Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

Lightning Meditations, Introduced

In 1951, Monsignor Ronald Knox published a set of what he called “lightening meditations.” He explains:

It has been the custom to leave the man at the whetstone plenty of elbow room; and even in these more strenuous days we do not find fault with a sermon if it is on the right side of twenty minutes. The sermons (if they may be called sermons) of which this book is composed are still more severely rationed, and leave little space for the grinding process . . . . They may catch the eye, now and again, of somebody who would protest that he was too busy to read a whole sermon. And a gnat’s sting is better than no sting at all.[1]

Since then, the acceptable length of a sermon, of course, has been halved. And it is true: any of us could use a well-placed sting now and again.

But the little meditations in Knox’s book aren’t all sting. He continues:

Many of these lightening meditations (if I may give them that name) were written during the War, when one’s friends seemed to need comfort rather than admonition. We still need comfort, and may yet need it more: let us have the oil and wine of the Samaritan.

In sum, each mediation was brief, and written to encourage. Meditation is a key word, too: we are dealing, not with a legal brief or a position paper, but relaxed, and yet reasoned, out-loud thinking. A meditation never pretends to be the last sayable word about anything. What’s more, a meditation puts a certain onus on the reader: he must do his own thinking, and tease out for himself whatever true things may be waiting beneath the limitations of the written word.

All that being the case, I intend to follow the monsignor’s lead. Every now and again I will offer my own lightening meditation, such as I’m able. Doubtless we are passing through trials of our own; and during such times one thinks often of one’s friends. Yes, then: together, let us have the oil and the wine.


[1] Ronald Knox, Stimuli, (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1951), viii.

Lightning Meditations