Meditation is an essential part of our spirituality. As a follow on from Matthew Del Nevo’s blog on the importance of meditation in the life of a Christian, here is his practical perspective on the “how-to” of meditation
The Bible refers to meditation but how do we do it? The Bible provides no instruction. I can only describe the practice as I learned it from an old Arabic-speaking Eastern Orthodox monk when I used to live in Bethany outside Jerusalem when I was young.
I was told to rest on His eternal changelessness. That means, rest in His unfailing love. This is not love as we know or think of it. It is love like our word “life” – in and through all things living and dead (for nothing of the spirit ever dies; and the body is never fully alive). – not yet fully alive – not before Christ is all in all.
Actually, we always already rest in his unfailing love– only we fail to notice. This refers to our connection to life, our vital breath and the literal verbal connection between breath and spirit which is the same word in the Bible (pneuma). God is with us in and through the spirit, which in body terms, means our breathing. So God is in the body as the body, always. This is the meaning of Incarnation.
To meditate, we concentrate on our breath. That means we bring our conscious mind to our natural uninterrupted inhalation and exhalation. We do this not as a mental exercise but as a bodily posture. We sit. As we sit we breathe. You do not have to be sitting; you can be doing anything, if it is peaceful, but sitting helps foster concentration. To meditate, no words are needed, and no thoughts are required. But concentration is necessary. We might imagine, though, our breath like a foam on a ripple on the surface of an ocean that reflects the sky. Life, all of life, is from all eternity the same life that is our breath, our stillness, our living body. This greater life that upholds us is like the ocean and we the foam on the wave of time. If we can concentrate – and we need to learn to do this by practice because it does not come naturally – then we can begin to meditate; that is, we can float the focussed mind. We let it go and release it. This is not to give oneself over to thoughts – the state we are ordinarily in prior to concentration – floating the mind is post-concentration, not pre- concentration.
This is contemplative meditation practice, “the still small voice”. Another Christian tradition of meditation is intellectualist. Here one mentally chews over a passage of Scripture, not the meaning, but literally the words. One way of doing this is mentally repeating the words over and over so that they pre-occupy and fill the mind. The Jesus Prayer developed from this practice. In our times of simulated intelligence and hyper-activity, the wordless contemplative method I described is the deeper practice.