A couple of months ago a friend introduced me to a meditation app on my phone called, “Calm.” It has hundreds of meditation lessons and some bedtime stories for adults (G rated) that can help you fall asleep. The app has exercises for stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness – and more breathing exercises than you can possibly imagine. Most people think of apps like “Calm” or books from the self-help section of a bookstore when it comes to meditation. Meditation as presented in those resources promises that with practice you can calm your anxiety, lower your blood pressure or even elevate your mood.
The meditation written about in the Bible and performed by Christians for centuries is simpler than most of the practices you will encounter on-line or in a bookstore. Richard J. Foster writes that “Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey [God’s] word” (Celebration of Discipline, 15). When we meditate we create space in our lives and hearts, so that Christ can enter, and God can speak. The skill of Christian meditation, and the ability to connect with God through it, improves with time and practice.
Meditation can be as simple as finding a place to sit (or stand) that is quiet, and then listening purposely to what God is saying to you. Christian meditation can also involve nature, taking time to look carefully at a tree, listening to birds singing or watching a squirrel as it digs in the earth. The goal is seeking God’s voice and stilling our own thoughts long enough to be open to “the still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) that speaks through our personal whirlwinds. Meditation can also involve scripture, a practice called “meditatio Scripturarum” in which the reader reads a word, verse, or a passage and then waits to hear what God is saying to them through God’s word. This type of meditation can also involve imagination, not to make up meanings or interpretations, but to think about what it would be like to be present in the story. The idea is to think about what it would be like to be in the upper room with Christ during the last supper – the sounds that would have been heard, the food that would have been eaten, and the tension that built up in the room when Jesus named Judas as His betrayer.
Regardless of the form of meditation we choose, the practice of meditation can bring us closer to the heart of God. It allows us to slow down and re-order our lives. It reminds us that God’s presence surrounds us and uplifts us. Through it, God will give us insight into both the mundane and the divine. God will show us how to love our friends, and what it means to step into God’s presence. And it is a practice. When we first start out we might need to set aside time to meditate, to find a specific chair or room to sit in. But as we practice it will get easier to hear God’s voice. And as St. Teresa of Avila wrote during her years-long quest to enter God’s presence more fully through prayer and meditation, “God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.”
Exercise for today:
Meditate on Luke 8:22-25
Choose a place to sit and read that is quiet, and where you will not get interrupted. Pray before you get started and ask God to open your heart and mind to the Spirit’s leading as you read. Then find the passage in your Bible. The passage tells the story about Jesus and the disciples being caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.
Before you begin to read the passage, take a few deep breaths and allow your mind and heart to settle. Then take a minute to think about the context of the story: Jesus had been teaching the crowds and healing people along the edge of the sea of Galilee, the disciples had been with Him. At the beginning of Luke 8:22-25 Jesus and the disciples left the crowds behind them and stepped into a boat which would take them across the Sea of Galilee. See if you can picture the crowds and shoreline, and then begin to read. Read slowly, picturing the boat, the disciples and the storm as it begins to rise. When you have finished reading, spend a few moments (or minutes) in silence listening, and then end in prayer to God. Talk to God about what you felt, what you are wondering about, and what you learned – about God and about yourself.