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Is meditation a Christian practice?

Wed, Sep. 27, 2017 Posted: 06:47 AM

There are countless ways to connect with God, but as Christians, we tend to emphasize traditional forms of prayer, reflection on scripture, and practices like walking the labyrinth. One activity we rarely talk about, though, is meditation. Is meditation a Christian practice? Or do its roots in Eastern religion exclude it as a tool of spiritual development? For some Christians, this is a significant point of contention as practices like meditation and yoga come into broad cultural acceptance.

Though some will always object to meditation for reasons of origin, there are plenty of ways to bend the practice to Christian purposes, as well as countless examples of how meditation has been used by devout Christians for centuries. When aligned with the power of Christ’s Word and sacrifice, meditation can be as powerful as attending church weekly or going on a pilgrimage.

Meditation or contemplation?

To understand where meditation fits within the broader world of Christian worship, it’s helpful to hold meditation up alongside contemplation.

Contemplation is widely associated with various Christian religious orders, particularly monastic traditions. Monks and nuns spend a significant amount of their lives engaged in silent reflection on God and the Word. But does sitting in silence automatically make contemplation into meditation?

For Warren Smith, the answer is a resounding “no.” Smith views meditation as a New Age incursion into Christianity, a sign that the Antichrist is nearing. He calls meditation a perversion of Christianity and argues that such practices make us vulnerable to the supernatural disguised as Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, you have Christian leaders like Benedictine monk John Main who opened himself to the peace and calm of one Swami Satyananda, a Hindu monk. Main also admired the good works Satyananda and, seeing the holiness of the man, despite their religious differences, chose to study meditation with him.

In return for Main’s willingness to study with him, despite his being Hindu, Satyananda talked to Main about how he must meditate as a Christian using a Christian mantra. It was only upon returning to his monastery that Main realized he was, in fact, following in the footsteps of the Christian Desert Fathers, 4th century holy men in his own tradition. The practice of meditation had brought him full circle.

Closing the circle

By keeping the Desert Fathers in mind, we can be clear-eyed and loyal to Christ in our practice of meditation. For example, most of today’s silent retreats focus on centering, joy, and resilience, not on any particular spiritual tradition. The emphasis is on pursuing your inner truth – or your faith tradition’s truth – freeing Christians from the concern that this is some sort of conversion to Hindu or Buddhist belief.

To enhance the experience of meditation as Christian practice, many recommend taking an approach similar to what Main used, meditating on a specifically Christian mantra. This might mean focusing on the name of God or choosing a line of scripture to repeat as you center yourself. Just as reading the Bible can help you come to a deeper understanding of God’s Word, you may also find that repeating a single line of the Gospels or a Psalm bring you into closer communion with God.

Another way to approach meditation from a specifically Christian perspective is by taking your cues from someone like Saint Teresa of Avila. St. Teresa practiced a form of contemplative prayer that she called recollection that aimed to restrict one’s attention to focus on God’s love. St. Teresa commonly relied on textual or visual inspiration, as well, to guide her meditations and maintain her focus.

Certainly, meditation can open doors to the sacrilegious and lead us to stray from God’s path, but in no way is that the starting place of such a reflective practice. As Swami Satyananda said, as a Christian you must meditate as a Christian. Meditation in not a religiously affiliated form of reflection, but rather is a form of full body prayer. There is no reason for Christians to avoid it as a means to closer relationship with God. Quiet your mind and open your heart.

Boris Dzhingarov