The Discipline of Meditation

Anyone who imagines he can simply begin meditation without praying for the desire
and the grace to do so, will soon give up

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

The first Spiritual discipline that we are going to look at is the discipline of meditation/contemplation The American Heritage Dictionary defines meditate as “to reflect upon; to ponder; to plan or intend.” It defines contemplate as “to ponder or consider thoroughly; to regard as possible; to take seriously.” Richard Foster simplifies meditation by defining it as “the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word” (Celebration of Discipline, 17). However, for many Christians today, meditation carries negative connotations because it has come to be associated more with New Age religion and Eastern mysticism than with Christianity. So I would like to quote a few exerts from various religious leaders to clarify the true meaning of Christian meditation and contemplation.. The first is Joyce Huggett, an internationally known writer, speaker on the subject of listening, language, and learning:

Meditation is another word . . . people often use about prayer. But Christian meditation must not be confused with yoga, Eastern meditation or transcendental meditation. . .Christian meditation has nothing to do with emptying our minds. . . [it] engages every part of us—our mind, our emotions, our imagination, our creativity, and supremely, our will. . . Psalm 119:15 “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways” Psalm 119:48 “I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees.” The word [for meditate used here] means ‘to muse,’ ‘to ponder,’ ‘to reflect,’ ‘to consider.’ In other words, Christian meditation involves, not emptiness, but fullness. It means being attentive to God. The purpose of this attentiveness this reflecting and pondering is, among other things, to see ourselves in light of God’s revealed word (Huggett out of Foster, Spiritual Classics, 10-11).
As Joyce Huggett points out, Christian meditation is not to be confused with the modern concept of new age meditation or yoga. Rather than using meditation to empty ourselves, Christian meditation is used to fill us up with the presence and person of God. It is a way to simply “hear God’s voice”.

Similarly, I have discovered that meditation and contemplation are often used in conjunction with one another. A few authors have listed contemplation or contemplative prayer (as it is often referred) as a separate discipline, yet I believe that it fits well here.

Like meditation, contemplation involves putting ourselves into the hands of God so that He can change and transform our attitudes , perceptions, and behavior. Like meditation, contemplation involves listening intently to the Word of God. And like meditation, contemplation requires stillness in order that we may open ourselves to God and his penetration, powerful Word. But meditation and contemplation are also marked by certain differences so they should not be confused with each other. . .Contemplation is about growing in love. . . Contemplation goes further and deeper than meditation. While a person meditating [ponders] on God’s word, the contemplative pays silent attention to Jesus, the living Word—the one who is central to their prayers. Indeed, contemplation goes one step further. Contemplation goes beyond words and symbols and concepts to the reality words and concepts describe . . .” (Huggett out of Foster, Spiritual Classics, 13).

Contemplations main goal is to experience Christ in a way that rekindles our love for Him. It is more than devoting time to meditation on scripture or to prayer. It is to become a way of life.

When beginning any new discipline, we must realize that it cannot be learned through reading a book or an article. One can only learn to meditate by meditating; to pray by praying, etc. However, the following suggestions are intended to assist us in implementing this new discipline into our lives:

1. We need to set aside an uninterrupted time for meditation each day.
2. It would be wise to set aside a certain place everyday.

Specifically, find a place that is quiet and free from interruption. No telephone should be nearby. If it is possible to find some place that looks out onto a lovely landscape, so much the better. It is best to have one designated place rather than hunting for a different spot each day (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 28).

3. We must prepare our hearts before we ever enter our place of meditation or prayer. A mind that is distracted by the external affairs or worldly troubles is hardly prepared for meditation. So we must calm our minds and hearts. Joyce Huggett refers to this process as being still. John Ortberg refers to this as “centering one’s mind.” Richard Foster refers to this step as “Posture.” Regardless of terminology, it must be done. “We can do this while we [are working] or driving home from work because it is an attitude of mind and heart rather than an activity” (Huggett out of Foster, Spiritual Classics, 13).

In one sense posture makes no difference at all; you can pray anywhere, any time, and in any position. In another sense, however, posture is of utmost importance. The body, the mind, and the spirit are inseparable. . .outward posture reflects the inward state, it can also help to nurture the inner attitude of prayer. . . Regardless of how it is done, the aim is to center the attention of the body, the emotions, the mind, and the spirit upon ‘the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6). (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 28).

4. What do I use to meditate on? Anything can be meditated on. However, if God is whom you seek, His word is what should be used. “The meditation upon Scripture, is the central reference point by which all other forms of meditation are kept in proper perspective . . . The meditation of Scripture centers on internalizing and personalizing the passage. The written Word becomes a living word addressed to you. This is not a time for technical studies, or analysis, or even the gathering of material to share with others (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 29).

5. Finally, once we have prepared ourselves and are ready to begin, we should do what?

When we become still, if we read a passage of Scripture which we have previously studied or some verses which refer to something which is troubling us, we may well find that a verse or a phrase or a sentence . . . will draw us to itself. If it does, there is no need to read on. Instead, we should stop to reflect and to treasure the words to turn them over and over in our minds, repeating them until the truth which they contain trickles from our head into our hearts” (Huggett in Foster, Spiritual Classics, 12).

Meditation is to ponder and reflect on the Word of God. Contemplation is to take these thoughts and treasure them in the depths of our hearts. Thomas Merton has said that contemplation brings us into such an intimate relationship with God that those who do not practice it will not experience such a relationship “until they enter heaven.”

Meditation, contemplation and the blessings it brings are available to anyone.

[Yet] the fact remains that contemplation will not be given to those who willfully remain at a distance from God, who confine their interior life to a few routine exercises of piety and a few external acts of worship and service performed as a matter of duty. Such people are careful to avoid sin. They respect God as Master. But their hearts do not belong to Him. They are not really interested in Him, except in order to insure themselves against losing heaven and going to hell. In actual practice, their minds and hearts are taken up with their own ambitions and troubles and comforts and pleasure and all their worldly interests and anxieties and fears. God is only invited to enter this charmed circle to smooth out difficulties and to dispense rewards (Merton in Foster, Spiritual Classics, 19).