Greg Cootsona: Meditating on the Two Books
We live in a world defined by science and technology, and sometimes it’s hard to see how and where our faith fits. The amazing discovery we’ve made at Science for the Church is that science and technology can dramatically enhance our faith.
Meditating on God’s Two Books, the Bible and God’s creation, is one key practice for creating a scientifically engaged spirituality. As Psalm 19 proclaims, God is revealed both in Scripture and in creation: “The heavens are telling the glory of God,” and “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” This means when we read these books, we learn more about God as their author. When we meditate on them, we discover God’s beauty.
Meditation is beautifully described in Psalm 131:2: “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me” (NRSV). It begins to assuage what the twentieth-century spiritual writer Henri Nouwen described: “Confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree.”
Various scientific studies have shown that meditation generally leads to reduced stress, better concentration, improved attention, reduced memory loss, and other positive outcomes. These studies have often focused on mindfulness meditation, which some Christ-followers have picked up. But here—in preparation for Lent, which starts next week—I’d like to consider specifically Christian practices, namely meditating on both the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture.
What do I mean by beauty in this context? Christian theologian Thomas Oden has written, “Beauty is that quality or combination of qualities within a thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind of spirit.” In fact, Eastern Orthodox Christians have taught me that theology begins in philokalia, that is, “the love of beauty” (or goodness). This beauty and goodness lead us to the heart of God and to deep peace. As the Bible puts it, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3, NIV).
...A nice summary of several scientific studies on meditation is “12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation.”
...This piece, and one other, describe more recent scientific research on Christian meditation practices.
...Drew wrote about a related idea, awe, in his aptly titled piece, “Wow.”
...The Faraday Institute published this beautiful exploration of nature and spiritual growth as pilgrimage.
...This article introduces lectio divina, and I love a chapter on similar themes from Marjorie Thompson’s Soul Feast, “Chewing the Bread of the Word.”
Meditation on the Bible and Creation
Let’s look at meditating on the Bible through the spiritual practice of lectio divina, which has four steps:
First, Reading: Attentive, slow, repetitious recitation of a short passage of Scripture
Second, Reflection: Time to seek to understand the passage
Third, Prayer: Engagement with God about what you’re encountering in the passage
Fourth, Contemplation: Savoring the words and phrases as the Spirit draws you into God’s presence through the Bible
One could say—and I will—that in lectio divina we touch the beauty of God in reading the Book of Scripture, and it can lead us into deep prayer and meditation.
The experience is similar to contemplative prayer practices originated by founder of the Jesuit order, Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Known as the Spiritual Exercises, these involve meditations—such as imaginatively placing yourself in the Gospel stories as if were you there. Some results, though preliminary, show similar effects when compared with studies of mindfulness techniques.
The article “Can Science Prove Christian Meditation Works?” highlights the work of Father Christopher Krall, a Jesuit based at the University of Oxford. Presenting his ideas at a recent conference on Science and Religion organized by Oxford’s Ian Ramsey Centre and the International Society for Science and Religion, Krall commented, “Christian meditation is fundamentally relational as it is about being open to God. It can develop human consciousness from basic modes of functionality, such as sensing surroundings, to higher modes that include perceiving good in the world and acting compassionately. ‘Enriching consciousness can be fostered,’ he explains. ‘It can take us to the best we can be as humans.’”
I’ve focused on meditating on the Bible because that particular path may not seem as direct for some readers. But what about meditation on God’s creation? As a pastor, I’ve found that for many congregants, the connection with spiritual life is intuitive. Don’t you often find yourself in God’s presence when sitting by a lake or walking through a forest? There we’re struck by the power of immersing ourselves in God’s creation to find God’s beauty. And so once again, I exhort this spiritual practice: Take time away—specifically, time to meditate on God’s good creation, time to read God’s Book of Nature. Take time to find the places and times where God speaks to us in the wordless message of creation (Psalm 19:3-4).
Two books, one author who is our Creator and Redeemer. Meditating on both books restores our often-tired souls. It is indeed—to quote God in Genesis 1—“Very Good.”
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