The Bible speaks a lot about meditation. But many Western Christians know little about this important discipline. Psalm 1 says that the blessed man, who doesn’t do things that wicked people do, replaces those activities with meditation upon God’s law, resulting in delight.
Part, but only a small part I believe, of the reason this discipline gets scant attention and even less practice is our fear of falling into other kinds of meditations, Eastern varieties, that seem strange or even dangerous. We are wise to shun such practices, which differ dramatically from the Biblical variety. Knowing the differences between harmful meditation and the kind the Psalmist endorses can free us up to explore and benefit from this life-changing, time-tested, delight-inducing gift from God.
One way to think of the contrast is to see the different goals of meditations. Some forms of meditation seek to empty the practitioner of thoughtfulness. The goal is to find a place of nothingness or stillness, which can only come from the ceasing of thought. This is why some meditators repeat, either audibly or silently, a mantra or word-like sound. They try to find one that is not be a real word. Some search diligently to find just the right sound that cannot be similar to any word in any language. The goal is to get away from the bondage of words. The process is one of emptying.
A second approach comes more from Western, non-religious thinkers that assume all the wisdom we need can be found within. Thus, a time of stillness or meditation is not for the purpose of emptying oneself but of exploring within. By shutting out the noise of this chaotic world, we can dig down and hear that still small voice – our still small voice – and find all the answers we need in our own brains.
Biblical wisdom would reject both of these kinds of flawed meditations. The scriptures teach that we need more radical transformation than mere emptying. God’s word tells us the answers we need cannot be found within, unless there has been a rebirth and regeneration. Otherwise we’re only going to find darkness, despair, wickedness, and deceitfulness. (See Jeremiah 17:9 if you think I’m overstating things).
So Biblical meditation seeks not to empty nor to explore but to infuse. Similar to the way a teabag that totally transforms the water in which it steeps, when we meditate on scripture, we allow the truth, beauty, power, correction, and insight of God’s word to change us. We steep in words that are not our words and allow them to infuse us.
How do we do this? I’ll share some suggestions in the next blog.