Experiencing God Through Meditation
Former Trappist monk James Finley talks about the spiritual benefits of contemplative practice for Christians.
You don't tend to have this resistance in the Catholic-Episcopal high church traditions because they're rooted in this kind of historical lineage back through these Christian contemplatives and mystics of the early church.
But I think with the Reformation there were very valid concerns among the reformers as to abuses that were going on within the church. And in that process of reform—which took place within the period of the Enlightenment which gave a tremendous emphasis to reason, to the importance of interpreting things by the use of sound reason and the interpretation of text and so on—I think it kind of slips off from there to a suspicion of meditative dimensions, even though the contemplative modes of Christian faith have these very ancient roots within the Christian community itself. So today there would be many evangelical Christians who are not really taught this openness to these dimensions.
And I think another thing is also true: I think there are many evangelical Christians—because I've talked to them, patients in psychotherapy and on my retreats—who are actually experiencing this deep contemplative form of prayer. They would speak of it as a deep sense of "being one with the Lord" or of being "surrendered over" or being consumed in God's love and so on, but they wouldn't necessarily think of it in terms [of meditation].
Some believe—we see this on Beliefnet's discussion boards—that meditation drives thoughts out of your mind and "invites the devil in."
Sometimes I will tell people who express that—well why not try it? Why not try to just quietly and sincerely and silently open your heart to God and see for yourself if you sense something dangerous or bad or dark. And you might discover that the opposite's the case.
What about those who might say, "Isn't prayer enough?" Why should Christians meditate?
It's not that prayer isn't enough. God has made the human heart in such a way that only God will do. And the God-given longing for God is fulfilled in a oneness with God in which nothing short of that oneness is enough. There's a kind of deep, sincere ache within the heart. It prays, and the prayer actually intensifies or deepens a longing for oneness with God beyond the words of the prayer and also beyond the emotions and the feelings that can come up in the consolations of prayer. Nothing is enough; only God is enough. And that's the mystical quest really, that's the contemplative theme.