Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Spiritual Disciplines: Meditation

Because my spiritual life needs a shot in the arm, I'm starting to read through Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I've completed his description of the first of the "inward" disciplines: meditation. Amazing that he would appear to begin with the most difficult one first considering the pace of our society and culture. The lost art of meditation has become so foreign to our understanding and instinct that the dominant view toward meditation tends to gravitate to a fascination with the eastern mysterious practices. Meditation that is prescribed in the Holy Scriptures, and thus Christian meditation, is quite different from the "new age" pursuits. On the contrary, instead of trying to empty one's mind and being, the goal is to full up with the truth and wisdom of God. Determined contemplation is required for this.

This takes me back somewhat to my days at Temple Kung Fu studios in Seattle, WA. In those days I was surrounded by instructors and students that followed Grand Master Simon's brand of "Neo Ch'an Buddhism." GMS taught his meditation in the form of three progressive modes or "sittings." The 1st sitting was when the practitioner would sit on the floor with correct posture and, with the use of their breathing, empty the mind. In the 2nd sitting one would remain seated in the same manner as with the 1st, but in this case use proper breathing to focus their mind on a specific point. Along with this focusing technique, the goal is to also become more aware of the "energy" (or chi) that flows through the body during times of this focusing. This is where the chi training has its beginning: focused awareness of chi energy flowing through the body and eventual interacting with its flow, potency and direction. The 3rd sitting differed in that one did not have to remain seated, but instead could lay on the floor as well. The goal was to be in as relaxed a state as possible. By means of proper breathing and concentration, you would enter an inward journey called "walking to the river." It was taught that you should imagine walking down a country pathway to the a river's edge whereby you would cast into the river those flaws about yourself you wanted to discard, or extract from the river those traits you wished to add. In this way, you take control and responsibility for the development of the soul.

At the time, I couldn't quite put my finger on what bothered me about such practices, but made the determination not to participate anyway. This conviction was challenged more than once as fellow instructors showed disapproval for my choosing Scripture as my meditation source instead of Simon's method. Nevertheless, I remained persuaded that Simon's method was to be avoided, and a biblical approach should be sought. Over the years my understanding of what a biblical/Christian approach to meditation might look like has increased, but this has not made developing the discipline any easier. I'm as addicted to busy schedules and constant motion as the next American. My hope is to take a fresh crack at the historic spiritual disciplines celebrated in the Church, and experience something of the depth of intimacy with God that saints of the past have enjoyed. If I can just carve out the time, meditation with my God calls out, and I plan to answer.

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