Christian Meditation: Death of the Self (The Times of India)

Christopher Mendonca, The Times of India: Christians the world over celebrate the Sacred Triduum, the three holy days that form the core of their spiritual calendar. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter mark the commemoration of events that literally changed the course of history. The word ”memorial” in Hebrew means to relive the event; so the celebration of the Eucharist is much more than a mere commemorative event. The practice of Christian meditation dates back to the beginning of Christianity; its objective is to daily ”empty the self” to experience the fullness of God. It is consonant with Jesus”s invitation to his disciples to take up their cross daily and follow him. It is central to Easter celebrations, ”dying” to rise to a New Life.

The way of meditation is the way of silence. Silencing the ceaseless chatter of a mind buzzing with thoughts is not easy. The way to silence is the way of the mantra. Choosing a sac-red word and repeating it from the beginning to the end of the period of meditation forms part of the essential teaching of Christian meditation. It is advisable to choose a word of four syllables and pronounce them with equal length. The recommended word in the Christian Tradition is Ma-ra-na-tha. In Aramaic, the language of Jesus’s time, it means ”The Lord comes”.

Once we commence this daily practice, a few guidelines can enable us to go deeper. Firstly, we are not to assess our progress. The feeling of success or failure may be the biggest distraction of all. We are not to look for ”experiences” in our meditation. We come to meditation in poverty of spirit. So be faithful to the recitation of the word/mantra during the period of meditation, and to the daily practice, twice a day, morning and evening. The minimum time prescribed is 20 minutes, the optimum 30 minutes…

The way of saying your word, your mantra, is the way to stillness. Eastern Christians call it hesychia. It is pure prayer, worship in spirit and truth. It purifies the heart of contradictory desires and unifies us. The place of unity is the heart where we find our deepest and most natural orientation towards God as our personal source and goal.

A still mind creates conditions for receptivity. We open ourselves to God”s presence, so that his life can pour into us, making us channels of his grace. There is a Zen story about receptivity. A Japanese professor went to a Zen master. They talked and had tea together. The teacher took a cup and handed it to the visitor. He poured in the tea until the cup was full. He went on pouring and the tea spilled everywhere. It is overflowing, cried the professor. The master replied, “Yes, when something is full you can”t put anything else in. So I can give you nothing because you are already filled with yourself and your own ideas. We cannot receive God”s love and it cannot grow in us unless there is some space. When we meditate we are creating space within us, space that God can fill.

Jesus is the personification of this “emptying of self” who, though God, did not think equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself (Phil. 2:6). When you have nothing more to live for; when your own righteousness ceases to count for anything; when you are knocked down, battered and bruised; when rituals cease to work their magic for you and observances fail to appease; when words become meaningless and the logic of your syllogism proves nothing; when the silence of the empty tomb beckons you, only then can you be filled with the fullness of God.


(Today is Maundy Thursday.)

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