Week 19:The Spiritual Discipline of Meditation
Weekly Digital Detox Reflections
Hello lovely readers! Thank you so much for joining me on The Endeavor. This week marks the beginning of a new phase for these weekly reflections. It will still follow the same basic format, but I’ve come up with a plan I think will serve all of us well. Stick around and let me know what you think!
The seeds of digital minimalism have taken root in my family. It’s a beautiful thing to see. The extended weekend was spent almost exclusively offline. The phone stayed in its place, the TV stayed off most of the time and so did the laptops. The best part about it was that it never felt forced. It felt natural. I recognized this progress has even extended to my leisurely habits. For years now on evenings when I have time, I make coffee or grab a beer, turn on some jazz or classical music, then read, write, and pray. This is a lovely way to spend an evening. Yet this weekend, I noticed a change. I no longer grabbed the phone or laptop to play music. I spent the evening reading and praying in silence. It was an even more peaceful and fulfilling experience than usual. It made me thankful for choosing to pursue a life of digital minimalism. Anything we can do to concentrate ourselves on connecting with God is worth doing. This leads directly to where my thoughts have been.
Where My Thoughts Have Been
Last Monday, I was listening to the audiobook “The Benedict Option” by Rod Dreher. At one point in the book, the narrator casually mentioned the monastic monks and their practice of Christian meditation and I paused the book and thought “Oh yeah, Christians are supposed to meditate!”. This “Ah-Ha!” moment was a bit sad because about 10 years ago, I had this same epiphany.
In preparation for joining the leadership team at Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, our campus pastor has us read and discuss every chapter of “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard J. Foster. The book had a profound impact on me. It was the first book I kept knowing I would read it multiple times in the future. Though I had been a Christian most of my life, it was the first time I understood that prayer, fasting, meditation, worship, and other spiritual practices were each distinct disciplines one could practice and become better at. It gave me a framework and plan for becoming closer to God. It helped me to conceptualize and utilize Holy Scripture as the living text it is.
Up until now, I have tried to use these digital detox reflections as examples of what we are more free to think and do as a result of disconnecting from digital technology. Every week I have encouraged others to consider their own digital detox. I will continue to encourage this, but I want to do a better job of adding to what you could be doing, instead of just telling you to stop what you should not be doing. So I took my own advice and made a plan. For the next 12 weeks, using “Celebration of Discipline” as a guide, I will be practicing and reflecting on one spiritual discipline a week. Seeing as this is the first week of the new plan, my reflections on meditation will come in next week’s post while today will be just about the discipline itself.
This plan gives more structure to my thoughts and practices, enables deeper reflections, and allows me to offer you an alternative way to spend your time as you disconnect from digital technology. I also want to show that these spiritual disciplines are extremely practical and not set aside exclusively for saints. This brings us to the first spiritual discipline in the series, the one, as I mentioned earlier, which continues to provide those “Ah-Ha!” moments, the discipline of meditation.
Meditation, like prayer, fasting, and solitude, is an inward discipline as compared to confessions and celebrations which are outward.
What is Christian Meditation? Is it Biblical?
“Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey His word. It’s that simple. I wish I could make it more complicated for those who like things difficult. It involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into cosmic consciousness. The truth of the matter is that the great God of the universe, the Creator of all things desires our fellowship.”
Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline
I’ll be honest, like most Americans, when I hear or read the word meditation, I automatically picture a Buddhist sitting cross-cross applesauce humming away for hours. I wish I weren’t so stereotypical in this regard, but I am. Understanding Christian meditation as “the ability to hear God’s voice and obey His word” and not as some lame, Christianized version of a non-Christian practice, is an important distinction. Firstly, it reveals to us a plethora of references in Holy Scripture to the discipline of Meditation
“And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming.”
Genesis 24:63 KJV, emphasis added
“O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: For they are ever with me.”
Psalm 119:97-98 KJV, emphasis added
1 Samuel 3:1-181, Isiah 6:1-82, 1 Kings 19:9-183, and Matthew 14:134 are more biblical examples of people who were willing to dedicate their time and effort to listen and obey God. Secondly, “the ability to hear God’s voice and obey His word”, allows us to distinguish Christian meditation from its non-Christian counterparts.
As I mentioned earlier, meditation is mainly associated with Buddhism and other Eastern religions. There are indeed some superficial similarities between Christian and more traditionally Eastern forms of meditation. But fundamentally, they are worlds apart. Eastern, non-Christian religions, see meditation as the practice of emptying their minds and detaching from the world. They not only attempt to detach from the world but from themselves. To reach Nirvana they attempt to completely rid themselves of any individual personality or identify and merge with the cosmic mind of the universe. Detachment from the self and the world is the final goal. This is in stark contrast to Christian meditation where the goal is not to detach, but to attach ourselves to God. This distinction is vitally important. As Christians, we understand that humans have been created to worship. We are created to attach ourselves to someone or something. Scripture teaches us repeatedly that if we are not worshipping God, we will find other gods to worship. Whether they be idols, sinful passions, or ourselves, we will always be worshipping. God desires that we worship Him.
Outside of a plain misunderstanding of what Christian meditation is, there are a few other common objections.
Meditation is too difficult or too complicated.
It is out of touch with the reality of the modern world.
It is nothing more than religious psychological manipulation.
The objection to meditation being too complicated, I believe, comes from our tendency to overthink inner disciplines or religious practices we are unfamiliar with. We think to “listen to God’s voice and obey His word” that we must first develop the self-discipline and self-control it takes to be still enough and quiet enough to hear His voice. We think we must be saints before we can truly hear God. This is backward. Practicing the discipline of meditation, training ourselves to be quiet, still and to listen is what we do on our way to becoming saints.
As far as being out of touch with the realities of the modern world goes, my first instinct is to say “Yeah, that’s kinda the point.” The modern world is overrun with screen addictions, condoned lust and gluttony, and adults who are stuck in perpetual adolescence. As Paul Kingsnorth has keenly pointed out on several occasions, all of the seven deadly sins have been turned into virtues and monetized. If Christian meditation is what gets me out of touch with this modern world, I say bring it on! But alas, this is a far too cynical, far too un-Christ-like attitude to keep. I may have my problems with the world, and I may be right about them. But like it or not, we are called to be in the world. Remember, in it, not of it.
Christian Meditation gives us time and space to listen to God. By listening to Him and being faithful in obedience to His word, we become the light of the world. By becoming like Christ, we do not fall out of touch with the realities of the modern world. Instead, we bend the realities of the modern world and conform them to the realities set forth by God.
Meditation Religious, Psychological Manipulation! On the surface this objection makes sense, but a bit of digging helps us realize this is a non-issue. This problem only depends on one’s worldview.
If you feel that we live in a purely physical universe, you will view meditation as a good way to obtain a consistent alpha brain-wave pattern. But if you believe that we live in a universe created by the infinite-personal God who delights in our communion with Him, you will see meditation as communication between the Lover and one beloved.
Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline.
If you’re a materialist, meditation is merely a human experience. It will not be the tool anyone uses to convert someone else to any particular faith. To participate in Christian participation, you would already need to be a believing Christian. Could Jesus reveal himself to some non-Christian in a meditative state? Yes of course He could! He‘s God. He can do anything. But that would fundamentally change that person’s experience of meditation, transforming the practice into something wholly new and different.
Practical Approaches to Meditation
If you’ve made It this far and are still uncomfortable with the word meditation, I have good news for you. You can refer to it as “Contemplative Prayer”. If you are a Christian and you have never participated in Christin meditation or contemplative prayer, there is nothing wrong with you. First, you need to know it’s a real thing. Well, now you do. Good. Next, you have to have the desire to meditate. Pray and ask God to give you the desire to spend time thinking about Him, to listen to His voice, and to obey Him should you hear it. Without the desire to meditate, it will never become a discipline you practice. Should God give you the desire to meditate and contemplate Him, see it as a gift of grace and thank Him for it.
If by now you’re ready to meditate, here are a few forms you can use to get started.
The main form of Christian meditation is the meditation upon Scripture. Many of us who have attended Bible studies and church are accustomed to the study of scripture. But meditating on scripture is not the act of breaking it down and trying to gain as much knowledge or wisdom from it as you can. It is about allowing God’s word to sink into your heart, soul, mind, body, and spirit and having it nourish you. It is about embodying Scripture and living out the living word. It may help you here to realize that the goal is not to read as much scripture as you can in peace. Many church fathers recommend spending weeks on a single text. Pick a particular parable or just a few verses or one sentence, and apply all your senses to it and experience what you’re contemplating. Picture the crowd Jesus is speaking to. Imagine you are receiving the fish and loaves of bread that have been multiplied by Him for you.
It’s important here that we realize it is perfectly acceptable and reasonable for adult Christians to use our God-given imaginations. Our imagination is in as much need of redemption as the rest of us. Why not use it to imagine the good, pure, true, and beautiful scenes laid out for us in scripture? Just a little food for thought.
Another form of contemplative prayer is known as either re-collection or centering down. This is a time for solitude, silence, and focus centered completely on God. For this form of meditation is common to kneel, lay prostrate, or sit in a relaxed pose and pray. This prayer is to be done inwardly and silently. You may start by thanking God, praying about things you need to give up or change, and then ask Christ to give you grace, mercy, love, and whatever else you think you need.
The next form of meditation I would like to recommend is meditation upon creation.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament sheweth his handywork.”
Psalm 19:1 KJV
This is not creation worship. God himself created the earth and the life in it and called it good. If He can take time to look at and appreciate His creation, so can we. Find a spot with a good view of a garden, pick a flower, and really look at it. Find your way to a river or a gently flowing creek, and observe the water as it passes. By taking the time to be still, quiet, and really observe His creation, we can allow God to have a profound impact on us, making us more appreciative of the beauty and wonder He has so graciously provided us with in nature.
The last form of meditation is probably the least appealing form we’ll discuss, but is nonetheless fruitful and necessary from time to time. It is the act of meditating on current events in order to perceive their significance and give direction to our prayers for this world.
We have a spiritual obligation to penetrate the meaning of events, not to gain power, but to gain prophetic perspective."
Richard J. Foster, Celebratoin of Discipline.
It is not necessary for us to closely observe the oppressive 24-hour news cycle. That is unwise and should be avoided. It would be better to periodically, maybe once or twice a week, gather news from a few sources you deem reliable, to take what you’ve heard and seen and give it to God in prayer. Again this is for prayer. Not so you can jump on various forms of social media platforms to fearmonger or start arguments. This is not about your vanity. This is to get informed so you can better pray for your human brothers and sisters around the world. Americans, I’m talking to you here. Be sure to gather U.S. news and news from around the globe. The United States, Ukraine, and Israel are not the only places where news happens. Be better about getting a more global perspective.
Should you decide to remove some digital technology from your routine, you will need or want to add things to make up for the time that was previously spent consuming technology. I hope you now see Christian meditation as something that can be added to your life and that it is as practical as joining a book club or hosting a dinner party. Beginning a spiritual discipline can be intimidating. But when realize Jesus Christ desires to fellowship with you, His mercy and grace break through any barrier of intimidation and bring you into His presence where you will be truly loved.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, we sinners.
Thank you for reading! Do your best to disconnect from the artificial, and connect with others.
And as always,
Keep thy head cool and thine eyes true.
Howard Pyle, Man of Iron
Scripture of the Week
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; And in his law doth he meditate day and night.”
Psalm 1:1-2 KJV
Word of the Week
(verb) Prostrate- to lay oneself flat on the ground face downward, especially in reverence or submission.
Example: It is appropriate to lay prostrate before God as we pray and submit ourselves to His word and will.
Why prostrate? It’s just a good word. Also because it was extremely appropriate.
Music of the Week
If you ever find yourself wanting to hear a mix of contemporary and traditional Irish folk music, The Gloaming is a great group!
Allistrum’s March- The Gloaming
“And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; and ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; that the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I. And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down. And the LORD called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again. Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth. And the LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever. And Samuel lay until the morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel feared to shew Eli the vision. Then Eli called Samuel, and said, Samuel, my son. And he answered, Here am I. And he said, What is the thing that the LORD hath said unto thee? I pray thee hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide any thing from me of all the things that he said unto thee. And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good.”
1 Samuel 3:1-18 KJV
“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”
Isaiah 6:1-8 KJV
“And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And the LORD said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: and Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”
1 Kings 19:9-18 KJV
“When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities.”
Matthew 14:13 KJV