If you mean “empty your mind so the devil can whisper evil messages to you in the silence“, then no. Not in line with the teachings of Jesus.
A lot of Christians believe that this is the definition of meditation. In fact, it’s more or less the way my mom explained it to me when I was a kid. (Which was confusing, because there’s a lot of talk about meditation in the Bible.)
That’s just one definition. But it’s a common one in Christian circles, especially ones that like to put blanket labels on things. Labels like “New Age”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating New Age thinking. Whatever New Age even means anymore. I think most people who use the term don’t even know. Maybe it had a definition way back when it first started emerging in the main stream, 50+ years ago. It seems to broadly encompasses anything that has connotations of hippies, drugs, free love, altered states of mind, as well as all manner of “Eastern religion” or “Eastern philosophy”.
To be clear, I completely subscribe to Biblical Christian teaching. The degree to which another religion/philosophy disagrees with the teachings of Christ is the degree to which I disagree with it. There are some inevitable overlaps between religions, so I happen to agree with parts of other belief systems, but where there are disagreements, I’m all Bible all the way.
In fact, I am so committed to proper Christian teaching that I feel it’s important for Christians to know what they are talking about! We need to make sound judgements based on facts, and we have the Holy Spirit to guide us in this.
What the mind-emptying/devil-whispering definition sounds like to me is fear. Fear of anything that might happen to overlap with or resemble New Age thinking, whether or not it actually is. It doesn’t sound like a willingness to seek truth, but rather a fear of the unknown.
Fear is not a healthy curiosity that fuels a deepening knowledge of Christ. It is a closed-minded refusal to even consider new ideas. Fear warns, “Beware meditation”, rather than encouraging people to educate themselves on what the word even means – a necessary step before one can consult the Word to see what is said on the matter!
The Pharisees were full of fear, and it caused them to reject the Son of God. Fear is mutually exclusive of love. In fact, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). The Jewish leaders of Christ’s day had so much fear in their hearts that there was no room left for love, no room to hear the Truth or receive the Life. Stuff like this gives me rage cramps 😉
But I digress.
What is meditation?
There are many definitions, just like there are many ways of describing “fitness” or what it means to practice a “healthy lifestyle.”
So, I guess the real question is, “What is Christian meditation?”
It’s still a kettle of fish. But let me take a stab at it.
(Disclaimer: I’m not a Biblical scholar, no formal education in the Bible. I’m a regular person trying to dig as deep as possible into the Word and figure stuff out.)
The way I think about meditation is summed up by the first bit of Psalm 46:10.
“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God'”.
I see meditation as the practice of (1) being still and (2) knowing. With so many distractions and struggles in life, this does take a lot of practice!
I want to make sure I don’t take this verse out of context here, so let’s take a look at the whole chapter. It’s an intense passage, with very powerful imagery and talk of war and the need for safety. The parallels to modern life are different for everyone, as we don’t all live in a literal war zone.
For me, there are numerous levels where the sense of fear, struggle and insecurity play out. Fear in my life most often manifests as anxiety – sometimes I get caught up worrying or over-planning, trying to influence (control!) outcomes, and sometimes the voice of anxiety is so overpowering I can hardly breathe. Struggle can be anything from juggling the demands of modern life, dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault, relationships, and professional challenges. Insecurity for me is not being sure if I am worthy of love and happiness, it’s the people who hurt me, it’s not knowing. These aren’t clear categories, it’s generally just the painful part of human existence.
How to be still in the midst of all this?
How to “know that I am God”?
Practice. Every day. With all of life’s troubles swirling around, practice letting go of the worry, the desire of control. Practice letting go. Practice knowing that God is, and that He is here with you.
(Hey, if you’d like a more in-depth look at Psalm 46 and “Be still and know that I am God”, here’s a really good article I found.)
Being Still and Knowing
People who are freaked out about meditation warn against an “altered state of consciousness”. I’m not sure what they mean by that, but I imagine it being something like being on drugs without taking drugs. I’ve been meditating every day for a couple of years and nothing like that has ever happened to me!
When I’m caught up in the future (planning, wondering, worrying), I’m not all that conscious of what’s going on in the present moment. I’m not here; I’m in anxiety.
When I’m stuck in the past (replaying and ruminating, shame, self-loathing), it’s not a great state of consciousness. I’m not present, because I’m in depression.
Being in the past (depression) or the future (anxiety) could be called “lower states of consciousness”. When I’m grasping onto old resentments or worried that the future is going to be painful, that is not a place of stillness. All those troubled thoughts fill my mind and there’s no room left for knowing God.
God is here with me in the present moment. He is timeless, but He’s here with me in the now, as those New-Agers like to say. If I go off into the future or the past, I can’t be with Him. Because He’s here. He was with me yesterday, and He will be with me tomorrow, but He is with me right here – in the present moment.
What does Christian meditation look like?
I practice being present. And being with Him.
Being present requires stillness. And, I think that to “know that I am God” has to do with getting to know Him and who He is by spending time with Him. (In the present.)
I don’t know other Christians with a meditation practice. Or maybe I do, but they call it “spending time with God” or “morning devotions and prayer”. Maybe it looks like mine, and maybe not. I bet there’s no single “best” way of doing it. I’ve written a separate post outlining what my personal practice looks like, and I’d really love for you to check it out and share your thoughts or ask any questions you might have.
Meditation is just one part
I believe it’s super, super important for Christians to engage in many activities that bring us closer to a knowledge of God. Bible reading and other Bible study, time sharing with other Christians, listening to podcasts and learning about Him in whatever form is possible. Also, acts of service and sacrifice.
The meditation form of prayer I’ve described in a separate post would be empty if not practiced it in a broader context of searching and living out the Word that He specifically gave to us. My practice of that context is at least as messy as my meditation practice, I’m SO not a model Christian. But I feel like Jesus is loving and accepting me as I struggle with human weakness, so who am I to give myself a harder time than He is? I try and tap into the compassion that He has for me, and just muddle my way through the best I can. Besides, I’ve tried the self-loathing path and I made even less progress that way 😉