Christians and Transcendental Meditation

Last Wednesday Katy Perry, Sting, and Jerry Seinfeld got together for a little shindig in Carnegie Hall. The point of the event? As the New York Times put it, “To raise money for the David Lynch Foundation, which the film director has devoted to spreading the word on [Transcendental Meditation],” often abbreviated as T.M.

According to its official website, Transcendental Meditation is a technique–to be practiced twice daily–intended to “[allow] your mind to easily settle inward, through quieter levels of thought, until you experience the most silent and peaceful level of your own awareness — pure consciousness” (italics original). It has America has enjoyed glittery history of celebrity endorsements, including Oprah Winfrey, Clint Eastwood, and Kate Middleton.

Not surprisingly, Christians can easily find themselves puzzled about where Transcendental Meditation stands with relation to their beliefs. Doesn’t the Bible encourage meditation (Psalm 1:2)? And isn’t peace a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)? May Christians–who themselves are often stressed by the hectic pace of life–draw on the benefits of these popular techniques for focus and relaxation?

The apparent popularity of T.M. calls for a fresh examination of this question. Does T. M. have a legitimate role in the life of a believer? Consider these helpful thoughts from Christian thinkers:

T. M. leads to self-worship

“Transcendental Meditation is in reality a form of pantheism. It does not teach the existence of one eternal, personal God, the Creator of the universe. It is part of the monist tradition in that it teaches belief in the essential oneness of all reality and therefore the possibility of unity with the divine. The practice of TM itself leads the mediator toward the idolatry of self-worship because of the identification of the self with the higher ‘Self’ of the creation. In short, TM promotes an experience involving the loss of one’s distinctive identity under the false pretense of a scientific technique

-R. Enroth, in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology

T. M. is a deceptive state of mind

The biblical worldview is completely at odds with the pantheistic concepts driving Eastern meditation. We are not one with an impersonal absolute being that is called “God.” Rather, we are estranged from the true personal God because of our “true moral guilt,” as Francis Schaeffer says.

No amount of chanting, breathing, visualizing, or physical contortions will melt away the sin that separates us from the Lord of the cosmos—however “peaceful” these practices may feel. Moreover, Paul warns that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). “Pleasant” experiences may be portals to peril. Even yoga teachers warn that yoga may open one up to spiritual and physical maladies.

The answer to our plight is not found in some “higher level of consciousness” (really a deceptive state of mind), but in placing our faith in the unmatched achievements of Jesus Christ on our behalf. If it were possible to find enlightenment within, God would not have sent “his one and only Son” (John 3:16) to die on the Cross for our sins in order to give us new life and hope for eternity through Christ’s resurrection. We cannot raise ourselves from the dead.

Douglas Groothuis in Christianity Today

Christian meditation must focus on God’s revelation, not self.

Meditation in general is defined as a mental and spiritual exercise directed towards a specific subject. Naturally, for Christians, this means the direction of our minds and spirits towards God our Creator, Jesus Christ our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit our Comforter. It involves contemplation of the written word of God and all the richness which results from directing our minds and hearts for the purpose of spiritual refreshment.

George Smith, writing for the Christian Medical Fellowship publication, Nucleus

For Christians wondering whether Transcendental Meditation has a role in furthering their Christian values, the answer is certainly no. While the hectic pace of American life does reveal the need for a peaceful state of mind (maybe this is why T. M. seems to be increasingly popular), Christians understand that true peace will not be found in any self-focused meditation technique, but only in a relationship with God through Christ.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

What Is the Future of Libraries?

I used two libraries in the same day.

One was a seminary library. When I arrived, the door was locked and the lights were off. I meandered down a hallway and found someone in an office who sheepishly let me in and turned on the lights. The lights illumined the rows and rows of books. When I inhaled, I could smell that smell that any bibliophile knows and loves—the smell of books.

The other library didn’t have any fragrance at all. In fact, I didn’t actually visit it. Instead, I used it by listening to an audio book on my iPhone, available through Hoopla, a service provided by my local library.

These two library experiences primed my interest in James Gleick’s review of BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google by John Palfrey. As you might guess, the question that Palfrey addresses is: in the era of technocracy, what is the value and future of libraries?

We might tend to process this question in terms of the controversies over the print vs. digital reading experience. I’ll freely admit that I’m a die-hard fan of paper-and-ink books. I tend to retain information better if I’m able to scrawl lines underneath key concepts in a book, stress the spine of a paperback at a particularly important chapter, bend the corners of the pages down, or (especially) jot down my musings in the margins. If anyone thinks I’m disrespecting a book by handling it this way, let me assure you: good books deserve to be digested. And when you digest something, you tend to change it. So, the competition between print and digital reading does factor into the future of libraries.

But the future of libraries involves much more than that. It involves the questions of who will steward the collections, of how people will sift through the mediocre to find the truly great books, and of how to democratize knowledge without defunding authors and publishers (among many other issues).

I agree with the answer that Palfrey gives. He argues that, although libraries face some difficult paradoxes in our digital age, they are here to stay, since “spaces where people can come to study, read, and think are essential for communities and individuals to thrive. We already have too few such open, public spaces.”

That means that the reading/learning experience will never be completely digitized: “A transition to the digital can’t mean shrugging off the worldly embodiments of knowledge, delicate manuscripts and fading photographs and old-fashioned books of paper and glue. To treat those as quaint objects of nostalgia is the technocrats’ folly.”

So are libraries going away? No, not while people continue to value social spaces for study and perusal. As Gleick puts it, “People continue to gather in libraries, with or without their laptops and pocket devices. They sit at the old wooden tables and consult real documents and cherish the quiet aura of the books that surround them.”

Are My Children Safe? A Christian Parent’s Response to the Boston Bombings

130416-martin-richard-jsw-654aWe saw blood where it should not be–on the sidewalk and in a convenience store. But perhaps the most heart-wrenching piece of news was what I heard last night: an eight-year-old boy waiting to hug his dad was among the casualties.

The horrific sidewalk scene sobered me in another way. Just two days prior, I had been at the finish line of the Charlotte Racefest Half Marathon, in a crowd similar to the one where the Boston blast took place. I had run the last part of the race with my wife, and was trying to find her amid the sea of people. With me, nestled in a double jogging stroller, were my two precious children, ages 3 and 1. What if the twisted minds behind the Boston marathon bombings had chosen Charlotte instead? Are my children safe?

In CNN’s Opinion section, LZ Granderson’s editorial “It Can Happen Anywhere” offers little comfort. He writes, “All of the laws, the creation of Homeland Security, the trillions spent, the political grandstanding and debates and yet the best we can do is make the country safer. We will never, ever be safe again. Not in the way many of us remember being safe growing up.”

Granderson is reflecting the sentiment that many feel right now. No one knows when or where terror will strike. Our sense of safety has been violated. For all our protective measures, we are still vulnerable to deadly evil–in our schools, in our churches, at work, and even at play. As recent events have shown us, no sphere of life is exempt from the ravages of murderous intent.

Yet as a Christian, I must contend that events like this don’t make us any less safe–they only highlight our vulnerability. In terms of where ultimate safety comes from, nothing has changed. In the Bible I read that “the horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31, KJV).

Rather than despairing of our loss of safety, the Christian must respond to the horrible Boston bombings in a way that is informed by Scripture. As my eyes brim with tears, I offer six Christian responses to our heightened sense of vulnerability and outrage at this evil:

  1. I will grieve with those who are grieving (Romans 12:15).

  2. I will pray and trust that justice will be done (Luke 18:1-8; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8).

  3. I will recognize that I am (as I always have been) totally dependent upon God for the well-being of my children and me (Psalm 4:8; 127:1; Matthew 6:31-33; Romans 8:31)

  4. I will exercise my God-given ability to use common sense and take precautions, but I will not let faithless fear bar me from doing God’s will (Matthew 4:5-7; Daniel 3:16-18).

  5. I will long for the consummation of that coming Kingdom in which God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

  6. I will more urgently tell others how God can deliver them from the domain of darkness, and transfer them to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).