CHRISTIAN MEDITATION: A BASIC GUIDE - Part 1: How does Christian Meditation Differ from Other Forms of Meditation?
Meditation can indeed be beneficial for our overall health. But are all forms of meditation equal?
Interest in meditation has been growing for some time, as a form of relaxation and by many looking to fill a spiritual gap in their lives. Meditation has also now become a popular prescription for those suffering from various psychological illnesses, or as a tool to help manage chronic pain. Meditation in this form usually involves focus on breathing or on the concentrated relaxation of each part of the body, but can take on other forms as well.
Meditation can indeed be beneficial for our overall health. But are all forms of meditation equal? Can meditation be harmful? What is Christian meditation? How does it differ from other popular forms of meditation? This three-part series seeks to answer these questions by referring to the Vatican, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation.
I’d like to dive specifically into this document by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as it provides a good outline of Church teaching on the matter. In fact, this three-part article will attempt to summarize and simplify this document for you. Note: From now on I will refer to this document using the acronym, OSACM.
In our busy world, full of various forms of technology, noise, and distraction, many are just looking for some peace and quiet. Due to this deep seeded hunger for peace, for the spiritual, many have been drawn to the forms of meditation and prayer offered by eastern non-Christian traditions. On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, recognizes this need for “spiritual recollection and a deep contact with the divine mystery,” and looks to provide a solid formation in the various forms of Christian prayer, “while remaining faithful to the truth revealed in Jesus, by means of the genuine Tradition of the Church.”¹
ENC meditation is many times marketed as neutral and non-religious, appropriate and beneficial for all. However, the document, OSACM, warns against the danger of syncretism. “With the present diffusion of eastern methods of meditation in the Christian world and in ecclesial communities, we find ourselves faced with a pointed renewal of an attempt, which is not free from dangers and errors, to fuse Christian meditation with that which is non-Christian.”¹
So, in order to better recognize the differences and incompatibilities of eastern and of Christian meditation, we need to look more closely at, and clearly understand them both.
ENC meditation techniques focus on the self, on union with or immersion into the divine (within oneself), on emptying the mind, on reaching mystical states and on escape from suffering. The ultimate goal is to eventually achieve enlightenment or Nirvana, or be freed from reincarnation (ie. cyclical suffering).
Looking at these ideas more closely, it becomes clear that ENC meditation is incompatible with Christian revelation in many important aspects. Firstly, we should understand that Christian mediation is a form of prayer. Therefore, like all prayer, it can be defined as, “a personal, intimate and profound dialogue between man and God.”¹
In this way, Christian meditation is always a communion with our Trinitarian God. “This communion, based on Baptism and the Eucharist, source and summit of the life of the Church, implies an attitude of conversion, a flight from ‘self’ to the ‘You’ of God.” ¹
This is in direct contrast to ENC meditation techniques where the focus is on the self. Further, the document OSACM stipulates that, “it [Christian meditation] flees from impersonal techniques or from concentrating on oneself, which can create a kind of rut,”¹ as focus on the self detracts from our Lord and closes off communication with Him.
“St. Augustine is an excellent teacher: if you want to find God, he says, abandon the exterior world and re-enter into yourself. However, he continues, do not remain in yourself, but go beyond yourself because you are not God.”¹
You may be wondering, however, how the use of ENC meditation as a means of attaining union with the divine (within), or immersion into the divine, isn’t akin to how we as Christians seek union with Christ, whose Holy Spirit we understand dwells within us. Well, the difference may seem subtle, but it’s actually not. What is significant here is the difference in the understanding of the divine. In eastern traditions, there are many schools of thought on the subject, ranging from a belief in many gods to no god at all. Eastern meditation techniques “propose abandoning not only meditation on the salvific works accomplished in history by the God of the Old and New Covenant, but also the very idea of the One and Triune God, who is Love, in favor of an immersion ‘in the indeterminate abyss of the divinity’.”¹
Moreover, as Christians we believe that, “an absorbing of the human self into the divine self is never possible, not even in the highest states of grace.”¹
These ideas are contrary to Christian revelation. We believe in One, Trinitarian God. We believe that God has created all, but that He is separate from His creation; we recognize that we are creatures and He is our Creator. We seek to be unified to the will of God, and we understand that we become like God through Baptism; we are His sons and daughters made in His image and likeness, but we are not God, nor will we ever become gods. We acknowledge our total dependence on Him in all things. These are just some of the marked differences.
Part two of this summary of the document, On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, will look at more reasons why Christian meditation is set apart from other forms. Until then…
Your Sister in Christ,
Foundation 1 Pietra Fitness Instructor
Christian Meditation: A Basic Guide Part 2
Christian Meditation: A Basic Guide Part 3
Jocelyne DeGroot is a Canadian homeschooling mom, member of the Order of Secular Discalced Carmelites, and co-founder of freetruth.ca, where she shares free and faithful Catholic online resources. Jocelyne’s favorite pastimes include writing, kayaking, camping, and curling up with a good book. She is also the first Certified Pietra Fitness Instructor in Canada!
1 Ratzinger, Joseph. Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19891015_meditazione-cristiana_en.html. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Rome. [online] 1989.