When I first became a Christian, I was confused about Christian meditation. I often related it to Eastern meditation, which is not an accurate comparison. In addition to my questions about meditation, I also questioned the different types of prayers that are implemented in the faith. I recognized that many, if not most, of the prayers, do not come from the Bible. For this reason, I have decided to research and answer the following question.
What’s the difference between Christian meditation and Centering Prayer? The main difference between Christian meditation and the Centering Prayer is that Christian meditation focuses on scripture, whereas the Centering Prayer focuses on silence. In Christian meditation, the mind is devoted to the studying and reflection of scriptures and the Lord. Concerning the Centering Prayer, the mind is allowed to wander.
In this blog, I will be discussing Christian meditation and Centering prayer. I am taking a scriptural approach to shed light on both topics. That way, we will be able to confidently understand the concepts, as well as the Biblical values that are attached. At the end of the blog, I have made two easy to read tables that show the contrasts and similarities of the two topics.
Christian meditation is much different from other forms of meditation. Meditation is a word that can explain the Eastern and New Age practice of emptying the mind. In these practices, the person meditating is opening him or herself to a spirit guide, who will lead to greater enlightenment. These spirit guides give promise of rest, peace, wisdom, and a better life.
In more Westernized contexts, meditation does not seek a spirit guide. Instead, meditation tends to focus on relaxation, awareness of the breath, and clarity of mind. Since Western meditation is so influenced by the Eastern form, there still are New Age symbolism and elements involved.
Christian meditation stays far away from spirit guides because these guides are recognized to be evil spirits masquerading in light. 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 explains, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”
Therefore, it is important that Christians are aware that meditation and practices that function outside of the Holy Spirit are dangerous. Additionally, it is important to note that the Holy Spirit would not work alongside other types of spirits, such as guides or that of gurus.
What then is Biblical mediation? If the Bible speaks about meditation, how could it be negative? The answer is simple. The Bible does speak about meditation, yet the object of meditation and the elements of it are much different than one might expect.
For example, the purpose of meditation, as seen in the book of Joshua, was to focus on the book of the law. By meditating on it day and night, the individual would be careful to live according to it. The meditation in this context was consistent reading and pondering of the law. It was also a means to remember all that was within it.
- Joshua 1:8: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
Next, we see that the man who is blessed is the one who does not walk in wickedness or sin. Rather, this man meditates on the Law of the Lord day and night. This indicates that the meditation was not that of an open or clear mind. The meditator was not seeking to find some sort of oasis or New Age enlightenment. Instead, the meditator was passionately and fervently aligning himself with the way of the Lord.
- Psalm 1:1-2: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”
Biblical Renewal of Mind
Moreover, meditation was the focus of extracting unGodly thoughts and replacing them with Godly thoughts. The mind naturally thinks of unGodly things. It is evil and selfish. Scripture clearly shows that the solution to that problem is not found in emptying the mind. It is only found in transforming the mind to be like the mind of Christ.
- Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Along with transforming the mind, comes the concept of purposefully thinking of things that are pleasing to God. Philippians exhorts believers to think of truth, nobility, righteousness, purity, and love. The contents of one’s mind should be admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
The only way to understand what these things even are is through relationship and obedience to Christ. The fruit of the spirit is the characteristics of God. Without God, believers cannot achieve peace or goodness. Therefore, Biblical meditation is not the emptying of the mind. It is the emptying of evil and the filling of goodness, which comes from the word of God.
- Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
A Cistercian monk, named Father Thomas Keating, is recognized as the founder of the Centering Prayer. It is believed that he began the practice during his time in the abbot from the 1960s-1970s.
There is, however, a link to contemplative prayer, which is an older traditional practice. Contemplative prayer was initiated by Thomas Merton. It was explained as “a prayer centered entirely on the presence of God.” The work of these two men ultimately resulted in the centering prayer.
The Centering prayer is based on an interpretation of Matthew 6:6. This scripture states, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
This verse inspired the reader to literally go into his room, close the door, and pray to the Father in secret. The monk highly valued communion and relationship with God the Father. This was one way that He was able to do so.
How the Centering Prayer Works
Before the beginning of the prayer, the individual must find a silent space without interruptions. Then, without speaking any words or thinking of any, the individual listens to the silence. Within the silence, the individual is supposed to listen to see if the Lord would like to speak anything.
The individual is encouraged to “rest in God.” This is done through acknowledging and resting in grace, as well as letting go of any negative thoughts. All thoughts are let go. They are allowed to come and go as they please. There are a sacred word that can be used during the practice. This word is only used when needed.
The word is needed when the mind begins to wander and think. The individual tries to complete the practice without having any thoughts. Since this is difficult, the individual is able to repeat a mantra of sorts. The mantra can be vocalized or said within one’s own mind. For some, the use of a mantra involves too much concentration.
Those who believe that the practice should only be receptive may use another approach when needed. He or she can also bring a breath or glance of faith towards God. This breath and glance are not repetitive, instead, they are used only when needed.
Is the Centering Prayer Biblical?
Just because a practice is inspired by a particular scripture doesn’t mean it is Biblical. Man can have all sorts of interpretations that are far from the original intention of the verse. All scripture should be studied with a holistic view of the entire Bible. When this is done, it affects how we look at scripture and the reason we look at it in a certain way.
With my current understanding of the Centering Prayer, I do not find it to be unBiblical. I do have some warnings and concerns about elements of it. Yet, the practice of praying alone and in silence is not a dangerous thing in and of itself.
What did Jesus actually mean in Matthew 6:6? Was Jesus commanding His followers to take part in Eastern religion? Did He command them to use silence and mantras to discover a new spiritual revelation? Was this really the way Jesus wanted people to commune with God? I do not believe so.
If we look back to the historical root of the Jews that Jesus would have been speaking to, we will recognize two main aspects. 1) God called the nation of Israel out of other pagan religions and the worship of many gods. The Lord did not want Israel (who then became know as Jews) to synchronize with the world around them.
2) Jesus was addressing a particular issue in that passage. He was correcting a common religious practice that was not pleasing to God. Jesus explained that prayer should not be done for the show. True believers should desire the approval of God, rather than the approval of men. Therefore, Jesus commanded the people to pray in silent so that they would not pray eloquent prayers to look more spiritual and higher than others.
How to Keep the Centering Prayer Biblical
By interpreting the scripture as a whole, we recognized two important notes. However, there are still general principles that continue today. The main principle being: personal prayer. I believe that this element of the Centering Prayer is beautiful. I encourage all believers to have a place of regular prayer where it is just them and God.
Moreover, the quieter the space, the better. There are already enough distractions in life. Find a place either in your home or outside where you are not distracted by other people, responsibilities, or to-dos.
I personally enjoy prayer as a two-way street. What I mean by this is that I shouldn’t be the only one talking. I like to take time to pray about specific things and then reflect and wait for an answer. Sometimes an answer will come right away. At other times, it doesn’t.
However, I do caution you not to completely empty your mind and allow anything to happen. We should keep our focus on the Lord. It is too easy for our minds to begin to focus on things that are not Godly. We can be easily deceived if we do not stay connected to scripture and to the Lord.
Additionally, if a believer chooses to use mantras, I would caution them not to use mantras from another religion. In the book of Exodus, God calls the false gods that were being worshiped by the Israelites as demons. The New Testament also speaks of spiritual warfare.
For these reasons, we should be aware that there are spiritual forces at work in this world. We must be cautious not to take part in forms of other religions that could be influenced by demonic forces. I recommend researching the various spiritual practices, their history, original use, and connections. This usually helps me to discern if a practice is dangerous or not.
If a believer does desire to use some sort of mantra or repetition, I recommend using scripture. You could repeat lines of scripture or even read aloud an entire passage. This is a Biblical form that keeps your mind on truth.
The Main Differences
There are many differences between Christian Meditation and the Centering Prayer. I have created this table to make it easy to distinguish between the two. Whenever there is a man-made practice, I believe that it is healthy to ask whether or not it is Biblical. By comparing a Biblical practice to a practice that was added later, we can get a better idea.
|Christian Meditation||Centering Prayer|
|Christian meditation comes directly from scripture.||The Centering Prayer is not explicitely listed or explained in scripture.|
|This style of meditation has been used for thousands of years.||This prayer has been used for only a hundred or so years.|
|The origin of Christian meditation was from the nation of Israel and its cultural practices.||The origin of the Centering Prayer comes from Christians who followed traditional denominations and practices.|
|The focus is on filling the mind with scripture and Godliness.||A main part of the practice is letting thoughts come and go. There is no structure to keep thoughts in alignment with scripture.|
|Christian meditation does not use mantras.||Mantras have been known to accompany this style of prayer and reflection.|
|Christian meditation is a contemplation of scripture that includes prayer. It is not necessarily a prayer practice in a traditional sense.||The Centering Prayer is explicitely a time of prayer. Other sciprtures are not read or thought of during the time.|
|This disicpline involved concentration and dedication to the readings.||This prayer can be mindless and without concentration.|
The Main Similarities
In addition to the contrasts, there are many similarities. These similarities, perhaps, are the reason that the practice was initially accepted and is continued in use today. By looking at similarities, we can see why one might want to use the Centering Prayer. We can also see if there is enough similarity to continue the practice.
|Christian Meditation||Centering Prayer|
|Current Christian meditation is inspired and followed according to scripture.||The Centering Prayer was inspired by scripture.|
|The purpose of meditation is to connect with God and to become one with His thoughts and desires.||Rest in God is the focus on the Centering Prayer.|
|Meditation became a tradition or common practice in Biblical times.||The Centering Prayer is part of a tradition today.|
|Christian meditation can be done in silence, by reading within one’s own mind.||This style of prayer is done in complete silence.|
|Meditation of this sense can and was most likely done alone.||The purpose of this practice it to experience intimacy with God alone. There should be no other distractions present.|
|One can read aloud scripture. He or she can even repeat phrases of scripture if desired.||Those who struggle to retain complete silence can fill the silence with a type of repetition.|
|The Presence of God is desired through Christian meditation.||Those who practice Centering Prayer do so to encounter the Presence of God.|
There are many ways to meet with God. Biblical meditation is a wonderful way to do this. The psalmist David was known to meditate on the word of God. He is recognized as a man after God’s own heart. Other believers have discovered their own ways that connect them with God. I believe it is beautiful when individuals find personal ways to commune with God.
I am not against practices that are implemented by men. They can be beneficial. I am, however, hesitant to accept all practices. Furthermore, I may accept elements of practice without accepting the full thing. It is important that every Christian looks within scripture to discover what benefits the values of God and what detracts from it.
Any practice that detracts from the gospel shouldn’t be used. Salvation comes only by grace and through faith. Other practices that connect believers with spirits or beings aside from God and the Holy Spirit should be avoided.