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Friday, October 12, 2007

Meditation

I'm rereading the old classic testimony of a devout Hindu who became a Christian, Death of a Guru. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand more about the massive differences between Eastern mysticism and Christian spirituality. Any follower of the Lord Jesus who thinks yoga is simply a kind of exercise should definitely read it. Yoga is a form of Hindu meditation which has the "ultimate goal of union with the Absolute".

The Big Difference
There are Christians who have become sidetracked down the route of Eastern-style meditation. Some accounts I have read of such ventures sound remarkably like the experiences of Rabindranath Maharaj described in Death of a Guru. Consequently there is a backlash in some quarters of the Evangelical community against what is, in the Christian tradition, known as contemplative prayer which can appear to share some characteristics with Eastern meditation. It's important therefore that we understand the primary and fundamental difference between Christian and Hindu meditation.

Hindu meditation is practised by emptying the mind in order to gain a higher consciousness and ultimately to experience nirvana or "nothingness". Christian meditation is not about emptying the mind but about filling it with thoughts of God and this is best done by contemplating Scripture.

Christian Meditation
The apostle Paul says, "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col 3:16) and this beautifully describes the act of Christian meditation. In Ps 119 the writer says, "I have hidden Your word in my heart" (v11), "I meditate on your precepts" (v15) and prays, "open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law" (v18).

Christian meditation is about prayerfully absorbing Scripture into our very being and there are a number of practices which can help us to do that.

The first is memorising. When we memorise a single verse or a longer passage of Scripture it becomes available to us when we need it. There are countless times in my life when I have faced temptation or needed a word from God and a memorised passage has come to mind which has been pertinent to the situation. Memorising takes discipline and the older we get the more discipline seems to be required to lodge new things in our brains. I have heard it said that about the age of 7 is the best time to learn by memorising as that is the age at which the brain is particularly receptive to that type of learning. That's why traditional education had us all reciting our "times tables" in primary school. If you have responsibility for children in that age group it's a great opportunity to teach them Scriptures that will stay in their minds their whole lives. The rest of us will have to work harder at it, but repeat a Scripture often enough and it will stick.

The second practice I want to mention is what I call mulling over Scripture. Like a cow with the cud we can take a verse or two and, instead of just assuming we know what it means, we can chew it over in our mind, turning it around to look at it from different angles, thinking about what each of the words means. For example, 1 Pet 1:16 quotes several Old Testament passages - be holy, because I am holy. What is holiness? What does it mean that God is holy? How can I be holy? I am not told to BECOME holy, but to BE holy so what are the implications of that? We have to be careful that when we answer these questions we do so in the light of other passages of Scripture and not with our own bright ideas. But as we explore Scripture in this way we will come to understand it more fully.

The third form of meditation I want to mention is imagining. By this, I don't mean making things up, but rather taking a passage of the Bible, usually from the gospels, and using your imagination to place yourself within the scene described. There is a principle of learning which is expressed in the following way: I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand. By taking a passage such as Lk 8:40-56, the healing of the sick woman and Jairus' daughter, and using our imagination to place ourselves in the crushing crowds and follow the events as they unfold, we can gain a deeper insight into the intensity of the emotions involved, the pain and joy experienced by the participants and the awe of the bystanders at the power of Jesus to intervene in life-changing ways. The passage speaks more powerfully to us.

Prayer College Assignment
If there is one of these methods of meditation that you have never tried or not used in a while, why not explore one of them this week.

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