When I speak of meditation, and, more specifically invite people to join in a practice with which they are unfamiliar, the more traditional and fundamentalist people stiffen with fear. Many of them have been taught that these techniques are “Asian” and “anti-Christian,” techniques that unscrupulous New Age people use to lure them away from their religion. Such misperception makes the rest of us shake our heads. The reality is that for those raised in Western religious traditions, silent prayer might be the more familiar and welcome concept; it's just that many people have had little exposure to more global or inner spiritual pathways we call meditation. But it's there, embedded in the religion they practice, although it involves more than prayer, more than "asking."
Acclaimed spiritual teacher and author Jon Cabot Zinn explains that the traditional narrative of Jesus includes at its core a major element of contemplative practice: "Christ’s 40- days in the wilderness" he says, is exactly what Buddhist meditation is: insulation from the outside world to commune with higher coonsciousness (and, I add, for those who believe in a creator, God). Leading theological professors James D. and Evelyn Whitehead, analyzing the history of church ministry, stress the necessity of this inner life for students by frequently referencing respect for: “the reflective community” and “skills of introspection."
The search for the transcendent – the spiritual -- is what draws people to the center of every religion. In Judaism, however, there exists a strong tension between the spiritual and the Law. Hence the many disagreements on spiritual issues between Reform, Conservative,Orthodox, Chassidic Judaism, the latter two very devoted to spirituality and mysticism. Rabbi Norman Lamm ,however, fuels the fear of Eastern and “New Age” practices (which are really old school), cautioning that too much attention on the spiritual leads people into anarchistic New Age trends. But in his attempt to be cautious, he steers people away from the heart of prayer addressed in sacred Hebrew texts. Many of the Pslams are in fact meditations. Edmund Clowny, in Christian Meditation and the Bible: What the Bible Teaches Us About Meditation and Spiritual Exercise illustrates how the Psalmist repeatedly promises to meditate on God’s ways, offering the following examples:
“I will meditate on thy precepts and have respect unto thy ways” (Ps. 119:15)
He stresses that the man [sic] who meditates in the psalms is one who delights in God, and when the Pslamist speaks of meditating, he uses the Hebrew word for “mutter" – which is an aid to memorization. He points to verses that indicate the Psalmist meditated “all day long” in Psalms 35:28 63:6. As meditation and chanting are often paired, we can see the practice is not limited to Eastern traditions but has roots in ancient Judaic life.
It is often said that praying is talking to God while meditation is listening. In Job we find the directive:
Research changes our perception that meditation is not solely an Eastern concept; actually Christian meditation is based upon the Old Testament model, with one prominent change in form: the chant becomes song. Clowny cites:specific New Testament examples of the iner life of spiritual communication through psalm and song. In Eph. 5:15-21 we are told to be " filled with the Spirit, speaking,..... with psalms, hymns, and songs." This is repeated is Col. 3:16: "Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly ...with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit." He tells us that Christianity without the contemplative dimension is reduced to mere acadmics. Christian John Neafsy, praising our mystical nature,our inner voice, as breaking up the “self serving monologue” of prayer. Viewing prayer and meditation as two distinct but necessary components of communication, we can compare it to conversation. No one wants to talk all day. What do we learn by hearing ourselves talk endlessly? We learn when we stop speaking and listen. The listening is the meditation.
Every tradition, from indigenous tribes to the most orthodox of Jewish branches and Christian denominations recognizes the power and, yes, the necessity of silent spiritual contemplation. In Chronicles, God encourages he Israelites to “seek My face” and pray. David the Psalmist echoes this in Psalm 27, “My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” This searching is done through meditation, the heart center, and the third eye, our center of inner vision. This inner life, the path of meditation, is hardly incompatible with formal Western religion. Conversey, it is rooted deeply within it.
Lisa Shaw is an animal communicator, Reiki Master, spiritual counselor, and professor. She has been doing readings for nearly thirty years, has enjoyed a 30 year college teaching career, and is a spiritual care volunteer/chaplain for Hospice.