EP 110 Christian Meditation
Updated: Sep 27, 2020
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I'm Jamie Bahr, and this is Unlocking Christian Spiritual Practices. Join me as we look at the practices that are essential for growing responsibility and expanding leadership in our families, churches, and communities.
In this podcast, we will look at Christian meditation. Christian meditation cultivates an attitude and an outlook in our hearts for God to shape us. We need prayerful meditation in our lives because it enables us to live whole, functional lives in a dysfunctional world.
Our attitude is connected to our daily lives and our activities, but a change in attitude takes effort on our part by engaging with the scriptures. So we approach meditation as a way to gain a new outlook about our current circumstances. Our morning meditation can begin this activity on our hearts, but why is attitude so important? Let's take a closer look. When I'm flying in a small aircraft with my husband, there's an instrument on the panel that's called the attitude indicator. It's blue on the top half and green on the bottom half. The horizon is indicated by a horizontal line across the middle.
While flying, my husband would tell me, "Watch your attitude!" He was telling me to pay attention and keep the nose of our aircraft just above the horizon line on the attitude indicator. This provides optimal flying of the aircraft. If it's too high, you could stall and crash. If it's too low, you would slowly descend into the ground.
It's the same with our attitude in life. Once an aircraft has the right attitude, it will fly straight and level. We can remove our hands from the controls, and just relax and look out at all the beauty around. With little effort on our part, the aircraft is flying itself, and everything seems quiet and at peace as you fly above it all. This is prayerful meditation at its best.
We start out taking a lot of effort to connect with the scripture, reflecting on our current attitude and outlook. We ask ourselves, "What changes need to take place to connect with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?" Once we have the right attitude, we can sense the presence of God, and we find that we can just relax in His love. God and the Holy Spirit are now at work, shaping the soul as you effortlessly receive His love and all that He has for you. I'm often asked, "What's the difference between meditation and contemplation?"
Well, first, we need to clarify that Christian meditation is centered on the scriptures, receiving all that God has for you in the text by reading it slowly, listening to it, and reflecting on it. We have our minds disciplined by Scripture as we seek to enter the presence of God. Scripture is the central reference point as we approach contemplation with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The second important thing to remember is that prayerful meditation takes effort on our part. It doesn't just happen by itself. You must open your Bible, turn off all your technology, find that quiet space, then the truth that you are meditating upon passes from the mouth to the mind, and then down into the heart.
It changes our attitude and our outlook, moving us toward a faith-filled, loving, and life-giving response. Perhaps you've tried all of your life to encounter God, but didn't realize that it's your attitude that opens the way to God’s shaping. I'm speaking about your effort as opposed to God's effort. There probably was a point in time when someone took you to Sunday school or you were invited to a youth group. There, you heard others pray or you learned to memorize the Lord's prayer, read the Bible, and take part in worship.
Then, comes a time when you sense a need to take the next step and initiate these practices on your own. We may initiate this time because we feel empty, confused, helpless, or frustrated. At the same time, we may also initiate a time of prayerful meditation because we feel so full of joy, so grateful. Meditation initiates the way toward intimacy with God. Patient waiting moves us quietly from the scripture that speaks to the deep groaning in our hearts, or what is called contemplation.
Meditation and contemplation are connected by our effort and God's effort. Teresa of Avila, who lived during the inquisition between 1515 to 1582 was a premiere guide to those on a spiritual journey. In her book, Interior Castle, she explains this transformative journey using the metaphor of water, calling it The Four Waters. First, when you initiate meditation, it's like water being drawn from a deep well. You have to get the bucket, lower it into the well, fill it, and then pull it back up.
It takes lots of effort to water a garden this way and a lot more time. The second water is still strenuous, but the water comes as you turn a heavy water wheel, and cups of water pour out as it fills the bucket. Then, you can water the garden. When you stop turning the wheel, the water also stops, so it's up to you, but not as difficult as lifting a heavy bucket out of a well. The third water is this endless stream of water that comes down from a mountain, provided by the Lord as irrigation for the garden.Here, the garden becomes lush with blooms as the water runs through it. Finally, the fourth water is like falling rain. There is no effort on your part. You become a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail. It's paradise.
God makes all the effort. There are times where we will have to go back to the basics and draw water from a well again, and then move forward into greater intimacy and restful engagement with God. We can gain insight from Teresa's description that we begin with lots of effort on our part, but then as we continue, there is a decrease in our effort, and as it’s described in waters three and four, there's an increase in God's divine nature and empowerment. We increasingly yield to God's direction and power, and less of our effort is required. So much has to do with cultivating an attitude that opens the way for God to shape us. Wouldn't it be nice if we had an attitude indicator for ourselves, like the one I described in an aircraft?
An attitude of humility or surrender takes effort on our part, along with patient waiting. This is God's activity, patiently waiting for us to become contemplative. Jesus tells us in John 14, "In my Father's house, there are many mansions. If it were not so, would I've told you that I go and prepare a place for you, and when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am, you may be also." That scripture is so loving and so restful.
We are shaped by God by the circumstances in our lives. This pandemic can be one of those critical events in our lives that drives us to the scriptures, to deepen our intimacy with God and find rest. We seek prayerful meditation because we no longer have answers, and in fact, dealing with this pandemic, all the questions have now changed. "How am I dealing with loneliness during this lockdown? How do I calm my fears about the future? Where is hope in the years ahead?"
These are all questions that carry us back to seeking God and waiting, to let God shape our character to meet the new challenges that lie ahead. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, and it's the Spirit that develops our character. As Christians, we want to be known as having godly character, or the character of Christ. We may think that our character is formed by what we do, and sadly, many believe that they mature by working for God, like in a church ministry or mission. Instead, it is formed by what we don't do, but by what God does, in and through us. If we are moving too fast with no quiet time or prayerful meditation, our character formation is stunted.
We can also do lots of meditation, but never grow up as Christians because we use meditation as a quick daily fix to just get by in the morning. We can grow into adulthood, but not mature. Sound familiar? We think like a child, and we do childish things. When our character is stunted, there's a lack of taking responsibility for our lives, our families, and for our world.
Each day, prayerful meditation shapes our character through reflection and personal examination. When we don't have the character to meet the responsibilities that have been given to us, we have a midlife crisis, or a point where our character development comes up short. We just can't handle the situation. Still, there's a certain brokenness that must take place through the Spirit so that we may be healed, and then reformed into Christlike character. Again, for many, this current pandemic is one of those shaping events, but God is faithful.
We will be transformed for the better through Christian meditation. The soul will be shaped by God, and not by the world as we draw nearer to Him. For our practice of prayerful meditation, I suggest that you pray the prayer of St. Ignatius. I'm going to recite it for you here. It begins with,
"Take Lord, and receive
all my liberty, my memory,
my understanding, and my entire will,
all I have and call my own."
"You have given all to me.
To You, Lord, I return it.
Everything is Yours.
Do with it what You will.
Give me only Your love
and Your grace.
That is enough for me."
Now, the first time you pray this prayer, ask yourself, "What word stands out to you? What feelings or emotions seem to rise up in you?" This may take a while. You need to sit and repeat and think through this. Read it again, and then light a candle as a purifying fire and consider, "What part of your life you're giving over in a new or renewed way to God?"
Stay with this for a while. Read the prayer again. See if you can recognize any feelings of dissatisfaction. See it as a divine summons to shift away from all that you are doing and move to God's deep desire to shape your heart and know you more intimately.
Thomas Merton, who continues to influence the spirituality of our time in many ways states that, "In meditation, we should not look for a method, but instead, cultivate an attitude such as faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, trust, and joy." He goes on to say that, "The spiritual life of many Christians could be cured by a simple respect, for the concrete realities of everyday life, for nature, for our own bodies, for one's work, one's friends, and our surroundings," and in all of these, we have an opportunity to have our character tested and shaped through encounters with others in our churches, our homes and communities.
Meditation has no point, unless it is firmly rooted in life, so prayerful meditation is not a practice that takes us away from the world, but allows one to release themselves to be shaped by God with Christlike character in order that we might engage the world with wisdom and maturity.
Thank you for listening. If you would like the resources, our show notes from this [podclass 00:12:40], please go to my website at unlockingchristianspiritualpracticespodcast.com.
In my next podcast, we will take another look into prayerful meditation, moving from meditation to contemplation, where you find divine rest through loving attention to God. Thank you for listening, and blessings on your journey.