In recent months I’ve become interested in the art of meditation. Meditation is one of those spiritual disciplines that often has a vague definition. Many probably picture meditation as an activity that requires hours and hours of sitting still, listening for a message that isn’t obvious. It becomes one more of those spiritual practices that may sound nice (or not), but either way, it doesn’t seem practical in the real world of noise and packed schedules. Many give up before ever getting started.
What if meditation isn’t reserved for the spiritual elite? What if it isn’t always a passive waiting game, but something active and engaging? What if it’s not an abstract blank slate, but anchors us in the Bible and our daily reading of the Scriptures?
To be sure, meditation can often be like centering prayer, where a person waits for a word from the Lord or an impression from the Holy Spirit. That form of prayer has great rewards itself, but it’s not the only way to meditate.
Meditation and Scripture
Meditating on the Scriptures can be a much more ordinary practice. Meditation is like a two-way bridge between Scripture reading and prayer. When we’re meditating on the Scriptures, it’s hard to tell when reading and praying begin or end because they have merged together in one conversation with God.
But how do I meditate? That’s the question I’ve been asking in recent months and the answer is surprisingly simple. And the answer comes from a teacher who lived almost 1000 years ago.
Chew Your Cud
In the 12th century, an abbot outside of Paris, Hugh St. Victor, wrote a book called the Didascalicon to help people learn how to read books well, especially the Scriptures. Hugh wanted people to learn meditation with Scripture because he knew the gift it brings: rest to the reader’s heart and mind. A soul that doesn’t meditate will be restless, much like a stomach without sufficient food will growl.
Hugh said Scripture’s ‘food is solid stuff, and, unless it be well chewed, it cannot be swallowed.’ Just as food must be broken down for digestion and the distribution of nutrients, so also does meditating the Scripture break down the Word into smaller portions that can be savored and enjoyed. Readers in Hugh’s time were encouraged to be like ‘cows chewing their cud.’ Nothing elitist about that. Meditation is as simple as chewing, turning over the verses and phrases of Scripture in the heart and mind again and again.
So what’s a practical method of actually doing that?
Freewriting the Scriptures
Off and on for a few years, I’ve meditated by writing one or two verses at the top of a page and simply freewriting, much like creative writers are encouraged to do when they compose the first draft of a novel or poem. Freewriting the Scriptures has been immensely rewarding, even when I haven’t been as consistent in the discipline as I’d like to be. It’s the closest practice to chewing the solid food of the Scriptures for me. Like a cow chewing its cud.
If you’ve never done a freewriting exercise, here’s the only rule: keep your pen on the page (or fingers on the keys) without pausing for the next thought. The time frame for writing can be short, medium or long, say 5, 10, or 15 minutes. But whatever time frame is chosen is meant to be continuous, non-stop writing for the beginning writer (or pray-er).
It’s easy to translate that practice from the literary world into the world of daily prayer. There’s no need to set a lofty goal of writing for thirty minutes. You might do that once or twice, but you’re unlikely to keep a measure of consistency with such a demanding goal.
Instead, select a short passage of Scripture and then extract one or two verses from that reading that speak to your heart. (Yes, this is an improvised method of lectio divina). Then begin freewriting those Scriptures. You’ll be fascinated to see what the Spirit will speak to you through his Word when you begin ‘chewing the Scriptures.’ Over time, you’ll find your soul more at rest, just like your stomach rests when you’ve broken down solid food to nourish your body.
Over the next few posts, I’ll provide some examples of freewriting the Scriptures. I read the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer and I highly recommend those Scripture readings if you don’t have any other daily readings in your devotional life. I don’t promise profound meditations in these upcoming posts. Not every meal needs to be a feast, but eating three times every day nourishes me. Just like small portions of Scripture nourish my soul when I meditate on the solid food of the Word.