You can hardly read any article on stress reduction without finding encouragement to practice meditation. And the recommendations do not include Jesus or the Bible, you can be sure! However, there are Christian communities where Christ-centered meditation is taught and practiced. And yet there are other Christian communities which frown on anything which sounds like or is called meditation.
I will not attempt to write a comprehensive treatise on meditation or Christian meditation and how meditation can help with stress reduction or in spiritual formation, but I am going to touch on these points very briefly and let you decide if you want to go further into this topic.
You may be surprised to know that just quiet meditation alone, not centered on Christ or God in any way, can have very large benefits to us both mentally and physically. It is a practice we seemed to be created to have to do . . . so much so that we all meditate every day without probably being aware of it. When we sleep, our sympathetic nervous system rests while our parasympathetic nervous system is more active—just like what happens when we are in meditation.
In our society today, life comes at us so fast and is so intense that our sympathetic nervous system is usually always active, unless we are sleeping. This in one reason we seem to exist in a state of flight or flight. In this condition, our adrenal glands are over active and our body system is taxed. In order to balance the impact of the fight or flight condition, we need time in the rest and rebuild condition. That is what happens when you sit in a relaxed position and breathe deeply, focusing on quieting the mind chatter and endlessly running through the lists of things to do, conversations to have and worries or concerns.
It is beneficial to our bodies, our organs, our minds, to take time when we are awake to let the parasympathetic nervous system come to the fore while we rest the sympathetic nervous system. Studies have shown that our immune system works better and our blood cells are all more effective when we spend time each day in meditation. Practiced in this way, meditation is not a spiritual discipline.
But how can we practice meditation in such a way that it becomes a beneficial spiritual discipline? There are biblical passages where meditation is written about–specifically King David’s psalms about meditating on God’s law. In another psalm, the words, “Be still and know I am God” seems to enjoin that we be still in a more contemplative, meditative attitude to reflect on God’s divinity.
I am very sensitive to the fruits of any particular spiritual discipline and have observed that when I added meditation to my daily practice, the fruits of the Spirit grew in me in a very profound and meaningful way. Rather than being leery or disapproving of practicing meditation, it has become a very meaningful and rewarding aspect of my spiritual development. There have been some substantial shifts in my perceptions of my experience as a child of God–shifts which have drawn me closer and closer to God. I feel more love, more joy, more gratitude, more of the godly fruits maturing within me.
There has also been a real weakening of the grip my ego has on my mind. I am less quick to become defensive, annoyed and irritated by others. I don’t automatically presume that the things others say are said with any kind of negative intention. It is such a freeing place to be. I can really relate to Paul’s sense that “it is for freedom that Christ has set you free.”
So, I would like to share some basic tips on how to start practicing Christian meditation, a form of meditation which leads you to a focus on Jesus, keeping God in the very center of your practice.
- When meditating, allow yourself to be very still, very quiet and very aware. I prefer to meditate without music so I can really be in silent communion with God.
- In that stillness, be attentive and aware of God’s presence within you. Feel your own consciousness merged with God’s awareness, notice a sense of being One with God, as Jesus prayed that we would be. Reconciliation with God has removed any and all barriers of separation, real and imagined.
- Allow yourself to bathe in God’s love, mercy and grace. Feel that love washing over you.
- When your mind begins to “chatter,” come back to a very still, quiet awareness of God’s presence.
- If it helps you to still your mind, focus on a breath prayer: breathe in (Je-) breathe out (-sus) or other two-syllable word, until you reenter the still, quiet awareness.
- Allow yourself to move into a deep experience of abiding peace all around and within you as you realize the truth that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ.
- End your meditation by focusing on gratitude for all that is in your life and let that gratitude carry you back into the “busy” world.
Practicing this meditative exercise daily will help you internalize God’s character in a way which will form you more fully into Christ’s image.
How has this short explanation changed your perception of meditation meditation?