I taught my Sunday school class about meditation last Sunday. As I gave them a Bible verse to focus on and walked them through a meditation technique, I was the most nervous I’ve ever been while teaching, and not by just a little bit.
I teach the seniors, those 60 and older, in our congregation. Some of my students are almost 90. Most of their years in the church were during a time when obedience was held up highest. Now, I’m not sniffing at obedience. But as I’ve watched a few class members move to their life’s final phase, I have come to see how many of these people still worry about their salvation, even after having been Christians for twenty and thirty years longer than I’ve been alive. One 88-year-old woman I know says she knows God has made his promise to her through the Bible, but she knows how she has continued to fall short all her life, and she worries. It’s as though God has been a remote taskmaster in her life. I think they may know God, our judge, but maybe not Christ, our counselor, and the Holy Spirit, our comforter.
So I have stepped out of the safe harbor of teaching various Bible books and am now teaching about drawing closer to God through spiritual disciplines, practices such as meditation, prayer, fasting, solitude, and study. God’s followers have been practicing these disciplines through the ages, and much has been written about how to do them. I am still a novice at these things and do not practice them consistently, and I wish I were more experienced to teach them. But I know that when I have practiced them, I have experienced greater closeness to God in which I felt safe and secure in his love for me, accepted regardless of my failings. Even better, I have found that the closer practicing spiritual disciplines brings me to God, the less I sin. So I decided to try to offer this to the class, hoping it might meet the spiritual need I think I see.
Meditation has a long and illustrious history in Christian practice, and the Bible even mentions the practice on the order of 20 times. From what I’ve read, meditation was once as common a practice as prayer among believers. But I think Christians such as these, for whom the old saying, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” is a prevailing attitude, are suspicious of meditation because Eastern religions seem to own it today. I’ve heard people in my congregation speak with contempt of Zen meditation (and yoga, that’s the other big one) because of the belief systems from which they come. I know (but do not wish to debate) that adapted techniques do not supersede beliefs and faith.
You see, I adapted many of my meditation practices from Zen. I learned them in my early 20s, when I flirted with Buddhism. I had read a whole bunch of books by Thich Nhat Hanh about living peacefully when somebody loaned me a book on Zen mediation, which I tried. It took a lot of practice, but to the extent I had success, I did find a greater sense of well being in it.
And because I wanted to teach something I could vouch for, I introduced the class to some of those practices on Sunday. I tried to hide my anxiety as I spoke. Everyone sat quietly and patiently as I explained these techniques, but I read nothing on their faces and so don’t know how they took it. I told them I’d ask them the next Sunday how meditation went for them. I can tell I’m going to be nervous this Sunday morning, too.