Thinking on Meditation

Psalm 1 implores its reader to meditate day and night on God’s instructions (Torah). The word ‘meditate’ is often associated with Eastern religions, with fewer ties to Western Christianity. However, the Bible brings the concept to the psalms. Psalm one encourages readers to meditate as a prologue in the 150-chapter Psalter.

Even though meditation is often portrayed as sitting quietly, the concept of meditation in the Bible is more active. Hebrew words translated as “meditate” in English Bibles have a sense of making sounds. Synonyms include uttering, groaning, and making throat sounds. A few texts use the word to indicate sounds that animals make: the growling of a bear, the cooing or moaning of a dove, and the protective growl of a mother lion over her cubs. Bears and lions are not typical images of meditation, so this can leave us wondering how this meditation practice should work.

Liturgy is a useful way to think about meditation, particularly when it comes to meditating on the Psalms. Psalms are an essential part of most liturgies. Reading psalms is a liturgical practice that would fit the biblical definition of meditation. This is often done in a corporate setting, with more than a few people gathered together, but liturgical meditation on the psalms can also be practiced by the individual.

Another form of meditation is prayer. Prayer takes many forms. Depending on your background and religious tradition, a prayer can range from a well-constructed read text to a spur-of-the-moment responsive monologue. Some traditions practice Holy Spirit-inspired prayer in gifted languages. Even the prayer-giver may not understand their own words during this mystical practice. Prayer takes many forms, but one way to start praying is to read through the book of Psalms meditatively.

One approach to meditating on the Scriptures I found helpful was developed in the sixth century and became a Benedictine monastic tradition of prayer and reading. This method is known in Latin as Lectio Divina (Divine Reading). Lectio Divina walks you through a process of reading and reflection that acts as a guide to discovering meaning and exploring personal significance in biblical texts. The four steps of Lectio Divina are Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio. In English: read, meditate, pray, contemplate, and the fifth step: repeat. The Lectio Divina method can be practiced anytime, alone or with others. It is a useful model to help someone get started or return to personal devotion through a meditation discipline.

For ease of memory, I have assigned five “Rs” to the process and outlined them below.

  • Read (Lectio)
    • read silently to yourself
    • read aloud
    • listen to the psalm being read
    • note words and images that stand out are repeated or emphasized
    • research background, historical & cultural context
  • Reflect “Meditate” (Meditatio)
    • think deeply about the text
    • transport yourself to an ancient context
    • what imagery is present in the text?
    • what does that imagery remind you of
      • in other biblical texts
      • in your religious expression
      • in the world
  • Respond “Pray” (Oratio)
    • dialogue with God
    • petition God for a deeper understanding
    • express thankfulness
  • Rest & Receive “Contemplate” (Contemplatio)
    • quiet expression of love
    • absorption of the scripture
    • what does it mean? 
    • how do I apply this?
  • Repeat

While the Lectio Divina is a guide that is useful for reading and reflecting on any spiritual text, it was designed to practice with biblical texts. This guide is available in PDF format along with other recommendations for reading through the Psalms at Bible Reading Guides. Find this and more under Bible Resources.

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