Christian meditation is something that I hadn’t heard of until the last couple of years or so, and when I first heard of it I was extremely sceptical. So is there a place for meditation in Christianity, or is it just some mumbo-jumbo that does more harm than good?
My experience of meditation comes from the ten years of karate I did between the ages of 6 and 16. From time to time we would have a short period of meditation before the main weekly session and it was by doing this that I gained an insight into what meditation is and how it is useful. The meditation that I learned was designed to make you completely relaxed and to gain the ‘empty mind’ that can give you a crucial advantage in combat, theoretically sharpening your reactions and allowing you to execute the techniques more effectively. I’m not going to beat around the bush, this works. We were taught to meditate in a kneeling position (not the most comfortable to start off with, but you get used to it) and to start off by focusing on our breathing – in…hold…out…etc. – if done properly, this would lead to complete focus and relaxation.
My experience of meditation is, therefore, linked to performance enhancement in physical activity (specifically karate), but I know that the principles of relaxation and having an empty mind have wider benefits than sport as they can help to dispel emotions like anger and get you in the right frame of mind for thinking clearly. I just want to make it clear now that I think it would be naive for a Christian to discard meditation as useless spirituality.
But here we come to the sticking point: is meditation compatible with true, Biblical Christianity, or not? Initially, I thought that there could be no reason for a Christian to make use of it, but recently I’ve started to reconsider. On one level, the issue is a semantic one: if, instead of calling this practice ‘meditation’ I called it something clichéd like ‘quiet time’ it would not be so alien to Christians. I can’t see anything about the physical technique of relaxation and focus that a Christian would need to be worried about.
If meditation was simply a physical thing, then I don’t think there would be a debate at all, but I would be ignorant to think that there isn’t a spiritual side to it. The meditation that I learnt originated in Eastern religions and was intended to be closely linked to the concept of chi, a type of life force or power innate in every human being. Theoretically, you can greatly enhance your physical capabilities by learning how to use this chi – the Shaolin monks are living examples of this. Now I don’t believe in chi as a spiritual energy and I think that if this was the focus of any Christian meditation, we would be on dangerous ground and I would not support Christian meditation in any form.
However, there is no reason why a Christian would have to believe in chi in order to meditate. For meditation to be useful to Christians, I think we have to hold strongly to the belief that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. It is essential that we remember that our strength comes from him, not from some kind of inner life energy. If we integrate this into meditation instead of chi, then I think we have a practice which can be of great benefit to Christians.
Above all else, meditation is practical and the technique works. Next time you feel like emotions are threatening to overwhelm you, or you need to be calm before doing something big, try it. Sit down in silence, close your eyes, control your breathing – in…hold…out – and above all focus on Jesus. While you’re in that state of calm, remember that Jesus is your strength. Seek him with a calm mind and open yourself to his strength.
In conclusion, I think that meditation techniques can be a great help to Christians, but only if we hold on to the source of true life, and don’t go seeking a power within ourselves. The physical techniques can allow us to seek God more clearly, helping us to open our minds to his voice. We should not discard it because of its origins, but we should embrace it as what it is: a way to talk to God without distraction.
“Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.” – John 4:14a
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9