Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

Who Is Smarter Than God?

July 25, 2022

Certainly, not I.

Like many young liberal and feminist students of long ago, I had a general dislike of the Apostle Paul. He was seen as the standard bearer of male domination/female subservience, apologist for American slavery (and therefore against civil rights), and homophobe.

Then I became a scholar of Paul. With that a deep appreciation of what he was trying to do.

I even started to reply to someone I know on Facebook who said Paul supported male domination of women. He asked me to prove from scripture that he was wrong. I thought of a dozen things immediately. It’s never a good thing to reply on Facebook. I came to my senses just in time. No one was convinced of error on Facebook. Ever.

This thought came to me recently that we spend too much time and energy thinking and memorizing from the Bible and not enough time living out Jesus’ commands–that we love one another.

I thought about that guy who was proclaiming how he should be the master of his wife’s body and soul (good luck doing that!) when I came across this teaching of Paul from Romans:

Is there anyone around who can explain God?

Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?

Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advice?

Romans 11

I have met such people. I have read the works of such people. I have read of their failures in the news.

The next paragraph from Paul:

Everything comes from him;

Everything happens through him;

Everything ends up in him;

Always Glory, Always Praise

Romans 11

Every morning I sit quietly with God listening for advice and wisdom. I don’t tell God what to do. I don’t assume I know the mind of God. I wait upon God with attentive ears.

Why Meditate?

July 22, 2022

Mindfulness meditation infuses all manner of psychological and New Age counseling. Varieties include thousands of apps on your phone, Zen, Yoga, and, yes, our Christian tradition going back to ancient times.

Regular meditation of whatever variety will change your personality. You become calmer. Centered. Aware of people and circumstances. That has been my experience. If your meditation is focused on God, then you are given occasional glimpses of life with God.

Spiritual writer Eberhard Arnold points to another benefit coming from meditation, if we but dare to go there.

Eberhard Arnold

The only justification for fleeing the confused and hectic whirl of contemporary culture so as to withdraw into the inward self is if doing so will increase our fruitfulness. The goal must be to unite with eternal powers in order to gain a strength of character that is ready to be tested in the stream of the world and is equipped to meet the demands of our day. Our watchword is not “Retreat!” but rather “Gather for the attack!” 

Eberhard Arnold

We retreat into the silence of meditation to prepare ourselves for life outside when we meet people who are at odds with us. How will we deal with people and circumstances? With a solid core of spiritual strength, we can face the challenges.

Debilitating Power of Stress

July 21, 2022

I have lived through many stressful times. For some, the pandemic and economic slowdown may be their first. Some feel stress constantly from just trying to survive.

Check the Christian scriptures. Jesus dealt with daily stresses, but then there was the night before he died when he was sweating blood. He could see what was ahead. That’s stress.

Or Paul having rocks thrown down at him and escaping a city in the dead of night hoisted over the city wall and running away. And other pillars of the faith like James and John and Peter. They all experienced times of great stress.

Yet, the message of them all was founded on the fruit of the spirit that included peace, joy, calm.

Living in the spirit and experiencing that fruit is often not easy. Stresses large and small eat away at our inner balance.

Even so, follow their example of periodic withdrawal to have silence and alone time with God heals. Awareness of God’s surrounding presence helps us through those times.

We must not neglect intentional time to connect. Probably more often than five minutes every morning.

Chipping Away At The Block That Binds Us

June 22, 2022

The carpenter takes a block of wood. She chips away at it until she uncovers the shape that he needs for the project.

The anonymous author of the 14th century work The Cloud of Unknowing in another work commenting on the 12th century monk St. Denis, takes this illustration from Denis applying it to us.

We travel through life accumulating ideas, thoughts, emotions, scars. These accumulate and harden like that block of wood.

We have all met probably far too many people who are stuck in this hardened state of the spirit. This seems also to lead to physical manifestations of hardening.

We need not be condemned to be stuck in this block for the rest of our lives. We devote ourselves to meditation, study, prayer, service to others. God, seeing our right attitude, will assist us with our task of chipping away those hardened detritus of life to uncover the whole person that was there all the time.

We become free.

Sublime Experience Beyond the Consciousness

May 2, 2022

Chelsea football club, one of the top clubs in the English Premier League, traveled north to Everton to take on a team struggling to stay in the top league. For clubs outside the US, the bottom teams in the table are relegated to a minor league being replaced by the top teams of that league. So, teams lower in the table have a lot to play for.

Yesterday, Sunday May 1, Everton played all out. The goalkeeper made many fantastic saves. Two key defenders were tough against the Chelsea line. The forward converted his opportunity to score the game’s only goal. Fans sang club songs and cheered the entire 90 minutes. At the final whistle with an Everton 1-0 victory, 40,000 fans stayed and sang the club songs and cheered the team’s victory.

I was moved by the outstanding play and the fan’s emotion. My spine tingled and tears actually welled up. And I am not an Everton fan. But the experience was sublime.

Tor Nørretranders, writing in his study of consciousness, The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, “The word sublime comes from Latin and means elevated, raised above the ordinary and humdrum.” He concludes his study discussing the sublime which is experience beyond consciousness.

I’ve explored such experiences for my entire adult life. Perhaps that’s why I’m moved by experiences such as that Everton sporting event. Contemplation for 55 years or longer has led to sublime experiences of God beyond rational interpretations of the Bible or of some major theologian. My touch of the sublime comes through quiet and contemplation. For others it is through charismatic gatherings of singing and praise. However you experience it, once you have experienced the sublime beyond consciousness, you are not going back.

Nørretranders’ book is not an easy read. The trail he forges through varieties of science fascinates and intrigues those willing to take the trip.

Images

October 5, 2021

The first Jesus-followers strove to figure out this whole Jesus and resurrection and Messiah thing. They heard the first-hand stories and as the movement spread read reports of the resurrection. They began studying the Hebrew Scriptures for signs pointing to Jesus. Along the way, they picked up a few teachings. Such as, you shall have no graven images of Yahweh.

Unlike all the other religions, Jews did not make a picture or statue of their God. Christ-followers picked this up. As we read, for example in the gospel of John, God is spirit, worship in spirit and truth.

Evagrius writing in the 4th Century warns about how images may come to you in prayer and that these are the work of spiritual forces opposed to God.

When I began meditating at age 17 or so, I was sternly taught–no images. Do not picture God. Maybe staring at a mandala will help focus the mind, but in reality, these are to be avoided.

One of the sub-plots in The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky concerns whether it is right to have ikons. These have traditionally been popular within the Eastern Orthodox churches.

By the way, if you have not read this book or if it has been a long time, make it your next novel. Don’t watch the movie as a shortcut. It is a terrible representation of the book.

When I read this teaching in Evagrius, all these thoughts ran through my head. And, to this day, I do not visualize God when I meditate. I visualize nothing. I concentrate on my breath. Or, I say a mantra such as “God” or “Spirit” or the long form “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. These can help slow the mind and aid focus. Mostly, I can just sit, adjust my breathing, and dwell in silence for a time. Done for a period of time, it effects physical changes in the brain and helps lead to a calmer life.

A Person In Chains

October 4, 2021

Sometimes we sit or kneel or lay in prayer and we cannot settle down.

Evagrius wrote 1800 years ago, “A man in chains cannot run. Nor can the mind that is enslaved to passion see the place of spiritual prayer. It is dragged along and tossed by these passion-filled thoughts and cannot stand firm and tranquil.”

Ancient language, but he captured our problem.

We want to be at peace with God. Have an honest conversation. Talk to someone who listens, and listen to God’s advice and wisdom.

But so often we are chained to thoughts churning up from the gut. Angers, fears, feelings of being slighted, or being left out, worry, these all lead us astray. They must be dealt with through focus in God.

Today we teach breathing and have apps on our smart phones to calm the mind. All to the good.

When we were teens, sometimes we became attached to a peer group that led us into doing things we knew were wrong. Evagrius and other writers of his age would say “chained to” the group.

We had to find a way to leave the group and find a new one going the right way.

So, with our thoughts and passions. We must fill our minds with wisdom and knowledge and seek the spirit in quiet. We must break the chains of attachment. With me, this is not theoretical knowledge. It is life.

Imperturbable Calm

September 28, 2021

My internal clock awakens me at approximately 5:30 am no matter what time zone I’m in. Fly to Germany? Next morning, no problem, rise at 5:30 Central European time.

This morning? 6 am. The one morning when I had an early conference call with Germany. Then two announcements of new corporate strategies and products. And pick up my phone at 6:10 to three messages from soccer referees with issues who needed to drop games (and me to find replacements). And things to read. Things to write.

The last thing I read last night before bed served me well. Evagrius Chapter 52 on prayer.

The state of prayer can be aptly described as a habitual state of imperturbable calm.

By “prayer”, he doesn’t not mean when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father. Or when you present your list of supplications.

It comes in that quiet time with only you and God fully present.

And after years of that practice, your personality, your life, they change.

And I could breathe. Refocus. And tackle my day one thing at a time.

It doesn’t mean that here at 2 pm I’m not tired. But tired is OK. But not frazzled. Not discouraged. I did what I could. Contributed in the conference call. Learned some new information about information technology. Contacted people. Hopefully encouraged a few.

I am not imperturbable. But like the surface of a pond when a stone is thrown in I have some ripples that gradually lose themselves at the edges and the pond is still once more.

Enter The Story

September 15, 2021

A famous Zen koan says “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?”

My first rational response years ago was, “Define sound.”

I heard a Zen teacher explain that meditating on this saying and others like it means entering a story. The saying usually makes no “sense” but you meditate on that and enter a story about you.

I thought about how Jesus spoke these sayings. Rational, literalist scholars and students try to parse out all manner of rational explanations. Perhaps they are on the wrong path. Perhaps the path is that of entering the story.

Remember Jesus’s earliest proclamation about the Kingdom of Heaven is here, around us, in us? Let’s take Jesus’s sayings of “the kingdom of heaven is like…”

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard that grows into a big bush such that the birds of the air can build nests in it.

I’ve heard several scholarly explanations drawing on biology or zoology or even symbolism (birds represent evil and that means…).

What if Jesus is inviting us into story? I desire the kingdom of heaven to dwell within me. I sit in mediation and enter a personal story. I am despondent. My faith feels so small, just like that small grain of mustard. But wait, I love the taste of mustard on my sandwich. Perhaps I have the worth of adding flavor to the world around me. And the seed eventually grows so large that perhaps I can have hope that one day my faith will fill me such that others around can find support.

Perhaps your story is different. That would be OK. It would be your story. You and the kingdom.

And when you leave your mediation chair and go to work how different will you be when you are working and relating to people you meet? That also is a story.

Thinking About Thinking

September 9, 2021

Our rational mind tries to figure things out. But it must start with an assumption. Some sort of starting place. Then it proceeds to think more or less rationally. Perhaps for justification.

Our mind, however, will believe anything we tell it to believe. Our starting point for thinking could be completely wrong. Or flawed. Or incomplete.

We must first find the proper starting point for thinking. Perhaps through prayer, contemplation, meditation, study we see through our fog. We develop a new way of looking at our story.

Look at the way Jesus told stories. Almost always they are designed to shock the hearer’s assumption so that they now think from a new starting point.

Are we shocked by Jesus’ stories? Or have we read them or heard them so often that we miss the point?

Can we pause, breathe, relax and then approach these stories with new eyes, like a child? Maybe we can be shocked again like the original hearers?