Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

The Fidelity of Blasphemy

Monday, October 2nd, 2006
The September issue of Third Way has an article in it from Alistair McIntosh called ‘Fire in the Bones’. In it, he writes about Jeremiah’s complaint in Jeremiah 15 & 20, that God deceived, seduced and overpowered him into becoming an activist. The word translated as ‘overpower’ apparently has Biblical resonances of rape.    

I have not read further than that yet. For me, this flies in the face of the narrow piety that I experience in the majority of the Christians that I meet.

What honours God more? The unthinking acceptance and worship of what passes for the current pious Christian, or the shouting, wrestling and accusation of an unsatisfied seeker after truth?

Meditation Part 3 – Infant or Adult?

Monday, August 21st, 2006
Once again thinking about meditation brings up an issue that is relevant to all spirituality: the issue of adult v infant. I think that this is best illustrated by the story of the fall. Having made the transition from an angst-free infant state, to a shame-filled self-awareness, man and woman seek to re-enter the garden of innocence, only to find the way blocked by an angel with a flaming sword.    

The implication is clear: the way forward lies not back to the womb, but forward to maturity.

Maturity is a goal that the New Testament points us to: where we make the hard decisions and do not give in to escapism. When our spirituality becomes an escape from the real world, look out!

Another problem I have with charismatic, transcendental worship is that I believe that the mind state sought is a womb state, where ego-barriers and self-consciousness break down and the mind enters a suggestible state, where it absolves itself of responsibility for making a sound decision. In my experience, churches that see this type of worship as central tend to have a membership that see maturity as a low priority and tend to place value on harmonious living and a shared dogma.

But maybe we do need periods in our spiritual rhythm when we return to the womb for a period of safety and comfort. Maybe I need to acknowledge that just because some churches have made the mistake of pursuing the womb in all of their worship, does not mean that their is not a legitimate need for the odd womb experience for those pursuing maturity.

Churches have tended to be home to two groups of people: those desperately pursuing reality and those desperately seeking to avoid reality.

Meditation Part 2 – Writing Meditations

Sunday, August 20th, 2006
In the previous post, I highlighted some issues surrounding the practice of meditation: issues of immanence and trancendence, reality and story. I concluded by saying that it is important what kind of stories we tell.Of course this is not only true of meditation, but of all our communications. So what is it about meditation that influences the kind of stories we might use? 

We are envisioning a scenario where a group of people will relax and imagine a story that is fed to them. The fact that the audience will be passively receiving the story puts a great responsibility on those writing such meditations. There is a temptation to write something acceptable to all: a fake, fluffy puppy faith of the sort that we are all familiar with.

The writing of meditations is thus an art form. Here are some of the factors that I think are involved:

  • Beauty of language. The use of poetic devices, rhythm and alliteration
  • Poetic and metaphoric language also allows each individual to take something different from it within the bounds of the overall message. This gives space for profound effects while lowering the risk of condemnatory effects.
  • It is a good idea to have an ‘edge’: some sort of shock element or surprise perspective that holds interest and sheds new light
  • Performance: The fact that meditations are word-based, does not mean the method of transmitting those words is irrelevent. A good vocal performance is important.
  • Environment: the setting for the meditation, including lighting and ambient sound/music will also enhance the experience.

Meditation Part 1 – Mental States

Saturday, July 22nd, 2006

My first question about meditation and mental states is, “What form of meditation would facilitate connection with God?”.This, of course, is really the universal question found in worship and in prayer, “How does the interface between a natural human and the spiritual god work?” (Of course being a programmer, ‘interface’ makes sense to me. An interface is the link between two separate modules, or programs. It handles the passing of information from one module to another).

There are a number of models for this interface. For the purposes of this discussion of meditation:

  1. There is the sacramental model, where the carrying out of a rite by an ordained priest, somehow brings the Grace of God into the material realm.
  2. There is the incarnational/immanent model, where the Grace of God comes from within and around, as life is lived out trusting in the indwelling God.
  3. There is the ecstatic/transcendant model, in which emotional worship draws the individual (and indeed group) into a trans-rational experiences which, by their very nature, are not easily analysed, but are seen as the presence of God. From these experiences, gifts, such as prophecy and healing emerge (which is not to say that this is the only model in which gifts occur).

As a refugee from what currently passes for charismatic churches, my preference lies firmly with the incarnational model.Traditional meditation or contemplation is firmly in the incarnational model. The practice involves consciously holding yourself in the present moment.

Newer forms of meditation (derived, I think, from Ignatius of Loyola, so not that new) involve the use of the imagination to visualise stories and scenarios. For me, that has until recently contrasted a commitment to reality with a commitment to fantasy, and thus closer to the trancendental model, but I am rethinking it. This re-think has to do with the nature of stories and their relationship to truth.

Most famously, Jesus told many stories which, while not absolutely true, had the potential to communicate truth. In telling stories, rather than lecturing in ethics or philosophy, Jesus was stimulating the part of the mind that imagines and visualises the story. In this, he stands in a long line of prophets who used story to communicate revelation. From the Reformation on, there has been a move to purify and distill the pure truth of the Gospel out of the histories and stories of the Bible: orthodoxy seen as believing the right thing. Faith became a matter of the mind, which was identified as the spirit (that part of man that is from God and unique to humankind of all the earthly creatures).

More recently, the resurgence of a more holistic view of man has led to a renewed interest in emotional and aesthetic factors. There has been a shift from ‘what you believe’ to ‘how you believe’. Thus it is possible for a holistic hearing of a story to lead to a reception of more than pure facts.

This leads to the question, “What stories should we be telling and imagining?”.

The Inner Call

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

I have been thinking about the call of God: that God is seeking us and calling us to himself and into his world. That out of this intimacy is born our own unique expression of God. There are those who seek to invade the space between us and God and to dictate to both of us how things should be. Jesus spoke about people causing us to stumble. Others, from fear of intimacy, hire people to do the business for them and pretend to themselves that they have heeded the call. Still others dabble at the edge and write and speak about such things rather than doing them, but the call is to intimacy first and then authentic action.

In light of this, what sort of leadership is valid? What help is truly helpful? Witnessing to your own experience has to be valid, but bear in mind that others walk a different path. Encouragement too is valid. There has to be a place for asking questions and exposing double standards where necessary, but over all there must be a caution about stumbling people: about destroying through ignorance what God and your friend are expressing together.

Unable to follow Jesus

Friday, September 24th, 2004
I am not sure that it is possible to talk about following Jesus. If I read the theology books I get the impression that Jesus left us with a ministry textbook, with principles and techniques. When I look at Jesus in the original texts, he just isn’t like that. Every time he does something, he does something different. He is totally unpredictable. Indeed he says it himself, ‘The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit’.Again, you get the impression from theology books that the Bible contains pretty much all the types of things that Jesus did. John says that Jesus did so many other (or different) things that tons of books would have to be written to cover them.  

So I think that trying to follow Jesus is a waste of time and I don’t think it is what he was after. Jesus is not the kind of guy you follow. He is the kind that you are inspired by.