Chapter 3: What Christian Leaders Say About Meditation
In Chapter 2, we looked at what the bible says about meditation and saw that the bible instructs Christians to meditate on God’s words and his deeds. Christians have been faithful to these instructions since the beginning, and Christianity has a long, rich history of meditative practice.
History of Christian Meditation
Meditation goes as far back as the Old Testament. We see many biblical figures meditating. In Genesis, Isaac first encounters Rebecca during a solitary, contemplative evening:
“And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming.” (Genesis 24:63).
And, as we say in a previous chapter, the Psalmists meditates continuously, and Paul urges Timothy to make time for meditation.
Meditation has long been a part of church tradition. In the 4th century, early monastic Christian communities, known as Desert Fathers and Mothers, helped develop meditative traditions of prayer. In his book The Climate of Monastic Prayer, Thomas Merton describes their meditations as “Meditatio Scripturarum,” or meditating on scripture to make the words of the bible their own and “with deep and simple concentration, ‘from the heart.”
In the middle ages, meditative traditions developed in the Eastern and Western churches. Lectio Divina, a monastic practice developed in Western Christian tradition, involves listening to a passage of scripture in four steps which represent reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating. The Jesus Prayer, often said repeatedly throughout the day, became popular in Eastern Orthodox tradition. In the 15th century, forms of prayer became even more clarified with scholars and theologians generally organizing prayer in three areas: vocal prayer, meditation (or inward prayer), and contemplative prayer.
Perspectives on Meditation
Meditative prayer, and all prayer, is about building a deeply personal relationship with God. It’s helpful to go beyond the history or scholarly writing, and hear what various leaders through time have said about meditation and its role in their own prayer development.
Early church leaders
“By meditation I mean prolonged reasoning with the understanding, in this way. We begin by thinking of the favor which God bestowed upon us by giving us His only Son; and we do not stop there but proceed to consider the mysteries of His whole glorious life.” - Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
“Secondly, you should meditate. This means that not only in your heart but also externally you should constantly handle and compare, read and reread the Word as preached and the very words as written in Scripture, diligently noting and meditating on what the Holy Spirit means” - Martin Luther (prayer, meditation, trial).
“To meditate means to think persistently, deeply and diligently. Properly speaking, it means to chew over something in the heart...But no-one meditates on the law of the Lord unless his desire has first become fixed on it. For what we desire and love we chew over inwardly and diligently.” (source)
Modern church leaders
“Meditation is for those who are not satisfied with a merely objective and conceptual knowledge of God- about life, about God- about ultimate realities. They want to enter into an intimate contact with truth itself, with God. They want to experience the deepest realities of life by living them” -Thomas Merton, Meditation
“Christian meditation takes the yoke of Christ and learns of him as the suffering servant and triumphant Lord. In every way Christian meditation is in submission to Jesus Christ. It is not and cannot be unmediated access to God, far less an experience of the identity with God. Not ecstasy but wisdom marks the path of Christian meditation.” - Edmund P. Clowney. Christian Meditation. (Craig Press, USA. 1982)
“Christian meditation is filling your mind with the word of God through which we believe God mediates his own presence into our lives. -Tim Keller, Source
“Biblical meditation is kind of like that; it’s thought digestion. God wants us to get every ounce of spiritual nutrition out of his Word. He wants us to chew on it, digest it, and then chew on it some more.” Rick Warren, Source
Now that we’ve discussed the history of christian meditation, let’s take a look in the next chapter at how a Christian can and should meditate. There are many Christian meditation resources, like Behold, but we’ll start with a simple Christian meditation guide. We’ll also look at some of the benefits of Christian meditation in the next chapter.