Meditative Traditions in Christian Spirituality

Christogram (labarum) with Jesus Prayer in Rom...
Christogram (labarum) with Jesus Prayer in Romanian. Jesus Prayer in Romanian Doamne Iisuse Hristoase, Fiul lui Dumnezeu, miluieste-ma pe mine pacatosul. English translation Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner. This image appears on the cover of all editions of Romanian translation of Philokalia Français : Christogramme entouré de la Prière de Jésus en roumain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

Let’s begin by clearing up a common misconception: the practice of Christian meditation in no way involves emptying the mind. Instead, it is aimed at positioning ourselves in a receptive state whereby we can have a fresh encounter with our Inner Light. The practice of contemplation is central here, however. Through it we connect with the Holy Spirit at the deepest level by entering in through the Sacred Silence.

Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly speaks of the experience of taking the comfort and wisdom we find in the Sacred Silence and carrying it into the cauldron of daily living. Listen carefully to his words:

…and in brief intervals of overpowering visitation we are able to carry the sanctuary frame of mind out into the world, into its turmoil and fitfulness, and in a hyperaesthesia of the soul, we shall see all mankind tinged with deeper shadows, and touched with Galilean glories. Powerfully are the springs of our will moved to an abandon of singing love toward God; powerfully are we moved to a new and overcoming love toward time-blinded men and all creation. In this Center of Creation all things are ours, and we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. We are owned men, ready to run and not be weary and to walk and not faint.

Notice here how in very potent language Kelly alludes to Christ’s great prayer in John 17. Jesus prayed that we be his, just as he is God’s. When, through the grace of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and our own diligent practice of entering into the Sacred Silence, we become more and more capable of abiding in our inner sanctuary we make manifest that chain of possession spoken of by Christ. Kelly tells a poignant truth when he says “we are owned men.”

In another relevant passage Kelly states:

Continuously renewed immediacy, not receding memory of the Divine Touch, lies at the base of religious living. Let us explore together the secret of a deeper devotion, a more subterranean sanctuary of the soul, where the Light Within never fades, but burns, a perpetual flame, where the wells of living water of divine revelation rise up continuously, day by day and hour by hour, steady and transfiguring.

Kelly’s teaching here is most profound. Beginning with the reality that only regular, repetitive practice of Sacred Silence can give us “renewed immediacy of the Divine Touch.” Unless we are diligent and consistent in our pursuit of this sacred sanctuary and its inherent blessings, we run the risk of letting the experience of the Divine become little more than a quickly fading memory.

Kelly then goes on to reiterate the fact that it is in this Sacred Silence where we find not only the Inner Light, but also those ever-flowing wells of living water Christ spoke of. Further, he reminds us that these waters are more than refreshing, although they are certainly that, but also emphasizes that these wellsprings are “transfiguring.” These blessed streams are capable of changing us at our core. These waters of healing and transformation have their source in God’s unlimited gift of grace.

In order to get a firm grasp on these issues, it is important that we have a deeper understanding of a pair of key principles. The first is related to the various methods of meditative tradition in our faith that are conducive to the kind of receptivity that was described above. Second, we need to have a least a modicum of insight into the concept of the Inner Light.

In terms of Christian meditation, space does not permit a detailed explanation of the different meditative practices. The context of an article or a blog entry is much too brief. However, we can at least look at a few of these beneficial methodologies.

I have personally found meditation, especially Christian meditative practices, to be among the most spiritually lucrative practices I have ever undertaken. Spiritually, my walk of faith grows stronger, deeper, and more stable when I commit myself to regular periods of meditation practice.

In terms of technique, among the more popular forms of Christian meditation are the following:

John Main’s Christian Meditation

The Prayer of the Heart

Centering Prayer

Ignatian Meditations

Christian Meditation,” aside from being a generic term, is also the name of a specific meditation technique developed by John Main, a Benedictine monk who was stationed primarily in India and was a disciple of the great Catholic genius Bede Griffiths. In brief, this meditative practice is similar to “mantra meditation” whereby a word or phrase is repeated in order to quiet the mind. The word selected by Main is the four-syllable word “Maranatha.” Maranatha end the final book in the Bible, Revelation, and is Aramaic for “Come, Lord.” In Christian meditation, one repeats the word with equal time and stress on each syllable, Ma-ra-na-tha. When thoughts intrude on the mind, one does not suppress the thoughts, but instead, allows them to pass gently as one returns to the word. According to Main, the word Maranatha was used extensively as a prayer tool, especially in the Fourth Century works of John Cassain.

The “Prayer of the Heart” or the “Jesus Prayer” is from scripture as well. The practice itself involves repeating the phrase of scripture in coordination with the breath. The scripture in full is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” Often the phrase is shortened over time to Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” or “Lord Jesus, Have Mercy.” The technique was developed in the Eastern Orthodox Church and is still widely practiced in all Orthodox traditions, especially the RussianChurch. The prayer’s popularity in the West spread with the appearance of the anonymous spiritual work entitled, The Way of a Pilgrim.

Centering Prayer,” developed and popularized by Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington, both Catholic monks and writers, is based on instructions given in the 14th Century Christian Classic The Cloud of Unknowing. The technique involves choosing an appropriate word to use as sort of a ‘hitching post” for the mind. Whenever the mind begins to wander from the silence, you gently return to repeating the word. Once the mind is again brought back under control, the word is dropped until the mind wanders again.

The Ignatian Exercises, developed in the 17th Century by St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, involves visualizing basic scenes from the gospel stories and putting ourselves in the image.

Whatever technique one chooses as the focus of their meditative practice, the important principle involves the training of the mind to be still. This is no small task, as anyone who had tried meditation well understands. The mind is like a chattering monkey that resists all efforts to bring it under control. Still, with persistence, diligence, and the help of the Holy Spirit, the mind gradually but surely comes under increasing control.

Contemplation, a form of Christian meditation, has become increasingly popular as a method of realigning with the Inner Light. Sometimes referred to as “Contemplative Prayer, this ancient spiritual practice has many practical benefits as well, such as reduction of stress and fostering a sense of peace in daily life. Yet Christian meditation has at its foundation a spiritual purpose. It is part and parcel, for example, of the renewing of the mind. Henry Drummond exclaims:

There is nothing that will bring us such abundant returns as to take a little time in the quiet each day of our lives. We need this to get the kinks out of our minds, and hence out of our lives. We need this to form better the higher ideals of life. We need this in order to see clearly in mind the things upon which we would concentrate and focus the thought-forces. We need this in order to make continually anew and to keep our conscious connection with the Infinite. We need this in order that the rush and hurry of our everyday life does not keep us away from the conscious realization of the fact that the spirit of Infinite life and power that is back of all, working in and through all, the life of all, is the life of our life, and the source of our power; and that outside of this we have no life and we have no power. To realize this fact fully, and to live in it consciously at all times, is to find the kingdom of God, which is essentially an inner kingdom, and can never be anything else. The kingdom of heaven is to be found only within, and this is done once and for all, and in a manner in which it cannot otherwise be done, when we come into the conscious, living realization of the fact that in our real selves we are essentially one with the Divine life, and open ourselves continually so that this Divine life can speak to and manifest through us.

If you are looking for positive results in your spiritual life it is essential that you stake out time in your day to spend quiet time with God. This will help us get the kinks out of our minds and out of our lives. However, this special time with our Creator must involve more than sitting quietly, reading, and praying. Important as these disciplines are, if we want to taste the true blessings of Sacred Spirit, we must make personal effort to place ourselves in a receptive mode. This involves becoming mentally quiet, increasingly centered, and spiritually alert. Contrary to what you may hear from fear-mongering fundamentalists who have never really taken the time to research the subject fully, Christian meditation does not involve emptying the mind. On the contrary, it involves silencing our internal chatter so that we become a vessel God can then fill with himself.

Contemplative prayer constitutes the bedrock of the mystical life. It is the sublime activity in which we place ourselves in a state of openness and receptivity, ready and willing to encounter the Holy Spirit and hear whatever teachings may be offered. If you have never practiced any of these forms of Christian meditation, I encourage you to give them a try. There are many workshops taught in a variety of settings, some, of course, better than others. I would also encourage you to taste the varied flavors of methods available and find one that suits you best. Once this happens, then get down to the business of going deeper.

If you already have a practice of Christian meditation, contemplative prayer, or the like, keep at it and keep going deeper as well. You won’t be disappointed.

If you are a seasoned practitioner of meditation, I encourage you to keep at it. Make extra commitment and effort to go even deeper. Truly, beyond a certain point you can’t go back. Your only choice is to forge ahead toward a goal well worth striving to attain. This is part of a process we at Sacred Mind Ministries call “Consecrated Endeavor” and it is indispensable on the spiritual journey.

If you are just beginning a mediation practice, I laud your decision to encounter the spiritual light that exists within you. Although your journey is just beginning, I assure you that with consecrated effort and proper encouragement, you can make consistent progress and every aspect of your life will improve.

What follows is from the Chandogya Upanishad, which is the oldest in the entire collection. If somewhere along the winding path of your contemplative journey to enlightenment, someone asks you what it is that you are really seeking, you might refer them to this jewel of mystic scripture:

In the center of the castle of Brahman, our own body, there is a small shrine in the form of a lotus-flower, and within that can be found a small space. We should find who dwells there, a we should want to know him. And if anyone asks, “Who is he who dwells in a small shrine in the form of a lotus-flower in the center of the castle of Brahman? Whom should we want to find and know?” We can answer, “The little space within the heart is as great as this vast universe. The heavens and the earth are there, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars; fire and lightening and winds are there; and all that now is and all that is not; for the whole universe is in Him and He dwells within our heart.”

In light of this wisdom, let me close by adding that I couldn’t agree more with the wise King Solomon who advised:

Keep watch over your heart; for therein lie the wellsprings of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

© L. D. Turner 2009/2013 All Rights Reserved

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2 thoughts on “Meditative Traditions in Christian Spirituality

  1. Pingback: The Light of Tabor | Poetic Mapping: Walking into Art

  2. Pingback: Persistence | Quality of Life MinistriesQuality of Life Ministries

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