Monday, May 1, 2017

Meditation, Stillness and Transformation - Brad Jersak

I had a dream last night -- a discussion with the Dalai Lama, actually. In the dream I saw the consequences of Christianity's failure to engage seriously in Judeo-Christian meditation

While the words "meditate" or "meditation" are scary to some, they are mentioned over 30 times in Scripture ... and never as a rationalist exercise in 'thinking hard.' What the Psalmist describes and Jesus models is a form of God-centered meditation marked by attentive, receptive prayers focused primarily on God's goodness.  Neglecting this practice, we typically skid into one of two ditches. 

In the one ditch, we see spiritually hungry people who, through religious malnutrition, opt out of the Christian faith when it refuses to attend to the needs of the contemplative soul. If Hindu or Buddhist practice (for example) offers to feed that hunger with Yoga, and if Christian meditation is negated by suspicion and fear, we shouldn't be surprised to see transfer growth from the church to the yogini's studio. 

On the other hand, and equally worrisome, setting aside Christian contemplative practice drastically narrows our vision of 'transformation.' Specifically, the transforming work of the Holy Spirit is reduced to moral transformation--improving our behavior. Yes, hopefully the life of Christ will generate a higher morality and empower a greater purity in our lives. Lord knows I need that. 

But you can imagine how that also opens the door to moralism--measuring ourselves and one another by our performance and good behavior. By those standards, the Pharisees imagined themselves superior to Christ himself!

Now here's the good news: a thoroughly Christian practice of meditation--where we quiet our frenetic lives in the presence of God; become present to the grace of today; and listen for the still small voice of Love--may lead to a deeper and wider transformation in our lives. Beyond better behavior, consider how the grace of the Holy Spirit might carry us:

  • from chaos to peace
  • from alienation to intimacy
  • from willfulness to surrender
  • from distraction to focus
  • from obliviousness to awareness
  • from self-centeredness to compassion
  • from shame to grace
  • and so on!
In my own life, I've experienced tremendous new stress and frustration, leading to passive-aggressive outbursts. A mentor of mine helped me identify one of the roots as fragmentation. I'm living far too scattered a life. I am forced to make decisions that will gather the pieces. 

But my dream also served as a reminder that when it comes to Christian meditation, "been there, done that" doesn't cut it. And it was an invitation--my soul was asking--how might a renewed focus on meditation transform my fragmentation into integration? When I think of it that way, attuning myself to God's grace seems like a necessity -- those with religious PTSD will mishear that as 'obligation.' But if this is the grace-medicine the Great Physician prescribes, then it's less about another religious duty than it is about faithfully answering the invitation of the Gentle Shepherd. In other words, yielding to the ministry of God's love. 

But note: "Just yield" might sound like the opposite of "struggling" or "striving." But when Hebrews 4:11 says "strive to enter that rest," those of us with addictive tendencies--especially to workaholism or to religious activity--know exactly what the author means. We know that to "cease striving" is one of the greatest struggles we face. And this too is a transformation we may experience when we force ourselves to pause and meditate. But my experience is that if we arrest our pace, very quickly even discipline is transformed to delight 

Bonus: In the dream, I was going to leave the Dalai Lama my email address so we could connect. Maybe I have a few things to learn from him about meditation that I could use as a Christian. But after about a dozen failed attempts at writing it down, I just let it go. It wasn't meant to be. 

In that moment, I turned to Jesus. As if I were responding to Jesus' invitation in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." 

More precisely, in the dream I turned to the story of Jesus sleeping in the boat through the storm on the Sea of Galilee. I could see the lake, the storm, the boat. I could see the disciples, overwhelmed by the waves like I get, panicking to bale the water out before the boat sinks ... and I could also see the place in the boat where Jesus was sleeping peacefully. 

Now don't take this as exegetical analysis; it's not. It's a meditation. In the dream, Jesus asked me, "Do you really think I was sleeping?" 
     Sure, I said. The text says so
     "Well, the disciples thought so," he said. "But when I came to them walking on water, they also thought I was a ghost.
     "And even when I said Jairus' daughter is 'sleeping,' you don't believe she was just sleeping, do you?" 
     Um, I thought, if you weren't sleeping ...
     "Maybe I was praying. Or what if I was *meditating*?

And then I imagined Jesus was not sleeping; he was meditating. I imagined he was being still. And then when then "woke him up," he got up and said, "Be still!" And then the wind and waves listened, and became still like him. And what if I became still like him? I don't know if my waves would be still, but maybe at least my boat wouldn't sink. Or at least I might stop hollering at the waves and my family and at Jesus. 

And then I woke up. And now I think I will pause my blogging about meditation and stillness, and once again, give it a belated go. Who knows how a little stillness could change me.