Chapter OneTHE DISCIPLINE OF MEDITATION
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
Understanding the Discipline
The Discipline of Meditation helps us focus on hearing God's voice.
Meditation teaches us to become like tea bags, soaking deeply and
quietly in God and his Word so that we can better hear him speak
to our hearts and minds. And, as a gentleman named Earl learned,
sometimes we stumble upon this knowledge serendipitously.
In California's San Gabriel Mountains, there is a path known to
locals as the Garcia Trail. It rises 866 vertical feet per mile above
the valley floor and offers stunning views at its summit. When Earl
reached his fiftieth birthday, he decided he would hike the Garcia
Trail fifty times during the year in an effort to stretch the physical
limits of his aging body and regain, at least in part, the stamina of
his youth. He reached his goal with an additional serendipity-a
quiet, meditative time each week alone with God.
On Saturday at dawn, he left his house while his family still
slept, packed a breakfast burrito and a palm-sized Bible, and
ascended into the Angeles National Forest. Flat rocks at the crest
gave Earl both a bench and a table for eating his simple breakfast
and contemplating a small but significant portion of the creation
given to him by the Lord of the universe. He also read Scripture
The quiet permeating Earl's mountaintop morning brought
him closer to God, from the stilling of the beat of his exercised
heart to deliberate focus on the taste of each morsel of his breakfast
to intentional honoring of each muscle's slow cooldown as
amazing organic gifts from his Maker. Earl often wondered at his
corporeal body, how it worked and flexed, how the senses God
built into it combined to allow him existence as a human being but
also enriched his physical life with sensation. In contemplating his
own physiology, Earl learned more about the One who had fashioned
it, and his own bodily workings struck him with as much
awe and majesty as the mountain did.
Most mornings, Earl settled in like this for an hour or more,
reluctant to leave what had now become a much-anticipated
time alone in God's company. As a result of this time spent in
meditation, Earl attained a new and surprising intimacy with
* * *
Meditation sends us into our ordinary world
with greater perspective and balance. Richard Foster
* * *
Transcending Life Circumstances
Through meditation, we center ourselves on God. This discipline
enables us to locate, and more rapidly return to, an internal core
within ourselves where we know God will be waiting. As we center
our thoughts on God, we allow him to comfort us and invite us
to trust him in the dark.
He did this for me (Marti) on a starless night shortly after our
then-teenaged son Kyle was diagnosed with the form of lymphatic
cancer called Hodgkin's disease. I found myself wandering sleeplessly
through our still house, trapped in a wretched state of mind.
I had no idea how I could get through this fearsome diagnosis for
Kyle and all its horrific implications. The future I was so certain
was laid out for my talented son suddenly contained an abyss with
an unfathomable and frightening potential ending. No human
being could help me or bring me the comfort I craved-not my
husband, not my pastor, not my dearest friends. No, my soul had
to face its long night of suffering alone-except, of course, for the
presence of God.
But as I faced down those cold hours of darkness, tears spilling
down my face, no prayers would come-only deep internal groanings.
So I did the one thing I knew to do: I picked up my Bible, felt
its heft in my hand, took in the reassuring scent of its leather binding,
and began reading through Psalms. I found verses penned by
similarly tortured hearts, and, in their open acknowledgment of
foreboding and despair and their pleas for mercy and victory, an
odd sort of comfort seeped into my soul.
As if I had no time to waste, I hurriedly began writing down
verses on three-by-five-inch index cards that spoke to, simultaneously,
fear of enemies and trust in God. I then went all over the
house taping the cards on mirrors, walls, door posts, and even (in
the bathroom Kyle used) under the toilet seat lid. As I meditated
on those words, God soothed my anxious heart. Finally, I found
myself able to crawl back in bed beside my husband and sleep.
Spending Satisfied Time Alone with God
Meditation insists on taking focused time-lots of it-to listen to
what God has to say to us personally. There is no express-lane version
of this discipline, no microwave edition of finding and spending quiet
time with him. Instead, meditation slow-cooks like a Crock-Pot,
requiring deep reflection on a biblical word, phrase, or concept.
Several years ago I spent three months in Korea, teaching
English to college-aged young women and Korean military officers.
God was my only companion on this trip, and I spent countless
hours with him. I spoke aloud to him in my apartment and intensely
felt his ever-present nearness. He was my guard against loneliness,
which at every turn threatened to overpower me. Those were, without
a doubt, some of the most satisfying months I ever spent with my
Creator. Upon my return to American life, I realized how easy it is
for me to let Western clamor invade my 24/7 cherished relationship
with God. I have had to work fiercely to guard against the seduction
of stateside culture and protect my hard-won intimacy with God.
In the Discipline of Meditation, we slow down and focus on
God-and we gain increasing ability to hear God's holy voice
through his manifold methods of communication.
God Speaks in Various Ways
Meditation requires us to remain creatively open to how God may
speak to us. True learning requires uninhibited awe and wonder,
much like that of a child. Each of us is ever a small child as we continually,
throughout all the days of our lives, attempt to learn more
and more about God.
Among the communication tools in God's hamper are nature,
art, music, books, and even, on occasion, current events. When
we intentionally and deliberately learn from these things, God can
use them to speak to us personally. Often this leads toward self-selected
fields of formal study, which we will cover in more detail
in chapter 4, "The Discipline of Study."
Valerie lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains above
Boulder, Colorado, and has daily opportunities for nature walks
that help her turn her focus away from busyness, toward God and
God alone. During her walks, she asks God to speak to her through
the created splendor of her surroundings. One time in particular
stands out in her mind.
After a slight from a friend, Valerie paid no attention to her
environs, walking wearily with her head down. Unheralded, she
walked into a field of wildflowers that had not been blooming the
last time she had taken this particular trail. Now they were a stunningly
gorgeous bouquet practically placed in her lap, flowers that
would hardly be seen by human eyes in this remote area, flowers
that were doing what they were created to do-radiantly blossom
for the glory of God and no one else. She realized that was the message
God intended for her to receive-that like those flowers, she
was created to do and be wholly herself, no matter whether others
noticed or nodded approvingly.
* * *
Unless we change our direction, we are likely to
end up where we are headed. Chinese Proverb
* * *
Growth of a Peaceful Center
When we hear God speaking to us, we are better able to discern his
will, which helps us become less frantic and more likely to access
the solid, calm center that Jesus manifested. In the Discipline of
Meditation, we seek to hear God's voice directly. If all we ever do is
listen to someone else interpret God's Word for us-and there certainly
are many times when that is appropriate-then we will
never encounter the living God ourselves.
Nothing in our lives will keep us healthier than learning how to
develop and hold on to a peaceful center. If we can do this-and we
can-we are no longer helpless victims to life's ups and downs. To
be sure, some things we don't want to happen will, and some things
we wish would happen won't. But the calm center provided through
meditation instills in us an ability to respond appropriately to whatever
comes our way and greet it with God's eyes and perspective.
If you long to have a deeper relationship with God, then find a
quiet spot and a small portion of Scripture and spend time with those
words every day for several days. Have a cup of tea to help you remember
to steep in this deliberately carved-out, contemplative moment.
* * *
Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt. St. Francis of Assisi
* * *
Practicing the Discipline
When we quiet our hearts and slow down to meditate, we are more
apt to hear God's voice. God can work on, with, and for you during
any of the activities that follow. Before you bring your children
into the mix, we strongly urge you to strengthen your own inward
ability to meditate.
1. Take a verse of Scripture or even just a phrase from a verse.
When you read the verse, do so with intentionality and deliberateness.
Don't rush. Reflect on the verse a while. Ask yourself
questions such as: How does this verse read when I insert my
own name into it as if God were speaking directly to me and
no one else? What is the context for this verse? How does it fit
with those that surround it? Write the verse on index cards
and tape them in your kitchen, car, and office. Spend a week listening
for what God may be saying through those words about
him, you, or your life circumstances. Replace this concentrated
meditation the next week by selecting a different verse.
2. Meditate on the local and international events of our world and
listen to what God may be saying in and through them. Is the
media representing a biblical viewpoint? Is American culture
synonymous with God's preferred lifestyle? Why are there so
many different cultures represented on earth throughout the millennia
since God's creation? What does that say about God's love
of diversity? Are American interests abroad synchronized with
God's leading? Ask the Holy Spirit to give you God's heart and
perspective on local, national, and global issues. Think about
what you would do in a certain situation if you were in charge.
3. Practice the ancient Israelite art of lectio divina. In lectio divina we listen for the still, small voice of God, that "gentle whisper"
(1 Kings 19:12) that is God's Word for us, God's voice touching
our hearts. This tender listening is an atunement to the presence
of God in Scripture. We try to imitate the prophet Elijah, knowing that we must "hear" the voice of God, which often
speaks very softly. In order to hear someone speaking softly, we
must learn to love silence. If we are constantly speaking or if
we are surrounded with noise, we cannot hear gentle sounds.
The practice of lectio divina, therefore, requires that we first
quiet down in order to hear God's Word to us. This is the first
step of lectio divina, appropriately called lectio, or "reading."
In lectio we read slowly and attentively, gently listening to
hear a word or phrase that is God's Word for us this day.
Once we have found a word or passage in the Scriptures that
speaks to us in a personal way, we must take it in and ruminate
on it. The image of an animal quietly chewing its cud
was used in antiquity as a symbol of the believer pondering
the Word of God.
4. Carve out quiet time for yourself every single day, even if it is
only ten minutes. Sit somewhere apart from others that can
become, for those ten minutes, your space. Deliberately and
intentionally work to still the beating of your heart, the rapid
thoughts and to-do lists running through your mind. If possible, plug in a small environmental fountain nearby and allow
your ears to cease listening to external noise. Breathe deeply; close your eyes; will your body to relax. Then put into your
mind a mental image of Christ soothing your brow, of his
strong carpenter hands kneading the back of your neck and the
tops of your shoulders. Over one or two weeks' time, notice
how much you look forward to these few minutes of respite
from a wearying day and how refreshed you feel afterward.
Know that God has been with you.
Teaching the Discipline
Once you are comfortable with your own meditative abilities,
begin teaching the Discipline of Meditation to your children. What
follow are several ideas, a menu of choices that are developmentally
organized according to children's ages and maturity levels.
Early Childhood (ages 4-7):
1. Take a nature walk with your children. Go to a nearby park
and study the plants and flowers. See how many small creatures
you can find. Keep a numerical tally. Ask your children to
proceed on this walk very quietly, with their ears and eyes
open but not their mouths. Then go to a bench or picnic
table-or a cloth on the ground-and talk about what you've
seen, including that God is the Creator of it all. Ask your kids
to thank God for his creation by writing him a thank-you letter.
Write down your children's words exactly as they say them
to you. This will help them not only own the experience but
also enrich their reading vocabulary. Save this thank-you card
in a special place, such as a bookshelf, so that you and your
children can reread it on occasion.
2. Buy some bubble bath, tape a picture of Jesus and a phrase like
"Jesus loves you" on the wall above the tub, and have your
child soak in both. Help your child imagine he or she is soaking
3. Play music your children know and love, but this time, instead
of singing with the music, ask them to stay perfectly still and
listen to the words. Ask them not to move or talk but to just
listen quietly. Follow up by asking them to describe what they
were thinking about while the music played.
4. Seat your kids in a safe place, such as a high stool away from
the stovetop, and let them watch you cook pasta.