We live in the period of the "Great Time Robbery." It used to be television consumed us with endless hours of violence, murder, rape and immorality, but now the Internet and mobile phones are injecting their own 'noise' in our minds. Add to that the rat race that is quickly robbing us of any peace and quiet that might be left. Between increasing commute times to busier schedules with kids' activities and bigger workloads, we are fast becoming a society that is slowly coming apart. Even the physical infrastructure of our cities can't cope with the growing demands we are placing on everything and everyone. So it comes as no surprise then that there is a resurgence of eastern spirituality in western culture. From movie stars to housewives, yoga and meditation have captured the minds (and souls) of many, including Christians. So is meditation O.K? And how do we reclaim the balance in our life?
Most people think of meditation as performing specific postures and calling up certain thoughts or words as spiritual conduits to inner peace. It is actually a precarious tool that may lead to a false and dangerous spiritualism. Christian meditation is different. It involves bringing in balance the thoughts of the heart with the thoughts of the mind. It is about purposefully reflecting on who is God, what He says, and how He wants us to relate to Him. And this intimate connection comes from the Word of God. Christian meditation is about using the Scriptures to develop a new attitude and a different mind. Paul instructs, "let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). Our relationship with God begins by bringing our life in harmony with his Word.
Meditation for the Christian has its roots in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for meditation means to mutter, to ponder or to speak with oneself. It is 'chewing' on the Word of God. So meditating on God's Word means to speak the Word of God in our inner thoughts. Paul Evdokimov explained how the early church Fathers would constantly read the Scripture and recite passages from memory because "while reading Scripture the Fathers," he says, "read not words, but the living Christ, and Christ spoke to them. They consumed words in the manner of the Eucharistic bread and wine, and the word appeared to them in its Christ dimension." This is where all the great ascetics of the past and present find their inner peace, the divine secrets hidden in their heart, and the source of their prayer.
Scripture and Meditation
Christian meditation is using the Word of God as the source of nourishment for our mind. It is about adopting the mind of God in our hearts so that we see things the way God sees them. Change comes through making the truth of the gospel alive in our own lives. In meditation, we seek and dwell on the Word of God and in prayer we call on God to change us through his Word. This is so important that everything else in our faith hinges on whether we get this right. We can spend hours serving God and many more trying to behave as a child of God, but if we are not being nourished by the Word of God it will all be in vain because it will be without Christ. Meditating on the Word is what comforts, encourages, warns and instructs us. It is what leads us to confess our sins, to ask for guidance and help to live a godly life, and to give thanks to God for his salvation; in other words, meditation is communion with God. In fact, meditation is not only a great tool to use together with prayer the two are essentially inseparable.
Prayer and Meditation
Prayer without ever meditating on the Scriptures is a little like love without another person. It becomes inward and selfish. Unfortunately, prayer becomes routine for most of us, where we quickly recite the words almost robotically. Scripture reading and study, if they are done at all, are usually the last things we do for the day while we sit in bed and begin to dose off after reading a couple of verses. Is it a surprise then that we know so little about Christian well-being and balance, not to mention anything of how we should live our lives? The problem is that we go for so long without needing God until something bad happens, and then our life falls apart and our faith crumbles. Instead we should begin our day-every day-meditating on God and his truth.
The Word of God not only inspires us to pray, it informs us of what we should be praying about. It is easy to get into a rut in prayer, where all we're praying about is for God to help get us through the stuff of life. But prayer is so much more than that and this is where meditation comes in the picture. It makes the truth of God incarnate in our lives. Having first meditated on the Word, we go into prayer more focused and come away from it more fruitful. Not only are we awakened to God's purpose for our life, but we become a source of nourishment for others as well. Before you know it, day-by-day our focus moves away from our self, and instead we begin to focus on how to bring the message of the gospel to the world, how to bring hope to a troubled planet, and how to give a glass of water to someone who has none. This is the goal of our meditation and of our prayer, and of everything we ought to do as Christians. Our prayers shouldn't become drudgery or mechanical. Prayer should be joy, nourishment, and a source of guidance in our life, but this can only happen if it is preceded by quality time of quiet, uninterrupted devotion and meditation on the Word of God. Paul told Timothy in his second letter to him that "all Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17 HCSB).
The Joy of Meditation
Meditation produces a change in our lives through obedience and godliness. But this change is brought about not because of something we have to do but rather because of what we want to do. And ultimately, this is what meditation does. It leads us to want to be with God: "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple" (Psalm 27:4 NIV). But don't take someone else's word for it because in the end, meditation requires that you actually meditate. It is something you need to experience, not just read about, because the fruits of meditation are discovered through the daily reality of communion with God. What is certain though, is that once you have experienced it you will not be able to go through your day without it.
John Kapsalis has an M.T.S from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.