Are you “STILL. HERE.”?
My Dad had a beautiful and gentle spirit. My sister told me about the time she checked in with him while he was having his daily time of stillness and quiet with God, praying and reading Scripture. She asked him what Bible verse he was reading and he told her. The next day she found him at the same place and same time and asked him the same question and he gave her the same answer: it was the same verse. She checked in on him the next day, and he was still reading that very same verse. So she had to ask: “Dad, why haven’t you moved on to another verse yet?” My Dad responded, “I don’t think God is finished talking to me through this one.” My Dad knew how to be “STILL. HERE.”
Welcome to the first of three posts on the spiritual practice of Christian meditation.
For many Christians, we feast on Scripture, devour books, pig out on podcasts, and consume blog posts under the banner of “more is better.” It’s all about volume, volume, volume. While there is a time and place for the breadth of our spiritual study, our generation is most in danger of neglecting the depth of our spiritual connection with Christ.
You’ve heard of the “slow food” movement. At The Meeting House we’ve been experimenting with a slow soul food movement of our own: a pace of presentation in our Sunday service that is more gentle and meditative, allowing us the time and space to mentally and emotionally “chew” on the truth of the teaching of Jesus. This is nothing new – Christians have been mediating on the truths of Scripture for centuries. But for many Christians today, meditation is a completely new practice. I find this first of all exciting, because it means that many of us are on the verge of a revolutionary shift in our spiritual life.
This “STILL HERE” meditation practice isn’t just about a different way of structuring Sunday sermons, but a challenge to adopt a new (for some) spiritual practice and to practice that practice daily for three weeks minimum, and three months preferably. (Do you hear that Meeting Housers? Don’t give up!)
But why is meditation so new for so many Christians? I think Christians sometimes make the mistake of assuming meditation is the spiritual practice of other religions, like Hinduism or Buddhism, and therefore must not be a very Christian thing to do. And that is silly. This “guilty-by-association” approach to figuring out what is acceptable in life is the way of the Pharisees, not the way of Jesus. (I’m just glad we haven’t abandoned prayer because Muslims do that, or given up on Scripture study, because our Jehovah’s Witness friends do that, or stopped memorizing Scripture because we know some atheist friends who have memorized parts of Shakespeare. You get my point.)
It’s time to boldly do and be all that Jesus calls us to do and be, including being disciples who “abide” in his teachings and make room for his teachings to “abide” in us. Jesus said that his disciples are called to “remain” in him where the Greek word, meno, means to dwell, to abide, to stay, to move in and do life together with Jesus. In the same passage (John 15) Jesus also says that he wants to “remain” in us, and then tells us one way to welcome him inside – by allowing his “words” to dwell in us.
Meditate? It’s time.
Elsewhere Jesus says –
If you abide (Gk, meno) in my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
~ Jesus (John 8:31-32)
Most of us know the last bit about the truth setting us free, but we haven’t learned to spend time abiding in the truth that brings freedom – the teachings of Jesus.
The ancient Israelites knew the importance of “abiding” in the teachings of the Torah. After Moses died, God commanded Joshua –
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.
~ Yahweh (Joshua 1:8)
King David agreed that a key to true prosperity was meditating on God’s teaching. In his very first Psalm, David writes –
Blessed is the one… whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.
~ King David (Psalm 1:1-3; also see Psalm 48:9; and all of Psalm 119)
The Hebrew word for “meditate” is hagah, which means to mutter, murmur, and muse over something. The image is one of a cow chewing her cud. Have you ever noticed that when you see a cow she always seems to be chewing something? That’s because cows must chew their food twice in order to digest it properly. A cow eats a lot of grass in a day (volume, volume, volume), but then regurgitates smaller portions (called cud) and re-chews them before swallowing the cud into a different part of the stomach. What a beautiful image of the place of meditation in our spiritual diet. (Okay, okay. I know “beautiful” is not the best word to describe the image of a cow regurgitating its food for a second go around, but it felt like the right word at the time.)
There are many types of meditation, and most of them can be quite helpful for our mental and emotional well-being. You can easily do some of your own online research, and what you’ll find is that things like anxiety, stress, irritability, anger, and aggression are decreased, while things like awareness (of God? of others?), empathy, compassion, self-control, and ability to focus are all increased.
While there are many kinds of helpful meditation, all types can fall into one of two basic categories:
- APOPHATIC MEDITATION – letting go of content, releasing, emptying, un-thinking.
- KATAPHATIC MEDITATION – Focused thinking, deep contemplation on specific content.
Apophatic meditation is a fine form of meditating and a lot of mental and physical good can come from that, but it isn’t what we’re talking about here. Our “STILL HERE” meditation is kataphatic meditation: a focused meditation, where we chew over and over again on one aspect of something God seems to be saying to us through a reading in Scripture.
When I was little I learned to be afraid of meditation because, as I was told, it was a way of emptying our minds which would leave us vulnerable to demonic attack or even possession. I’m not kidding! I bought it for a while, before I realized that Christians who meditate aren’t kicking out the Holy Spirit, but making space to experience more of God’s presence. And especially through kataphatic mediation, God has given us a tool to help us absorb more of his Word, to focus our hearing on what the Spirit might be saying to us, and to abide in the teachings of Jesus in a deeper and richer way. (Take THAT Devil!)
Last thing: remember that meditation isn’t about the experience of meditation itself. It isn’t a matter of how and who we are emotionally or psychologically throughout the meditative experience. Meditation is about who we are becoming when we are not meditating and are engaging with people around us. A Christian who meditates is a Christian who is learning how to be more focused on and responsive to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through the teaching of Jesus. And that is someone who will live and love more like Jesus in their daily interactions with others. Meditation for the win!
In our next post we’ll cover the basics of how to start a regular “STILL HERE” meditation practice. But for now, you can at least warm up your meditation muscles by reading a teaching of Jesus more slowly, inviting the Holy Spirit to highlight his truth to your heart.
Christian education is valuable. The process of study and inquiry is like typing important information into your brain. Meditation is like hitting the “ENTER” key.