Sunday, November 11, 2007

Meditation's Connection to the Imagination.

I have traveled this line of thinking about meditation in my own life for a practical reason. Teaching, the delivery to my intellect of the meanings of Scripture and doctrines to be understood and followed, was not having the full effect I felt it should. That is, I still found myself behaving in contradictory ways. I didn't understand me, or why I acted the way I did. Likewise, I found this to be true in those around me. People I considered devout would evidence odd opinions or behaviors that I could not reconcile with "living in the spirit of Christ." Reducing such to considerations of maturity was accurate but incomplete. I was most aware, of course, of my own feelings. Honestly, there were times when I knew I was "behaving" like a Christian because it was the socially acceptable thing to do within my sub-culture, the church group. More painfully, as an elder I knew there were moments when people searched me out for my opinion/insight, as if I held some understanding that would help them. I found myself giving rote answers, a "doctrinally" correct intellectual stance and socially correct disposition of our belief system. I truly, deeply wanted to help them; I said what I thought would help, but some place in my heart knew I didn't fully believe everything I said. Or was it that I simply didn't fully comprehend? I lacked understanding. This left me desolate at times and empty. I never doubted God, I doubted me. Later by extrapolation I doubted all of my fellow elders and some of the practices of traditional religion all around me which I had identified as my "theological home", the Evangelical movement.

Please understand that I am not attacking the Evangelical movement. I do not suggest such is wrong. I believe it lacks understanding because it is a product of Western culture. From before the Renaissance, Western thought has developed along a philosophic path that traces itself back to the Greeks. Church scholarship developed and held the lamp of knowledge for Western culture through the Medieval period such that church and culture existed in a symbiotic relationship of sorts. This philosophic path has a practical component through which it meanders, the rational mind. Western culture emphasizes rationality and thereby cuts itself off from the human heart. There have been a few reactions like the Age of Romanticism, but the onward development of a rational explanation of the human experience has never lost steam. The Evangelical movement is both product of this combined history of church and culture and remains a participant today. It does not do so without consequence to its intellectual and spiritual constructs.

Remember my discussion on Christian diversity wherein sociologists define human social experience in terms which I contend reflect the whole human? (Oct. 10 post) This is our three-part being of body, heart, and mind. Western culture focuses primarily on the intellect and secondarily (pop culture in particular) on the body. The Western Christian church preaches there must be a changed heart, but I believe as an institution lacks in its understanding of how the heart affects the whole human. (I cannot here take the time to validate this assertion of mine, maybe another post.)

Our culture has developed a "heart" obsessed with the lust of the eyes. Literature, drama, the visual arts, musical arts and tech media are overrun with imagination applied to expressing the fallenness of the human heart. It isn't just pop culture of the day either. Ever read the lyrics of great operas or pay close attention to the themes in Shakespeare? Western religion's answer to this problem is to preach against lust. This is an intellectual exercise; and from a practical standpoint of the state of the human heart, is an ill-fitting application producing mixed results. In Western culture, we do not understand the effective application of meditation in overcoming our own hearts' vagaries. Consider this quote from scripture:

Psalms 77:3-12
When I remember God, then I am disturbed; When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. Selah.
You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I have considered the days of old, The years of long ago.
I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, And my spirit ponders:
Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again?
Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever?
Has God forgotten to be gracious, Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? Selah.
Then I said, "It is my grief, That the right hand of the Most High has changed."
I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all Your work And muse on Your deeds.

The author of these words is sorely troubled in heart over his relationship with God, the core relationship of life. His answer is to meditate on God and His work. Of all the words in the Hebrew which can be translated meditate or meditation, they share one common possible meaning. That meaning is muse. Actively, muse can mean in our language to meditate or ponder. Interestingly, another use in our language is drawn from Greek mythology. This use is muse as in "a guiding spirit". Within artistic expressions, to find one's muse means to discover inspiration.

I submit that to meditate as a Christian means to find guidance from the Holy Spirit by filling the eyes of our hearts (requires the faculty of the imagination) not with lustful concepts from the world but with the purity of God Himself. In so doing, we access a source of growth for both our souls and spirits which is of God. Further, this growth will not be stimulated by teaching our minds, the intellect.


postmodern redneck said...

I popped over here after writing a new post on my own blog, and I think we are in some ways talking about different aspects of the same thing--the effect of the Fall on the human creature: You are looking at its effect on your own spiritual life, and I was looking at the disconnect between man as he is and the modern view of man. Paul was right; we don't always live up to what we know we ought to do and be.


Iris said...

"His answer is to meditate on God and His work." TRUE! Our our transformed focus will set us free from many things.

Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. Yes, we are working from different angles on the same problem.

Have you considered Ezekiel 36:26 ("Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh...")as well as the Jeremiah 31:31 passage (quoted in Hebrews) as being absolutely true? We have been given a new heart and according to Jeremiah 31 our Lord has written His law on our hearts.

If we would believe this our focus on "us" and our "wrongs" would cease and we would get rid of much wrong in our lives because we actually believe the Scripture. Our heart governs all and its focus is a key.

What the Lord has done for us is real, but we only walk in what we truly believe. The rest of His awesome work just waits to be realized. Our imagination is a huge key. When we free our hearts to believe Him, then we will "Behold" as did the "seers" of old. In Habakkuk 2:1 the prophet says, "I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved." He expected to "see." If the imagination is not used, internal "seeing" is denied.

Much, much to realize. Thanks for posting.

Jimazing said...

ded - I am behind in my reading and you are writing so much and so well. I just wanted to stop with this post and tell you my stirrings (even though there are several more waiting to be read)...
I am stirred by your writing. You have a unique perspective that I find compelling. Your ideas about imagination, doctrine and meditation cause me to ponder how we got where we are. Even to wonder more about where we are (as the church here in the good old U.S. of A). Your questions, doubts and confessions draw me closer to you. They make me trust the authenticity with which you express your ideas.

I find it interesting how, in our earlier years, we followed (sometimes blindly) in the footsteps of those who led us. Our goal, it seems, was to be "right". Now, being right does not seem so important as being authentic and who God created us to be. Enough about my stirrings... I have more of yours to read. I'm so glad you are blogging.