The first mention of meditation in the Bible is in its very first book. In Genesis 24:63 we learn that Isaac went into the fields to meditate on the day he met his wife Rebekah. It is mentioned really casually, in an off-hand and by-the-way kind of mention. It’s as if people just walked into fields to meditate all the time back then! Later, in the first chapter of the book of Joshua, as The Lord was instructing Joshua on how to take over from Moses, one of his instructions was that Joshua should meditate on the law day and night. There were no fluffy instructions on how, there was no weirdness about the word “meditate” showing up in a leadership takeover discussion. Clearly this was a standard practice even to the founders of both Jewish and Christian religions. Meditations in the Semitic traditions go back hundreds of years before the birth of Christ.
But nobody in the Bible talked about Meditation like David. He mentions it in the Psalms 19 times, and Psalm 119 (cute!), a poem used to teach young Jews, and in particular young Solomon, is the most specific set of instructions on meditation to be found in the Bible.
So why, pray tell, have I never heard of meditation in Church?
There is some blurring of the lines in modern Christian teaching between meditation and prayer. If you ask a practicing if they meditate, they will likely respond that they spend quiet time in prayer. This is not the same thing, but a common misunderstanding. The two have much in common, but they are quite distinct.
Even the most famous Christian meditators mix the modalities of prayer and meditation in their writings. St. Teresa of Ávila, one of the early heroes in my own meditation journey, would call her meditations “contemplative prayer.” She and her contemporary, St. John of the Cross, were in grave danger during the Spanish Inquisition because of their unusual personal practices of meditation. She was accused of being a heretic when she was found deep in her meditations in the chapel, hovering a few inches above the ground. (Was she in fact a few inches above the ground? Or did she experience herself lifting as we sometimes do in a long and deep seated meditation? I suppose we won’t ever know, but what a mystery!)
A very brief, and perhaps over simplified distinction between meditation and prayer is that prayer is a conversation. Meditation, in contrast, is a single focus. Prayer requires focus and space for both speaking (with either the mouth or the mind) and listening with the mind. Meditation hones that focus, quieting the speaking, with emphasis on the listening.
In the distortion created after the homogenizing efforts of the Spanish Inquisition of 1478-1834, but in particular in the most brutal years of the 1500s and 1600s, very little of meditation was left in Christendom. It really didn’t pass clearly into Protestantism and appears to have been weak even in the orthodox tradition before the split of the Reformation.
Today meditation is learned by Christians in a secular context, but there is so much available to Christianity in a return to its own history of meditation and contemplative prayer.
Are you a Christian seeking to deepen your experience of meditation? There are many practices that could bring you into closer communion with the Divine. One such practice can be found in the verses of the Bible themselves.
- Choose a short verse that brings you comfort, sit quietly and think in that verse, repeating it over and over in your mind. Repeat and repeat it until it begins to wear thin in your attention, and you find yourself in silence. Focus then on the silence and how this verse has made you feel, keeping your mind quiet and free from all other thoughts. If other thoughts begin to creep in, pull the verse back into repetition.
- Choose a verse or a chapter that speaks to you. Consider, as you sit to meditate, the way that it makes you feel. Set aside all thoughts and hold on to the feeling as you enter mindful meditation.
- Practice walking meditations as Isaac did, in mindful and quiet movement through nature.
- Pray for guidance and peace (or whatever you seek in prayer in this moment) and set your intention to listen to what comes into your heart as you sit to meditate.
- Read about the experiences of Christian meditators. St. Teresa of Ávila wrote books about her own methods of practice and there are contemporaries even today who are willing to share their experiences.
Sit for a few minutes or an hour, it is totally up to you. Please feel free to let me know how it went for you!