FIRST-PERSON: Mention the word 'meditation' and ...
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Mention the word "meditation," and quickly the discussion turns to such practices as yoga, New Age religion, Transcendental Meditation and "mindful meditation" drawn from Hinduism, and other Eastern religions such as Buddhism.
I have not read extensively about any of these, each of which is a subject of immense discourse in the cyber-world, in scholarly as well as experiential writings and within Christian organizations that relay cautionary information about "alternative religions" and "cults." Like you, I have had to decide how best to utilize my discretionary time before and after work hours and during the weekends. For me, this has entailed 1) trying to be a better husband and father; 2) exploring, memorizing, re-memorizing, meditating upon, and being transformed by Scripture and sensing an ongoing call to write about what God is teaching me; 3) getting involved in the ministry of my church; 4) and trying to do what current science indicates as important for my health.
Although I don't have the time to do an in-depth analysis of yoga, for example, I can make this suggestion: Don't venture into anything that entails the use of simplistic sounds (typically called "mantras") to pull or push you into the recesses of the subconscious. Similarly, don't venture into anything that entails the emptying of your mind in order to achieve a cosmic bliss.
Whether a simplistic sound or an empty mind, they pale in comparison to the wholesomeness of a few words, phrases or sentences from Scripture. Ponder the choice: a mind that is largely vacuous or one that is at rest in even a sliver of Scripture, such as the God's description of wisdom in James 3:17: "... the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."
An added word about one facet of yoga regarding various physical postures. People in the field of physical therapy highly recommend exercises for stretching and strengthening the muscles in our arms, legs and back for long-term flexibility and mobility. Some of these exercises may look like yoga, but they are recommended from a health science standpoint and can easily accommodate thoughts from Scripture while someone is engaging in them. Do not be hesitant to ask a doctor about this facet of good health.
Let me add a word to those who have physical disabilities (like I do): Christian faith never glorifies a physical posture. It only glorifies the God who created the universe, the Son who brought a wondrous salvation from sin and the Holy Spirit who abides with any believer regardless of his or her physical condition.
NOT JUST YOGA
Even if you do not practice yoga, there is a distinct possibility that you are among the countless millions who are involved in an equally dangerous form of meditation: the absorption of contemporary media, particularly the culture that it reflects.
You might regard that as an absurd statement. Sometimes, though, seemingly absurd statements prove to be true upon closer examination and reflection. Simply consider two points:
First, take a look at dictionary definitions of "meditate" and "meditation." The definitions typically begin with the idea of deep, continuous thinking, of focusing one's mind, of pondering or contemplating something. Then -- secondarily -- they describe meditating and meditation as a solemn devotional or sacred activity. (It's interesting that, at least according to basic dictionary definitions, meditation is not described as the use of mantras or the voiding of one's mind.)
Second, it seems to me that a person surely experiences a focusing of his or her mind toward deep, continuous thinking whenever he/she absorbs contemporary media -- except that the thinking is largely being done by those who produce its visual or auditory content. The beliefs and agendas of the decision-makers and many of actors and technicians they employ are being infused to a significant degree, and perhaps alarmingly so, into the mind of every viewer, listener and reader as well as every enthusiast of interactive media.
The next several times you engage in contemporary media, take note of the almost-otherworldly channel -- perhaps more accurately, a wide surreal pipeline -- through which all of the stimuli flows toward and into your mind. Only occasionally do we interrupt the flow to ask such reality-check questions as "Is that really right? What's really being depicted here? What belief system is afoot?"
Remember, nearly everyone has an agenda, what is often called a worldview.
For many people, it's "Leave me alone."
For Christians, ideally it's a yearning to live optimally in this world and the world to come -- and help others do so -- through a wholesome faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who continually energizes our lives by His Holy Spirit in our minds and hearts.
For non-Christians, their agendas may center on avoidance or dismissal of spiritual matters in order to engage in the supposed pleasures of this world; antagonism toward God and toward Christians and the beliefs we hold; and, in precious instances, a yearning for a faith that can fill their empty souls.
Much of today's media content is the brainchild of those who are dismissive of a supernatural God who created the universe, the ageless viability of the Ten Commandments and the idea of redemption from sin through repentance, redemption and new life in Jesus Christ.
Secular media, however, can take a toll on even the most well-intentioned Christians. The massive expenditures on advertising worldwide is ample evidence of the power of the various forms of media to influence and, over time, alter our thoughts and behavior.
So, be careful about your source of meditation. Alcohol use, enjoyment of food or outdoor recreation, even charitable work -- any of these, not just media stupor, so to speak, can drift into a form of meditation, of occupying one's thoughts. No doubt, we are in continuous need of a counterbalance or, perhaps far more than we realize, in dire need an antidote.
Open a Bible and search through it. Open your heart to the Holy Spirit. Let God's cleansing and healing of your soul begin to take root.
For the essence of embracing faith, go to www.whativaluemost.com and enter Art Toalston's name to find out more. For an additional description of new birth, also go to an earlier column by Toalston at http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=34079.