(A Year of Celebrating Discipline is my year-long exploration of Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline, in which I am devoting each month this year to the examination and practice of one of the Spiritual Disciplines. You can read more about the project here.)
Last week we started our look at meditation with a summary of Foster’s chapter – the what and why of meditation. Today we’ll look at the practical – how, where, when, etc. While Foster gives us some suggestions, he also reminds us that “It is impossible to learn how to meditate from a book. We learn to meditate by meditating” (26). That said, here are a few pointers he gives us.
Anytime, really. And the more we do it, the more we find we are able to quiet our minds and calm our hearts even in the midst of chaotic surroundings. As beginners though, it is helpful for us to set aside a specific time each day to practice meditation. I’d suggest starting small – even just five minutes in which you can sit still and quiet (it might feel like an eternity to begin with). If you, like me, have wee ones around and can’t even fathom where you might find five minutes of alone time, try reclaiming and re-purposing other times. In the bathroom? At a stop light? While nursing the baby? Folding laundry? The great thing about meditating is it is about centering our thoughts on God – and this is not restricted to a certain time or place. And if you really think you don’t have time, pay attention to the time you’re on your phone or facebook. Perhaps put a prompt to meditate as a password to redirect your thoughts during those times you might just fill them up with the stuff in your newsfeed. I am so amazed at how often I reach for my phone when I try this!
Just like anytime can become a time for meditation, it can also happen anywhere, but as beginners we will find it much easier if we find a place that limits distractions and interruptions. Turn off the phone, computer, etc. Avoid being in close proximity to things that need doing that will call for your attention, like the dishes or the laundry. “If it is possible to find some place that looks out onto a lovely landscape, so much the better. It is best to have one designated place rather than hunting for a different spot each day” (28). Foster also suggests that sitting in a straight chair with feet flat on the floor and hands placed on the knees palms up can help to stay focused.
Oh glory, there are so many things you can do in this quiet time. Here are some of Foster’s suggestions:
- meditatio Scripturarum
Meditating on Scripture, Foster says, “is the central reference point by which all other forms of meditation are kept in proper perspective” (29). Different than study, meditation focuses on “internalizing and personalizing the passage” (29). My favourite phrase in this section is that we “brood on the truth” (30). Read slow, short chunks, like “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Repeat them in your mind. Inspect them, internalize them.
Another option is to take a story, and imagine yourself in it. Use your five senses – what it would look like, sound like? How would it smell? How would you feel? Put yourself in the position of different characters and consider the events and conversations from their unique perspectives.
“A time to become still to enter into the recreating silence, to allow the fragmentation of our minds to become centered” (30). Foster includes a little exercise called “palms down, palms up” in which you begin by placing your palms down to indicate you releasing your concerns or fears to God – maybe your frustration with a relationship, your anxiety over finances, worries about your kids. Then turn palms up and receive from God – open your hands and ask for love and patience in that relationship, the ability to trust God’s provision with regard to your finances, etc. “Having centered down, spend the remaining moments in complete silence. Do not ask for anything. Allow the Lord to commune with you, to love you. If impressions or directions come, fine; if not, fine” (31).
- meditating on creation
“The heavens declare the glory of God!” (Psalm 19:1). Look around! Drink in the beauty and complexity of what God has made. If you can, go to a quiet place in nature or near water and sit and wonder. Find a park with a small garden or some birds to watch. In the winter, spend some time at your window watching a storm, or looking over the peaceful stillness after a heavy snowfall. If you can’t get outside, a painting or some fresh flowers can also help you to see and consider God’s beauty and creativity. Or if you’re a parent or spend time with children, watch them for awhile! Seriously, a sleeping baby…consider the peacefulness and the beauty of the security of that little child. Then think about what it means that God is our parent – can we rest like that in him?
- meditating on the events of our time
Foster suggests this “is best accomplished with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other” (32). Spend some time thinking about current events. Does anything move you? Are there things that are unjust or upsetting? Ask God to show you his heart for those things.
So, anyone else feel like this all sounds nice but might be hard to actually do? Yeah, me too. Start small, but start somewhere. Anything is better than nothing. Here is some closing encouragement from Foster:
You must not be discouraged if in the beginning your meditations have little meaning to you. There is a progression in the spiritual life, and it is wise to have some experience with the lesser peaks before trying to tackle the Mt. Everest of the soul. So be patient with yourself. Besides, you are learning a discipline for which you have received no training. Nor does our culture encourage you to develop these skills. You will be going against the tide, but take heart; your task is of immense worth…meditation is not a single act, nor can it be completed the way one completes the building of a chair. It is a way of life. You will be constantly learning and growing as you plumb the inner depths. (32)
Does it sound challenging or intimidating? Exciting? Are you going to try any of these practices this week?
Other posts in this series:
Celebration of Discipline - A Giveaway!
Celebration of Discipline Kick Off and Book Winner
Celebration of Discipline Chapter 1 – The Spiritual Disciplines: Door to Liberation
Celebration of Discipline Chapter 2 – The Discipline of Meditation
It’s never too late to join us…click here to get the book!