There are two ways of introducing a soul into prayer, which should for some time be pursued; the one is Meditation, the other is Reading accompanied with Meditation.
Meditative Reading is the choosing some important practical or speculative
truth, always preferring the practical, and proceeding thus: whatever truth
you have chosen, read only a small portion of it, endeavouring to taste and
digest it, to extract the essence and substance thereof, and proceed no
farther while any savour or relish remains in the passage: when this
subsides, take up your book again and proceed as before, seldom reading more
than half a page at a time, for it is not the quantity that is read, but the
manner of reading, that yields us profit.
Those who read fast reap no more advantage than a bee would by only skimming
over the surface of the flower, instead of waiting to penetrate into it, and
extract its sweets. Much reading is rather for scholastic subjects than
divine truths: indeed, to receive real profit from spiritual books, we must
read as I have described; and I am certain, if that method were pursued, we
should become gradually habituated to, and more fully disposed for prayer.
Meditation, which is the other method, is to be practiced at an appropriated
season, and not in the time of reading. I believe the best manner of
meditating is as follows:—When, by an act of lively faith, you are placed in
the Presence of God, recollect some truth wherein there is substance and
food; pause gently and sweetly thereon, not to employ the reason, but merely
to calm and fix the mind: for you must observe, that your principal exercise
should ever be the Presence of God; your subject, therefore, should rather
serve to stay the mind, than exercise the understanding.
From this procedure, it will necessarily follow, that the lively faith in a
God immediately present in our inmost soul, will produce an eager and
vehement pressing inwardly into ourselves, and a restraining all our senses
from wandering abroad: this serves to extricate us speedily from numberless
distractions, to remove us far from external objects, and to bring us nigh
unto our God, Who is only to be found in our inmost centre, which is the
Holy of Holies wherein He dwelleth.
He hath even promised “to come and make his abode with him that doth his
will” (John xiv. 23). S. Augustine accuses himself of wasting his time, by
not having from the first sought God in this manner of prayer.
When we are thus fully introverted, and warmly penetrated throughout with a
living sense of the Divine Presence; when the senses are all recollected,
and withdrawn from the circumference to the centre, and the soul is sweetly
and silently employed on the truths we have read, not in reasoning, but in
feeding thereon, and in animating the will by affection, rather than
fatiguing the understanding by study; when, I say, the affections are in
this state, which, however difficult it may appear at first, is, as I shall
hereafter show, easily attainable; we must allow them sweetly to repose, and
peacefully to drink in that of which they have tasted: for as a person may
enjoy the flavour of the finest viand in mastication, yet receive no
nourishment therefrom, if he does not cease the action and swallow the food;
so, when our affections are enkindled, if we endeavour to stir them up yet
more, we extinguish their flame, and the soul is deprived of its
nourishment; we should, therefore, in stillness and repose, with respect,
confidence and love, swallow the blessed food of which we have tasted: this
method is, indeed, highly necessary, and will advance the soul farther in a
short time, than any other in a course of years.
I have mentioned that our direct and principal exercise should consist in
the contemplation of the Divine Presence: we should be also exceedingly
watchful and diligent in recalling our dissipated senses, as the most easy
method of overcoming distractions; for a direct contest and opposition only
serves to irritate and augment them; whereas, by sinking down under a sense
and perception of a present God, and by simply turning inwards, we wage
insensibly a very advantageous, though indirect war with them.
It is proper here to caution beginners against wandering from truth to
truth, and from subject to subject: the right way to penetrate every divine
truth, to enjoy its full relish, and to imprint it on the heart, is dwelling
on it whilst its savour continues.
Though recollection is difficult in the beginning, from the habit the soul
has acquired of being always from home; yet, when by the violence it hath
done itself, it becometh a little accustomed to it, it will soon be rendered
perfectly easy, and become delightful. Such is the experimental taste and
sense of His Presence, and such the efficacy of those graces, which that God
bestows, Whose One Will towards His creatures is to communicate Himself unto
Posts in this series:
Madame Guyon – A Spiritual Reading
Madame Guyon – A Short and Easy Method of Prayer – Preface
Madame Guyon – A Short and Easy Method of Prayer – Chapter 1
Madame Guyon – A Short and Easy Method of Prayer – Chapter 2
Madame Guyon – A Short and Easy Method of Prayer – Chapter 3