Tuesday, November 16, 2004

What is Christian Meditation?

I ran across this article from a former professor of mine in which he distinguishes between meditation that is Christian in nature, and meditation which is not. It is becoming more and more popular in Christian circles to be involved in eastern-style meditation as a form of mental and/or physical health, and more and more people no longer understand what it means to “meditate” as a Christian. The concept people are typically confronted with today is a fuzzy, “harmless” notion of meditation for some kind of inner-peace, and as a result, many believers don’t know the difference between yoga and the meditation enjoined in Scripture.

So what are the differences between the two? One passage from the article states:

The biblical concept of prayer assumes that rational and meaningful communication between God and humans is possible. There is no summons to suspend rational judgment even when prayer through the Holy Spirit is "with groans that words cannot express" (Rom. 8:26). Nor should we repeat words meaninglessly to induce a trance (Matt. 6:7).

Christian meditation, then, is a matter of reflection, discernment, reason, and prayer (communication). There are many biblical passages which talk of meditation, and each and every time they refer to meditating on precepts, works, laws, teachings, etc. When the Christian mediates, they are thinking about God. Some representative passages include:

Joshua 1:8 - Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; 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.

Psalm 48:9 - Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.

Psalm 77:12 - I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Psalm 119:27 - Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders.

Psalm 119:99 - I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.

On the other hand, when one mediates in the tradition of eastern mysticism, the exercises people engage in are designed to turn off the mind to all things. As people “empty” themselves, they, according to eastern teachings, finally open themselves to the reality beyond the physical world and achieve enlightenment. Mantras and koans are designed to disengage a person’s rational capacity and open them up physically and spiritually to the spirit world.

The differences could not be deeper. A famous Zen koan is, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?’ It is not designed to be answered-it is designed to make the adherent comfortable with not answering questions. In direct contrast to that, take a question posed by the scriptural passages I noted above, “what is God’s love like?” That question is designed to be answered, even if analogously.

Christians should not swallow what passes for popular meditation whole. They should be discerning and discipline themselves to turn on their minds and hearts when the do meditate.


Karl said...

One of the reasons I find such a home in Orthodoxy, is that the use of the Jesus Prayer filled a void that Buddhism meditation didn't fill.

When I left Protestantism for Buddhism it was because of the lack of any substantial spiritual disciplines. When I left Buddhism for Orthodoxy, it was because the spiritual disciplines were not Christ-centered....There is a huge difference between the mantra and the Jesus Prayer.

Phil Steiger said...

I have really appreciated the recent surge of interest and work regarding the spiritual disciplines in Protestant circles by organizations like Renovarre (sp?) and people like Foster and Willard.