Sitting in God’s presence

Sitting in God’s presence
Mindful Living
Dr Noel Keating


Meditation is the practice of being still in body and mind. When practiced from a secular perspective – for example, in the world of medicine – the intention is often focused on practical benefits for the individual who has taken up the practice. Meditation is enormously beneficial and, over time, we will examine these pragmatic benefits.

Many others who take up the practice of meditation do so from a spiritual perspective. They are aware that many religious, spiritual and wisdom traditions speak of the deeper fruits of meditation: these traditions say that meditation leads to human flourishing and well-being at a very deep level.

And many, including within the Christian tradition, understand meditation as a spiritual path that transfigures the person. The intention in Christian meditation is to be still and silent in the presence of God, so that his grace can flood our hearts. This, in turn, leads us to respond to situations in our lives with love and compassion. In later articles I will describe how children describe these fruits with great beauty and simplicity in in their own words.


Meditation can be practiced anywhere, at any time, by anyone – on one’s own or as part of a group. For those who take up the practice and persevere with it, it becomes the centre of gravity of their day, the time when they tune in to what is most essential in life.

Meditation can be practiced as a family activity, becoming a centre of gravity for the family and each member of it. St Pope John Paul II spoke of the need to develop in children an attitude of attention and an experience “a real and profound interior silence”.  In the recent booklet on mindfulness and Christian meditation from the Irish Bishops Conference it is suggested that schools may wish ”to consider introducing a form of Christian meditation on a whole-school basis”. I suggest that families too might consider adopting Christian meditation as a family practice.

However, some immediate challenges present themselves. For example, it requires in the first instance that at least one member of the family has experience of some form of meditation in the Christian tradition. The good news is that there are many opportunities to learn these practices. Both Christian Meditation Ireland and Contemplative Outreach Ireland have websites which list groups all over Ireland where meditators meet once a week and where beginners are always welcome.

Meditation is very simple to describe but because our minds are such a dominant part of our humanity, many find it very difficult to let go of thought even for a short while. What would happen if you stopped right now, with the intention of being still in body and mind? Try it for just 30 seconds.

Most people find that while it is relatively easy to be still in body, it is very difficult to be still in mind.

It is part of our human nature that when we aim to be still in mind thoughts inevitably arise. They just appear – before we know it our attention is drawn to a sensation, a feeling or a thought and we begin to reflect on it. It is more that the thought captures our attention rather than we bring our attention deliberately to the thought. But once caught, the thought takes over and we are not even aware of it.

In a little while the awareness will dawn that we are caught up in the thought, despite our desire to be free of thought. When that happens, we let go of the thought and return again to our desire to be still in mind.

It helps if we give ourselves something else to focus on. Some traditions focus on the breath, others on a word; in Christian meditation we focus on a sacred word. It doesn’t matter what the word is, as long as it doesn’t bring thoughts to mind. Using a sacred word is a gentle reminder of our intention to simply be in God’s presence; not saying mental prayers, not thinking about God, simply turning the mind toward God.

One might use the word ‘Abba’ or ‘Jesus’ or, as John Main recommended, the word ‘Maranatha’ which is an Aramaic word meaning ‘Come, Lord’ or ‘The Lord has come’.

John Main summarised the instructions for meditation as follows: “Sit down. Sit still and upright. Close your eyes lightly. Sit relaxed but alert. Silently, interiorly begin to say a single word. We recommend the prayer-phrase ‘Maranatha’. Recite it as four syllables of equal length. Listen to it as you say it, gently but continuously. Do not think or imagine anything – spiritual or otherwise. If thoughts and images come, these are distractions at the time of meditation, so keep returning to simply saying the word.”

Why not try to meditate once a day for the coming week for five or 10 minutes?