The idea of meditation has become somewhat of a bit of a dirty word in many Christian circles in recent years, perhaps mainly due to it having such a strong link to Buddhism, with ideas like mindfulness almost claiming the word as its own. Yet the art of meditation is a deeply biblical one, and I think by overlooking it we miss out on a huge aspect of spirituality.
A few years back, as part of my theology degree, I visited Taize, France. Taize is basically a catholic camp home to thousands of Monks, pilgrims and visitors throughout the year. Meditative worship would take place three times a day, and visitors would be expected to help with house work, and general tasks around the place during the ‘down time’.
One of the main aspects of the worship is periods of silent meditation. Truth be told, the first few times of experiencing this, I can’t say I was a huge fan. I found myself bored out of my mind, mostly looking round the room wondering if people were actually focussed on worship at all, ironic really, because I definitely wasn’t! I found myself quickly slipping into the role of evangelical cynic.
However, as the week progressed, I found myself engaging more and more in the time of reflection, and started to notice time flew by much quicker each day. Now I can’t sit here and declare that within 3 days I was a huge convert to this style of worship, but looking back now, I greatly value those times of meditation, and find myself wondering if it’s something we lack in many modern church settings.
What I did learn from Taize was that meditation is definitely an art, but it’s also a discipline. It was something I had to prepare for, and work on, it doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes life can be so hectic, and even chaotic, it is so important to discipline to have times of silence, with no agenda other than to focus on that moment, and be open to hearing from God.
Brother Lawrence, author of The Practice of the Presence of God describes perseverance like this, which I think perfectly sums up the challenge of meditation.
“Do not be discouraged by the resistance you will encounter from your human nature; you must go against your human inclinations. Often, in the beginning, you will think that you are wasting time, but you must go on, be determined and persevere in it until death, despite all the difficulties.”
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
All over scripture we find calls to meditation and reflection, throughout the Psalms in particular.
‘My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.’ – Psalm 119:148 (ESV)
‘I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.’ – Psalm 119:15
Throughout the Psalms the word Selah appears, which scholars generally agree is likely to be a musical direction for the readers and worshippers to pause, and contemplate the words being said.
It is a challenge from a church context to think, how much time do we give to simply waiting on God, stilling our mind, and becoming mindful of his presence?
In a church setting, I think it’s really important to ask ourselves, are we more concerned with trying to entertain people, and worried how awkward a bit of silence might be?
Probably the main reason I value times of worship in church as opposed to a sing, sit down, sing, sit down model, because I think it’s a key way we help the congregation understand that worship is not just a song, but the times of silence, of ‘selah’ and rest between songs are so valuable in allowing God to speak.
In a secular setting, a minute or two minute’s silence is a great way of showing honour and respect, perhaps as a church we need to not shy away from silence in a world of busyness.
If you feel challenged to make meditation part of your worship, why not give a few minutes now. Turn off the TV. Turn off Spotify. (Put your alarm on for a few minutes if that helps you focus)
And just be.