25 November, 2007

Meditation: The True

My first analogy regarding contemplative prayer involved alcohol, and I still think it's fitting in a number of ways.

+ Some people enjoy alcohol well. That doesn't make it harmless.
+ Some people experience a form of relief while drunk. That doesn't make it healthy.
+ Some people cannot control their drinking once they've started. They must be supported in staying clear of their personal enemy.

Even the scripture is ambiguous about wine:

Prov 31:6
Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.

Prov 20:1
Wine [is] a mocker, strong drink [is] raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.

Alcohol is a difficult subject, because it's potent. Wine does stuff. If you tell a person who profits from wine to forego the benefits, expect resistance and appropriate resistance at that. If you tell someone who is overcoming the damages of wine to taste its benefits, expect even stronger and equally appropriate resistance.

Ah, but what about the person who is of legal age, and has never tasted alcohol? (That's a fictional character, I know, but this is analogy not history.)

Here you have the chance to teach straightforwardly about the risks and benefits of alcohol. You can teach how alcohol eases social tension, and tends to lighten the mood of a group gathering. You can teach not to drink alone, but with upright people you know and trust. You can teach that some people simply need to avoid the stuff.

Meditation is potent too.


When I was a teen, I went through some stuff that was too heavy for me. I think most people would have taken it in stride, but it knocked me out. My emotions were both exhausted and hyper; my mind was overtaxed, out of answers, and exploring down the wrong roads; my will was taken out of the game. What I did to survive was an anti-contemplative prayer, and what I found has stood in me good stead over all the years. I found my spirit.

When my soul was beyond the pale, it was very easy to find my spirit. It was the thing not moving. It was like my soul was wind, rain, and sea all thrown into a horrible hurricane. The rock unmoved in the middle of it was my spirit.

In the middle of the hurricane, I found a profound, healing, and desperately needed silence. On nights I had forgotten what it used to feel like to want to live, I would fight through to that silence again and remember. In the height of the blow, I would suddenly find my soul warm and dry, filled with joy, and truly happy to be alive. When I woke up the next morning, the silence would be gone but I remembered enough of it to know it was real and that God was still true and good. I could fight through another day on the energy of that night's prayer, that night's meditation.

There's nothing "ascended" or "second blessing-ish" or special about what I've described. Every Christian has touched something like this (though not every Christian is as emotionally delicate as I am to take it quite as hard as I do.) What's more, any New Age afficianado will describe the same experience. The difference is how they get there and how the Christian gets there.

The New Ager, and the deceived Christian contemplative, get there by emptying themselves of all thought through the use of a mind-stilling technique. In so doing, they place themselves in a passively receptive state and place themselves in spiritual danger. The Christian fills himself or herself with Truth of God.

Look at any of David's Psalms of desperation for an example. Ps 62 is a good one. See how David does nothing to empty his mind? Instead, he tells the Truth about God, then he tells the truth about his enemies, then he tells the Truth about how the two compare. David's soul is in great unease, or he'd not have had to write that song. But David repeated the Truth to himself. In verses 2, 6, and 7 he reminds Himself his God is a Rock, and by the end of the song the little rock/island within himself is answering in full song to the continent-sized Rock that saves him. David declares that mercy belongs to God alone, and He will not withhold it.

Christian meditation has always been, is, and will always be the filling of one's heart with the Truth, whether comforting, challenging, daring, scaring, or drawing. And when the Christian's heart is filled with the Truth of God, there will be silence. We actively tell God and ourselves the Truth about Him, and the storm within us is becalmed to a blessed silence.

The counterfeit of true meditation anaesthetizes our minds to achieve a cheap silence, then backfills us with a lying feeling of expansive oneness with [fill in the blank - God, the universe, the All, the Cosmic Christ, etc.]. They tell us that we cannot know God, and that to pretend we can allows pride to block our true approach to God. They tell us that meditation focusing on truths "about" God is the best we can achieve, and that such meditation cripples us; that our minds cannot apprehend God, our wills cannot serve Him, our emotions cannot appreciate Him. And so they say we must be silent, and let His Spirit move in our silence.

They lie.

Read Psalm 62 again. They promise to reach God in a higher way than David himself used, and higher than God chose to reveal in His word. We can know God. You can know God - as you, just as you are, just as David was. You don't need to be emptied to know God. You need to be filled with His Spirit of Truth, and nowhere does scripture talk about anything human being emptied out of anyone to make that happen.

Would you like to try an experiment in Christian meditation? Would you like to test to see whether Christian meditation beats contemplative prayer?

Do this.

+ Go somewhere that you won't be disturbed for a while. This is "enter into your closet" type prayer.
+ Place firmly in your mind the biggest problem in your life right now. Fix it there, and don't let it go.
+ Ask that the Holy Spirit would reveal to you the Truth about God as it relates to this problem.
+ Tell Jesus the gospel as it applies to that problem. Pray the gospel to the ear of the Man Who lived it for you. Tell Him everything He did.

Nothing fancy here. No mind tricks. Just tell Jesus your life story from His point of view, leading right up to this moment. Start at the beginning, don't leave anything out the Spirit brings to your mind, and if a moment of trust and appreciation comes praise Him for what you see.

Some examples:
+ Just before Genesis 1, God knew you would have this problem, and He loved you for caring about it.
+ Just before Genesis 1, God declared that Jesus would pay the price necessary to allow God to embrace you as a daughter or son, and let Him handle this problem.
+ Just before Genesis 1, God knew exactly how beautiful you would be after He led you through that valley of the shadow of death, and after this problem refined your character such that it would look like Him.
+ He looked into Adam's and Eve's eyes, and He knew you were coming. He loved all humanity in loving them, and in killing the first lamb to cover their nakedness, He was proving that He'd not forget you when your time came.
+ He called Abraham so He could bless Abraham's Seed - you.
+ Jesus came to Earth, and He endured what you are enduring, so He could comfort you as a Friend. Instead of telling the starving man to wait, dinner would be along soon, He joined us in our suffering and starved right alongside His brothers and sisters until we could all sit down to the feast together.

And get personal.
+ Tell Him what He must have been feeling when He first touched your heart to draw you to Himself.
+ Tell Him how deeply He thrilled the day you turned to Him for life, and repented of your dead life before.
+ Tell Him about some of the little moments that got you from that day to this, and how careful He must have been of you all along.

And finally, tell Him that you don't know how He will overcome this problem, but ...

[You fill in the blank.]


salguod said...

I love this, thanks for this series. We need never be afraid of the truth. God is truth, and he isn't afraid of it either. That thought has helped me navigate some difficult times. Where I might be tempted to stay away, lest I discover something unpleasant, the idea that God is bigger and the truth cannot harm Him has let me go ahead.

Another aspect in this kind of prayer that I've found is that I need to tell God the truth about what I'm feeling about the situation. It's a different kind of truth, but it has to be acknowledged as well. Telling God that I'm scared or angry (even at Him), disappointed or depressed, backed up with the fact that He's powerful, loving, just, consistent, unbeatable and mine puts things in perspective. My emotions are then viewed in proper perspective - far less important than the God who stands ready to take care of me.

I see this in David's prayers too. He speaks of feeling abandoned by God, but then reminds himself of who God is. Our feelings are always true - they are real inside of us - but they don't always match the truth of God. That David felt abandoned was factual, but that feeling didn't match the fact that God doesn't abandon those who are His. Acknowledgement of the truth about God's steadfastness informed his emotions and put them in proper light.

The truth is a powerful thing.

codepoke said...

Thanks for the kind words, Salguod.