God In Us: The Mystical Experience (part 5)
Text: Psalm 19: 14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
I used to attend a church in Texas where the pastor there would begin every sermon with these words; I think he considered it a prayer that he would find the right things to say and minister in the best way possible. It was kind of a nice tradition. But I want to head in a little different direction today.
I want you to notice exactly what this scripture actually says; it clearly states the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart; it states them as though they are two different things. Have you ever thought about that? The words of your mouth are different than the meditation of your heart; it seems the Psalmist knew something that we have long since forgotten. What has been forgotten is that the meditation of your heart is just as important, perhaps even more so, than what you say.
“Now, wait a minute!” I hear what you are thinking…first you tell us that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts are two different things…and then while we are in the process of trying to wrap our minds around that, you tell us that the meditation of our heart may be even more important than what we say! “I’m not even sure what the meditation of my heart is” I hear you say, “how can it be all that important if I don’t even know what it is?”
Well, it’s a good thing I came along then, isn’t it?
I guess this is a good time for the famous Pastor Chuck disclaimer; these are my thoughts and my ideas, they don’t have to be your thoughts and your ideas. But here is what I think; I think that Christianity, particularly in this country, has forgotten much of what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to be in relationship with God. Ancient Christianity knew about meditation and they knew how important it was and they practiced it on a regular basis. But the Christianity in the western world has chosen to focus on a lot of other things; many of those things, in my opinion, are not all that helpful. There is a lot of attention given to certain beliefs, a lot of attention given to other people’s behavior, a lot of attention given to what some define as morality and way too much attention is given to the last days, the end times and the so-called second coming of Jesus. None of these things, at least in my opinion, help us to get the most out of life. None of these things actually enrich our lives or create within us an appreciation of what is and what we already have. None of these things, which much of Christianity in the west focuses upon, actually provides us the opportunity to become more spiritual. More judgmental, perhaps, more self-righteous, to be sure, feeding the demons of superiority and exclusiveness in my experience, that is why much of Christianity actually works against us.
Yes, you heard me correctly; I said that much of Christianity works against us. If Christianity actually worked to everyone’s advantage and helped us get the most of out life and successfully broadened our horizons and created within us a desire to do more and be more, do you really think Christianity would be struggling to attract members the way it is today? What is the current exodus of people leaving the mainstream churches really telling us? What does it mean when the fastest growing demographic in the United States are those unaffiliated with any religion? What does it mean when people would rather identify themselves as spiritual but not religious, rather than align with a specific faith tradition or Christian denomination?
I will tell you what I think it means. This is of course just my opinion, and you may have your own theories, but I believe much of the faltering of Christianity we have seen in the past 3 or 4 decades is due in a large part to a focus on the wrong things. As we focus on the things which divide us that cause us to appear judgmental and in many ways espouse hate rather than love, we ultimately drive people away.
But there is another path. It is the path of personal spirituality. It is the path of unconditional love practiced and preached. It is the path of recognizing the Divine as a universal God, and not just a Christian God. It is the path of meditations of the heart.
I believe everything begins in the heart; who you are, what you think about, what you say, what you do for a living, what you like or dislike, how compassionate you are, and certainly how you choose to function as a Christian-it all begins in the heart. It all begins with meditations of the heart.
If something is this important you would think that we would pay a little more attention to it, wouldn’t you? Let me ask you a question; have you ever heard a sermon on meditation in church? I wonder why not?
Meditation is a spiritual discipline that anyone can do. It takes a little practice and focus, but the rewards are enormous. One of the most tangible things that meditation does for you is that it brings you into the present moment, it helps you pay attention to the now. It quiets your otherwise overactive mind. Meditation relieves anxiety. After a little bit of practice, I believe that meditation can even bring you into the presence of God. I believe that because I believe the presence of God is always there, we just need to get quiet enough to be aware of it. As the Psalmist states in another well known verse; “Be still and know that I am God.”
Meditation is a mystery for a lot of people. For many it seems foreign, it seems unnatural, you hear comments like we don’t do that here, or isn’t that dangerous, or I thought only kooks and fanatics meditate. Many think that meditation lies outside the boundaries of Christianity; they perceive it to be connected with other faith traditions and if you meditate you are not a true Christian. Well, none of those things are true. In ancient Christianity meditation was an integral part of the spiritual discipline of your personal life. It has just been ignored and not taught here in the west for the past several centuries, but the thousands of years prior to these last few hundred years, meditation has been alive and well.
“But I don’t know what to do” I hear you say, “I feel silly or I’m afraid I’m doing it wrong.”
Let me just say one thing; if you don’t hear anything else in the sermon today, hear this; there isn’t a wrong way to meditate. You will discover what works best for you and God will honor any attempt. But I can give you some guidelines.
For me, the key to successful meditation is all about subduing the constant chatter in our minds. When we quiet the mind we become more open to receive the gifts the Divine Spirit has in store for us. Gifts like perception, compassion, insight and enlightenment are all experienced when we come into the presence of God in a meditative way. You don’t have to think about the gifts, they just happen.
One way to quiet the mind is to occupy it with something simple. Like breathing, for example. If you can focus on your breath it will lead to a quiet mind. Let’s try it right now, shall we? Close your eyes and think about your breathing. Breathe in deeply through your nose. Notice how the air hits the edges of your nostrils. Breathe again deeply; pay attention to how your lungs fill with air and how your chest cavity expands. Breathe again, deeply, but this time exhale through your mouth. Imagine the creation story where it says that God breathed into us the breath of life, and you are breathing the breath of life into the world. As you breathe in, imagine your breath gathering together all that you desire and it is bringing it to you. As you breathe in, you are collecting the blessings of peace and understanding, you are bringing answers to your questions, you are gathering all that brings you happiness together and drawing into your being. Now, as you exhale, imagine a purging from your being of all that you wish to eliminate from your life. You exhale all anxiety, you release all thoughts of the future, you release everything in your past, you are in the moment, you are in the now. As you breathe in again, you cherish this moment, right now, that will never happen again, and you release any lingering doubt about the future or your past. You are here, right now, and in your breath, all is well.
OK, we can open our eyes. That is just one example of how to focus on your breathing. For others, the use of a mantra can be beneficial. A mantra is something that you repeat to yourself and can sometimes be used in connection with a focus on breathing. One example of a mantra I sometimes use is the phrase, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.” Sometimes as I breathe in, I say in my mind, Lord, make me an instrument-and then as I exhale, I mentally say the words, of thy peace.
There are as many ways to do this as you can imagine. There is no right or wrong approach, but good meditation should bring relaxation, clarity of thought, the release of anxiety and closeness to the Divine. Good meditation can make you more observant, good meditation can enhance your appreciation of the now, this moment, and good meditation can bring enlightenment around any issue you may be struggling with. In short, meditation can be a mystical experience. It can also be sought and controlled and created with intention.
So go ahead and experiment. I give you permission. It takes a little practice; but it can change your life. Even if you can quiet your mind for just 30 seconds, you will feel better. Food for thought.
Go in peace and go with God. Amen.