Jarrett Stevens on How a Western Megachurch Pastor Fell in Love With Meditation

Jarrett Stevens is pastor of Soul City Church in Chicago and author of “Praying Through: Overcoming the Obstacles That Keep Us From God.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1.


Years ago, Southern Baptist theologian Albert Mohler wrote an article warning Christians that Eastern meditation, which encourages participants to embrace silence and clear their minds, was “not a means to spiritual growth.” More than being just ineffective, he concluded, it was “dangerous” and “an empty promise.”

Coming from an evangelical upbringing, I can understand his concern. I’ve heard plenty of religious leaders make similar claims, casting meditation as some sort of boogeyman wooing Christians away from the faith with pagan practices. In the world in which I was raised, meditation was not on the list of approved spiritual practices. We prayed and read and sang and journaled. But meditation was not on the menu.

But a few years back, I began to explore the practices of silence and meditation — not due to some sort of spiritual curiosity, but out of spiritual exhaustion. Our church was only a few years old, but the process of launching it had taken quite a toll on my wife and me. We were simultaneously full-time parents of young kids and full-time pastors of a young church, and the combination had left us undone.

In an attempt to spiritually revive myself, I tried all the practices in the toolbox inherited from my childhood. None of them worked. In my search for something new, I stumbled on something ancient. And meditation has become an indispensable part of my spiritual life ever since.

Silence and meditation have been a part of most religious traditions — most notably, among Hindus and Buddhists — since their inceptions. For this reason, some Western Christians assume that these practices will somehow make them less Christian or open the door to harmful spiritual forces. What many don’t realize is that these practices have always been a part of our tradition, too.

The Bible uses the word “meditation” 23 times, the majority found in the book of Psalms. Ironically, one of my favorite verses has always been Psalm 46:10, in which God invites us to “Be still and know that I am God.” This passage has become the foundation of my meditative practice.

In the New Testament, we find Jesus practicing solitude and meditation as well. The Gospels regularly refer to him retreating to “quiet places.” Away from the noise. Away from the demands. Away to be alone and steep in silence with God.

These cues were picked up by many of our Christian forebears throughout the history of our faith as they integrated meditation into their own spiritual practice. Meditation and interior silence were central practices for the early Christians known as “desert fathers” and “desert mothers” who fled to the wilderness to form spiritual communities in the second century A.D.

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Source: Religion News Service