Mantra meditation can be an effective way for Christians to hear from God when they are in process of deconstruction.
Lectio Divina: Step Two—Meditatio
In my last article, Lectio Divina: Hearing from God When You’re Deconstructing, I discussed the difficulty growing in your spirituality while at the same time questioning your faith. You find yourself so full of doubt and questions that everything seems to lose its meaning. The deconstructing mind seems to go everywhere. Each doctrine or aspect of faith falls one right after the other, like a row of dominoes. Lectio Divina provides a way to quiet the mind and hear from God. The second part of Benedict of Nursia’s Bible reading process of Lectio Divina is called Meditatio, or Meditation. If your faith is falling like dominoes, mantra meditation is a way to focus your attention not on the whole row, but on one individual tile–or even a single spot.
Christian Meditation: An Oxymoron?
Before we go any farther, we need to ask the question, isn’t a Christian mantra an oxymoron? Many Evangelicals were raised to believe that mantras should be avoided because they come from Eastern mysticism. “Besides,” they say, “Didn’t Jesus forbid Christians from praying using repetitious words?”
The short answer is that yes, many Eastern mystics practice mantra meditation. While the word Mantra comes from the Sanskrit language and Hinduism, in practice mantras are found in mystical traditions from most religions, including Christianity. Besides, why should Christians be afraid of anything Eastern, as if an entire hemisphere lies outside the Kingdom of God? Christian distaste for Eastern spirituality stems more from imperialism and xenophobia than anything based in scripture. And let’s remember that Christianity itself is an Eastern religion.
Many Christians believe that Matthew 6:7 forbids the use of mantra meditation. This verse cannot be used against mantra meditation for two reasons. First, if the word or phrase you’re repeating comes from your deep and personal encounter with God through scripture, then it isn’t meaningless. Second, Jesus says that the repetition of pagans is vain because their redundancy is an attempt to get God to hear them. So, his words might apply if mantras were prayers to God. But meditation is not prayer. It isn’t talking to God but allowing God to talk to us through the repeated word.
Even a survey of the Bible shows the use of repetition in worship. The angels sing, “Holy, holy, holy (Isaiah 6.3; Revelation 4.8).” The psalms repeat the same phrases for emphasis. Psalm 136 repeats, “His mercy endures forever,” twenty-six times in as many verses. Repetition has always been a scriptural way to emphasize a point. So, Jesus did not forbid all repetition, but simply advised that it wasn’t the best way to make God hear you.
I think of meditation this way: if I have a thick block of wood and a really long nail, I’m going to have to hit that nail with a hammer over and over again before it finally sinks in. Sometimes I’m a blockhead and my heart can be kind of wooden. It takes repetition to let the sacred word sink in. That’s what a mantra does.
Meditatio, or Christian Mantra
A Christian mantra, or, to use Benedict’s term, Meditatio, is the repetition of a single word or small phrase from scripture or from a traditional prayer. Many Christians have done this without knowing it, as they try to memorize a Bible verse. The difference is that in scripture memorization the goal is to retain the verse intellectually. In meditation, the goal is to absorb the mantra instinctually, so that it pervades the heart.
In my last article, I discussed Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading, as a way to read the Bible when you are deconstructing. When scripture has become dry and meaningless, when everything you read brings up a theology question, Lectio has a way of reawakening the spirit. My last article discussed the first step in Benedict’s process. Benedict said when you read scripture, find a word or phrase that stands out to you. In the second step, Meditatio, you can use this as your mantra. I enjoy using prayer beads with mantra meditation because the tactile sensation helps me to stay focused. The following steps explain how to do Meditatio:
How to do Meditatio:
- Select your sacred word or phrase. This could be something from a prayer, from a scripture, or something that simply comes to you. Keep it short, a word or a few words if possible.
- Quietly repeat that word or phrase. Synchronize your repetition along with your breath. This could mean drawing in one long breath and repeating the word out loud on your exhalation. Or you might not utter a word out loud at all, but simply repeat the word in your spirit. If you do this, you might repeat the word on your inhale and again on your exhale. Breathe slowly. You are in no hurry. Simply let the word work its way into your heart. If you are using prayer beads, you might try selecting two or three different words to use on the different kinds of beads in your rosary. Do this seated meditation until you feel that the word has soaked into you.
- You can make that word or phrase your mantra throughout the day. Whether you’re driving your car, standing in line, or sitting in a waiting room, you can repeat this meditation. Each day’s scripture reading determines the mantra you use for that day. In this way, the Bible becomes not just an intellectual pursuit or something to deconstruct. It becomes a living word that speaks to you throughout your day.
Hearing from God When You’re Deconstructing
People going through deconstruction often find it difficult to pray, just as they find it hard to read the Bible. During deconstruction, questions without answers tend to edge out your spirituality. Christian mantras, or Meditatio, can be an answer that restores a sense of peace and intimacy to your spirituality. If prayer is difficult, try listening to God rather than talking to God. Processing everything you’re going through is hard enough. If talking to God is difficult, narrow it down to one word—and listen to what God is saying to you.
So far, we’ve covered steps one and two in Benedict’s four-step process of Lectio Divina. Next time, we’ll look at step three: Oratio. We’ll see how Lectio Divina can change your prayer life.