Excerpt from Celebration of Discipline

Chris­t­ian med­i­ta­tion, very sim­ply, is the abil­i­ty to hear God’s voice and obey his word. It is that sim­ple. I wish I could make it more com­pli­cat­ed for those who like things dif­fi­cult. It involves no hid­den mys­ter­ies, no secret mantras, no men­tal gym­nas­tics, no eso­teric flights into the cos­mic con­scious­ness. The truth of the mat­ter is that the great God of the uni­verse, the Cre­ator of all things desires our fel­low­ship. In the Gar­den of Eden Adam and Eve talked with God and God talked with them — they were in com­mu­nion. Then came the Fall, and in an impor­tant sense there was a rup­ture of the sense of per­pet­u­al com­mu­nion, for Adam and Eve hid from God. But God con­tin­ued to reach out to his rebel­lious chil­dren, and in sto­ries of such per­sons as Cain, Abel, Noah, and Abra­ham we see God speak­ing and act­ing, teach­ing and guiding. 

Moses learned, albeit with many vac­il­la­tions and detours, how to hear God’s voice and obey his word. In fact, Scrip­ture wit­ness­es that God spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exod. 33:11). There was a sense of inti­mate rela­tion­ship, of com­mu­nion. As a peo­ple, how­ev­er, the Israelites were not pre­pared for such inti­ma­cy. Once they learned a lit­tle about God, they real­ized that being in his pres­ence was risky busi­ness and told Moses so: You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exod. 20:19). In this way they could main­tain reli­gious respectabil­i­ty with­out the atten­dant risks. This was the begin­ning of the great line of the prophets and the judges, Moses being the first. But it was a step away from the sense of imme­di­a­cy, the sense of the cloud by day and the pil­lar of fire by night. 

In the full­ness of time Jesus came and taught the real­i­ty of the king­dom of God and demon­strat­ed what life could be like in that king­dom. He estab­lished a liv­ing fel­low­ship that would know him as Redeemer and King, lis­ten­ing to him in all things and obey­ing him at all times. In his inti­mate rela­tion­ship with the Father, Jesus mod­eled for us the real­i­ty of that life of hear­ing and obey­ing. The Son can do noth­ing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for what­ev­er he does, that the Son does like­wise” (John 5:19). I can do noth­ing on my own author­i­ty; as I hear, I judge” (John 5:30). The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own author­i­ty; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10). When Jesus told his dis­ci­ples to abide in him, they could under­stand what he meant for he was abid­ing in the Father. He declared that he was the good Shep­herd and that his sheep know his voice (John 10:4). He told us that the Com­forter would come, the Spir­it of truth, who would guide us into all truth (John 16:13).

In his sec­ond vol­ume Luke clear­ly implies that fol­low­ing his res­ur­rec­tion and the ascen­sion Jesus con­tin­ues to do and teach” even if peo­ple can­not see him with the naked eye (Acts 1:1). Both Peter and Stephen point to Jesus as the ful­fill­ment of the prophe­cy in Deuteron­o­my 18:15 of the prophet like Moses who is to speak and whom the peo­ple are to hear and obey (Acts 3:22, 7:37). In the book of Acts we see the res­ur­rect­ed and reign­ing Christ, through the Holy Spir­it, teach­ing and guid­ing his chil­dren: lead­ing Philip to new unreached cul­tures (Act 8), reveal­ing his mes­si­ahship to Paul (Acts 9), teach­ing Peter about his Jew­ish nation­al­ism (Acts 10), guid­ing the Church out of its cul­tur­al cap­tiv­i­ty (Acts 15). What we see over and over again is God’s peo­ple learn­ing to live on the basis of hear­ing God’s voice and obey­ing his word. 

This, in brief, forms the bib­li­cal foun­da­tion for med­i­ta­tion, and the won­der­ful news is that Jesus has not stopped act­ing and speak­ing. He is res­ur­rect­ed and at work in our world. He is not idle, nor has he devel­oped laryn­gi­tis. He is alive and among us as our Priest to for­give us, our Prophet to teach us, our King to rule us, our Shep­herd to guide us. 

All the saints through­out the ages have wit­nessed to this real­i­ty. How sad that con­tem­po­rary Chris­tians are so igno­rant of the vast sea of lit­er­a­ture on Chris­t­ian med­i­ta­tion by faith­ful believ­ers through­out the cen­turies! And their tes­ti­mo­ny to the joy­ful life of per­pet­u­al com­mu­nion is amaz­ing­ly uni­form. From Catholic to Protes­tant, from East­ern Ortho­dox to West­ern Free Church we are urged to live in his pres­ence in unin­ter­rupt­ed fel­low­ship.” The Russ­ian mys­tic Theo­phan the Recluse says, To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all see­ing, with­in you.” The Angli­can divine Jere­my Tay­lor declares, Med­i­ta­tion is the duty of all.” And in our day Luther­an mar­tyr Diet­rich Bon­ho­ef­fer, when asked why he med­i­tat­ed, replied, Because I am a Chris­t­ian.” The wit­ness of Scrip­ture and the wit­ness of the devo­tion­al mas­ters are so rich, so alive with the pres­ence of God that we would be fool­ish to neglect such a gra­cious invi­ta­tion to expe­ri­ence, in the words of Madame Guy­on, the depths of Jesus Christ.”

Excerpt­ed from Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline: The Path To Spir­i­tu­al Growth by Richard J. Fos­ter. Pub­lished by HarperCollins. 

Pho­to by Cristi­na Got­tar­di on Unsplash

Originally published January 1978

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