This is the first installment of one of our new monthly columns, “Tools of The Trade”. When I first began HfG, I was on the tail end of a “Dark Night of the Soul”. God had been silent, and I was sick of it. I decided that if God wouldn’t communicate with me like he always had, then it was up to me to figure out where he was at.
Hunting for God, as it was originally conceived, was to be little more than a record of my failures and successes as I attempted to find God in the midst of a smattering of activities. I intended on handling it like a research project; I would remain neutral and unbiased and simply begin ticking things off a list. If God chose to meet me while I was trying yoga or lectio divina or slam poetry, so much the better. I believe I got maybe a week or two in before the whole format crumbled. (If you’re interested, those ill-fated posts still exist in the archives.)
At the time, I lacked the discipline to make myself do anything I didn’t ardently want to do. Beyond that, I don’t believe God had any intention of meeting me in those places. The lesson the Dark Night was trying to teach me wasn’t that I needed try harder; I needed to listen better. I won’t rehash those details– I have nearly three years worth of posts that do just that.
Despite my relationship with God having grown by leaps and bounds over these last three years, I find that I still think about that original idea… God is cunning. He’s a master of stealth and subtlety. You’re just as likely to find him in a television show as you are in a song or in the rain or in the Bible. I feel like it’s time I start looking for him in new places.
Each month, myself or one of our contributors will think of a new activity; something we haven’t made part of our usual routine when it comes to interacting with God. We will participate in that activity throughout the course of that month and then report our findings to you. Maybe God will meet us. Maybe he won’t. But we’ll be looking for him.
The Hunt is On
This month I’ll be kicking this process off with transcendental meditation. I made an attempt at doing this daily a little over a month ago, and just sorta… stopped after a week or so. I tried to spend 30 minutes meditating twice a day; immediately after waking up, and right after I got home from work. This time I’ll be doing it just once a day, and probably not first thing in the morning. The idea here isn’t to turn my life upside down, but to simply give God a little extra space to move as he chooses.
If you’re not familiar with the practice, transcendental meditation (or, “TM”) involves trying to empty your mind completely. You choose a word and repeat it silently to yourself in time with your breath. You’re trying to think of nothing. If you find your mind does begin to wander or becomes preoccupied with something, the word reminds you of what you’re doing and you gently move back to meditating.
Growing up in an evangelical church, I was taught that this is a dangerous practice. Christians were supposed to focus on a piece of scripture in order to fill their minds. I was told that if you allow your mind to become empty, you’re opening a door for a demon to possess you. I just erased and rewrote that sentence three times because I couldn’t believe I had to type that out. When you add in the fact that you’re repeating a word that isn’t English, then boy-howdy, you might as well go listen to led zeppelin and play dungeons and dragons because you were obviously making a pact with Satan.
It’s easy for me to lavish this whole idea with sarcasm now, but if I’m honest… When I first started thinking about trying TM I was nervous. What if I did open up an infernal gate to the realm of darkness and became the conduit through which the world met a violent end? I was… like ninety percent sure that probably wouldn’t happen, but still. Was it worth the risk?
Then I did some reading. Did you know that transcendental meditation was a standard form of Christian worship during the Patristic period? The desert mothers and fathers made it part of their daily routine. They believed that God existed in nothingness just like he does in… somethingness and that by quieting our mind we could hear God speaking more clearly. They would agonize over what word they would repeat because once chosen, they would stick with it for years. It was believed that by meditating with a word your understanding of its depth and meaning would grow and affect other areas of your life. I’ve chosen the word “Shalom”. (“Sha” on the inhale, “Lom” on the exhale.)
You don’t have to go all the way back to the first century to find examples of meditation in Christianity. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, (and amongst some Roman Catholics as well) there is a prayer called “The Jesus Prayer”. Instead of a single word, the meditation is an entire phrase repeated over and over again, but the practice and the idea behind it is the same.
I’m looking forward to trying something a little new and different. Toward the end of the month I’ll be posting another Tools of the Trade in which I discuss how everything went. If any of you out there are interested in joining me in this little adventure, let me know. I’d love to be able to commiserate with you. If you want to learn more about how TM works, I suggest reading this and this.
Paul Allen is the editor of Hunting for God. After growing up in an Assemblies of God church, he attended Johnson Bible College for two years before dropping out. In the time since, he has more or less figured out the whole “adulthood” thing, gotten married, and holds a steady job by day and writes movie scripts by night. He currently resides in Knoxville, Tennessee with his wife Leah and two cats, Ego and Karma. HfG on FB