Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Sunday 25 July |
The Feast of Saint James the Great
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

The difference between meditation and ordinary thoughts, according to St. Francis de Sales

PRAYING

Shutterstock

Philip Kosloski - published on 05/05/19

"Every meditation is a thought, but every thought is not meditation."

Meditation in the Christian tradition is not always easy to understand and can be difficult to adopt into a person’s spiritual life. Yet, when understood properly, meditation is something we already do quite often during prayer, but it differs greatly from the ordinary activity of our mind.

According to St. Francis de Sales in his Treatise on the Love of God, “Every meditation is a thought, but every thought is not meditation.” In other words, we might believe we are in the depths of meditation, when in fact we are simply thinking “thoughts” and nowhere near meditation.

St. Francis de Sales continues on, giving some examples and explaining the differences more concretely.

For we have thoughts to which our mind is carried without any design or aim, by way of simple musing, as we see common flies flying from from one flower to another, without drawing anything from them. And be this kind of thought as attentive as it may, it can never bear the name of meditation, but should simply be called thought.Sometimes we consider a thing attentively to learn its causes, its effects, its qualities, and this thought is named study; in which the mind acts as locusts do, which promiscuously fly upon flowers and leaves, to eat them and nourish themselves therewith.But when we think of divine things, not to learn, but to make ourselves love them, this is called meditating, and this exercise, Meditation; in which our spirit, not as a fly for simple amusement, nor as a locust to eat and be filled, but as a sacred bee, moves over the flowers of holy mysteries, to extract from them the honey of divine love.

Meditation, for St. Francis de Sales, is “turning and doubling my thoughts within my heart by an attentive consideration, to excite myself to bless and praise the sovereign mercy of my God, who has brought me back from death’s gate, taking compassion on my misery.” Or in other words, “Meditation is mystical rumination.”

In this sense, meditation differs from ordinary thoughts because it is a deliberate use of the mind to think about a particular divine subject. It requires an ability to think over and over again about God or his Church. This means meditation is much more focused and allows a soul the opportunity to dig deeper than it would if it were simply thinking about a variety of topics.

The next time you sit down for meditation, examine your experience and see if your thoughts are meditations that lead you to a greater knowledge and love of God, or if they are only “thoughts” that fly “from from one flower to another, without drawing anything from them.”


ST FRANCIS DE SALES

Read more:
Practical tips for Christian meditation, according to St. Francis de Sales


PRAY,BOOK

Read more:
7 Christian meditation aids for beginners

Tags:
PrayerSpiritual Life
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
morning
Philip Kosloski
This morning prayer is easy to memorize
2
nightbirde
Cerith Gardiner
8 Powerful quotes from Nightbirde that will fill you with hope
3
Daniel Esparza
5 Curious things you might not know about Catholicism
4
ŁACINA
Philip Kosloski
Why is Latin the official language of the Church, instead of Aram...
5
MACHAERUS
Daniel Esparza
3 Legendary pilgrimages off the beaten path
6
WEB2-Benjamin_West_-_Joshua_passing_the_River_Jordan_with_the_Ark_of_the_Covenant_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
Daniel Esparza
Who are the cherubim in the Bible?
7
Tefillin
Zelda Caldwell
Did Jesus wear “tefillin” as some observant Jews do t...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.