Meditation, Christian and Other Forms

The word Meditate is from the Latin meaning “to think carefully or deeply about something.” In English it also refers to the practices various groups use in order to do this, “think deeply.”

Deep thought in the sense of “Meditation” uses the universal human capacity to think “Attentively” rather than use our capacity for “Directed Thought.” In attentive intelligence we are more of an observer of the stream of consciousness flowing between our ears. We learn that our self is something different than our thoughts, actions and experiences. “We are human beings, not human doings,” as the saying goes.

Since meditation is characterized by stepping back from our specific thoughts and plans for tomorrow and reactions to yesterday, it is also a practice that allows our experience to speak for itself. We begin to see others as selves and not extensions of our own projects or feelings. New possibilities emerge. Did you Mom ever say, “Sleep on it. It will look different in the morning?” When we take time to meditate we access intentionally the sort of intelligence your Mom taught you to use, except you don’t have to fall asleep to access it.

Belief in God is unnecessary for valuing meditation. Cultivating our ability to Meditate is enhancing our capacities as a human being. Having said that, Christian Meditation makes use of this God given, universal capacity as an act of faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

James wrote, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” James 4:8 He then goes into a short list of things we have to decide to do before we can draw near. Traditionally that short list of things we have to do is called our “Spiritual Discipline.” A “Disciple” is a person who has a discipline they use to follow a teacher’s instruction. A Disciple of Christ uses the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures preserved by the Christian community as content for thought, guide, encouragement and correction (2 Tim 3:16).

Further, as a Christian I know that I am integrated as a person. I believe and act on contradictory beliefs. For me, life after 20 has been learning to recognize my inconsistent belief systems. As a Christian I have the freedom to lay them before God for healing and wisdom. In his letter, James comments on the process of healing. (James 5:15-17) Most people chuckle the laugher of recognition when we hear the words of the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland.

Alice laughed. `There’s no use trying,’ she said `one ca’n’t believe impossible things.’

I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. `When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Internal warfare is not funny, however. It is frustrating and at time can be very destructive. Seeking to hear God’s will for our lives brings considerable resolution to the conflict. Jesus said that his peace was largely gaining that sense of wholeness that comes from knowing that our Creator walks with us in all of life’s moments.

Another focus of Christian Meditation is to act on the words form the Lord’s prayer, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Similar words are found in the Hebrew Prayer called the Kaddish and many Jews meditate with an intent quite parallel to Christians. This practice focuses on God’s leading in how we use power. When Solomon was crowned King in Israel, he had a vision of God asking him for the one thing he most wanted.

9 “Here’s what I want: Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil. For who on their own is capable of leading your glorious people?” 1 Kings 3:9

What I teach is cultivating a God listening heart so we can grown in wisdom in using the influence we have to bless others according to the values God taught Israel through Abraham and Jesus and the people in between.

Whether your practice, what is your experience with meditation?

Comments

  1. My own perspective on meditation makes a strong distinction between Eastern and Christian meditation.

    Eastern meditation is based on a worldview foundation which understands transcendent reality to be impersonal. There is no one out there to interact with or reveal things to us. As such, the best that can be offered is that people somehow, through a meditative process, experience this “impersonal transcendent life force.” This is done by attempting to empty the mind as completely as possible in order to eliminate the “clutter” which keeps us from having this kind of experience. There is no rational component to this kind of meditation, it is strictly experiential.

    Christian meditation, on the other hand, is based on the belief that a personal God exists who wants to communicate with us and that we can interact with him. Meditation based on this belief has an entirely different foundation and purpose. The purpose here is to fill our minds with God’s revelation in order to provide the opportunity for him to speak to us in ways which reveals himself, his will and ways to us. As we contemplate his revelation, he speaks to our thoughts to give us insight concerning how to apply it in our lives. One thing to be careful of, though, is to make sure that we understand how to rightly interpret Scripture before we engage the meditative process. If we are meditating based on wrong beliefs (based on wrong biblical interpretation – even if the words themselves come from the Bible), it will end up being Satan, not God, who will be the one communicating.

      1. Freddy, what is your understanding as to why Buddhist’s teach that the individual self has no real value?

        Is there a relationship between that conclusion and the belief that the life force is impersonal and the goal of meditation is to empty the mind so the individual can experience that impersonal life force?

  2. “I don’t think that meditation can happen “accidentally” I think that it is a state of mind that can only be reached intentionally. So finding yourself reflecting deeply on something as you cycle along, may well be a form of relaxation and may have similarities to Meditation but to my untutored way if thinking it ain’t Meditation!
    I find that choosing to reflect in a particular way and in a particular place, or whilst undertaking a specific activity is deeply beneficial to me personally. The things that float my boat, are sitting with a candle and a verse of scripture, just sitting with a candle, reading a verse or verses of scripture, a prayer walk or a walk of mindfulness, sitting by an open window, listening to a wondrous piece of music (almost anything) going deep in prayer, repeating/chanting the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) Listening to a friend or colleague lead a Lectio Divina. some also might use the technique of “dwelling in the Word”, I also have a “prayer bowl, and a pair of (very small) cymbals that I occasionally “sound” as I find that the pure tone also can help me into a place where God can be present. I love desolate places where creation’s mark can still be seen in rocks and coastlines.
    I can understand the sense that some Christians have of a “renewal of minds” I am certainly relaxed when I drag myself away, and can sometimes come to existing challenges with a fresh approach.
    Does meditation help in a community? James, I have struggled with this one, because many folk approach deep reflective practice with some suspicion. I try to leave chunks of silence when I preside at Holy Communion, although I rarely invite people to reflect on my words/sermon, as I always suggest that if it was useful or thought-provoking, some folk may find themselves thinking about it during the week following, and a couple of minutes during a service probably won’t be a great help anyway!
    I have led quiet days for various folk in different places. As a corporate exercise I’m not sure that it works on a communal level but it certainly benefits individuals (if you believe what they said)
    I think our Buddhist or Brahma Kumaris friends may have more to say that will be useful about their experience of communal meditation. I wonder though if it is something that can be undertaken communally and yet is more often experienced individually?”

    1. Thank you for your experience. Indeed, Buddhist do meditate individually, but also as a group. Each has an elder month who spends time with them individually to help them reflect on and learn from their experience, so meditation is solitary, communal and relational in nature. If you look at Benedictine practice, it is similar in this respect. I suppose that is because it words better than just one avenue.

      The Buddhist practitioners I know well are mostly former monks who converted to Christianity for various reasons. Most are now pastors or leaders in their churches, so they don’t have a lot of positive things to say about their experience with Buddhist forms of meditation. I have no need to “trash” another’s faith. For the most part they are not angry about their experience as Buddhists. Rather, they concluded that believing that the self is an illusion and has no enduring value leads to inner peace but at the price of involvement in the world. There are no prophets in Buddhism. Therefore, the most spiritual people in the society isolate themselves from the struggles of the people and contribute little to maintaining the larger society. They are eager to help you get out of involvement in worldly concerns, but not very ready to “take on the world.” Perhaps a practicing Buddhist would like to comment.

      As a Christian I believe that each self is an intentional act of God’s creative love and that God values each self highly. Christianity is inherently reformist always looking to make visible a bit more of the vision of life together in fellowship with Christ. My practicing Buddhist friends chide me and point out that desiring to see relationships different than what they are leads to frustration and even even unhappiness. They think this is quite irrational, and from their perspective it is.

      The the path I follow accepts frustration, pain, sorrow at the poor decisions others make and regret over the harm I cause as a part of loving others. I do not use meditation to find peace, I use it to hear the leading of the Spirit that comes from one who both laughed in the sunshine and who died for the sake of others. Jesus was radically free because he had not fear of pain and was willing to accept the occasional, though very real cost of loving others with great passion because of their incredible value to his Father. When Herod threatened to have him beaten or killed when Jesus refused to entertain him with a miracle, Jesus responded that “You have not power over me except what my Father in Heaven has given you.” Now that is freedom and peace in my book, to look at death and pain, acknowledge their reality but not be dominated by them.

    2. I was rereading your comments. What you think of as meditation is meditation as spiritual discipline, I think. When I say that meditation is natural, a universal human capacity I am referring to one of the many ways we process our experience. I was watching the Lipizzaner Horses many years ago as a guest of a friend who knew much more about horses than I. At one point I said words to the effect, “Impossible.”

      My friend replied, “Everything they do they do horses do naturally. They have been taught to do these natural things when their trainer wants them to.” I help people use their native capacity to ponder in ways that are useful. They often gain “wisdom,” “peace” and as you say “refreshment.”

      Have you ever met a person who has meditated intentionally who is other than kind?

  3. Hello James
    Reflecting on the creation is a way for me too meditate:
    The most amazing among them in its creation is the peacock, which Allah has created in the most symmetrical dimensions, and arranged its hues in the best arrangement with wings whose ends are inter-leaved together and whose tail is long. When it moves to its female it spreads out its folded tail and raises it up so as to cast a shade over its head, as if it were the sail of a boat being pulled by the sailor. It feels proud of its colours and swaggers with its movements. It copulates like the cocks. It leaps (on the female) for fecundation like lustful energetic men at the time of fighting.

    I am telling you all this from observation, unlike he who narrates on the basis of weak authority, as for example, the belief of some people that it fecundates the female by a tear which flows from its eyes and when it stops on the edges of the eyelids the female swallows it and lays its eggs thereby and not through fecundation by a male other than by means of this flowing tear. Even if they say this, it would be no amazing than (what they say about) the mutual feeding of the crows (for fecundation). You would imagine its feathers to be sticks made of silvers and the wonderful circles and sun-shaped feathers growing thereon to be of pure gold and pieces of green emerald. If you likened them to anything growing on land, you would say that it is a bouquet of flowers collected during every spring. If you likened them to cloths, they would be like printed apparels or amazing variegated cloths of Yemen. If you likened them to ornaments then they would be like gems of different colour with studded silver.

    the peacock walks with vanity and pride, and throws open its tail and wings and laughs admiring the handsomeness of its dress and the hues of its necklace of gems. But when it casts its glance at its legs it cries loudly with a voice which indicates its call for help and displays its true grief, because its legs are thin like the legs of Indo-Persian cross-bred cocks. At the end of its shin there is a thin thorn and on the crown of its head there is a bunch of green variegated feathers. Its neck begins in the shape of a goblet and its stretch up to its belly is like the hair-dye of Yemen in colour or like silk cloth put on a polished mirror which looks as if it has been covered with a black veil, except that on account of its excessive lustre and extreme brightness it appears that a lush green colour has been mixed with it. Along the openings of its ears there is a line of shining bright daisy colour like the thin end of a pen. Whiteness shines on the black background. there is hardly a hue from which it has not taken a bit and improved it further by regular polish, lustre, silken brightness and brilliance. It is therefore like scattered blossoms which have not been seasoned by the rains of spring or the sun of the summer.

    It also sheds its plumage and puts off its dress. they all fall away and grow again. they fall way from the feather stems like the falling of leaves from twigs, and then they begin to join together and grow till they return to the state that existed before their falling away. the new hues do not change from the previous ones, nor does any colour occur in other than its own place. If you carefully look at one hair from the hairs of its feather stems it would look like red rose, then emerald green and then golden yellow.

    How can sharpness of intellect describe such a creation, or faculty of mind, or the utterances of describers manage to tell of it. Even its smallest parts have made it impossible for the imagination to pick them out or for tongues to describe them. Glorified is Allah who has disabled intellects from describing the creation which He placed openly before the eyes and which they see bounded, shaped, arranged and coloured. He also disabled tongues from briefly describing its qualities and also from expanding in its praise.

    Glorified is Allah(God) who has assigned feet to small ants and gnats and also to those above them, the serpents and the elephants. He has made it obligatory upon Himself that no skeleton in which He infuses the spirit would move, but that death is its promised place and destruction its final end.

    If you cast your mind’s eye at what is described to you about Paradise, your heart would begin to hate the delicacies of this world that have been displayed here, namely its desires and its pleasures, and the beauties of its scenes, and you would be lost in the rustling of the trees whose roots lie hidden in the mounds of musk on the banks of the rivers in Paradise and in the attraction of the bunches of fresh pearls in the twigs and branches of those trees, and in the appearance of different fruits from under the cover of their leaves. these fruits can be picked without difficulty as they come down at the desire of their pickers. Pure honey and fermented wine will be handed round to those who settle down in the courtyards of its palaces.

    they are a people whom honour has always followed till they were made to settle in the house of eternal abode, and they obtained rest from the movement of journeying. O’ listener! If you busy yourself in advancing towards these wonderful scenes which will rush towards you, then your heart will certainly die due to eagerness for them, and you will be prepared to seek the company of those in the graves straight away from my audience here and hasten towards them. Allah(God) may, by His mercy, include us and you too among those who strive with their hearts for the abodes of the virtuous.

    1. Thank you, Joe. As a child I lived in Canton (Guangzhou), China for about a year and a half. We had peacocks in our garden. Such amazing creatures. Indeed they speak of the glory of their Creator to me as well, at least until the speak. For a bird so magnificent they have such an ugly call.

      There is a legend, Hindu in origin I believe, that one of the spirits or perhaps the Creator saw that the peacock had grown proud of its plumage so gave it a horrid call in order to teach it humility.

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