A brief theological foundation:
Humans are made in the image of God who is Trinity – Father*, Son and Holy Spirit, eternally one in love and relationship. Humans are therefore made for relationship and love, not only with each other but supremely with God. Many come to realise that this is the deepest desire within them. It is through meditative prayer that a human finds the grace to peal off the onion layers of false self with its superficial desires, and find the deepest yearnings of the heart which God longs to satisfy. It is God who reveals himself* and initiates the relationship of love with humans, supremely demonstrated by the Father sending his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world as a fully human person thus enabling us to relate to God through him, in the Holy Spirit.
(* God is not male, but beyond gender since both males and females are made in his image. The terms Father and Son primarily reveal the vital relational aspect of God. The male personal pronoun is used throughout this publication for reasons of convention – unfortunately English lacks a personal non-gender pronoun available in some languages).
The meaning of the word ‘meditation’ like many terms, varies depending on context. It is sometimes defined in Christian literature as prayerful reflection on the scriptures but something different to contemplation. For some, the term connotes eastern religious practices of prayer. For the purposes of this introduction, the term includes both the concept of contemplation and prayerful reflection. The emphasis is on silence and solitude which helps still our ego driven minds. This facilitates listening more attentively to God and entering into more intimate communion and loving relationship with him.
Some background information
Many places in the Old and New Testaments, especially the Psalms, indicate that meditation of the sort referred to here, is part of the Christian heritage and certainly has been explicit and emphasised in the church through religious movements as far back as the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th Century AD.
Unfortunately in recent centuries, the Church, especially Western Protestantism, has largely ignored this vital aspect of prayer. A reason for this may be the concentration on ‘left brain’ (logical thinking, intellectual, narrowly focused, result oriented) learning which formal education and many churches have adopted. Recent scientific investigation of the brain and its thought processes has revealed the role of the ‘right brain’ (creative, imaginative, intuitive, feeling, lateral thinking) as being essential in solving complex problems and maintaining balanced psychological health and social relationships. Both modes of thinking are essential not only in day to day functioning but for a healthy spirituality. It is worth noting that Jesus reiterated the Old Testament command that we should love God with all our mind – not just the left side and much of his teaching such as the parables appealed to right brain thinking.
Christian and Eastern Meditation
The approach of eastern religions is to empty the mind through certain physical and mental techniques such as relaxation exercises, images and chanting in order to seek a state of nothingness, an ‘absorption’ into the cosmos or ‘Nirvana’. Such a goal makes the meditator vulnerable to malevolent spiritual influences which can fill the void.
Christian meditation may use some similar ‘techniques’ such as relaxation, music, focus on a word, image, story or symbol to help disengage from temporal concerns and be available for God. But the purpose is not to achieve a void, but communion with the living God. Thus the Christian meditator seeks ‘the still small voice of God’ (1Kings 19:12), which is the way God usually seems to speak to us subjectively. It is for this reason the Psalmist exhorts us, ‘Be still and know (not just intellectually but experientially) that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10) and ‘My soul, wait (be silent, cease, be still) only upon God.’ (Psalm 61:5)
It is in this context that the meditator can use the ‘left brain’ outside any ‘experience’ to humbly reflect on it in the light of Scripture especially, but also in the light of the writings of other Christians who have practiced meditation down through the centuries. A spiritual director is of great benefit in assisting such a person discern and interpret the spirit of the experience. Without these helps and guidance, there is a danger of misguided mysticism that convinces itself that the voice of the subtle false ego and exalted feeling is really the voice of God.
Some helps to meditation