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Friday, March 09, 2007

On Meditation - Biblical Perspectives

In response to a question from Melody here are a few passages on meditation.

First, there are the Psalms. These are the poetic texts that are by their very nature conducive to an attitude of reflection.

I list a choice few here:
Psalm 77 encourages meditation upon the works and actions of God:
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. 13 Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? 14 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. 15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
Note also the presence of the phrase "Selah", which occurs throughout the Psalms as a pausing point, the implication that one should slow their thoughts to contemplate what has been spoken.

Psalm 48 indicates a spirit of reflection upon the love of God:
Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.

Psalm 119 is a prolonged, spiritual reflection upon what it means to love the Law of Yahweh and to reflect and meditate upon it.

Psalm 63 is meditation upon God, himself:
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Next there is an interesting passage in Genesis 24:63 that indicates that Isaac went out into a field to meditate, or to reflect.

Now, Melody's question was not so much a question about meditation, per se, but she questioned specifically whether we should go so far as to empty our minds. My suggestion has been that for many Christian's in western society our minds are so fixated upon the hectic movement of life and so distracted by so many diverse voices and images that it might not be so absurd to suggest that we take time to empty our minds of the clutter and to make room for an encounter with God.

Now, admittedly, the above passages do not necessarily support my position of mind-emptying. However, they do support the reasonable conclusion that meditation is crucial to the Christian life. Whether or not a Christian goes so far as to empty their mind, as I am suggesting, there is little doubt that a deep life of contemplation and reflection is indispensable. To be quite frank, American pop-Christianity has as many resources (or more) available to it than at any time in the last two thousand years. And yet is it really a stretch to say that we are still as superficial and weak-minded as the rest of the world? Statistically speaking we seem to divorce just as quickly, or are just as prone to sexual failure and compulsive disorders as anyone else. Is it possible we struggle with the same things as everyone else because we have failed to cultivate a life of meditation? I'm going to suggest that this is, in fact, the case. I do not stand as a judge, just as an example of failure.

To empty one's heart of all of the things in this world that we love and cherish, and to connect with the person of God, himself, is the most necessary and also the most frequently neglected practices in Christendom. Everything else can be faked or fabricated.

I have one more Scripture, however, that I have been keeping up my sleeve. It comes from my favorite book, Ecclesiastes. The encouragement here is to speak less and to "listen" more:

Ecclesiastes 5 (NIV) Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words. When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

What does it mean to "stand in awe" of God? What does it feel like to be listen? I'm not 100% sure....however, I would suggest it has something to do with a sense of receptivity that is based on a mind emptied of distractions.


samlcarr said...

Wow, Jonathan. Nice meditation on meditation and lots else. As far as emptying goes i remember the struggle I had in Psych 101 when the lecturer insisted that we should all experience hypnosis. The thought of surrendering 'me' completely to a stranger was frightening.

"as superficial and weak-minded as the rest of the world", ouch, was that me?

Jonathan Erdman said...

I was speaking of western culture....seeing as you're in an eastern culture I would think that the spiritual challenges that your culture faces will be somewhat different....What discourages me about Christianity in western culture is what little difference I see between the "churched" and the "unchurched". Perhaps we have had to pay a price of spiritual authenticity in order to turn Christendom into a major, American cultural movement. Again, I'm not excluding myself from the mix, as though I were better than my fellow believers. Frankly, I enjoy the comfort of my current context. It's easy and fun to be a Christian!

Melody said...

Well, I don't know that I see support for "mind emptying" exactly in those passages...rather they give us things we should be thinking about.

I don't know if I find that emptying my mind really helps there...focusing on God's miracles of long ago or his might deeds usually, for me, involves reading the Bible. Focusing on His love could involve reading the Bible or going over ways God has shown His love to me or others as would praising Him.

But...that could definately involve getting rid of distractions...like television or my "to do" list.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Fair enough!

I was thinking about this a bit more and I realized that when I go for a run for an hour or more there is certainly a "mind-emptying" phenomenon. There is a certain "clearing away" of some of the clutter that has built up throughout the days or weeks.....none of this "clutter" is really all that bad, in and of itself. In fact, it might be quite good. It's like a computer. We might have several good programs opened, but if we keep opening and using more and more programs eventually we are going to fill up the capacity of the computer - the memory will no longer be able to store the information. So, we have to reboot and empty out the memory and start all over.

Maybe we can think of meditation as a sort-of spiritual reboot....