Meditating Non-Eastern Style: Is There Such a Thing?

Two weeks ago, I mentioned the food program I’m currently following, Radiant Recovery. From a nutritional perspective, I think the program is great. It’s worked for me in curbing my sugar cravings and allowing me to live sugar free with no willpower required. However, I’ve been leery about other peripheral aspects of the program, like the recommendation to use meditation to naturally raise beta endorphin levels.

Keep in mind, Radiant Recovery is a food program. Meditation is not a requirement but it is talked about frequently since people who are sugar sensitive (like myself) are naturally low in beta endorphin. (Thus, when we eat or do something that raises beta endorphin, we get a bigger “hit” than our non-sugar sensitive peers, and conversely, a lower low, which leads to the addictive cycle.) Despite my dedication to the sugar free lifestyle, I’ve never made a habit of meditating, because the thought of it makes my stomach hurt. (Translation: I get a caution flag from God.)

We Are Wonderfully Made

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14 NIV

As a Christian, I believe the Bible when it says we are wonderfully made, so I also believe beta endorphins were created by God for a specific purpose and that His purpose is good. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Genesis 1:31 NIV

Medical studies have proven the benefits of meditation, and I’ll admit, this has me a bit confused. Why that sickening feeling in my stomach when I consider implementing daily meditation? If an activity lowers our stress levels and raises our beta endorphins, it must be good, right?

Jessica, why are you being so prudish?

When it comes to meditation, I’ve asked myself the above question countless times, and for the longest time, I had no coherent answer. (“It gives me a sick feeling in my stomach” doesn’t count as an answer. At least not in Christian apologetics.) Rather than ponder in a void, I decided to do some research on Christianity and meditation. The research led me to Lighthouse Trails. To give you an idea of what Lighthouse Trails is about, the following appears on their “About Us” page:

In the year 2000, we learned that a mantra-style meditation coupled with a mystical spirituality had been introduced to the evangelical, Christian church and was infiltrating youth groups, churches, seminaries, and Bible studies at an alarming rate.

In the spring of 2002, we began Lighthouse Trails Publishing with the hope of exposing this dangerous and pervasive mystical paradigm—six months later we published our first release, A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen.

As we learned more about contemplative spirituality (also known as the spiritual formation movement), we came to realize it had entered the church through a number of avenues—Willow Creek, Purpose Driven, and the emerging church just to name a few of the more prominent ones.

Because the premise of this spirituality is both pantheistic (God is all things) and panentheistic (God is in all things), thus refuting the gospel message of the Cross, we are compelled to address this issue—Lighthouse Trails Publishing and our research ministry, Lighthouse Trails Research Project, are here as a service to the body of Christ.

I don’t agree with everything I read on the Lighthouse Trails blog, but I have found their material regarding New Age infiltration into the church very helpful, and at times, disconcerting. They strongly critique some popular Christian figures, including Beth Moore for her involvement the “Be Still” DVD, which they view as her endorsement of the contemplative prayer movement.

I find some of their arguments compelling, but I haven’t come to any firm opinions regarding whether Beth Moore is touting a Biblical practice versus crossing a dangerous line. I don’t feel I’ve done enough research, nor to I feel I fully understand the difference between Eastern meditation and Christian meditation. That I don’t understand the difference is indicative of a problem.

Meditate on the Word

Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Psalm 4:4 NKJV

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. Psalm 1:1-2 NIV

The Bible tells us to meditate on the Word, but what does that mean?

I do know what Eastern meditation is. It’s an emptying of the mind. I understand, too, that Christians aren’t supposed to empty our minds, but we’re supposed to fill them with thoughts of God’s goodness. However, quite frankly, sometimes my mind does need quiet. My profession requires much analytical thinking, as does creative writing. By the time I approach the Bible, my mind is tired. Therefore, if meditating on the Word means carefully analyzing it, or consciously memorizing it, I’m afraid I don’t want to. Sometimes I just want to turn my brain off (as much as possible) and sit with God. But is this Eastern meditation?

Speaking of analytical thinking, I’ve no doubt analyzed this issue to death, but I’ve truly believed there is a difference between Christian meditation and Eastern meditation, and my longing for a clear definition from someone, somewhere has continued to fuel my quest.

The most thorough definition I’ve found is at Bible.org. (I’m posting a lengthy snippet so I can re-remind myself when I get re-confused about what Christian meditation really is.)

In Eastern forms of meditation as in TM there is an attempt to empty the mind. Biblical meditation, however, is an attempt to empty the mind of the wrong things in order to fill it with what is right and true according to the index of God’s inspired Word.

All Eastern forms of meditation stress the need to become detached from the world. There is an emphasis upon losing personhood and individuality and merging with the Cosmic Mind… Detachment is the final goal of Eastern religion. It is an escaping from the miserable wheel of existence… It is merely a method of controlling the brain waves in order to improve your psychological and emotional well-being.

Biblical meditation involves becoming detached from the controlling and hindering influences of the world and attached to the living God through Christ that we might, through faith and transformed values, experience the sufficiency of the Savior and reach out to a hurting world in need of the living Christ.

Biblical meditation is object oriented. It begins with reflective reading and rereading of the Word and is followed by reflection on what has been read and committed to memory. In Scripture, the word meditate is generally found with an object (God, His Word, or works, etc.) or in a context where the object of meditation is understood.

In Scripture it does not mean to sit and ponder infinity or to empty the mind so some force can fill it by repeating some chant or mantra. Such is dangerous and opens the mind to demonic attack. Meditation in the Bible means reflective thinking on biblical truth so that God is able to speak to us through Scripture and through the thoughts that come to mind as we are reflecting on the Word, but that must also be filtered by the Word.

The goal of Christian meditation is to internalize and personalize the Scripture so that its truth can affect how we think, our attitudes, and how we live, our actions.

An Example of Biblical Meditation in Practice

Given Bible.org’s definition of Christian meditation, I think “meditating on the Word” most likely looks something like this:

During the three summer months of 1993 I hung out in Philippians. I just read it. The whole thing. Every day. I didn’t “study” it until the third month. By then I already knew it. I already understood it. I already liked it. I wanted to study it more deeply.

By the end of the first week, I noticed that I was starting to feel differently about the Bible. I had always known that Philippians was a letter. I had just never read it the way I read letters. After all, if you went to your mailbox and pulled out a four-page, hand-written letter from someone you loved, would you read the first page and save the second page for tomorrow? Not a chance!

For the rest of the summer, my love for Philippians – not just the letter, but also the church, the people, and Paul himself – continued to grow. It was so, well, real.

This sounds like something my brain can actually handle. Just read it. Over and over, until you’ve read it so much that you’ve memorized it without even trying.

What do you think? Is “meditating on the Word” really that simple? And do you suppose it gives Christians the same neurochemical benefits as Eastern meditation?