Last Friday, I talked about the Lenten fast my wife and I are going on. We’ll be participating in a “Daniel Fast” until Easter. That’s actually only a portion of the changes coming to Chez Clouse for the next forty days. Based on where I feel my faith is at right now, I feel like fasting is a little too passive for me. It’s an all encompassing lifestyle change, and certainly making the right choices is an active thing to do.
However, Lent comes around once a year, and I really want to do something with it. When Leah and I first started talking about the fast and Lent, I realized I wanted to do something to compliment the fast. Daily free writing, devotions, Lectio Divina, participating in the Daily Office, all of these things were contenders. Finally, last Tuesday I had an epiphany.
I didn’t want to go into this fast with an agenda. I didn’t want to approach God with a laundry list of requests. I realized that what I wanted, more than anything, was to be empty. I wanted to be a vessel for whatever God wanted to pour into me. Forget about the stuff I care about, never mind my own preconceived notions about what I wanted to get out of this… I just want God. I want a massive and inconvenient God that refuses to fit in the boxes I’ve tried to cram him into in the past. I want a God whose furious love terrifies me. I want to wrestle with God; even if it means coming out with a limp.
I’ve spoken before about growing up in an Evangelical church in the 80’s and 90’s. During that period the church as I knew it became obsessed with the Occult. Books, tracks, and posters were published explaining the ways in which various religions, beliefs and practices were linked to the devil. Among these, was the idea of meditation.
As it was explained to me, meditation was dangerous because emptying your mind of thought left an open door for Satan to exploit. If you made a habit of this, you might very well end up possessed. And Transcendental Meditation? My God, repeating a mantra? You were probably saying the name of a demon and inviting him to possess you.
But, not to fear. As is our way, the Christians have you covered. Instead of repeating a mantra, why don’t you fill your mind up with scripture? You can think on it all day long and rest assured that you are invincible from the fiery darts the enemy shoots at you. Just remember, keep your mind active. Better to keep it running in circles like a hamster on a wheel than to grow silent. Better to listen to noise and block out the devil than be silent and risk hearing from God.
I’m not sure how the idea of doing meditation for Lent first got into my head. But once it did, I couldn’t get it out. Proper meditation empties your mind. It removes you from your ego and your ideas. It causes the amount of you to decrease, which is perfect, because I’m looking for the amount of Him to increase. I wrote recently at having difficulty praying, and this feels like a noteworthy alternative to the typical conversation I attempt to have with God.
So, what is it? How does it work? The idea is that two times a day for twenty minutes, you find a quiet space and get comfortable. You close your eyes, and you begin repeating a word. This word is called a “mantra” and the idea is to use it to help focus you when your thoughts drift. Focus on what, exactly? Well… Nothing. The goal of meditation is to clear your mind of everything that fills it during the remaining twenty-three hours and twenty minutes of the day.
You may be wondering what my mantra is. In proper transcendental meditation, a teacher gives you a word or sound that is either customized just for you, or possibly based on certain criteria. In my case, I’ve chosen to use the word “Shalom”. At first it felt a little like a cop out, because all of the stuff I read about Christian Meditation (and there’s a lot out there) suggested that this word be used. But as I continued reading, I found out that the word you choose as your mantra really matters. Over time, the word gets written on your heart. You forge a connection with the word that begins to change the way you perceive the world around you. Despite the fact that I had hoped to find an exotic and esoteric term, I’ve decided that “Shalom” is my calling in life. It was the only word that made sense.
If you’re still not sure if meditation is… kosher, you should know that Christians used to be all about this kind of meditation. In the Patristic period (the time between Jesus’ death and the rise of the Catholic Church) it was very common for the desert monks to participate in meditation. Further, it’s still a thing some Christians do today, except it’s called “The Centering Prayer” or sometimes “The Jesus Prayer”. It turns out that this thing I was told of the devil was actually one of the ways the first Christians used to spend time with God.
What’s the goal of meditation? What good is emptying one’s mind? Over time, as I understand it, this process tends to lead one toward new paradigms, new thoughts, and new ideas.
It feels like this could be a new way for God and I to interact, and I’m excited to get started.
If you’re interested in Christian meditation, I suggest checking out these articles for more info:
(This link is particularly helpful, though if you can’t get past all the intros, just jump to Question 1.)