My heart has heard you say, 'Come and talk with me.' And my heart answers, 'Lord I am coming.' - Psalm 27.8
What if you had permission for thirty minutes a day to say NO to everything and everyone, with no remorse? What if someone gave you permission to take a time-out from productivity and efficiency and comparing and struggling and longing and worry? Everything- just... no. This is one of the wonders of what taking time for meditation allows you to do. While it's not a pedicure or a beach trip, I believe that time spent in meditation is one of the most wonderful self-care gifts that we can give ourselves. I wish that I, even with my weird introverted space boundaries, could just grab your face and look you in your eyes and say, “You are precious. Please put down your phone. Meditation is going to be so good to you.”
I think meditation is so important for the Church right now because, as a culture, we are sometimes living our lives half paying attention - multi-tasking and coordinating and chasing kids around and achieving. And it seems like maybe the solution, or part of it, is to sit still and listen and give our full attention to one thing for a while. That’s how Jesus so often moved through His days, isn’t it? Even in a crowd where everyone was pressing on Him, He turned around and found the one woman who touched his robe for healing and engaged with her. And that's in large part what meditation is ~ it's stopping to intentionally engage with God even in the middle of everything that is tugging on our sleeves.
A disclaimer before we dive deeper in to the discipline of meditation : Christian meditation differs from the “Ommm”-style Eastern meditation you probably associate with the term in several ways. Foundationally, they have different goals. The purpose of Christian meditation is communion with Christ through savoring the Word, rather than the goal of Eastern meditation, which is just to clear the mind and not think about anything at all. One of the things I've enjoyed about meditation is that after you’ve cultivated the discipline a bit, it becomes very portable. I meditate in my car sometimes now. There’s no need to repeat any certain ritual or assume any posture. While it’s helpful to pay attention to your breathing, and I have a guide below as to how your breathing can help guide your time of contemplative prayer, there’s no requirement about that either. The only thing you HAVE to do, is ask Jesus to speak to you, and to listen.
C E N T E R I N G :
I like to take a little time to center myself before diving into a time of meditation. I like to think of it as getting home and changing out of your work clothes to "shed the work environment", as my mom always said. One of my favorite ways to prepare for meditation comes from the story of a poor Russian peasant. Every day, he would go to the church for an hour and sit in one of the pews. One day, the priest asked him what he did while he was at the church for so long. He answered, "I look at Him, and He looks at me, and we tell each other we love each other." Isn't that so dear? I found that it helped me to enter into my times of meditation this way- just sitting still and quiet and telling Jesus I loved Him, and letting myself feel loved by Him.
I also liked to use some spiritual breathing as I calmed down for my meditation time. I heard about this in a sermon from Will Davis, (and there is another awesome guide down in the resources, courtesy of my friend, Jordan). As you take a deep inhale you ask for the Spirit's filling, and as you exhale you confess. Inhale, fill me with your Spirit. Exhale, forgive me for (whatever). I still do this all the time and it is wonderful.
L E C T I O D I V I N A :
While there are so (sooo) few Latin terms that can be classified as a buzzword, lectio divina is becoming one in some circles. This refers to the ancient practice for contemplative prayer developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 1500's. Jan Johnson explains it this way:
“The lectio divina way of interacting with God moves through and around these four phases:
- Reading a Scripture passage (lectio)
- Meditation on that passage (meditatio)
- Prayer (oratio)
- Contemplation (contemplatio)
Meditation differs from study of Scripture in that study is digging in to the text with a scholarly eye, and meditation is just enjoying it. In Jan Johnson’s words (once again) ~ "Scripture study is taking a look at a chocolate bar. Meditation is tasting it.”
For the lectio stage, begin by reading no more than 10 verses at a time. I read them aloud first, then again silently. Pay attention to what verses take root in your mind, or if there are any words that stand out to you. As you move into meditatio, take some time to apply your imagination to the text. When reading about Jesus on the Mount of Olives the night before his crucifixion, look around in your mind's eye. Do you hear wind in the olive trees? Do you see the lights of Jerusalem flickering in the distance as the city gets ready for the Passover feast? What about the sound of the disciples snoring, or the crunch of rocks under the soldier's feet? During oratio, I ask Jesus to continue to breathe on His Word, and to 'teach me all things'. In this time I sometimes offer up things that are concerning me and ask for guidance, or I spend it in thanksgiving, or in quiet listening for Him to reveal anything else He wants me to receive. For contemplatio, I look at what this passage means for my life, or what I need to do next with a word God has spoken to me.
W O R S H I P :
I would often end my time of meditation with a worship song that related in some way to what my prayer time had been about. It also helped to change up my posture a bit in these response times ~ like kneeling or resting in child's pose or laying on the floor. You know, all the things you would typically see in a Baptist church. (Ha.)
K E E P L I S T E N I N G :
I heard on a podcast with Ian Cron recently that contemplative prayer frees us from responding in our ‘automatic self’. Doesn’t that sound lovely? How sitting still in the presence of the Teacher can free us to consciously respond out of our Christ-identity, rather than just going through our day on auto-pilot.
One of the words that came up several times during my month of meditation was “let.” “LET, not your hearts be troubled, LET them not be afraid.” “LET the peace of Christ reign in your hearts.” And the Spirit told me two things, 1) that 100% of the time when I feel troubled and anxious and without peace it is because I am not LETTING Jesus give me what He already has won for me, and 2) that meditation is primarily just letting God talk. We in the church world have all learned some acronym for the proper way to pray I am sure, and while that can be a wonderful guide, it can also get a little conference call-ish. Meditation is putting aside our agendas and letting the Spirit speak to us. It’s the listening part of prayer, and also the space for asking questions. Over the last few weeks I’ve taken to asking God for guidance throughout my day when I don’t know how to respond to someone, or when I find myself with some problem that I don’t know how to navigate. And wouldn’t you know it, but He actually answers when I ask, and it works out better than my best laid plans? It’s like He likes talking with us or something… ;)
The one thing I ask of the Lord - the thing I seek most - is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord's perfections and meditating in his Temple. - Psalm 27.4
I hope this gives you a good overview and encourages you to incorporate meditation into your life. I’ve included resources below if you’d like a more in depth look, which of course, I highly recommend.
If you'd like to try out meditating, I'd suggest that you maybe start with the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15: 1-7. Jan Johnson has an in depth guide to meditating on this passage here, and Cory Asbury's Reckless Love makes for a perfect worship response song.
R E S O U R C E S
The Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster
New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton
Holy Yoga by Caroline Williams