True contemplation is not a psychological trick but a theological grace (Thomas Merton).
I’ll admit to a disappointment. Foster states that Christian meditation “involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness.” Alas. It is as I said before — discipline as vainglory is a major temptation for me. Personally, I would love to fly into the cosmic consciousness, but such is not the purpose of Christian meditation.
The key to meditation must be the Holy Ghost, “the still, small voice” so important to Mormonism. If meditation is simply the attempt to hear that voice above the din of the day, then it really is quite simple. Trouble is, that din is so loud. Will we hear God knock at the door? (Rev 3:20 was written for believers after all.)
Richard Foster is a Quaker but I don’t think it’s a case of religious pride when he links Quakerism’s emphasis on “the listening silences” and their social impact “far in excess of their numbers.” I once attended a Friends’ meeting and found the hour of silence to be excruciating, which does not bode well for my own practice. Perhaps it is the Mormon in me — consider a Fast and Testimony meeting and the pressure we feel to fill the silences. Even five silent minutes in the celestial room can feel too long. Clearly, I will need to “pursue ‘holy leisure’ with a determination that is ruthless.”
Peter of Celles called for a “sabbath of contemplation.” I am three days in and have found the following useful to that call:
- I downloaded the app “Meditation Helper.” It’s a very simple timer and alarm, happily shorn of empty zenisms and lame music. You simply set your time (for me, for now, 10 minutes) and it rings a bell in the middle and at the end. It also reminds you to meditate every day. That’s it. I was loathe to let my addiction to technology intrude on meditation, but this app really is very basic.
- I have been doing the following cycle of meditation: day one, meditatio Scripturarum (with a bit of memorisation); day two, the “palms down, palms up” prayer; day three, meditation upon the creation. Repeat. I had a peaceful walk yesterday among the hazel trees next to the cathedral.
So far it’s been a positive experience but I will admit to a snag. Foster lauds Faber’s words — “Only to sit and think of God, Oh what a joy it is! To think the thought, to breathe the Name, Earth has no higher bliss.” Such God-centred meditation feels very alien to me. Perhaps, again, it is my Mormon heart. I have been taught to listen to the Spirit to know what to do, not simply to contemplate God. It all sounds like Aquinas’s beautific vision, a rather non-Mormon view of heaven. Still, it will be worth seeing if there is value in this to discipleship. That is the point of the disciplines after all.
Please share your thoughts on meditation over November. We will turn to prayer in December. Local groups can easily be arranged via Facebook.