Butterfly Beginnings: Christian Meditation Introduction

Henry David Thoreau states happiness can be achieved not through the chase, but through focused attention.

“Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

Learning to pray in contemplative style requires a similar desire with a different aim.  In Christian Meditation, the practitioner seeks to connect with both the God of the universe and the spirit of God within.   Through Christ-centering contemplative practices, we awaken to a stillness in both our own bodies and in the outside world by turning our attention away from thoughts, sensations, and feelings.  The primary aim of MeditativePrayer.org is to provide information, tools and practices for a deepening prayer life in ways that are both inspirational and practical.

Much of what is written about Christian Mediation comes from the ancient writings of Christitanity.  Saint Teresa of Avila provides a key to beginning with the focus of God’s favor:

“By meditation I mean prolonged reasoning with the understanding, in this way. We begin by thinking of the favor, which God bestowed upon us by giving us His only Son; and we do not stop there but proceed to consider the mysteries of His whole glorious life.” (The Interior Castle, Mansions 6, Chapter 7)

Some modern writers have ventured whole-heartedly into Christian Meditation such as James Finley in his autobiographical guide, Christian Meditation:

“Meditation is a transformative process of shifting from surface, matter of fact levels of consciousness to more interior, meditative levels of awareness of the spiritual dimensions of our lives…That we might awaken to the already present nature of the oneness with God we seek.

“In meditation, we do not seek to think about God, nor do we seek to think about His Son Jesus, nor do we seek to think about the Holy Spirit. We are trying to do something immeasurably greater. By turning aside from everything that is passing, we seek not just to think about God, but to BE with God, to experience Him as the ground of our being.”

“The reason why in the Christian tradition we meditate is that we believe that Jesus has sent His Spirit to dwell in our hearts. Or to use other words: The Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Creator of the Universe, dwells in our hearts, and, in silence is loving to all. Meditating is simply being open to the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of God.”

“The important aim in Christian meditation is to allow God’s mysterious and silent presence within us to become, more and more, not only a reality but the reality which gives meaning, shape and purpose to everything we do, everything we are.”

The beauty of Christian Mediative prayer is its ability to encompass all our faculties–our minds, bodies, breath and soul, yet simultaneously transcend these faculties for a much higher or inward experience.  Meditation is mystical in nature with aspects that cannot be understood from a cognitive framework. In this regard it is rejected by some as being non-Biblical or un-scriptural.  However, the very practice is centered in Christ and scripture.  Theologian E. P. Clowney defines three dimensions of Christian meditation as being

  1. grounded in the Bible,
  2. a response to the love of God and
  3. an exercise in worship and praise.

Because the God of the Bible is a personal God who speaks in words of revelation, Christian meditation responds to this revelation and focuses on it.  We are repeatedly instructed to meditate in scripture. There are two primary words in the Old Testament for meditation:

  1. Haga: to utter, groan, meditate, or ponder
  2. Sihach: to muse, rehearse in one’s mind, or contemplate. These words can also be translated as dwell, diligently consider, and heed.

Meditation is used 58 times and almost always followed with request for obedience. The Psalmist writes:  “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77:12).   We know that Jesus often prayed for hours at a time. (Luke 5:16).

How is Christian Meditation different?

One way to distinguish the difference between Christian Mediation and other forms is the focus on the presence of Christ.  In both kataphatic and apophatic forms of prayer, the sole aim and purpose is to deepen one’s experience the Trinity.  Kataphatic prayer, such as Lectio Divina, involves focusing the mind on specific scripture, phrases, images or Biblical narratives.  Apophatic forms of meditative prayer, such as Centering Prayer, does not use our minds, breath, bodies or self in anyway, but aim solely to be in the presence of Christ, consenting to the presense in the moment.

Three First Steps for Meditative Prayer:

For a beginner, Lectio Divina, or “Praying with Scripture” is a great starting place. In this practice, scripture is read through the ear of the heart as though it is a love letter from God. Some suggested verses for beginning this practice are listed here.

The following steps are basic for any of the deepening prayer practices.

(1)   Getting ready:

  • Set aside time each day for meditative prayer. Twenty to 60 minutes is ideal, but this is something to be worked toward, not achieved in the beginning.
  • Choose a comfortable, quiet location in your home with minimal distraction.

(2)   For the body:

  • Quiet yourself. Be still inside and out. (“Here I am Lord…”)
  • Sit straight (“in relaxed attentiveness”)
  • Close eyes or lower them (“Lord that I might see…”)
  • Begin with noticing the breath. Set the body at ease. Breath in deeply, hold the breath to a four count, then exhales through the mouth. Repeat 3 or 4 times.

(3)   For the mind:

  • Place yourself in the presence of Christ using light, imagery, or breath
  • Be present, open and awake…neither clinging to nor rejecting anything. If any thoughts come not related to the text, phrase, image or narrative, Just let the thought float by like a leaf on a river.  “Thoughts” applies to: all thoughts, bodily sensations and surroundings.
  • Give yourself grace when the mind wanders, because it will wander. When awakened to the wandering, simply refocus on the chosen focus of prayer for the day or the sacred word in centering prayer.

Need more motivation?

Thinking about God can improve your cognitive functioning, physical health, and make the world a safer place to live. 

In How God Changes Your Brain, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman prove, for the first time, that mediation/prayer improves memory and helps improve the aging brain, and can interrupt the devastating effects of depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and a host of stress-related disorders. 

In addition to explaining how different spiritual practices change the brain, this book also teaches readers nine meditations and prayers that will neurologically enhance physical, mental, and spiritual health, and a fifteen-minute exercise that enhances relationship intimacy, even among strangers.

Meditation is SIMPLE, but not easy.
Meditation is a DISCIPLINE, not a technique.
Meditation is a SPIRITUAL PATH,
not a material pursuit.