Friday, January 28, 2011

Biblical Meditation: The Intellect and the Mystical




Meditation has a number of definitions and connotations. Among them, two dominant atmospheres surrounding the word meditation seem to be an emphasis on an overly intellectual pondering of thoughts and ideas or a spooky and somewhat mystical introversion. Neither of these seem Biblical, but both of these connotations may exist in lesser degrees within the Biblical definition of meditation. Psalm 1:2 in the amplified can sound quite academic,  "But his delight and desire are in the law of the Lord, and on His law (the precepts, the instructions, the teachings of God) he habitually meditates (ponders and studies) by day and by night." On the other side Psalm 77:6  "I call to remembrance my song in the night; with my heart I meditate and my spirit searches diligently:" sounds distinctly emotional and mystic when you consider the psalmist's searching spirit. In the midst of these two atmospheres there is something of a controversy, the bookworms and academics own the more intellectual meditation because it comes easily and is comfortable for them, while the more emotional and spiritual aspect of meditation may seem intimidating. Conversely, the more spiritualizing and emotion centered may find the intellectual aspect of meditation boring or out of their reach. A balanced approach would be to keep a firm focus on the Word of God, without over analyzing, and the presence of God, without over internalizing. The truth, however, is that meditation is a practice that involves the heart as well as the head and the soul as well as the spirit. God's Word penetrates the whole of man and we should respond to that Word with the whole of our being. 


One of the most controversial figures in Church History is Jeanne Guyon or Madame Guyon, an ancient Christian mystic whose life was filled with persecution because of her beliefs and her methods of "practicing the presence of God," which have been labeled "quietism." She is as controversial today as she was in her own lifetime, and while I do not wish to take part in that controversy I find her writings of great worth. A number of classic Christian leaders similarly found her works inspiring and worth citing again and again: A.W. Tozer, Watchman Nee and Leonard Ravenhill to name a few. While Guyon's works remain somewhat fringe, her writings on meditation are unequaled in their description of the internal pursuit of God in His residence of the believer's own heart. Her intense and contagious love of Jesus Christ is evident throughout her writings as is her love of the Bible. One of her legacies is a number of commentaries on the scriptures. That said, I will not vouch for every word she has written or for her specific methods of seeking intimacy with God, and I will concede that her writings could lead astray the immature believer. That said, I find her writing extremely valuable. Last November The Voice of the Martyrs received numerous criticisms for featuring her in their monthly newsletter as an example of persecuted faith in church history. They responded responsibly and thoroughly and I highly recommend their article here. Their response is a succinct apologetic for Guyon's writings, and I wholeheartedly agree with their statements. However, unlike VOM, I am willing to bring her specific teaching on meditation to the fore as I find it beneficial to my own education on Biblical meditation and its practice. 


There are two ways of introducing some important practical or speculative truth, always preferring the practical, and proceeding thus: whatever truth you have chosen, read only a small portion of it, endeavoring to taste and digest it, to extract the essence and substance of it, and proceed no farther while any savor or relish remains in the passage. Then take up your book again, and proceed as before, seldom reading more than half a page at a time.
It is not the quantity that is read but the manner of reading that yields us profit. Those who read fast, reap no more advantage than a bee would by only skimming over the surface of the flower, instead of waiting to penetrate into it and extract its sweets. Much reading is rather for scholastic subjects than divine truths; to receive profit from spiritual books, we must read as I have described. And I am certain that if that method were pursued we should become gradually habituated to pray by our reading, and more fully disposed for its exercise.
[....]
When by an act of lively faith, you are placed in the presence of God, read some truth wherein there is substance; pause gently thereon, not to employ reason, but merely to fix the mind observing that the principal exercise should ever be the presence of God, and that the subject, therefore, should rather serve to stay the mind than exercise it in reasoning.
Then let a lively faith in God, immediately present in our inmost souls, produce an eager sinking into ourselves, restraining all our senses from wandering abroad. this serves to extricate us in the first instance from numerous distraints, to remove us far from external objects, and to bring us nigh to God, who is only to be found in our inmost center, which is the Holy of Holies wherein He dwells. He has even promised to come and make His abode with him that does His will (John 14:23). St. Augustine blames himself for the time he lost in not having sought God from the first in this manner. 
When we are thus fully entered into ourselves, and warmly penetrated throughout with a lively sense of the Divine presence, when the senses are all recollected and withdrawn from the circumference to the center and the soul is sweetly and silently employed on the truths we have read, not in reasoning, but in feeding thereon and animating the will by affection rather than fatiguing the understanding by study; when, I say, the affections are in this state, (Which however difficult it may appear at first, is , as I shall hereafter show, easily attainable,) we must allow them sweetly to repose, and, as it were, swallow what they have tasted.
 -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ 

Guyon's approach is clearly intensely introspective, but not because of a need to gaze within the carnal nature, but within the believer's heart where Christ sits on the throne. The application of truth here is not an intellectually rigorous one, but does require a firm mental patience and concentration. It focuses on applying truth in such a way that brings revelation of Christ and His truth by encountering the presence of God. This is a vital part of Biblical meditation because the Word changes us beneath the surface. The mere act of reading does not change us. We are changed by what we see, by what is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit's ministry to our inward man. Focusing on encountering God in the text through meditation brings revelation, and when we experience God we are changed into His image. 

 Experiencing The Depths Of Jesus Christ Nelson's Royal Classics

1 comment:

  1. Madame Gunyon is on my bookshelf for upcoming reads. Thats ultimately what I am seeking the deeper life... + if we seek we will find him.
    God bless,
    Heather

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