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Meditation vs Contemplation:

The Evolution of Prayer

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

~Luke 10:41, 42

Wikipedia has done a very good job of summarizing the extraordinary life of Madame Guyon who's writings on suffering and a union with God have brought comfort to millions.

"Who is Jeanne Guyon?" by Mary Ann Jeffreys

In admiring Madame Guyon (1648-1717), we're in good company, for John Wesley said of her, "How few such instances do we find of exalted love to God, and our neighbor; of genuine humility; of invincible meekness and unbounded resignation." Not everyone would agree with Wesley, however. The Roman Catholic Church of 17th-century France, in which she grew up, burned her books, condemned her principles of Quietism, and imprisoned her. What was it about this woman of God that brought such varied reactions?

A product of French high society, Jeanne was raised in convents from the age of two and a half. At ten years old, she found a Bible left in her room and began earnestly to study and memorize it. From then on, she pursued an exclusive devotion to God.

She married at 16 to an older man who left her a widow with three young children at the age of 28. With the wealth her husband had left her, she devoted the remaining 40 years of her life to serving God through personal evangelism, writing, and helping the poor. She founded hospitals and gave away much of her wealth anonymously.

She traveled throughout France and Switzerland teaching people how to pray and challenging them to live holy lives. She mainly met with people privately and avoided "preaching." All the while, she sought an ever-deeper union with God to the point that she felt God possessed her, speaking and acting through her.

So what was the problem? Well, the Roman Catholic Church at that time opposed her Quietism, which teaches that spiritual perfection can be attained when self is lost in the contemplation of God...

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During the decades of persecution by the Roman Catholic Church, Jeanne Marie Bouvières de la Mothe Guyon never separated herself from the Mother Church. She knew that being accused of an unbiblical Quietism and her books burned was only due to their ignorance concerning the deepest experience of the cross, and their pride which would not allow them to consider a more advanced Christian stage. God is present in all stages and has purposed everyone to be in these different places to according to His needs, and she used the picture of rivers to differentiate them. The ones who were ignorant were what she called the "second class" rivers while she and others were "third class" rivers in the last stage of the transformation process. The second class were Marthas, busy with church business, large ships floating on them, and the third class were Marys passing through the most difficult part of the process unable to carry anyone at first but later being used powerfully to help others in this advanced spiritual state leading to the union with God, walking through this life as He would, single-minded, their needs only being His needs whatever those needs might turn out to be as their lives unfolded unknown before them.

The mystical path to union with God has been described by a mystic as 'a prayer walk.'

House Church Network Association describes the prayer of Madame Guyon's first class rivers this way, "Prayer, in its specific meaning, means to ask or beseech God for something or another. A slightly broader understanding would include any sort of ’talking’ with God. Most people who pray at all are most familiar with prayer. Table grace, bedtime prayers, crisis pleas, and so on all fall under this definition of the word. Certainly prayer is the best known form of communication with God."

The form of prayer for the second class rivers is described this way. “The practice of meditation includes the intent concentration on an object worthy of consideration. Most often, in the church, this would be a particular passage of scripture. Some of the more popular passages have been short phrases such as ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me, a sinner’ and ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Generally, these phrases are repeated (murmured) and every other thought is purged from the mind so full concentration can be brought to bear on this single-minded devotion. The purpose of meditation is to offer devotion to God, to obtain deep understanding, and to garner tranquility. Many who practice this form of prayer claim they reach a spiritual presence and union with God.”

Contemplation is the advanced experience of God belonging to Madame Guyon’s third class of people. It’s passive. You are aware that God is doing all the work. These people are entering the state of a human in union with God, conscious that they are beginning to walk through their life as He would live it. Many Catholic saints knew that the cross purified us and they practiced masochism. This is human effort, and, although they were misguided, many were purified and transformed through it. Contemplation is a the prayer of a dark night of the soul, the worst transforming suffering there is. All warm fuzzy graces are stripped and naked you cry the words of Christ "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me." You feel abandoned. It's not a normal feeling. It's supernatural. There is nothing we can do to enter one. God does it all. We experience being completely passive. One of the goals is to no longer have needs or wants, no longer make plans, but rather have our will one with His and then step out of our cocoon and be one with Him, not moving but rather being moved, not deciding and doing but rather not knowing what's to come and 'finding' ourselves doing whatever it is as His needs unfold, very aware that we didn't decide to do it and then do it like we once did. This union state is an entirely different way of living life.

Madame Guyon’s teachings were misconstrued equating her experience of God with the practices of Quietism where the spiritual seeker doesn't know God as a person who came here and died on a cross and then asked us to pick up our cross and following Him, being purified and ending in the stage of being "no longer {separate} I" walking through life, a remarkable phenomena to experience.

Godly Quietism and a Correct Understanding of “Annihilation” and “Indifference”

Being a Christian quietist is simply arriving at a place of experiencing your own separate will being still, and now being a part of God's will in everything that goes on. When you no longer experience feelings of anger about anything that is happening, your will has given up the struggle and is still. Arriving in this place happens through a series of deaths and resurrections. During the stripping and breaking and rebuilding process inside your cocoon, you are desperate for relief. Hundreds, or for some thousands of times, you think something is going to happen to relieve you of your suffering and it never happens. You are tormented and tricked by your thoughts so many times that the function of your mind, your will, is broken, and you find yourself no longer reacting with frustration and bitterness. Instead, you find yourself reacting “indifferently” to the things that go wrong. I will define this spiritual state of consciousness.

Intellectually you have known for a long time that the bad has been transforming you. You have known that you are called to pick up and carry your cross, in other words, you intellectually know life is supposed to be a series of sufferings. But while you know this and believe it, it takes time before you observe yourself acting according to that truth. In incremental steps you more clearly see what is happening to you by being subjected to the deaths, and you find yourself getting less and less upset until finally those reactions are gone. In incremental steps you have seen the truth clearer and you watch your will stop angrily acting out of a separate opinion about how things should be going positively, which is according to how the unrenewed mind thinks, because of the unrenewed mind has a concept of how life is supposed to work that is backwards. Instead seeing suffering and things going wrong to transform you as what life’s all about, the unrenewed mind looks down on people who’ve had the rug pulled out and aren’t successful, graced and gifted. Someone carrying the cross and following Jesus is staring them in the face, but they persecute the person. We can't see them for what they are until our will is broken.

It takes time before your will is still and has become one with God’s will and then observing the rest of the transformation of everything through suffering. It takes time for the mind and heart to only want what God wants, seeing that everything bad that happens is necessary according to His needs to transform you into His wife, and then have you help Him help others through the process.

Being indifferent doesn’t mean that you can’t see that, humanly speaking, something is bad and feel sadness over it. It means that you not only intellectually know that all things work for good, but in terms of your experience of how you emotionally respond to whatever tool God uses to transform you or anyone else, your separate will with its opinions and grievances has made an exit and through your tears you now have Jesus’ attitude towards the cross. When prayer transitions into contemplation, journaling follows suit and changes. Contemplation no longer involves desires and opinions. Your will is now indifferent. Journaling is no longer pouring out your heart with human needs. This is because it no longer makes sense to do this. The problems have to be what they are to transform you and everyone else. You are silent on the matter watching the unfolding of the process as God is watching it. Journaling has become more and more about what you are learning which become words or a book to help others. You can't be here until you are here. You must pray for needs until you find yourself no longer doing it. You will react with opinions and objections until you find yourself no longer reacting.

Godly Quietism and a Correct Understanding of “Abandonment”

What comes with not having a separate opinion about how things should go is the quietist’s concept of abandonment. It means leaving behind the concepts you had of what a Christian life is and how you thought life was supposed to work. It's abandoning making your own plans like you used to. You have become God’s hands and feet and His voice. There’s a liberty in this way of walking into every situation of your daily life. You are aware that you have been painstakingly taught and prepared for every situation to come during the breaking and rebuilding process of your transformation, and you are now being moved to the next thing happening in your life and watching what your role is as it happens. There is still something of you as you transform from a caterpillar into a butterfly and there is still your outward human life but it works differently.

Godly Quietism and a Correct Understanding of “Perfectionism”

If you are experiencing St. Paul’s “no longer I, but Christ” then you are incrementally living your life more as God would if He was living it, which also includes becoming "all things to all people" or whatever you need to be for whatever the circumstances are. This is an advanced state of how you operate as a human being where you are acting more perfectly. It is the result of the organic changes of your being that take place during the transformation process. This way of being or living can't be imitated. Along with your will, human effort as you have experienced it is 'still.' You find yourself being this way. Only those in this place in the process can understand what it means to find yourself doing something rather than how it was before when you were having the experience of making a decision to do something and then doing it. The manna came down from heaven and it disappeared the next day was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. Manna means "what is it." A person who has reached this state, like manna, is not of this world as we have known it. They're different because the organic union they have made with God is a step towards experiencing the glorified state of a human in heaven.

In her book Spiritual Torrents, chapter 3, this is what Madame Guyon had to say about the leadership who persecuted her, the second class rivers who carry a great deal of boats and merchandise on them. "This class of people find far greater difficulty in entering the way of faith than the first, for as what they already possess is so great, and so evidently from God, they will not believe that there is anything higher in the church of God. Therefore they cling to it…. No secret longing to be nothing (“no longer I”). It is true that they desire to be nothing by a certain perceptible annihilation, a deep humility, an abasement under the immense weight of God’s greatness. All this is an annihilation in which they dwell without being annihilated. They have the feeling of annihilation without the reality, for the soul is still sustained by its feelings… But as there are few sufficiently courageous to be willing, after so much blessedness, to lose it all, few pass this point…”

In A Deeper Death to Self, George D. Watson describes Madame Guyon's experience of the transforming cross. "Infinite wisdom takes us in hand, and arranges to lead us through deep, interior crucifixion to our fine parts, our lofty reason, our brightest hopes, our cherished affections, our religious views, our dearest friendships, our pious zeal, our spiritual impetuosity, our narrow culture, our creeds and churchism, our success, our religious experiences, our spiritual comforts; the crucifixion goes on until we are dead and detached from all creatures, all saints, all thoughts, all hopes, all plans, all tender heart yearnings, all preferences; dead to all troubles, all sorrows, all disappointments; equally dead to all praise or blame, success or failure, comforts or annoyances; dead to all climates and nationalities; dead to all desires but for Himself. There are innumerable degrees of interior crucifixion in these various lines. Perhaps not one sanctified person in two thousand ever reaches the degree of death to self that Paul and Madame Guyon and similar saints reached.”

“Such a soul looks back over its heartbreaking trial, its scalding tears, its mysterious tribulations, with gentle subduedness, without regret, for it now sees God in every step of the way. Into such a soul the Holy Spirit pours the ocean current of His own Life; its great work henceforth is to watch the monition and movements of the spirit within it, and to yield prompt, loving unquestioning cooperation with Him. Such a soul has at last, in deed and in truth, reached the place where there is “none of self and all of Thee.”

~ George D. Watson

“…the basic difference between meditation and contemplation is that meditation is a human mode of prayer whereas contemplation is divinely infused prayer.”

"Meditation corresponds to the FirstWater. It is an invitation to contemplative prayer and is the characteristic prayer for all who are in this early stage os spiritual growth; in other words those who are in the first three mansions.”


Contemplation happens in the Fourth Mansion of Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle

“Contemplation is often a misunderstood word. It is not a prayer that we can initiate or cause to happen. It is divinely produced and no amount of action on our part can produce or prolong it.

“We have entered into a wordless prayer, an awareness of the Divine Guest within, not through the use of the intellect but through a knowing loving, a deep communion with the Triune God. It is a prayer of quiet calmness in which we drink deeply at the life-giving fount. There are different intensities within this prayer but the way of experiencing and the passion of the experiences will vary among individuals. Our external senses remain free and enable us to carry out our responsibilities and duties even when the interior faculties are captivated by God.”


Photo of Clergy Quiet Day at St Luke's Chelsea, London, England, by Derek Winterburn

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