I have been thinking about meditation and prayer today, particularly in terms of how different understandings of Christianity can lead to different approaches to meditation.
You may recall my recent comments on the differences between Dispensational, Covenant and Christocentric theology? Well, how might that feed into a discussion on meditation and prayer? I would like to suggest, given Anabaptists tend to be radically Christocentric, that an Anabaptist approach to meditation should similarly be radically Christocentric. More so than Evangelical meditation, and even more so than Catholic and Orthodox meditation.
What could this mean in practice? Well, I find it leads me to stress New Testament teaching on mediation and prayer over Old Testament teaching. It’s not that I ignore the book of Psalms, I don’t and you’ll find ample evidence that I don’t in my mediation commentaries, but I value it as a secondary reference point to the prayers and teachings of the Messiah and the apostles who followed after him.
Moreover, I find it leads me to stress biblical teaching over the teaching of the desert fathers and medieval monastics (including the Celtic Christians by the way). I’ve long suggested as such, but here I’m giving a more concrete suggestion as to why.
Now, if you think this Christocentric approach rules out direct insight and God experience through mediation and prayer I would say no, not at all. But it does place emphasis on the need to evaluate general revelation in the light of special revelation, and emphasis on remembering who Jesus was and is and is to come as a mediative discipline.
So, I wonder if that stirs up any issues for you.
6 thoughts on “Meditation, Anabaptist style”
Nice post, Matt. Reminds me of Neil Cole and his insistence of feeding disciples “the true seed” — the scriptures — instead of “seed substitute”, human commentary on “the true seed”….
…and that is a “self feeding” that is then led by the Holy Spirit and pondered and shared with one or two in a consistent, discipleship relationship.
Only later are outside, human theological sources consulted — which leads to another point of his that I really like: never educate beyond obedience.
If folks are learning to understand who Jesus was and what he did and what he has called us to do … and then actually doing it … THEN, bring on the next level.
Peggy, sounds like I should read some Neil Cole, I’m hearing his name a lot lately. And you’ve got it exactly. I understand why many evangelicals and post-evangelicals are interested in meditation and contemplative prayer (I am myself), and I understand why they turn to the writings of medieval monks and Catholic mystics as a teaching resource (I do myself, after all, the Protestant resources are pretty thin on the ground). But I have concerns with this popular reliance on secondary commentary without any serious attention to scriptural exegesis. I can understand it amongst emergent liberals, but I find it much harder to swallow amongst missional evangelicals and missional anabaptists. It’s fine to draw inspiration from other traditions (I do myself) but if we’re serious about integration of theology and forging a guenuinely missional alternative then we need to move beyond this historical consumerism / postmodern sampling and engage in some serious reflection about our own tradition. After all, what does it say about the health of our meditation practice if we do not meditate on our own meditation practice in the light of the life of Christ? Many emergents and missionals speak of renewed focus on the life and teachings of Jesus. Why do we get stuck in medieval times and not delve back beyond Constantine to the apostles and the Messiah? I suppose being post-Catholic I don’t have so much of the kid in a candy store reaction to discovering Celtic Christianity. But surely evangelicals should not need to be post-Catholic to see this, this need for meditation practice to be more biblically informed, more Christologically informed.
To spin this the other way, I have concern with the neoplatonic leanings of monastic Catholic mystics care of Augustine. The traditions emerging from neoplatonic Christianity emphasize mind/body duality to a degree that should make missional-incarnational Christians uncomfortable. Neo Monastics need to recognize that the radical Anabaptism and monastic Catholicism they draw from are theologically contractictory in critical areas. Integration requires those challenges be worked through in practice and teaching.
With you on all this, mate! I have found Neil Cole more than timely and helpful. He’s pretty down to earth and I’m a simple purple abbess, so we resonate well ;^)
I am also reading and pondering “He Loves Me” by Wayne Jacobsen, along with his “Authentic Relationships”. It is turning me toward a kind of meditation that is truly transformational … and I have actually stuck to journaling (hence, the dearth of blogging) as a form of meditation and prayer that has come to be foundational.
Transformational … the more Christocentric approaches to prayer and meditation tend to emphasize life transformation over peak experience as the true measure of progress. If we understand the tongues of angels but have not love, we have nothing.