Like any good college student in Southern California, I spent a couple years as a Buddhist.
This was really the first time I was exposed to meditation. It was a powerful thing. Sometimes, too powerful. Incredibly profound spiritual experiences while meditating kind-of scared me away from meditation. That is a story for another time.
Despite those negatives, I found meditation powerful and helpful. When I began following Jesus, I spent some time assessing these practices and my motivations for engaging in them. I have had this on-again, off-again relationship with spiritual practices. Sometimes, I have engaged in things very much like the old meditations I used to engage in. Other times, I have pursued other more intentionally Christian disciplines…
If I were to be honest, I would say that most of the time, I haven’t done either. Most of the time, I have just steered clear of all this stuff. Some of my reasons relate to myself as a person: I am not sure that the reasons I would do these things are the right reasons. Some of them are more collective: Christianity as a whole is quite split over what to do with these sort-of practices, particularly when they are borrowed from other religious traditions. Perhaps an even more important reason is sheer laziness. To do these things requires a sort-of effort. Perhaps you are like me. Even the things that have a pretty quick pay-off, sometimes it is hard to get myself to do them.
Meanwhile, the secular world is starting to grab on to the value of spiritual disciplines. Mindfulness, for example, is a buzz word these days. Ted Talks and newspaper articles continue to list the benefits of creating times in our busy lives where we are not thinking, where we are just be-ing, just breathing.
I hate it when the Church is on the wrong side of things.
As a Christ-follower, I have always been open about how spiritual practices help me to get closer to God. Mother Theresa had this mind-blowing description, of what prayer was like for her. She said that sometimes, she listens to God. The interviewer asked her what she was listening to. She answered that she was listening to God listen to her. I love that: sitting in silence, with God, listening to God listen to me. Like those wonderful times when you are sitting on a blanket with a good friend, and maybe the sun is setting, or there is a breeze, or the scent of something lovely wafts to your nose, and you are not talking, and you are just filled with the conviction that everything is pretty o.k. in the world.
Budhist, and secular, and other forms of meditation speak a lot about another benefit of meditation. This is one I continue to feel. It is not one that my brothers and sisters in Christ are always on board with. After I am engaged in prayerful meditation, I see the world differently. It is not so much that they help me to see the world anew, it is something different. The original, (way better) film version of Willy Wonka features one of his research prototypes. It is a little piece of gum, or candy, or something, that replicates an entire meal. The actress does this incredible job, as each course comes in, of helping us to see her joy and excitement as the flavor of each course strikes her taste buds.
Prayerful meditation is like that: I see things, and hear things, and smell things, and taste things in a way that is delightful and surprising. I feel the surprised joy of the character from Willy Wonka.
I am beginning to suspect that the reason that we don’t want to talk about this benefit of prayerful meditation is that we have perverted the gospel.
I could ramble on for a dozen pages about ‘why’ it seems like this came to be. I think maybe I will continue next post with this idea. For now, I will try and be (uncharacteristically) brief.
Their was a conspiracy that broke the meaning of the gospel. One member of the conspiracy was Greek understanding of the world. The Greeks, through folks like Plato, idolized ideas and disdained the “dirty” world we live in. The second conspiracy was a short-sightedness in theology. We turned Jesus promise of the redemption of all things in to a ticket to some ethereal plane beyond the world. The third was the political landscape. It benefitted some people with a lot of influence to mantain their power, position, and prestige. These folks wanted so spin Christianity in a way that lead to people focusing on the next world at the expense of this one.
The result of this conspiracy is a Christianity that is out-of-balance. It tries to ignore that when Jesus came back, he did so in a body. That body ate. It could be felt by Thomas, who explored its wounds. It has taken communion, which might have been a hearty carnival for the senses; a feast, and it has turned this into a chomping a flavor-less cracker and drinking a sip of water; it complicates the meaning of pretty straight foreward pronouncements, like the created world is good, and the kingdom of heaven is among us.
I have come to believe that we are born to be in the world. (God had hoped it would not be broken, though.) I have come to believe we will spend eternity on a restored and urgraded Earth. I have come to believe that the biblical injunctions to enjoy the bounties of this world are to be taken at face value.
And when I connect with God he gives me new eyes to see the world around me. He gives me new ears to hear it. The world is good, the kingdom is among us, and eternity can began right here, right now.