Celebration of Discipline: Meditation

Meditation. It’s a word most often associated with Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Also referred to as Contemplative Prayer and Centering Prayer, there are those on both sides, pro and con, as to whether this type of prayer is Christian. It is associated with the likes of St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, and the Desert Fathers.

One of the things that makes the anti-meditation argument hard to analyze is the arguments I’ve seen are from people who also believe that Charasmatic and Pentecostal perspectives are also wrong, and in a sense, anything mystical or supernatural seems suspect. One argument seems to imply that because some of these ideas are from people who are Catholic, that alone makes them wrong, which is really poor reasoning. The article against CP quoted above is pretty good though.

It is evident that meditation, in some sense, is Biblical. I just found 16 occurences in the NIV doing a quick search. Foster says it’s 58. Most of the time, the context seems to be talking about consciously and actively meditating on the law or something concrete. Foster states “It is this continual focus upon obedience and faithfulness that most clearly distinguishes Christian meditation from its Eastern and secular counterparts” (Foster, 16). Foster makes the effort to distinguish the Christian version from the Eastern versions, though it could be argued that some of the ‘methods’ are still too close. Also, he later mentions that Eastern meditation is about being empty, while Christian meditation is about being filled. Among those quoted as supporting meditation: Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Foster begins his chapter talking about how we are too busy. True. He gives some examples of meditation in the Bible. Then gives his definition: “Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word” (Foster, 17). Fellowship. Communion. Intimacy. Creating space that allows Jesus to work. Honestly, there is a lot Foster says that is really good, and that I personally find helpful in my life and find completely Biblical. I say partially because I think people paint Foster with too broad a brush, ignoring most of what he says in proving him wrong. That is unfortunate.

The primary questions surrounding meditation as presented by Foster, is whether the purpose and methods are Christian or not. I’m not one of those who believes that everything must be explicitly mentioned in the Bible in order to be valid (and honestly, if all Christians believed that, Christians wouldn’t be doing lots of things, think about it). Also, something being a part of another religion doesn’t automatically make it wrong (there are, after all, some similarities across the lines, are there not?). That said, when adding methods not mentioned in the Bible, there is need for discernment, and when those methods seem to be drawn from other religions, that’s a valid concern.

As the site above states: “Nowhere in the Bible is prayer a technique or a way to go beyond thinking. Creating a whole theology of prayer apart from the Bible is dangerous, precisely because we are entering an area fraught with subjectivism, truth based on experience, and therefore, an area where we can be deceived.” The writer, Montenegro, also mentions that some who promote this form of prayer talk about going beyond reason to really hear God. “The false dichotomy in our culture between mind and heart does not exist in the Bible! Our culture associates feelings and often spirituality with the heart, and separates that from thinking, but this is a modern concept, not a Biblical one.”

Interesting. This is really too big a topic for a blog post. I haven’t resolved this, partially because some of it is semantics. There are times in prayer when I really have no words to give. There is a time to slow down and listen to God. There are times when I get answers when I stopped thinking about things and let them go.

I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of detachment though, even if, as Foster says, we detach in order to be attached. I’ve had conservative Christians tell me not to desire and, in essence, be detached, so let’s not pretend that this concept isn’t there. The Bible does say ‘Die to self.’

Topic Next Weekend: Prayer