Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

Strength For the Outer Life of Service

April 11, 2018

Thomas à Kempis

Why is it that we are so ready to chatter and gossip with others, when we so seldom return to silence without some injury to our conscience? Perhaps the reason we are so fond of talking is that we think to find consolation in this manner; to refresh a spirit wearied with many cares. And so we speak of what we like and dislike, and of the things we desire or despise. But in the end this outward attempt to find consolation is only an obstacle to our inner life.

Let us watch and pray that our time is not spent fruitlessly. Let us not busy ourselves with idle conversation, or with what other people say and do.…Blessed are the single-hearted, for they enjoy true peace.

Jesus’ last commandment was an action verb. Love. It’s not an emotion. It’s a way of living.

If you go back and read the parts of the gospel that talk about how Jesus lived as a story of a person, you will see that he lived that action verb–the very personification of love in action.

Yet, if you are writing the biography of a person with a deep inner life, what can you say? Only what you observe–he went off alone to pray. Oh, and he went off alone to pray.

We know that our example is to go off alone to pray.

Where do we get the strength for service? Following the example of Thomas quoted above, we pay attention to our inner life that it is not spent fruitlessly.

When I began meditation practice in my late teens, I never had a thought that it would become mainstream psychological therapy. Now, we have one of my students talking after Yoga class about a mindfulness meditation “class” his employer has during lunch time. He says, “That’s sort of what you teach at the end of class, right.”

He wondered how you could go from a stressful morning filled with meetings to a lunch time of calm and quiet.

Well, it’s called practice. It is not only possible, but necessary. Meditation literally rewires the brain. Your very personality changes over time. And you get strength for the long haul.

Meditation Can Change Your Life

February 7, 2018

Psychologists and therapists have discovered en masse “mindfulness” during the last few years.

There is a reason. It is good for your mental, spiritual, and physical health.

It literally rewires your brain. It helps grow new neurons, divert others, and add to the fatty layers between the neurons.

People will notice the change in you. Warning–not after one day. Or one week. Maybe a little after a month. It does take time. It is a spiritual discipline.

The change–you will calm down and gain perspective.

Meditation practiced daily for at least 15 minutes (best is twice per day) reduces stress. This helps reduce inflammation in the body which is a cause or contributor of many diseases.

I’m thinking about this after listening to a podcast interview with a guy who has written a book. I scanned the book–don’t recommend it. Just not helpful. But in his conversation, he talked about being meditation teacher to all manner of celebrities. I thought, heck, I know at least as much as what he’s talking about as a 40+ year practitioner. I could teach celebrities.

Then I realized where I live. The last time a celebrity came through town was probably when Rob Lowe visited his grandfather. Well, unless it was someone on tour and their custom motor home traveled on I-75. <sigh>

Americans associate meditation and mindfulness with either New Age or Buddhism. And those people do meditate. But there is a Christian tradition of meditation for enlightenment and experience of God that stretches back to the very beginnings of the faith. I have a shelf in my bookcase devoted to the writings of the Desert Fathers and many other “mystics”. I can testify that you can experience God if you devote yourself to that sort of meditation.

But the practice is not esoteric. You can sit, stand, walk, lie. You can close your eyes or leave them open (especially if you’re walking). You can repeat a word (mantra), or not. (I use “God”, the Hindu tradition is “Om” plus a bunch of other sounds, you can try “Love”.) You can imagine a scene in your mind. Perhaps walking through a meadow in a woods and finding a secret garden where you sit and bask in the warm sun. Or just sit quietly and breathe.

Try it. It’ll change your life.

Practicing Mindfulness

December 12, 2017

We are reading in the gospel of John in a small group. John has been talking about these tough spiritual concepts about “being in the Father” and “the Father in me” and “Jesus in me” and “being in Jesus.”

I mentioned the long tradition of meditation as a method of experiencing that union with God. I’ve been at it for more than 50 years. I can testify that it will change your life.

Contemplating these things this morning, I rested in the question of what it means to be “in the Father” or “with-God” life.

The image of the fruit of the Spirit rose in my consciousness. Paul writes to the community of Christ followers in Galatia, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Being in the Father means that we these words describe us–the type of person we are, the type of actions people see in us.

During this season of the year, joy and peace are words thrown around sometimes casually. Patience, kindness, gentleness, and (especially) self-control are other practices that certainly would help us and those around us navigate through the season.

While discussing meditation as a way to experience union with God, the question was posed, what about mindfulness? We hear a lot about that.

The mindfulness practices we are hearing about, especially from therapists, strips away New Age clutter or spiritual meditation, and just takes us back to the practice. People began noticing decades ago that people who meditate experience many favorable physical and emotional benefits. So, therapists have taken the technique to help people cope.

The number one app in the Apple App Store in 2017 is called Calm. It’s one of probably hundreds of apps that help you:

  1. Slow down
  2. Breathe deeply
  3. Focus on a word, or body part (my feet and legs feel warm and relaxed, for example)
  4. Reconnect body, mind, and soul
  5. Find sanity in a sometimes insane world

Peace.

Longing For God

September 6, 2017

I stretch out my hands toward you, longing for you like a parched land. (Psalm 143)

In today’s readings, there was this teaching from 13th century mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart, “The soul must long for God in order to be set aflame by God’s love.”

So many of us miss out on this life of being filled, set aflame as he says, with God’s love. 

Where I live, and probably where most of you live, the dominant teaching is to “accept Jesus into your heart.” The typical meaning is to tell people that you acknowledge Jesus and agree with the teachings of whatever group you did that statement of belief.

And with that statement of belief, that’s all you need. Life is changed. Everything is beautiful.

They miss the rest of the teachings of Paul (see Roman after Chapter 8, for example). The parts like “work out your faith in fear and trembling.” 

Do we even use the word “longing” any more? It means wanting something so much that you feel a pain deep in your guts. Even more than wanting that new big pickup truck. Even more than that large house. Even more than that attractive person you just met.

When we stop at just repeating the words, we miss out on life–what Jesus kept talking about and John repeated in his Gospel. Abundant life. Filled with the love of God.

And like flames, to carry on Eckhart’s metaphor, they need to be rekindled and refreshed constantly, fed with new fuel. We do that by reading spirit-infused writing and contemplation and singing.

Life In The Fast Lane

August 21, 2017

Life in the fast lane, surely makes you lose your mind.

Following a quick visit to Houston on business last week, I was on vacation in Michigan combined with a wedding in Grand Rapids on Saturday. I ran out of time, so no post Friday.

Watching people’s clothing choices (including mine) at a resort is always interesting.

I see a guy wearing a tee shirt that proclaims “Fast Lane.” No further explanation. Like restaurant or bar or something.

The first thing I think of is the Eagles. He was a hard-headed man, he was brutally handsome. She was terminally pretty.

What a way with words.

What a thing to proclaim on a shirt.

If this was a proclaimation of life in the fast lane, did the wearer know that the song is sarcastic? Or prophetic?

But we all can get caught up in a version of the fast lane–hopefully without drugs, alcohol, and a death wish.

Suddenly we look at the week ahead, or weeks ahead, and everything is filled. We are going to be running here, meeting there, classes, visits, vacation, business. 

When are we going to breathe.

That’s when we need to recall “Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46. Another translation says “stop your striving” in place of “be still”. 

What I need is a reminder to stop and take a few deep breaths.

Only then can I refocus and remember to just tackle one thing at a time. Or as the first self-help guru/management consultant I heard some 40 years ago said, “Try…easy.”

And maybe take care about the message you proclaim to others.

Meditate for Life

July 12, 2017

I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night. Ps 63:6

I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds. Ps 77:12

I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. Ps. 119:15

Scientists continue to discover benefits from meditation or, as it is called these days, mindfulness. Being in quiet and stillness for even just five minutes a day can change your personality.

It slows you down–which is a good thing. You can focus on what is important learning to let distractions fade away.

You become quieter and calmer.

Now we are seeing how meditation helps “white matter” grow between the neurons in the brain. This aids thinking and learning. It’s also thought to have a positive effect in preventing Alzheimers and other brain disorders.

It also helps adolescents, as well as adults, improve their emotional well being.

We think this is new. It’s not. Humans have intuitively know this for millennia. David wrote his songs (Psalms) 3,000 years ago. And no one seemed amazed. The word already existed in the Hebrew language.

Jesus had a habit of withdrawing to be with himself and God. We call that meditation.

Paul reports once on the result of a meditation when he talks of being swept into third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12.

Mindfulness teaches one to be in touch with the body. That is good. Meditating on God is the next step. God leads us to visions and brings us to a sense of unity with creation. But that is for another time.

Mindfulness also grounds us in the present. We are not in the future worrying or in the past recriminating. As the Buddhist phrase puts it, “Wherever I go, there I am.”

I should add that we are now seeing evidence that coffee also helps you life longer. Meditation along with a cup of good coffee–that has been my morning habit for many years.

Take A Journey In Your Mind

May 2, 2017
Leave your cares behind
Come with us and find
The pleasures of a journey to the center of the mind
Come along if you care
Come along if you dare
Take a ride to the land inside of your mind
Beyond the seas of thought
Beyond the realm of what
Across the streams of hopes and dreams where things are really not — Amboy Dukes; Ted Nugent and Steve Farmer

OK, so Ted Nugent went from writing psychedelic rock to being a conservative political activist.  There may be some kind of meaning there.

The 1960s witnessed a spiritual revival. Not religious. Spiritual. Some of the spiritual quest was, well, illegal. This song was no doubt an attempt to write about “psychedelic” experience.

But as often happens in poetry, there are meanings beyond what you write.

In meditation, you suspend thought and facts. You focus on God. Perhaps a story like maybe an interaction that Jesus had with someone. Or a parable. And you don’t analyze. You experience.

And sometimes God breaks through. And you experience.

And you believe in God, not because you read somewhere that you should or someone told you that you should. You know.

And now spiritual truths make more sense.

Psychologists will sometimes instruct patients to go somewhere where they can be alone with their thoughts. Then settle in and just tune in to the inside.

A patient once told Carl Jung, the famed Swiss psychologist, that he couldn’t imagine anyone worse to be with than himself. I think Dr. Jung probably thought, “You’re right. And I’m trying to help you get over that.”

Find 15 minutes today. Slow down, concentrate on God, a story, a bird, a leaf, a bug, whatever is around. Relax. Become aware of where you are and what you’re doing.

Your blood pressure will thank you. Your brain will thank you. People around you will thank you.

You Can Be a Mystic

April 27, 2017

Meditation is greatly misunderstood by most people. You can do it.

You can do it if…you can sit still and focus.

We focus on our breath. Slowing it down. Paying attention.

Then we focus our attention on God. We just sit (or lie, or walk) in the presence of God.

It may last 5 minutes. I may last 2 hours. Doesn’t matter.

Mystics? Not a popular word these days. Well known in previous centuries.

They are just people who make a daily practice for longer and longer times of sitting in the presence of God.

It changes their lives. They slow down. Are less anxious. Can face adversity.

We sometimes have visions of things God wants us to see.

And then again, sometimes not.

But we have conversations, speaking and listening, with God. We thank him. We ask him for guidance. But then we must listen and pay attention to what he tells us. Sometimes that is hidden within other people. It is up to us to discern.

Teach Your Children Well

April 10, 2017

Teach your children well. –Graham Nash

If you’re like me, you can’t hear those words without the famous steel guitar intro by Jerry Garcia.

What started this line of thought was a comment by the Dalai Lama in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. “The problem is that our world and our education remain focused exclusively on external, materialistic values. We are not concerned enough with our inner values.”

I remember being adolescent. Of course, I got over that disease much earlier than today’s younger people. It seems to linger into the 30s anymore. But any thought of values meant conservative things designed to prevent fun. I remember students in the education departments who did not want to be role models, only instructors of their subject matter.

So, teachers no longer model good behaviour. They often dress like slobs or like the “women of Wal-Mart” videos.

I’m not so sure that churches in America are all that often modeling and teaching inner values. Everything these days seems to be political–here’s my political belief system, memorize it and you will be saved.

The Book of Joy is a conversation between two of the world’s greatest spiritual leaders held about two years ago. There was the Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, and the Christian, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

There is much to learn from these two men. Each has suffered greatly at the hands of people. Yet, each emanates a deep spiritual calmness. And the ability to laugh.

We often  mistake the source of joy and happiness. Later, the Dalai Lama said, “Most people never pay much attention to the ultimate source of a happy life, which is inside, not outside. Even the source of physical health is inside, not outside.”

It is time to pause, look inside, find that spiritual core that connects to God. We sometimes call that mindfulness. Being intentional, aware, senses sharpened, awaiting the whisper of God.

And then pass it on.

We Don’t Have a Soul; We Are One

January 9, 2017

We are a soul that has a body; we’re not a body that has a soul. — John Ortberg, Sr. Pastor of Menlo Churches

We live in such a rationalistic age. Everything is about thinking. We believe in a proposition rather than experiencing God. We study the body in all its intricacies. We study the mind and the brain. We study words and repeat them.

Ancient peoples studied the soul.

What you find by reading the works of those ancient spiritual explorers and even those up until today that there is universal agreement across all cultures that there is a soul.

You, too, can get in touch with your soul.

Stop, pause, consider–who is the thinker of your thoughts?

When is it time to stop thinking, though, and just find that still point of communion with God. No need for words. No need for actions–that comes later. We finally slow down, open up, focus inward beyond thoughts and worries and plans, and bask in the light that comes from God.