It will come as a surprise to many today to know that meditation is a Christian spiritual practice, for most of us associate meditation with Eastern metaphysics or New Ade practice. In truth, meditation in various forms is practiced almost everywhere, including in Christianity, from the very early days of the faith. The key words I would call your attention to are “in various forms”, for not all meditation is Christian; not by a long shot.
Meditation in one form or another can be found in most religious traditions and obviously, most religious traditions are not Christian. Consequently, I would suggest that meditation is a spiritual practice that should be reserved for mature believers only. Of course, that is just my personal opinion, and you are certainly free to your own opinions. I also realize that many Christian groups forbid anything even approaching meditation, and that is their prerogative; I won’t get into a fight over it, but sadly, this position is usually based upon a series of misconceptions about the entire subject.
What exactly does it mean to meditate?
Merriam-Webster defines it this way:
1: to engage in contemplation or reflection
- He meditatedlong and hard before announcing his decision.
2: to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness
1: to focus one’s thoughts on : reflect on or ponder over
- He was meditating his past achievements.
2: to plan or project in the mind: intend, purpose
- He was meditating
Merriam-Webster isn’t defining “Christian” meditation, just what the word itself means, and you can see that the word can mean slightly different things. Christian meditation is not the intransitive definition 2. Christian meditation directs the mind to Scripture:
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:2)
I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. (Psalm 119:15)
We might meditate on one of the attributed of God:
Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. (Psalm 48:9)
Or on the works and creation of God:
I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds. (Psalm 77:12)
Christian meditation is not the opening up of one’s self to any old spirit that comes along but should be at the direction of the Holy Spirit as revealed in His Word, and thus is something quite different than one might expect. In fact, I would suggest that many of those who would seek to forbid Christians from meditating, probably practice these things and don’t realize they are “meditations”.
Let’s begin our examination of Christian meditation…
First of all, it is important that we realize that meditation, prayer and study, along with silence, solitude and fasting, are very closely related as spiritual practices. Prayer overlaps with study when we study His Word whenever we ask our Lord to reveal the Word to us. Study and meditation overlap when we think deeply about a verse or a passage from the Word, and prayer, study and meditation all come together when we pray His Word. Fasting and meditation come together when a person is led to deny him pr her self to focus upon prayer and closeness to God.
I would say that silence and solitude, and their relationship with meditation really require no elaboration from me.
People who know a lot about meditation usually say that the first step in meditation is to relax and clear away the thoughts and distractions of the day. It is hard to mediate when you’re stressed out about bills and bosses and family issues. Many recommend that we use a mantra to replace those distracting thoughts, which may sound to many to be both foreign and dangerous. Yet all a mantra is, is something we repeat to ourselves to replace those distractions and to help us focus. A mantra doesn’t need to be something weird or “Eastern”, it can be an inspiring verse such as, “I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me.” It can be an idea like, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”, or “I am saved by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ”, or “Jesus is the Lord of my life”. This is both simple and safe.
For others, this may not be what helps to relax and clear our minds of distractions, instead it might just start with a simple prayer, and then move on to the Word. For me, it is best to pray, and then to pray the Word. Whatever method you may prefer to begin with, the keys to remember are that we are not inviting strange spirits into our minds, we are opening our hearts and minds to God through the Holy Spirit to guide us, and it doesn’t get any more “Christian” than that. Next, we must remember that the point of the exercise is to focus our full attention on the Living Person of the Word so that He can reveal Himself fully through the Word in us.
I will admit that meditation takes some patience and practice, and because of this, it is probably more useful to mature Christians who are already adept in prayer and study, than it is to young Christians who struggle to focus in prayer and study.
The main thing to remember here is that meditation is an extension of the practices of prayer, study, silence, solitude and fasting that brings 2 or more of these practices together to bring us closer and closer to God. We do not open ourselves to any old spirit, we focus instead upon the Person of the Holy Spirit and to His guidance which is verifiably in accord with His Word.
Perhaps you have another idea about what Christian meditation should look like that you’d like to share…
Excellent article. Not a topic I have seen so well coverd before.
It seems to me that what you call meditation is actually a type of prayer. As I understand it, the eastern form of mediation is designed to achieve a certain mental state.
Seems a good opening for further discussion. A question, and a thought.
Have you read/reviewed Fr. Louis, otherwise known as Thomas Merton? His explorations of meditation in the Buddhist traditions were focused on bending the methods towards Christian meditation.
You do not mention and Christian practices of meditation. Seems a natural summation to suggest the Rosary and the twenty mysteries on the life of Jesus.