“Meditate on your bed and be silent” Psalm 4:4.
“Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10
Those who follow my blog will notice that I’ve been quiet for the past two years. It’s been for a good reason. I’ve been learning something new and wonderful that has been transformative for me and during this time I’ve felt a bit like a child that can’t yet explain what he is learning. At least not with any level of confidence or authority. Now I’m starting to get a little clearer and am eager to share some of this exciting and life changing stuff with you.
What I’ve discovered is Christian meditation. Not the type of meditation that I’d been taught of “thinking about the scriptures”, which for the record I’d stress is also a very important practice. Rather I’ve discovered meditation as a deeper practice that quietens the mind and activates the heart. It really is a “lost art”. It’s an “art” because it requires practice and discipline and you get better at it over time, and it’s been “lost” because we talk about it so little today in Christianity and it often inspires fear and suspicion for many believers.
For some reason Christian meditation got “lost” from around the 16th century despite being a practice thoroughly described (and prescribed) in the Bible, taught by the founding Church Fathers, practiced in the earliest Christian traditions and actively pursued from then until about the 16th century. Today it is strangely absent from Christian teaching in almost all major denominations. I say this is strange because over the past few decades we’ve seen an increased level of desire for authentic experience with God and true spirituality, and there’s no doubt in my mind that meditation is the “highway” to this deeper experience with God. It’s one of the primary practices that leads us into connection and encounter with God at the level of the “heart” or the “spirit”. It’s been staring us in the face but we’ve misunderstood it as an “Eastern religious thing”. Meditation is in fact what the Bible refers to as “waiting on God” and also describes with concepts such as “be still and know that I am God” and “being in the spirit”.
I think one main reason spirit-level meditation has been overlooked for the past 500 years is because the West has preferred a “mind first” approach to faith – the need to rationalize faith, to make sense of it, to understand it and to reduce it to ideas and concepts that can be clearly delineated. Unfortunately (or rather fortunately) God is not that small. He is unimaginable, ineffable, unknowable by the limited minds of men. This is probably why God said to Moses, “no man may see me and live”. Our minds would explode if they were to “see” God simply because they are inadequate containers to hold God in anything but a tiny measure or a fraction of His reality. Not so for our spirits. These parts of us most reflect our divine roots as God’s children and are where “He has put eternity into the hearts [my note: in the spirit] of men, yet they cannot fathom [my note: in the mind] what God has done from beginning to end” (Eccl 3:11). In our spirits we can know and contain God’s presence in unlimited ways, and in our spirits the “Holy Spirit fills without measure” as Christ’s pattern for us teaches. The mind is important for learning the basic lessons of God, for knowing the “black and white” or moral truth and to ensure that we remain within the “guardrails of scripture”, but it is insufficient for deeper experiential knowledge of God, the true knowledge of the Divine described in the scriptures as “yada” in Hebrew (as in the beautiful Psalm 139) and “gnosis” in Greek (as in Paul’s cry in Philippians 3, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection”).
Incidentally these two words were translated in Latin as “contemplatio”, literally meaning “to be with God in an abiding state” (“con” – with, “templar” – Heavens, “tio”- abiding state). This word neatly describes the concept of “contemplative prayer” that is very well known though not much emphasized in some of the larger and older Christian denominations. Contemplative prayer is Christian meditation, an activity of connecting with God in the heart by quietening the mind to a point of subtle awareness rather than active rationalizing thought. It allows the heart to lead by love rather the mind to control the interaction with God through hyperactivity or over-conceptualization.
Coming “mind first” to God, attempting to rationalize His Spirit and to experience Him only in the realm of thoughts and concepts is very limiting and becomes frustrating after a while. It’s frustrating because you only get a tiny fraction of what is available to experience of God through a mental process, and also frustrating because our minds have a tendency to “run rampant” in our lives when we allow them primary control. Instead our minds need to come under the peaceful control of our hearts in order to serve as useful participants in our spiritual lives and indeed for us to be most productive in all aspects of life. Romans 8:6 puts it perfectly, “the mind controlled by the spirit is life and peace.” Spiritual life becomes frustrating when we switch that around and try to control our spirits and lives with our minds.
It’s this frustration I was beginning to feel in early 2017 that put me on a hungry quest for a way to experience a deeper connection with God. What I’ve learnt since then is what I’m going to be talking about in the weeks and months to come.
Below is a short video I made to describe the transformative effects that meditation has had on my life and my walk with God.
This is the 1st session of an eight-week introductory course to centering prayer and Christian meditation. Most sessions are recorded live from a group that meets each Saturday morning in a boardroom in Houston, Texas, with video-call participants from Africa, Europe and elsewhere in the US. Access the other introductory sessions here.