Meditating on Meditation's Meanings

Just as there are many styles of music, and many types of fashion, etc., there are also many ways to meditate.

Recently I’ve been doing a good deal of research on the topic of meditation from a Christian perspective, and one of the things I’ve run into right off the bat is the limitations of language.

It seems like a lot of people’s concept of meditation is sort of a stereotype: a peaceful person sitting in a lotus position on a mat in a beautiful bamboo forest overlooking tranquil waters, contemplating minute tremors in the body as one takes in a deep breath. But that’s just a superficial impression of one particular practice within one particular tradition of meditation.

Just as there are many styles of music, and many types of fashion, etc., there are also many ways to meditate. My project has been to discover some of the unique traits of meditation that we Christians can claim as our own, so to speak.

An interesting point that’s come to mind as I study this topic is that meditation is all about trying to get outside of (or underneath) your internal thought processes, trying to dial down the “internal noise” and self-talk. This is a concept often at odds with our contemporary desire to understand things in a very brainy, intellectual/conceptual manner, a problem that usually tends to infect popular Bible study practices.

One of the other issues I’ve run into is that prayer is another word that carries a lot of baggage. In many people’s minds, prayer = talking to God. More specifically, we imagine it as a practice involving raising up or clasping your hands and making erudite petitions of the Almighty all the while demonstrating deep theological know-how and impressive vocabulary. Here’s my question: is it possible to pray in silence? Commune with God without really saying anything? Does that even make sense? Of course it does, but it might require you to alter your definition of prayer.

A famous quote attributed to St. Francis goes something like this: Preach the Gospel often, and, if necessary, use words.

If you would permit me the liberty, I’d like to riff off of the man of peace and say this: Pray to God often, and, if necessary, use words.

What does meditation mean to you? Have you wrestled with these questions before? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Jared White