Contemplation and Its Discontents

I continue to be fascinated by how some Christians are simply opposed to contemplative prayer and Christian meditation. From what little I’ve read — mostly tracts and rants online — it always boils down to the same two arguments:

  1. Meditation is "unscriptural"
  2. Meditation is rooted in "eastern mysticism" or other "pagan" practices

As for meditation or contemplative prayer being unscriptural, well, so is driving a car or flying an airplane, but it seems that none but the Amish are too worried about such unbiblical activities. For that matter, nowhere does the Bible sanction rock’n’roll or electronic instrumentation as tools for worship, which pretty much suggests that 99% of today’s evangelicals are clearly in violation of Holy Writ when they listen to their favorite Christian rock group.

Yes, I’m being silly. But that’s because I think the argument that "contemplation is unscriptural" is a pretty silly argument. I always preferred the approach to scripture I learned as an Episcopalian: whereas some Christians seem to think that unless something is specifically sanctioned by the Bible it is prohibited by God, the approach I learned as an Episcopalian was this: that unless something is specifically prohibited in the Bible, we may assume that in the freedom of Christ it is sanctioned.

Meanwhile, the notion that meditation is un-Christian because it is similar to practices found in Hinduism or other non-Christian spiritual practices is little more than religious xenophobia; it requires a xenophobic approach to non-Christian faiths in order to make any sense. Thus, it is an argument designed to play to people’s fears that God’s love is limited, so limited in fact that if anyone does anything the slightest bit connected to un-Christian spirituality, then God will reject them. But in truth, it is precisely this kind of thinking that is "un-Christian" in that it blasphemes God by reducing God to a petty tyrant that insists on being worshipped only one way — or else.

So the "meditation is evil because it is like un-Christian spirituality and all un-Christian spirituality is evil" really plays to a limited audience, and it saddens me, because meditation can be such a splendid doorway to experiencing a sense of God’s limitless love and profound peace — two Biblical notions if there ever were any! It’s a self-reinforcing theology of fear: I avoid meditation because I’m afraid of God, and therefore I continue to limit my spiritual life to practices that actually reinforce my being afraid of him…

Sigh. I would love to find a more cogent, better thought-out argument by Christians against Christian meditation. I recently ordered a book called A Time for Departing: How Mysticism is Uniting Christianity with the World’s Religions which is supposedly one of the leading texts in print that articulates the anti-mysticism perspective within evangelical Christianity (trust me, I’m not reading this for fun. It’s research; part of being a writer is knowing the "enemy," i.e. books with which I most vehemently disagree). Hopefully this will provide an intelligent introduction to the theology of anti-mysticism. But I’m afraid it’s just going to be more of the same ol’ fear.