It's not easy to establish a meditation practice if you are a Christian because there is no easily visible meditative tradition in most of the Church and even if someone becomes interested in meditation, where do they go to learn about it? You won't find a notice for Thursday's meditation class on many parish noticeboards. You won't find many teachers of meditation listed in the Diocesan phonebook. Books like Anthony De Mello's Sadhana or Morton Kelsey's The Other Side Of Silence can give pretty reliable information and instruction but does your local Christian bookshop stock them? Don't count on it. Sure, we know there are monks and nuns somewhere who probably meditate but mostly we hardly even know what the word means. Sometimes we use the word to denote deep thought, particularly if that thought consists of pondering the meaning of tricky Bible verses. Sometimes we use it as a synonym for a short sermon. Sometimes we refer to it by kinder, more acceptable synonyms such as 'contemplative prayer' and we share our experiences and almost get what it's all about. Sometimes. In much of the church there is not just an absence of meditation but downright suspicion; say the M word and you conjure up images of the Maharishi and Tibetan guys in orange robes blowing big trumpets and we all know where that leads to.
It's no wonder then, that within the church misconceptions about meditation lie thicker on the ground than Pentecostals after a healing meeting. The principle misconceptions are these:
*Meditation is about losing connection with the world and entering some sort of trance state. No, medititation is about becoming more connected with the world, and heightening our awareness of it.
* Meditation involves letting go and losing yourself. On the contrary, meditation involves the difficult work of not being swept away by your own, or anybody else's thoughts.
* The aim of meditation is to stop mental activity and think about nothing. No, that's death you're thinking of there. We can't turn our brains off. We can, in time, learn not to be prisoners of our own thoughts, but that's another matter.
*Meditation is opening yourself to odd spiritual influences. No more than any other human activity. Meditation of itself is no more and no less "spiritual" than other mental activity, such as thinking, or dreaming, but like thinking and dreaming, it is a very sure means of personal spiritual development.
* Meditation is Eastern and to participate in it means selling out to the Hindus or Buddhists. While it is true that the Eastern practice of meditation has been more open than in the West, and that the Eastern practice of meditation is more visible, and possibly more highly developed, meditation is a universal human phenomenon with no particular debt to any one culture or faith.
*Meditation is something we do with our minds. Meditation is something we do with our bodies as much as our minds, in much the same way that sleep is something we do with our bodies as much as our minds
*Meditation won't save your soul. True, but neither will fasting or attending Holy Communion or going to church or doing good deeds, or praying for that matter. Only the Grace of God saves souls. Eating won't save your soul either but that's no reason to stop doing it.
Meditation is spiritual practice; a training exercise we perform to strengthen our spiritual muscles. It is a technique, a way, a method by which we can co-operate with the holy Spirit in furthering the work of sanctification. It is a way by which we can recognise and untangle the grave bandages we all trail behind us as we leave the tomb.I'm not sure why meditation has virtually died out in much of the church. Although it does survive in pockets here and there, it is something the Church could profit by rediscovering.