Meditation and Contemplation for Christians

Contemplation by Oleg Zhivetin

It’s time to rescue the practice of meditation for Christians today. It’s time to be clear that meditation is not only for practitioners of Eastern religions — it’s something Christians have been doing for centuries.

Scientific articles seem to be coming out daily that demonstrate the benefits of meditation, and it makes sense why people are so interested in this practice today. We live in a stressful, media-saturated, anxiety-producing world! We need to learn how to still the mind and “find rest for our souls” if we are going to survive — let alone thrive in — our over-crowded lives. And meditation helps us to do that.

The good news is the Bible — and historical Christian practice — shows us exactly how to establish habits like meditation, contemplation, and what Christians in the Eastern Orthodox tradition call “the prayer of the heart.” The bad news is that these practices seem to have been abandoned by the Western church in the past several hundred years. Now we have a situation where contemplative practices have almost exclusive associations with Eastern religions, and many Western Christians seem suspicious of them.

This is a tragedy. And it poses a huge danger for the well-being of the Church — and its members — today.

I’m becoming a major fan of the book, “Into the Silent Land,” by Martin Laird. The book draws on historical Christian tradition to talk about the spiritual practices of silence, prayer, and contemplation … practices which now seem to be only accessible for practitioners of Easter religions (mindfulness and meditation). Oh what a huge loss if Christians fail to embrace these practices!

What follows is an extended quote from the book:

“The practice of silence, what I shall call ‘contemplative practice’ or simply ‘practice’ cannot be reduced to a spiritual technique. Techniques are all the rage today. They suggest a certain control that aims at a certain outcome. They clearly have their place. But this is not what contemplative practice does. The difference may be slight but it is an important one.

“A spiritual practice simply disposes us to allow something to take place. For example, a gardener does not actually grow plants. A gardener practices certain gardening skills that facilitate growth that is beyond the gardener’s direct control. In a similar way, a sailor cannot produce the necessary wind that moves the boat. A sailor practices sailing skills that harness the gift of wind that brings the sailor home, but there is nothing the sailor can do to make the wind blow. And so it is with contemplative practice, not a technique, but a skill. The skill required is inner silence.

“There are two contemplative practices of fundamental importance in the Christian tradition: the practice of stillness (also called meditation, still prayer, contemplative prayer, etc.) and the practice of watchfulness or awareness. These contemplative skill are not imports from other religious traditions, and the Christian contemplative tradition has a lot to say about them. While other religious traditions also have important things to say about each of these, this book will stay within the Christian tradition and address especially those who look to the Christian tradition for guidance and inspiration along the contemplative path.”