In January, I tried to help people work with their desire for a helpful meditation practice from a Christian foundation. I shared this speech with a couple of friends today and i thought it might prove useful for you, too.
If you would like the transcript, here it is. There were many visuals, so you’ll be missing that element.
Help for the meditation challenged. 1-12-20
So I hear it is rather sexy when your husband is spiritual. At least that is what someone told me not long ago. She was kind of dishing on her mate, which was not totally nice. Because she hadn’t really told him that if he prayed, she would find that arousing. She thought it would give him more substance. Some spiritual abs would be nice. Or so she thought.
It is no surprise that her husband was a bit meditation-challenged. It is kind of a secret people keep that there is not as much prayer going on as people would like. Maybe you thought I was going to say there is not as much sex going on as people would like, that too. In a lot of intimate areas we feel like things are lacking. So this speech is all about hope for the meditation challenged. Before I am finished I hope you’ll get some encouragement to keep going, get going or get going again on that aspect of prayer, that multi-faceted personal connection we get to have with God.
A friend wrote to me a couple of weeks ago to thank me for Circle of Hope Daily Prayer [Here is a picture of today’s entry for Circle of Hope Daily Prayer :: WIND, which is designed for people who are new to faith or new to Circle of Hope. Circle of Hope Daily Prayer :: WATER, is designed for people who are along the road in their spiritual development]. Being contacted by my old friend in this way was kind of out of the blue, since I did not even know she knew about our blogs and she lives about 3000 miles from Pennsauken. She said she was thankful for the resource because she is “meditation challenged.” What she specifically meant was she could not read the Bible and get all the stuff out of it that Circle of Hope Daily Prayer can get.
That is one big reason the body of Christ is supposed to rely on each other. Some people can figure out the Bible better than others, some teach better than others, some put together resources better than others, some pray more than others. Nobody is supposed to have a life in Christ alone – it is unthinkable and probably impossible. So she was relying on us and wanted me to know she is grateful.
Our daily prayer blogs are designed to be so simple a newbie could dig in right away on some level and deep enough that the most mature among us won’t mind joining in with others who use the resource. Which resource is not a requirement, by that way. But why would you go by a plate of snickerdoodles with a sign that said, “Please eat one,” and not do it? The Daily Prayer is just a nice little spiritual meal to feed your heart soul mind and strength that someone made for you — why not eat it?
Growing in one’s capacity to pray is sexy, and the offerings of our Daily Prayer blogs are like a plate of cookies. What could go wrong, here?
Prayer is for everyone who follows Jesus, even if you don’t think God is very interested in your ongoing dialogue. So if you are new to faith or very experienced, prayer, and so our daily prayer blogs, are for you.
The blogs are good for the meditation challenged. When I say meditation a picture might come to your head about someone who meditates. I am not even going to put one up so it does not get stuck. I would rather you, yourself, come to mind, so the picture is of you thinking and feeling with God. You might be thinking and feeling about God and that’s meditation too. But the goal of meditation in Christ is oneness, communion, integration, love. Meditation is turning toward God who is with us. I’ll briefly talk about how a lot of meditation is taught as turning away from anxiety as the main role of the practice. But Christians turn away in order to turn toward. Our meditation has an object: our loving God and our true selves.
Sometime meditation sounds complex, but maybe it is not. We all meditate on other things besides God, too. I meditate on my wife, Gwen. I wonder what she is thinking, how she is feeling. I fondly remember her and love her even though she is across town, or making snickerdoodles downstairs. In that case the fragrance of Gwen comes to me and I remember what it is like to be loved by her and feel close to her. We do similar things with God. The Daily Prayer blog leads us through a simple format, which I hope will inspire you.
We always start with the Bible. Of course you don’t need to start with the Bible to pray or meditate. I turn to God on the train and I don’t need a format to do so.
We start with the Bible when we are in our disciplined time for meditation because we are not turning into nothingness or just considering how we feel or how we intend not to feel. We are turning to love and truth and opening to it. So this morning we started with a Bible reading on Daily Prayer :: WIND. See that orange “Today’s Bible reading.” We had a section of the Bible that worked with the theme of today’s entry, but I want to give you this Bible reading to go with what I am trying to offer for the meditation challenged..
If you understood what I was saying earlier, you’ll probably agree that this is one of the sexiest verses in the Bible
Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3 Say it.
“Steadfast” literally has to do with being “Sturdily formed.” We’re talking about how minds are formed, and we hope they will be sturdy.
Don’t just think of “mind” here as your brain or your reasoning ability or even your thoughts. When Jesus says to love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength, he’s piling up words to describe us, not creating thick boundaries between categories. So you could say, those of steadfast consciousness, attentiveness, connectedness or mind you keep in peace, Lord, because they trust in you.
Your mind is steadfast, your inner life is sturdily formed, when it is turned toward and attentive to your trustworthy creator and your friend and brother, Jesus. We’re talking about an active trust. Meditation is an active trust which forms a character of steadfastness, secure vision, hope, all with a heart of love born of being heart-to-heart with the great lover who we love back, heart, soul, mind and strength
In this one line about meditation from Isaiah, you can see some very basic things. And each one of them makes a difference as to whether you will get to that peace you crave.
- We are having a relationship. It is because they “trust in you.” We are talking to God.
- It assumes a mind that is one’s own. You have an interior life that can be kept in peace.
- We’re talking about “those of steadfast mind.” We are imagining people in a place and time and in a body.
- It is all in the present. The time is now. I’d say an eternal now connected to the Creator of our now.
Trusting and staying is water for the soul. Learning to trust God is swimming in the deep water. Turning into trust, determining to stay — that is meditation.
So we start with the Bible because it is arrogant to try a variation before you’ve learned the basics. Trying to meditate before you’ve been attentive to what our predecessors have taught us kind of like putting your bear on your bicycle before you’ve taught her to pedal. You just saw that the Bible teaches about the pedaling of meditation before it just throws you on a spiritual bike. That doesn’t mean we won’t need to get used to how a meditation bike feels. But it does mean we have some trustworthy guidance as we pray.
So the next section of Daily Prayer is all about more guidance and getting a feels for things. Here is the Meditation section from today’s Daily Prayer: WIND entry
As far as this speech about help for the meditation-challenged, here are some of my thoughts for meditation.
Meditation is not just mindfulness, which is basically being in charge of your own relaxation. Mindfulness is a big term, and a popular one these days, so it can mean a lot of things. Have any of you received any mindfulness training at work? Have your kids received any training in school? A lot of what we mean when we say meditation could coincide with mindfulness, since settling down is settling down as far as humankind goes. But the godless techniques most people are probably teaching your children need some unpacking. Because even though they present themselves as conviction-neutral, they have some assumptions behind them.
I think most mindfulness training is more in line with Dom Peringnon philosophy rather than in line with Jesus. Check this out https://youtu.be/RJnbkl_WX5s The first gobsmacking version of this I saw said “Life is what we create each day out of nothing.” A lot of mindfulness teaching goes this exact direction.
Now let me go off on this for a minute. Mindfulness claims to offer a multipurpose, multi-user remedy for all occasions. So it oversimplifies the difficult business of understanding oneself. It fits neatly into a culture of techno-fixes, easy answers and self-hacks, where we can all just tinker with the contents of our heads to solve problems, instead of probing why we’re so anxious or dissatisfied with our lives in the first place.
In particular, almost all mindfulness training is grounded in the Buddhist doctrine of anattā, or the ‘no-self’. In most mindfulness teaching, what the Bible just taught about a mind steadfast on God is not “right understanding.” In Buddhist teaching, there is no God or self, just a collection of factors, the experience of which is impermanent. So life is what you create out of nothing every day.
Like their Buddhist predecessors, contemporary mindfulness practitioners teach that nothing is permanent or personal – thus we’ve come to handle conflict by saying, “No worries” and “It’s nothing personal.” Whereas Jesus followers know that everything matters and it is all personal.
Mindfulness exercises repeatedly draw attention to the transitory nature of what is being observed in the present moment. Explicit directions (‘see how thoughts seem to simply arise and cease’) and visual imagery (‘think of your thoughts like clouds drifting away in the sky’) reinforce ideas of transience, and encourage us to detach ourselves from getting too caught up in our own experience (‘You are not your thoughts; you are not your pain’ are common mantras). These things are not all bad, of course, unless you think they are what meditation is in total, instead of just the first steps of turning toward God.
With its promises of assisting everyone with anything and everything, the mistake of the mindfulness movement is to present its impersonal mode of awareness as a superior or universally useful one. Its roots in the Buddhist doctrine of anattā mean that it sidelines a certain kind of deep, deliberative reflection that’s required for unpicking which of our thoughts and emotions are reflective of our true selves in relation to God, which are responses to the environment, and – the most difficult question of all – what we should be doing about it. How we should relate to God and others. [Aeon essay]
Mindfulness is taking over the meditation landscape and teaching everyone basic Buddhist doctrine — although Buddhists object to the watered-down version, too. I tried out a mindfulness app on the trolley the other day. I had discovered such apps are multiplying. You probably already knew about all of them. Americans can commodify anything. I tried this one called Headspace. Very nice. Its main competitor is Calm. And there are Christian versions, too. One is called Abide. I did not try them all because I don’t want to. But I am trying to understand them – someone asked me to record Daily Prayer so they could listen to it.
Andy Puddicombe came back to Britain to create Headspace after being a Tibetan monk for 10 years. Here he is getting his head shaved for his commitment ceremony. When he was twenty he lost friends in an accident and found peace in Asia.
The BBC calls him: “The former monk who runs a 100 million dollar meditation firm” with Rich Pierson, who is responsible for the technical side. Here is Rick holding the app up in China. Puddicombe’s 2013 TedTalk has been viewed 3 million times. [Which seems like a lot until you know that Justin put out a video for Yummy on Jan 4 and it had 40 million views as of yesterday morning]
Here is a little come on for Headspace. https://youtu.be/pDm_na_Blq8. Not all bad. But one takeaway is that it all happens on the train to make you present to yourself in your moment. But not necessarily present to God or anyone else.
If you don’t have time for Headspace’s ten-minute meditations you can pick up an app from Dan Harris, the Good Morning America anchor, called 10% Happier. He’s devoted to getting in two hours of meditation each day in short bits while he is being fabulous.
You can see I am skeptical of commodified, Buddhist mindfulness that could masquerade as Christian meditation. So let me briefly get to the last section of where a Daily Prayer entry leads: Suggestions for action
Just do it. Don’t give up, God will show up if you learn to show up. I think one of the main reasons people never get into daily prayer of any kind is they don’t think they can do it right or don’t think God will do it right. Will God show up if I show up? Will my expectations be met? We’ll have to risk it to find out. I say yes, God will show up. I have lots of stories about that, but I’m about out of time.
Don’t start with your expectations, find God somewhere and start there, but never stay there. Everyone, whether they follow Jesus or not, have a sense of God, they carry the image of God. There is some experience, knowledge, intuition, capacity that draws us to know God and be our true selves. Feel OK about starting where you are. Turn toward your fullness.
Let’s try it. It is like getting on the bike and feeling it for the first time like my granddaughter Hannah did not long ago.
This is a very simple exercise. Try to be mindful and centered in your place. Breathe deeply and notice your breath. It will settle you down. Now just let your self wander through the last hour with Jesus and note the different things you have experienced, thought or felt. If one particular thing sticks out, focus on it. Got one? Let it mean what it means: encouraging, convicted, enlightening, disgusting, hope-building, confusing. Trust God for it, however you understand that. Let your trusting experience of it make you steadfast, more connected, loved, truthful and trusting.
This group meditation in song helps too. This weekly meeting is a suggestion for action.
Thou wilt keep [them] in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because [they] trusteth in thee. (KJV)