Meditation is a contemplative practice that has seen a rapid revival as of late. While the roots of mediation are tied to various religions, it has been taken up again in both religious and secular circles alike. This is likely due to recent findings that suggest meditation is helpful in reducing stress, lessening anxiety, and lowering blood pressure. Additionally, meditation has been popularized in self-care books as a central part of a wholistic lifestyle.
A 2017 National Health Interview Survey found that American adults who used meditation in the past 12 months had tripled between 2012-2017 (an increase from 4.1 percent to 14.2 percent).
As meditation becomes more mainstream, its definition widens to reflect the numerous and diverse peoples who take part in it.
As a result, meditation will likely carry a different definition for each person. For some, it is simply taking a break during a busy work day. Refocusing through yoga-like poses and breathing exercises. For the more devout, their religious traditions may influence and even dictate how they meditate.
Many Eastern religions promote a form of meditation that assists devotees in pursuit of their higher self or a higher power. Some who meditate take an approach that closely examines and dissects their thoughts. Others might attempt to ‘empty’ their minds of distractions to recenter themselves.
At its core, meditation combines devoting time to pause and then proceeds to a time of reflection on what the pause gave birth to.
So, what is Christian meditation?
The Bible makes a great case for meditation, and contemplative practices have long been part of Christian tradition. While Christian meditation is not the picture of meditation many of us in the West have become accustomed to (eg. the lotus position in yoga), scripture does affirm practicing contemplative reflection.
The word ‘meditate’ occurs 14 times in the KJV version of the Bible.
9 of those times occur throughout the Psalms. Most of these are in reference to meditating on God’s law and his word.
Ps. 119:97 “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
Ps. 119:99 “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.”
The Psalms: composed mostly of what boils down to be King David’s prayer journal. Here David records his reflections on both his own and the world’s sinful nature contrasted with God’s holiness and His forgiveness.
Many psalms carry a sense of anguish, where the Psalmist reflects on his failings and need of a savior God. Others are jubilations, where David praises God for delivering him out of his enemies hands (primarily following his own mistakes). You can easily get a sense of the emotions David was experiencing.
Which is exactly the point…to imagine ourselves in the ‘pit of despair’, relate deeply, and once again admit our own need of saving.
Another example; the ancient Jewish activity of reciting the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6. For several thousand years, devout Jews have recited this prayer twice daily. Though it is not a silent exercise, the act of verbally reciting scripture causes one to stop and reflect on God and His faithfulness to His people throughout history.
The prayer is both an act of worship and serves as a reminder of God’s character and nature. By reciting the Shema over and over, one is able to get a better idea of what exactly is being conveyed by the author: the timeless truths, and how they point us closer to God; giving us reason for praise.
Fast forward to the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus. He often used parables to explain deeper truths about Himself and the Kingdom of God to His disciples.
Parables are, in fact, a form of meditation.
They cause the listener to reflect on what is being communicated and discover the deeper meaning for themselves. Rarely is a meaning of a parable obvious upon first hearing. However, Jesus’ parables aren’t designed to be confusing, nor are they meant to be ambiguous. They are not meant to be a teasing mystery. They are, however, meant to provoke the listener; causing them to pause, ask questions and arrive at the truth about Jesus and His Kingdom. To seek out the truth in parables, the listener must insert themself into the setting.
Through this act of contemplation, the audience is invited to examine their own way of living and behavior. Take for example the parable of the Four Soils (Matt.13, Mark 4, Luke 8). Jesus actually explains this one and gives the reason why He uses parables to His disciples. His disciples took the important step of pausing and asking questions.
In this parable those that heard it (and those that read it) must ask ourselves, which type of soil are we?
We must meditate upon ourselves in light of the story.
Do we truly listen to His message and seek to live a life where the Kingdom of Heaven can take root? Further more, do we make a practice of asking, “Is the way I live my life reflective of the Gospel?”
Arguably, the best example of Christian meditation is the 1,000+ year old tradition known as Lectio Divina, which means ‘diving reading’. This practice is simple yet profound. The aim of Lectio Divina is to allow scripture to move the reader closer to God. This happens through digesting, reflecting upon, and ultimately praying scripture.
Meditation style Lectio Divina isn’t to be confused with Bible study.
While analyzing scripture, examining historical context, and pursuing theological truths found through Biblical Study are very important to our faith, this is not the goal of Lectio Divina. As someone who has a very analytical mind, I have to remind myself of this often. The heartbeat of Lectio Divina is prayerful communion with God. It is an invitation for the Holy Spirit to guide us in our reflections and pondering of scripture.
Christ is the Living Word and it is He who functions as our lens to see the deeper truths of the Bible. The more we read scripture using Christ as the ‘lens’ the more we will become like Him. As stated beautifully by the Anglican Communion, Lectio Divina’s approach to scripture is more concerned with ‘formation rather than instruction.’
In conclusion, you could say Christian Meditation is primarily about transformation.
The more often we invite the Holy Spirit to speak to us as we read scripture, slow down and meditate on what is being said and using Jesus as the lens, the more we will see ourselves transformed into the image of Christ. It is through this lifelong metamorphosis that we will be enabled to bring transformation to our families, communities, cities and beyond.
If you are interested in learning more about Christian meditation, contemplative worship, studying and applying the teachings of the Bible, consider doing a Discipleship Training School with us. You’ll never be the same.