As a community of Evangelical Christians, we have abdicated our role as leaders in the area of meditation. This is especially disturbing as seekers leave the Christian faith, looking for depth and meaning elsewhere. Meditation is one of the fastest growing areas of personal and spiritual growth. Recent estimates suggest 10 million Americans practice some form of meditation.
In my field of Behavioral Medicine, we teach non-spiritually based meditation and use guided imagery because of the positive impact on health. Studies show improvement in everything from anxiety, depression, and fibromyalgia, to immune functioning, cancer survival and heart disease. This should not be a surprise to us. Living in the way God has designed for us always results in our good!
But there is much more to meditation than the physical benefits of living in the paths created for us. True meditation is resting in the presence of God, open to his transforming word–an experience of power and depth. Meditation softens our hard shells. As we meditate, we become more open to experiencing the presence of God in our Bible study, and in our daily lives. We become more transparent, more fully present.
Christians have known and practiced meditation many centuries. From the Desert Fathers and Mothers to Contemplative Prayer, from Lectio Divina to practicing the presence—for centuries Christians have meditated as they deepened their walk with God.
Yet instead of celebrating the meditation of our faith, many Evangelical Christians react with fear or ridicule to any mention of the practice. Some fear Eastern and New Age influences. Some fear loss of control, or even openness to demons. The Catholic community does have groups teaching and practicing meditation, but it is hard for wary Evangelicals to move outside their denominational boundaries. Meditation, along with its many benefits, is relegated to “them, not us”.
Instead of functioning as a path drawing people to Christ and nourishing their relationship with Him, meditation and guided imagery have become a path to Buddhist, New Age and secular teachers such as Deepak Chopra, Jon Cabat-Zinn and the Dalai Lama, who teach radical acceptance and lovingkindness, but with no true basis for love, no way to reconcile truth and goodness and the reality of sin.
We have abandoned the fullness of Biblical truth, and abandoned at least some of our role in sharing that truth.
In rejecting meditation, we reject the clear examples of the Bible. Throughout Jesus’ ministry we see Him withdrawing for periods of prayer and meditation. Jesus spent at least one extended period of time on retreat, a time of solitude, prayer and meditation as well as fasting. We are told to “Be still, and know that I am God.” The Psalmist thirsted for God’s presence, and found it through meditation on His word.
Yet still we refuse.
In rejecting guided imagery, we reject large sections of the Bible. The much-loved 23rd Psalm is a beautiful example of a guided imagery meditation. The Psalms are powerful and comforting because they guide us to Him with imagery which touches our hearts and speaks to our souls when we are in need. Yet guided imagery is considered dangerous, as if we were somehow tainted by the emotional connection it brings. As Christians, we should be using imagery in our own prayers and meditation, and also to connect with the hearts of those who are searching.
Evangelical Christians belong in the marketplace of current ideas. We have truth to share. Our Lord is the source of ultimate relationship and meaning. We have been given healthy physical pathways, and transforming interpersonal change, but we also have meditation made more full, the Breath of Life to deepen our own breath, to move us into ever deepening relationship with God.
We have the gift of the outstretched arms of the God of all creation who, “rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions made us alive together with Him”. Who else can claim such a deep well of radical acceptance and loving-kindness?
We can go to the same restoring well Jesus drew on, as we walk with the Lord in prayer and meditation. We are called to live in the radical acceptance and loving-kindness of our grace-gifted acceptance by God. We have been given emotional comfort and healing through the guided imagery of the Bible.
We have a gift to share. Meditation is a part of that gift. How can we refuse to enjoy it? How can we not share it with those in need?