are several important things here. First, you are right, our minds often need years to be “transformed” in a way that allows for prayer in this way. Helpful ways to mitigate this can be to read elaborated reflections on these scenes from writers like St. Peter of Alcantara (he provides them later in the book) or Bishop Alban Goodier etc. Another way is through movies like The Passion or others that portray these scenes. Regardless, we should strain in these cases. Instead simply and gently work to find the method that works for us.

  • BlueMit11

    Dan, could you help explain the second to last paragraph? Is St. Peter speaking of Ignatian-type meditation where we place ourselves in a scripture scene and allow ourselves to interact with Jesus? If so, is he telling us to moderate our use if the imagination, or to focus it more? What are “violent apprehensions”?

  • LisaB101

    Calling to mind the first time I used imagination in my meditation I had to laugh at myself and sigh with the JOY of God. My spiritual director suggested I try it and I adamantly opposed it, because “that’s me, not God.” But my director gently encouraged me to try, so I sat down in prayer and told the Lord “I don’t like this but I will be obedient.” I grudgingly began putting myself in the scene, forcing myself to imagine the assigned situation, and then….. the next thing I know it was more like I was watching a movie. Truly, none of what transpired was of me, and tears overflowed. One can begin imagining a situation, but only the Lord can take that deeper….. dare I say to contemplation.

  • Elizabeth Quintanar

    The Way of the Cross said through my own knowledge of the Bible, the Words of Christ in those instances, the Tradition of the Church and a profound knowledge of the character of God: good, holy, beautiful, love, truth, humble, generous, unfathomable, merciful, just, kind, Father, almighty, omnipotent, omniscient, unfathomable… puts me in a situation of profound gratitude, love and humility that enables me to cry in awe and joy to be the recipient of such God’s redeeming and all embracing in my life. I leave full of joy, love, gratitude…. full of the Holy Spirit of God to go and bring the world back to Him.

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