What if I told you that I held the secret to meditating like Jesus did? And that I have been practicing it with amazing results for 15 years? And I can teach you the secret to meditating like Jesus did. Would you pay me $29.95 for access to an online book explaining the secret of this great mystery? Pay to attend a seminar to learn under my expert guidance? How about if I threw in a money back guarentee – use the technique for 90 days and if you are not completely satisfied, I’ll refund your money (upon receipt of documented evidence of practicing this meditation technique for 90 days, of course).
Yeah, well, if you want to send me money, you are always welcome to – there’s a donation button on the right side of the page on my site. But don’t worry – I’m just going to tell you what I know. Making a book, seminar or marketing plan out of it sounds like way too much work. Maybe one day when I’m feeling less busy/lazy, I’ll work up the ambition to build a multi-million dollar enterprise sharing my expertise as a spiritual
scam artist leader.
First, a quick confession; I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. I have learned to pray and meditate almost entirely by instinct and/or following the lead of the Holy Spirit. I’ve never read a book or had any training or gone on a retreat to learn to meditate properly. I’ve probably read a couple of magazine articles or blog posts over the years, but that’s about it. My only actual training in prayer was memorizing prayers for Catholic catecism classes when I was a kid. So what I share is my own idiosyncratic understanding which may or may not meet the standards of Meditation, Inc.
So, first allow me to explain my own understanding of how to meditate, which probably isn’t too much different than anyone else’s. Then I’ll explain the part about meditating like Jesus. (Which may or may not actually be how Jesus meditated, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)
Because I was Catholic when I started learning to meditate, I used a candle. Catholics really like candles, you know. I would simply look at the flame of a burning candle and try to focus on nothing but the black wick at the center of the flame. Of course, this is almost impossible to do right off the bat. Your brain keeps wandering off and before you know it, you’re trying to figure out why Justin Donnelly, the boy whose children you plan on having, should he ever notice your existance, has a British accent even though he’s been attending school with you in the midwestern United States since second grade. Once I realized that my mind was wandering, I’d just let it go and refocus on the flame. Over and over and over and over.
I won’t go through the whole process, which I’m sure has been documented in excruciating detail elsewhere, but eventually the brain chatters itself out. It’s replaced by silence, for just a few seconds at first. But eventually, for extended periods of time you can silence your brain and just focus on your breathing or a flame or a word. This can take time – like years. My sister once attended a week long, silent meditation retreat in Thailand and was able to do it in 5 days. I’m sure she could give you a reference if you need one.
Being able to meditate like this is a great skill to have. And it is a skill which requires regular practice. But for my purposes, being able to sit with a blank mind without thinking wasn’t really the point. Yes, there are benefits to meditating in this fashion, like reducing stress, increasing mindfulness, etc. But this is my own idiosyncratic version, so for me, being able to sit with a silent mind wasn’t an end to itself.
Rather, the bible says repeatedly that we should meditate on God’s word and ways. For me, being able to get my mind blank and quiet provided a good, clean starting place for me to do this. I could introduce a bit of scripture or an idea into my meditation time and rather than having a brain that wandered off or engaged in free-association from the starting point, I could concentrate fully on what I was meditating on. The thoughts which came up were purposeful rather than random. Often I could see connections or gain a deeper understanding while engaging in this sort of meditation.
So, that’s all well and fine, but I started by positing that I might know the secret to meditating like Jesus did. And I might even have been practicing it for many years. Which might be true. You see, many years ago, I read an article, written by a Jewish person, which claimed that the ancient Hebrew style of meditation was to take two ideas which were seemingly in conflict with each other and meditate on them. The ancient Hebrew thinkers, they said, would hold these two seemingly opposing ideas together in their mind until the connections between them revealed themselves. In the end, not just the connections, but the interdependance of thse two seemingly opposing ideas would become clear and then the meditator would be able to see the reality of the situation and why God had made it so.
It’s been many years since I read this and honestly, I’ve never been able to find this explanation for how the ancient Hebrews meditated anywhere else. So maybe the ancient Hebrews really did meditate this way and maybe they didn’t. But when I read that, it occurred to me that, if this were true, then this would be how Jesus had meditated. Plus, it seemed like a good approach to try and I did.
After many years of engaging in this sort of meditation, I am inclined to think that this may well have been how Jesus meditated on God, scripture and theology. If you look at his teachings, you can see that he was the master of the third way. That he was able to find a way to be faithful to scripture without ever sacrificing the primacy of the command to love God, neighbor and self. In my experience, meditating in this way – by taking two things which appear to be in conflict and holding them side-by-side – is an excellent way to find this third way. Especially, if you choose Love as your north star – the thing that everything must be measured by – this sort of meditation does allow you to see connections, recognize what’s extraneous or an unwarrented assumption and eventually, how what you once though was in conflict fits together.
I suppose that I really could write a book or put together a seminar or retreat explaining the ins and outs of how this works. But this is a blog post, so you’re getting the cheapy, free version. ;) However, if you are intrigued and want to give it a try, I’ll just leave you with a few tips.
First, examples of subjects which this style of meditation can be useful for:
- Bible verses which appear to contradict
- The science of creation vs the creation stories in Genesis
- Christian customs or teachings which are in conflict with human nature or culture (ie women’s roles, homosexuality, wealth)
- Theodicy – why we live in a world where there’s suffering if God is good
When you have a subject you are meditating on, these can be useful questions to ask yourself:
- What if this were true?
- What if I let go of this assumption?
- Why do I think this must be true/false?
- Am I making connections between things that aren’t really connected?
- Is there a different way of understanding this word or concept?
And finally, if you do adopt this method of meditation, know that it’s not a quick fix. On occasion, I puzzle something out quickly, But there are subjects I’ve been meditating on, off and on, for years. Usually, you gain greater understanding without necessarily resolving the whole issue. So it’s not a panacea.
As for whether this is actually a good way to figure out what is true or just a nice way to make your own arguments, I’ll just share this. Over the years it has been incredibly common for people to ask me, “have you been reading so-and-so? Because what you’re saying sounds an awful lot like what he writes about in such-and-such.” The answer, nearly 100% of the time is no, I haven’t read and unless they are a church father, I probably haven’t even heard of the person they are asking about. My book budget is non-existent and I don’t have the sort of education where one would read or learn about various theologians. Nearly always, what I’m sharing which bears such a strong resemblance to what someone else says comes out of this habit of meditating.
Because we each bear God’s image, I believe that we each carrying within us the answers to everything. It’s just a matter of uncovering them and separating the wheat from the chaff and what is particular to me from what is universal. So, maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I can’t help but think that the frequency that I am told that what I am saying is much the same as what some church mother or father or some theologian says is a pretty good sign that this way of meditating has been quite productive for me. I think it’s a bit like how scientific discoveries or inventions tend to pop up in multiple places with multiple people all at once – a sign that something solid has been hit on. Or the way evolution tends to produce the same traits repeatedly in different places and settings – a sign that something useful has been produced. The fact that I’m often reaching conclusions that others have seems to be a good indicator that meditating like Jesus (presumably) did works.
Anyhow, if I ever decide to become a
charletan guru and sell my super secret, revolutionary method for meditating like our Lord and Savior, y’all will be the first to know. In the meantime, give it a go yourself!
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