“Reading without meditation is arid, meditation without reading is erroneous; prayer without meditation is tepid, meditation without prayer is fruitless.”
(Guigo II The Ladder of Monks – a 12th century manual of spiritual exercises – referenced in Ken Gire’s The Reflective Life, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1998, pg. 87)
It is not often I quote mystical texts from the 12th century as an appropriate guide for our prayer life and communion with God. (Not because I do not appreciate the efforts and contributions of these saints that have preceded us, but because most are not based upon Biblical principles and seek a personal experience that is emotionally based apart from the prescribed relationship presented in Scripture). However, the above statement is worthy of repeating and considering. While the entire text consists of mystical interpretations of various Scriptures and an improper application of the principles of meditation, prayer and contemplation (you can visit here for the entire text), the principles presented are worthwhile, and often neglected by Christians today.
According to his text, Guigo II identifies reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation as a four-rung ladder leading to the presence of God and intimacy with the Lord. He identifies this four-rung ladder as Jacob’s ladder in Genesis, upon which the angels tread carrying the prayers of the saints up to heaven, and upon which God leans providing support to the seeking heart. However erroneous this interpretation (and the underlying Christian perspectives of intercession by angels and personification of God), there is much to be gleaned here.
The first rung is identified as reading, which Guigo defines as “busily looking on Holy Scripture with all one’s will and wit.” In this definition, several important aspects of effective reading are presented. The term “busily” indicates that one must diligently, actively and fervently engage in the process of approaching God’s Word and spend the necessary time and energy in it. One cannot read short excerpts, pithy devotions (however helpful), or commentators interpretations and expect to receive the same benefit as personal interaction and effort in the Word. Also, one must engage in reading with “all one’s will and wit.” This indicates a passionate search, with the will surrendered to the heart of God, and a willingness to submit to the dictates and plan of God as presented. The will must be submitted to obey what one reads, lest they forget and continue on in sin and error (see James 1:22-25). One must also employ all of their wit, or intellect, in the reading of the Word. We do not discard principles of truth and the application of principles of interpretation, historical/philosophical/etc considerations that can serve to bring forth a greater understanding of the passage. God desires the use of our faculty of the mind to be employed in searching the Scriptures.
The second rung is that of meditation, defined as “studious insearching with the mind to know what was before concealed through desiring proper skill.” Through meditation upon the Word, the goal is to produce a desire for the benefits of knowing God, and seek the manner through which one might apply and obey in order to gain greater understanding and obedience. In meditation, we consider the joy, glory and develop the desire for the promises of God. However, meditation cannot provide these. Strictly speaking, meditation simply assisting in unpacking the depths of insight, blessings and promise offered through the Word, and gives the manner through which these might be attained.
From meditation, we are to be driven to prayer, given by Guigo as “devout desiring of the heart to get what is good and avoid what is evil.” Through meditating upon Scripture, we develop a desire for the life of God (“what is good”) to be expressed in and through our life, and to put away the works of the flesh (“what is evil”) that separate us from the knowledge and presence of God. In meditation, we are driven to realize that we are not able to accomplish this desire, and are therefore driven to seek assistance and call upon the Lord. The prayer is generally expressed as a plea for wisdom, strength and boldness to apply what has been read and extracted from the Scripture in order to bring about the full blessing and life of God in one’s life. Note that “getting what is good and avoid(ing) what is evil” does not strictly speak of physical existence, but more specifically relates to the spiritual passion and pursuit of God.
Finally, Guigo identifies contemplation as “the lifting up of the heart to God tasting somewhat of the heavenly sweetness and savour.” This contemplation consists in the receiving the promised blessings and joy of knowing the presence of God, and drinking in the delight and joy. As we consider the Word of God, and receive the blessing of knowing God through His Word, we are driven to seek God in His Word all the more. Thus the cycle continues.
As you read the Scriptures this week, consider how these aspects can be applied to your life with God. Read with a fervency and diligence that goes beyond the duty, setting your desire on seeing the truth of God through His Word. Then, take the time to meditate, chew up, over and over again, the truths that you find. Desire these things in your life, and you will find yourself driven to your knees asking for assistance to bring about the blessings and fruit that comes from obedience. Finally, drink in the favor of God, the glory and joy of His presence, and you will find yourself with a greater passion for the Word, His presence, and the things of God.