When I first started thinking about meditation, like many Christians brought up in a Western, fairly traditional church, my immediate thought was of some type of weird new age tool that required me to position my already inflexible limbs in unnatural ways on the floor and try my best to not fall asleep.
Or, I would reference David in the Bible and how he would meditate on G*d’s word, which added boredom to the mix of uncomfortableness and drowsiness.
But mention the word to many Christians and they will stiffen up and warn their friends about you and how you’re heading straight to hell.
In fact, when I used to lead small groups for a living that focused among many things, using meditation, most of the people in the group would revert to this idea about meditating on G*d’s word. And while that may be a useful spiritual discipline that is quite different than what I mean when I talk about meditation here.
Meditation can take on many forms and while it is not always easy, it is relatively simple. If you’re new to meditation there are plenty of great places to start. Apps like Headspace, Calm and groups such as The Liturgists have all been easy, simple resources that I’ve used to learn how to meditate and become centered.
It’s so important that it’s become probably the most important Spiritual tool that I use, even, and I’m ever so slight nervous to say it, reading the Bible. And when the Bible does become a part of my regular spiritual practice, I utilise meditation as part of Lectio Divina. (More on that later).
But there is a problem with meditation. One that doesn’t sit well with our Western Christian minds that desire certainty, a clear understanding of the world and definiteness.
The problem is that meditation allows us to be creative. Now of course there are many examples of creativity to be found in Christianity. The problem is when creativity allows us to actually be creative and come up with new ways of thinking and seeing the world. For many Christians, meditation causes fear because we’re worried that it will give permission for people to run rampant and allow some big scary dark spiritual stuff in.
This is a common misconception and fear for many Christians and if you were to mention meditation to an average sample of Christians this would probably be the number one opposition to it. But as a mentor of mine remarked when this exact concern was brought up by Christian porn addicts when meditation was encouraged as one tool to help, if you’re addicted to porn, the demons are already in.
It also represents another major problem that Christianity has at times. Namely, the fear of things we do not know. I guess if truth be told, many of us could also include G*d in this?
But like any fear of the unknown, one simple way to unlearn fear is to experience it and finally see that what we think is a huge frightening monster lurking in the corner is as we move slightly closer, something familiar to what we already know, namely a jacket or shirt hanging over the door.
For some of us, we are somewhat forced into exploring new methods of delving deeper into our spirituality when we become so familiar with the traditional methods that they don’t seem to work any more.
While I grew up in Church and understood the importance of dutifully reading my Bible and praying everyday, after a while it lost it’s power. Of course this is not a unique experience to me but while some may hunker down and push through, I never wanted to do that. It didn’t feel genuine. It felt like I was supposed to push down any doubts or questions or even just good old fashioned boredom and get on with it.
But my belief that there had to be more to things such as the Bible and prayer, led me to investigate other avenues in which my faith could thrive. This led me to teachers and ideas, within and even outside a Christian context that looked to think outside the box when it came to Christian faith. It also made me realise I wasn’t alone and the intuitions I felt inside me were maybe not so dangerous and certainly more common than I thought.
Of course, anytime you go down a new road there will be others walking in the general same direction who will be afraid you are going to get lost. This makes sense when you think that we all naturally like to have control and when that is taken away we are left vulnerable. This notion has been deeply encouraging to me in those times, when my old traditional way of thinking about Faith tries to keep me in check. I realised that when others try to caution us about things that they maybe don’t fully understand, it’s not because the new road you’re on is wrong or heading for disaster but because it highlights our need for control and therefore others’ (and even our own) lack of it.
Those who warn you that the books you’re reading or the particular teachers that have guided you are dangerous do more so out of a place of their own fear of not being in control. It may come out of a genuine place of caring but ultimately is not something that those who are discovering different paths need to be afraid of.
Another place where I’ve encountered resistance has been the idea of ‘Lectio Divina’. This is essentially an ancient Benedictine practice for reading the Bible, where an individual or group, read a passage of the Bible, slowly and deliberately allowing the Holy Spirit to bring to the awareness, particular words and phrases. Then praying for what those have to say to us right now.
Again, the number one resistance to such tools boils down to control. With Lectio Divina there is a fear that the reader or community will come up with crazy interpretations that are so far removed from the actual meaning. But the purpose of tools like Lectio Divina is not to come to a concrete exegetical interpretation of what the Bible means but to allow it to become a living breathing sacred part of our lives.
But if we were to dig a little deeper than even the idea of control, our concern over new ideas and ways of doing things (which as it happens often always end up being long abandoned tools by Western Christianity) is actually about our deep fear of G*d.
When the fear of G*d is talked about in the Bible most of us were taught that this means that we need to be weary and afraid that unless we behave or believe correctly, G*d will punish us. So we conform and then become terrified when some in our community begin to question certain ideas that we’ve created out of this need for control. Our fear comes from an idea of G*d which is increasingly harmful to us, rather than healing and life giving.
It also doesn’t look good for our version of G*d, if certain practices become a real threat to his place in our lives and can so easily be knocked out of place.
Does our fear of things such as meditation, Yoga and even different interpretations of the Bible signal a much larger problem? That being a small view of G*d?
But giving up this need for control of who G*d is, has in my experience been the most freeing aspect of my Faith in Christianity. Like good musicians, it can be incredibly helpful to learn the rules of how music works, only to let go of them and discover that there is amazing creativity when we let go of control.
But ultimately, our fear of alternative Faith paradigms comes down to our small view of G*d. Whether it is our fear of meditation or ‘demon’ inducing Yoga or how we read the Bible, we’re really afraid that G*d is not in control; that he is in fact small.
So we revert to placing things like the Bible, church and even certain understandings of Jesus as idols. Rather than allowing ourselves and others the freedom to explore and mess up and try new spiritual disciplines and read ideas outside our comfort zone and not be afraid of doubt and unbelief and stillness.
Because when any of these things become more powerful than G*d, then G*d is not who we think G*d is.
When you’ve been brought up in a tradition that claims that G*d loves you and is in total control and on some level we start to doubt this we become naturally concerned with things we don’t understand.
But what if what Jesus came to do was not to give us new ways of being in control but new ways of letting go? What if this gives us an opportunity to unlearn old unhealthy habits and paradigms that may work for some but for whatever particular reason, have stopped working for you?
This may require us to take a deep breathe and step into the unknown but when we do, what we discover is that not only are we not alone but G*d is bigger and more loving than we thought possible.