Monday, May 25, 2015

Contemplate or Meditate?

My article from this week's newspapers answers a question about Meditation:

Q:  Is Meditation something that is compatible with the spiritual life of a Christian, or is it a practice that could pose potential spiritual harm?

The word meditation can be found in many English translations of the Bible, the majority of which are in the Psalms, particularly Psalm 119.  Even though the word is used, its context in the Psalms reflects that this is something dramatically different from what we typically mean when we think of meditation today. 

The practice that the word meditation typically refers to is a spiritual exercise which has its source in Eastern religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism.  These religions have a fundamentally different understanding of the way that the spiritual world functions than Christians do, and this is reflected in their practice of meditation. 

Meditation as performed and taught in these Eastern religions has diverse outward appearances, and may follow a variety of methods, but their goal and the mechanism by which they purport to function reflects an opposite understanding of the direction in which spiritual ills are cured. 

In Biblical thought, the spiritual problem lies within humans, manifested in such things as selfishness, violence, lust, hatred, and other forms of evil; and the solution to spiritual ills is found outside of us in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, the benefits of which are delivered through God’s Word and the Sacraments. 

In Hindu and Buddhist thought, it is proposed that humans are really one with the divine and the realization of this is found by looking inward through such things as meditation.  So, if the Christian realizes that inside of ourselves we find nothing but sin, filth, and evil, it would be counter-productive to try to seek solutions by looking within oneself. 

The meditation described in the psalms also differs dramatically from Eastern forms of meditation in that it is a thought-filled meditation where one consciously contemplates the content of Scripture to better understand it and discern its message, while Eastern forms of meditation encourage the practitioner to empty oneself of thought to achieve the goal of reaching a supposed higher form of consciousness or awareness which is not accessible through ordinary means.  In fact, contemplation would probably be a more accurate translation of the word the Psalms use, rather than meditation. 

This is also understood by Eastern practitioners to occur because this empty-minded state is said to open one up to the spiritual world around them, which openness then provides a form of enlightenment through interaction with the divine.  However, such a proposition assumes that everything spiritual is good.  In contrast, a Biblical understanding of the spiritual world sees that there are harmful elements in the spiritual world which would deceive and lead us away from what is true, and Scripture repeatedly admonishes people to be watchful and on guard against such things—a state which would not be compatible with the state of spiritual vulnerability created by Eastern meditation. 

While Christian might desire some of the auxiliary benefits often attributed to Eastern meditation, such as relaxation, mental focus, or stress relief, the use of a spiritual exercise from a foreign spirituality which contradicts Christianity would not be and advisable avenue by which to achieve them.  Instead, Spiritual practices like prayer and Scriptural contemplation, along with non-spiritual relaxation and stress-relief techniques from the medical sciences are a more appropriate way to achieve these goals without violating their Biblically-informed conscience or compromising spiritual truth. 

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