May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14 NIV).
Recently I had the privilege of sharing one-on-one meditation exercises with seminarians in India. A couple of them were spiritually energized by the exercise. They had been kept from the practice, which critics viewed as New Age, non-Christian and psychologically manipulative.
One student told of a Christian friend who was converting to Hinduism so he could relish the meditative aspect of that tradition.
Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster’s groundbreaking book, has been a prophetic voice to the church—countering misconceptions and mistruths about spiritual disciplines and unearthing long-forgotten established practices such as meditation that were once part of daily Christian living.
Meditation is a potent antidote to our world of noise, hurry and crowds. While misunderstood, and prone to legalism and “works” salvation, meditation is a valid soul-training exercise that helps to form us into the image of Jesus Christ.
To envision what it’s like, picture a cow chewing on its cud in an open field. Meditating is taking your time, listening and being present.
I would not order an expensive steak and swallow it in two mouthfuls. The expense alone warrants taking the time to savour each bite, chewing slowly to release the flavour and goodness and allowing time for my system to digest it.
This is also a depiction of meditation. We sometimes treat our devotional time like junk food, fries and a burger—grabbed and swallowed on the run.
Meditation is countercultural, counter-utilitarian and counter-church. It flies in the face of our increasingly “urgent lives” driven by our “time-saving” communication devices.
As the season of Lent teaches us, there is a benefit in denying ourselves and making time for soul exercises. To perform these exercises, we need to let go of certain things so that we can receive what God wants to give us. If our hands are full and our schedules jam-packed, it will be impossible to receive anything else.
Richard Foster shares two simple exercises for someone beginning the practice of meditation:
1. Palms down, palms up. Begin by placing palms down, symbolic of your desire to turn over your concerns to God. Then pray, “I release my anxiety over the exam I will write this afternoon” or another concern you want to give to God. After moments of surrender, turn your palms up, saying to the Lord, “I receive your peace about the exam.” Then sit in silence without any agenda. Just enjoy being with God. This practice may feel strange at first, but over time you will see the effects of quiet soul-time with God.
2. Focused breathing. Sit up comfortably in a chair and pay attention to your breathing. Slowly inhale, hold and exhale. You will become aware of tension in your body. Exhale your concerns. Inhale the light and love of God who indwells you. If your attention wanders—and it will—take those thoughts and park them, don’t fight them, and return to your breathing.
Psalm 1:3 compares someone who is blessed to a fruitful, prosperous tree. This person’s secret? “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2 ESV).
As you make time to be with God, you create the “good soil,” which God can use to grow his fruit through the Spirit.
1) Choose a time and place where you can be still and meditate (e.g. a favourite chair or familiar walking path).
2) Begin with one of the two exercises: palms down, palms up or focused breathing.
3) Read a psalm, passage of Scripture or an extract such as “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Repeat it and let it flow through you. Take time to “chew on the words,” savouring the thoughts.
4) Jot down in a journal what took place, even if your thoughts seem insignificant. Review this daily or weekly.
5) If possible, share your insights with a friend or mentor.
6) Thank God for his goodness and presence.
Major David Ivany is a certified spiritual director who serves with the pastoral services team at Canada and Bermuda’s territorial headquarters. He and his wife are the corps officers at Regent Park’s Corps 614 in Toronto.