by Pauline Simonsen

‘Look how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these’ (Matthew 6:28-29).

Can you see Jesus, sitting on the hills above Lake Galilee, people all around him, listening? Can you see him gesturing towards a scattering of wildflowers, drawing people’s attention to the flowers’ simple beauty? I wonder where Jesus got this idea from – to compare the wildflowers with King Solomon’s regal finery, as an example of God’s loving provision.

Jesus was a contemplative! He spent time looking, noticing and reflecting on what he was seeing. He gazed at God’s creation and noticed how it demonstrated so much from God’s word. He reflected on what he learnt at the feet of the rabbis in the synagogue, considering how God outworked that teaching in human lives. In his father’s carpentry business, he pondered as he sawed and sanded.

He connected God’s Torah truths with everyday life and so could speak parables of God’s kingdom.

Remember all those times in the gospels when Jesus withdrew by himself to pray (for example, Luke 4:1, 4:42, 5:16, 6:12 and 9:18)? I’m sure a lot of that time was sitting silently in his Father’s presence, listening, looking, pondering … contemplating!

Contemplation has been described as a ‘long, loving look’: slowing down to ponder what one is looking at – whether a Bible verse, an idea, or a flourish of lilies. Contemplation is countercultural in our world. We are people of the fast click, of ‘surfing’ the net, skimming over images and text. We pause briefly on what catches our attention but click on immediately if it doesn’t hold us.

Perhaps many of us read the Bible that way, too. Quickly read my devotion or verses for today, then go! Contemplation isn’t that. It’s going in slowly, with an open, noticing attitude and pausing on something that grabs our eye, ear, mind, or heart. Stopping there; giving the Spirit of God time and space to speak. Waiting quietly, patiently, receptively.

Contemplation, like meditation, has a long Biblical heritage. Do a word search in Psalm 119 for the number of times the psalmist says he will ‘meditate on God’s law’! Think of young David, up there in the hills around Bethlehem, tending his father’s sheep. What did he do in those long solitary hours? Reflected on the Hebrew scriptures, pondered the creation around him, thought deeply about God, wondered how it all related to his life … and wrote songs and psalms expressing these personal meditations. David contemplated!

These words – contemplation and meditation – have been taken over by western culture dabbling in New Age and Eastern religions and we as Christians are often understandably wary. It’s good to clarify that we are speaking of Christian meditation. So what is it?

In New Zealand we have lots of dairy farms and I often drive past and see cows lying down, chewing their cud. That’s the best image of meditation I can think of. The cow has spent the morning eating grass and now sits quietly, regurgitating semi-processed grass so it passes more readily through the cow’s four(!) stomachs. Cows usually spend more time chewing during rumination than when they eat, breaking down grass so it can be absorbed and nourish them.

This describes Christian meditation: ruminating on God’s word. Taking in a portion of Scripture and pausing; chewing on it, re-reading it (several times, maybe in different translations), waiting with an open heart for the Holy Spirit to highlight truths from those verses that God wants you to hear today. Allowing the living word to speak life to you right in the middle of your busy day.

Why? Because God wants you to hear his word. He is always speaking, but we so rarely pay attention. Prayerful Christian meditation slows us and opens us to hearing and receiving God’s word.

All this is, of course, the work of God’s Spirit in us and through his word. Inevitably we humans turn it into our ‘work’: I must meditate to ‘hear God’! But it is the Spirit who draws us, opens the word to us and gives us receptive hearts. It’s like any Christian practice we do in response to God giving us new life: prayer, regular devotions, worship, service … These too are the Spirit’s work in and through us, growing us to be more like Jesus. This is the grace and kindness of a God who wants to communicate with his beloved children.

Christian meditation has many forms. One ancient practice is lectio divina or ‘holy reading’, encountering Christ the Word in Scripture. It is simple, word-centred, Spirit-directed and leads us to Jesus.

A helpful introduction to this form can be found at Through it, the Holy Spirit fills me with stillness and peace. This is the joy and delight of Christian meditation!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained meditation well in his book Life Together: ‘Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s word and coming from God’s word with a blessing, but everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practised and learned, in these days when talkativeness prevails … Often we are so burdened and overwhelmed with other thoughts, images, and concerns that it may take a long time before God’s word has swept all else aside and come through. But it will surely come, just as surely as God has come … and will come again … This stillness before the word will exert its influence upon the whole day … Silence before the word leads to right hearing and thus also to right speaking of the word of God at the right time.’

Dr Pauline Simonsen is Dean and a lecturer at Christian training provider Emmaus at Palmerston North in New Zealand. She is also a guest speaker, spiritual director and retreat leader and a member at St Lukes Lutheran Church.

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