There can be a lot of negative perceptions about meditation in conservative Christian circles. The term itself has become almost pejorative among certain groups, probably because meditation is not a distinctively unique Christian practice. Other ancient religions — and even some newer ones — incorporate elements of meditation into their rituals. Stripped away from any sort of pantheistic paganism, mediation can be a helpful tool that should not be ignored by Christians.
Let me define my terms, first, before I explain the importance of meditation in my own life. There are three main ways to use the term “meditate.” The Merriam-Webster simply says meditation is to “think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.” Of course, this definition is a catch-all for everything that meditation can mean.
The first way of using the word is how it’s used in Joshua 1:8. The Bible uses the word hagah, which we translate “meditate,” in that verse, which says, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; 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” (NIV). Hagah means to utter or to muse. It suggests the idea of focusing attention on a serious subject to study it and live it out. This is what we do when we read the Bible, discuss it with others, and apply it to our lives.
The second use of meditation is to get in touch with spiritual power or increase mindfulness. It often involves chanting. It is heavily entrenched in Buddhism and seeks to find strength and power within the body and a connection with nature. This is the type of meditation that Christians so quickly have a problem with, for several, rather conspicuous, reasons.
Lastly, meditation can simply involve quieting oneself — training the heart and mind to be still. This form of meditation is unlike the first definition, in that it does not involve striving to fill up the mind on some aspect of the Bible that needs to be worked on in a believer’s life. This is an incredibly good thing to do, of course, but it is not what I am getting at with the way I am using the word “meditation.” It is also not like the second definition, because it does not seek to channel internal energy or create oneness with the anything — spiritually or naturally. Yet, it is definitely a practice that takes both mindfulness and Christian principles into play.
The reason it is important to me is just this: I have a complex mind that never shuts off. I read my Bible, I talk at God, I listen to music, I talk to others, I mull over conversations that happen three years ago, and I am constantly trying to make everything fit into my schedule. My stream of consciousness never stops.
It is the hardest thing for me to simply stop, turn off the distractions, and listen. When I meditate, that is what I am doing. Meditation is emptying myself of me so that I can recenter myself on God. When I meditate I sit very still. I don’t think about anything related to my day, theology I’m trying to wrap my brain around, or what I want to talk to God about. Yet, since it is beyond my capacity to think about nothing I usually focus on a word and repeat it internally, without worrying too much about the implications of the word. Usually I choose one of the names of God.
And it helps. I refuse to stress. I refuse to think about whatever catapults into my brain during that time. I focus on breathing, and center on that word, so that I can empty myself of all the me that entangles it. It makes me vulnerable. In no other circumstance am I ever so alone with myself. In no other way would I sit for ten to thirty minutes without trying to think. Without telling God what I need, or trying to solve my life, I am just a vessel. And when I’m done, I’m finally ready for God to fill me. Sometime things come to me when I finish meditating that I would not have noticed if I wasn’t so still.
This is the meditation that Christians often miss out on. We try to fill our lives to the brink so much that we tend to forget that often miss out on Peace. We forget about tranquility. It’s not that every burden cannot be brought before Jesus — because I believe that to be very true — but it’s just a recognition that creating space within ourselves often allows a scenario for God to use us outside of what we might normally expect. And I believe that that is a precious thing.