I’ve long been interested in the merits of mediation and I’ve practised it in one form or another for many years. Its benefits are clearly evident and have been throughly documented in a wide range of respected medical and social literature.
As the effects of the Corona virus pandemic invade our lives with ever-increasing intrusion, it’s becoming clear that many people are really struggling to cope. In times like this, I find myself more grateful than ever for the practice of focussed Scripture mediation and I’ve personally found this to be a truly wonderful resource.
Meditation is, by no means, a new practice and it’s quite widely documented and supported in Scripture especially, not surprisingly, in the Psalms. As a Christian, mediation is not to do with emptying the mind but rather focussing on God and His Word. (For an article on the principles of Christian meditation see: Guard your heart.)
The practices of meditation vary from person to person and, in this article, I’d like to offer my own thoughts and experience.
Why should we meditate? : Well, this is the key question! In fact, we can meditate at any time, for any reason.
• Distress and grief
We get distressed for all sorts of reasons; bereavement, anxiety, disappointment…
A number of years ago I lost someone very close and I felt as if my heart had broken into a thousand pieces. A wise and thoughtful Christian friend said very little; she simply sent me the following verse: ‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are fixed on You, because they trust in You.’ (Isaiah 26:3)
I can’t tell you how hard or for how long I leaned on and repeated that promise. Recovering from grief is never simple and it observes its own particular and sometimes complex timescale, but over time, pondering on this precious promise did indeed calm my mind and bring me peace. To this day, it remains a tremendous source of comfort and strength in many different situations.
• Joy and celebration
We often think of praise when times are good – and so we should! But we can also ponder on God’s great love and mercy towards us. It really is overwhelming and reflecting deeply on it is a form of worship.
When to meditate : Whenever you want! The key thing is that you do so regularly at a time when you know you’ll not be disturbed. I’m very much a morning person so that’s my preferred time but you should respect the rhythms of your own body. If you’re a night owl, meditate in the evening. If you have trouble sleeping, meditate during the night. On the rare occasions my sleep has been disturbed, a short focussed meditation has proved to be very helpful.
How long to meditate : For as long as you want! It’s probably best to allow a minimum of around 15-20 minutes. Meditation is an acquired skill so you’d probably find it best to start with a short time and gradually build up. A goal of around 45-60 minutes is reasonable.
Where to meditate : Wherever you want! Just like when you meditate, the key thing is to find a place where you won’t be disturbed. I love being outside – if weather allows! – but inside is fine too. In your bedroom, living room, study… it doesn’t matter as long as it’s a quiet and restful place for you.
Posture : Do you need to adopt a particular posture? Not at all. The main thing is to be comfortable. I like to sit or recline and I prefer to clasp my hands loosely together (to stop me fidgeting!) but really, it’s a matter of what’s comfortable.
Background music : Calming, quiet background music can be very helpful in that it can serve to diminish the effect of extraneous noise. I do find it useful but not absolutely necessary. Whenever I choose to use it, I tend to play instrumental hymns because if I use a version with words I have an overwhelming urge to sing along!
Guided meditation : This is when you play an audio file of someone reading a meditation script. It can be an aid in the sense of giving structure but I find meditation a deeply personal experience and I much prefer to focus on a Scripture verse or verses that I’ve selected myself.
If you choose to use a guided meditation option, do please take time to read the transcript before you begin so that you’re absolutely sure of everything that will be said during the session. If there’s no transcript offered, you may wish to avoid it.
Preparation : Take a few minutes to steady your breathing.
Inhale deeply through the nose for a slow count of 4.
Hold this breath for a count of 2.
Exhale through the mouth for a count of 6.
Pause for a second and begin again.
I find that even a few minutes (2-3) of this is enough to slow my respiration rate and is very calming although I usually spend up to 5 minutes. There’s all sorts of advice for how you should do this breathing discipline but if you get dizzy or uncomfortable, then you’re likely doing too much or your breathing pattern is too extreme. You’ll probably find, with practice, you can eventually inhale, hold and exhale at a very slow rate but the key thing is to calm your breathing which, in turn, helps regulate your heart rate and generally calms you.
Prayer : Since this is Christian meditation and my fullest desire and intent is to please God, I like to begin with a very simple Scripture-based prayer.
‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.’ (Psalm 19:14)
Structured versus unstructured meditation : I’ve done both. I’ve come to meditation with no particular focus in mind and I found it quite difficult to concentrate. More recently I’ve moved to structured meditation. It requires a certain degree of preparation but it’s altogether more effective and more than worth the effort.
My method is to select a verse or a passage of Scripture and meditate deeply on it for several sessions.
Prepare the text.
Print it and carry it with you.
Repeat it often, silently and aloud.
Write it out.
Listen to it. (I’m very fond of the Audio Bible read by David Suchet.)
Sing the Psalm or one or more hymns associated with the text.
(As a supplementary resource, I put aside all my other studies and read every commentary I can find on my text of choice.)
During mediation, I silently recite the selected text. Sometimes I get through the whole thing; other times I linger on one or more particular verses. The words wrap around my heart and invade my thoughts and eventually I feel fully immersed in it.
Originally, I had no specific intent to memorise the text but with this degree of concentration it’s inevitable that it gets committed to memory. And what a rich treasure that is!
Meditation is really just disciplined, focussed concentration and that can, of course, include prayer. I learned that we can, we should, we must come before God in every single situation of our life. He is our first and last and only resort.
It’s very helpful to follow the model of the Psalms that frequently begins with crying out to God and ends in grateful praise.
We can weep and grieve.
We can rail against our circumstances.
We can beg and plead and implore.
We can confidently claim every one of His promises.
We can rejoice and sing.
We can marvel and praise.
We can worship and adore.
We can be completely silent in His presence.
The Psalms, in particular, help us articulate our thoughts and feelings. They teach us to praise and pray. I cannot recommend them more highly as a basis for some serious meditation. There are, of course, many other verses and passages of Scripture that also serve in this wonderful way.
Meditation isn’t for everyone but I certainly find it a singularly helpful resource and I warmly and enthusiastically commend it to you.