In his eulogy to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew on 29 March 2015 (Sunday), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed that after his mother had passed away, his father (the late Mr Lee) was introduced to a Benedictine monk who did Christian meditation. Although Mr Lee Kuan Yew was not a Christian, he was happy to learn from the Benedictine monk, and even suggested that Mr Lee Hsien Loong meet the monk, which the latter did.
What is Christian meditation? I do not know if the prime minister eventually learnt Christian meditation from the Benedictine monk, but in this post, I endeavour to introduce the reader to it.
One caveat before we begin: there are many denominations and sects within Christianity, and each sect may have their own distinct practices towards Christian meditation. Nonetheless, I think that what I present below would be a generally acceptable introduction to the subject.
Indeed, what I am about to present are not my own words, but rather, from Madame Jeanne Guyon, a Christian mystic, who lived in France between years 1648 to 1717, and who spent countless hours in prayer and meditation. I am quoting from the book, Madame Jeanne Guyon: Experiencing Union with God Through Inner Prayer & the Way and Results of Union with God (Pure Gold Classics), which is available from Amazon.
According to Madame Guyon, meditation is one of two ways of introducing a person’s soul to prayer. The other way is meditative reading, and though closely linked, these two are not the same.
Starting with meditative reading, and this is what Madame Guyon had to say:
“[To do] meditative reading, choose [a passage of Scripture from the Bible], or some important practical or speculative truth [from a truly spiritual book], always preferring the practical [from the latter], and proceed in the following way. Whatever passage you have chosen, read only a small amount of it. [Then mentally chew on it], doing your best to taste and digest it – to get all the strong meat and nourishment out of it. Do not go any further while any [spiritual] taste or flavor remains in the passage – [that is, while you are still getting something spiritual out of it]. Then take up your book again and do as before, seldom reading more than half a page at a time.”
Those who read fast obtain no more advantage than a bee would by only skimming over the surface of the flower instead of penetrating into it and extracting its sweets. Such reading is for scholastic subjects rather than divine truths. To profit from [the Bible and] spiritual books, we must read as I have described. I am certain that if we use that method, our [meditative reading] will gradually develop in us the habit of praying, and will make us more inclined to pray.
Meditation, which is the other method, should be done during times that you set aside especially to meditate, not to read. I believe that the best way to meditate is as follows.
By faith come into the presence of God, then read [or bring to mind] some truth or Bible verse in which there is solid spiritual food. Now think quietly about it, not to reason it out but merely to focus your mind. You use Bible verse to help you focus your mind so that you will begin to be aware of the presence of God within you, so do not concentrate on the verse itself or try to reason it out.
Now by an active faith in God in your soul, eagerly [and expectantly] sink into yourself – [into your innermost being], preventing all your senses from wandering about [by continuing to focus on your Bible verse]. Doing this will keep you from numerous distractions, remove your thoughts from external things, and draw you near to God. For He is only to be found in your innermost center, which is the Holy of Holies in which He dwells. He has even promised to come and make His abode with those who do His will. St. Augustine blamed himself for the time he had lost in not having sought God in this manner of prayer from the beginning.
When you have fully withdrawn your thoughts into yourself, you will sense within you the warm presence of God. When your senses are all gathered together and withdrawn from the external to the internal, let your soul linger sweetly and silently on the Scripture verse you have read. Do not try to reason out the truth in it, just let your soul feed on it. Encourage and strengthen your will to this by your love for God, rather than tiring your mind with constant study. Now when your affections warmly sense the presence of God within you – which is a state that may appear difficult at first, but as I will soon show is easily attained, allow them to rest lovingly [upon the truth] and to absorb or swallow what they have tasted.
For we may enjoy the flavor of delicious food when chewing it, yet we will get no nourishment from the food if we do not stop chewing and swallow it. In the same way, if we try to stir up our affections even more when they are aroused, we extinguish the flame and our soul is deprived of its nourishment. We should, therefore, in a restful state of love, full of respect and confidence, swallow the blessed [spiritual] food we have received. This method is highly effective, and will advance the soul more in a short time than any other [method] will in years.
After reading this, please don’t be discouraged if you found it to be very profound or difficult to understand.
Christian meditation is a deeply spiritual practice, requiring hours to master, and an endeavour which many give up after awhile. Indeed, Madame Guyon herself noted: “I grant that few people meditate, for few people are capable of doing it.” On meditative prayer, she added: “Meditative prayer is not the prayer God requires of those who are thirsty for salvation, nor the manner of prayer that I recommend.”
Of course, you might ask: “Isn’t there some easier way to perform Christian meditation?”
I think there is, and I share this in my article, Christian Meditation: A Quck Start-up Guide.