In this review, we consider CM, Christian Meditation: What the Bible Teaches about Meditation and Spiritual Excercises by Edmund P. Clowney and published by Regent College Publishing.
Writing in 1977, Edmund P. Clowney addressed the growing popularity of transcendental meditation (TM). TM started to develop roots in America in the 1960s and took off in part due to high-profile endorsements, including one from The Beatles. You may be tempted to think this is old news and a long-passed fad, yet with the rise of meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm, or Sam Harris’s Waking Up, Clowney still has much to say for our contemporary context.
This book’s 108 pages are divided into four major sections: (1) TM Challenges the Christian Church (2) The Yoga of Discipleship (3) The Delight of Communion, and (4) The Practice of Praise.
As Clowney unpacks the details of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s system of TM, he pulls no punches, remarking that no Christian could partake of the initiation ceremony without violating the second commandment given that gurus are venerated and the Hindu gods are invoked (p. 8). Such candor is refreshing and timely. In our present day, people seek to approach meditation from a purely secular vantage point, which may lead many Christians to think these spiritual disciplines are neutral or at least compatible or reclaimable within a Christian worldview. But there are deeper matters at stake. This is not a mere matter of form but also one of spiritual substance.
The discipline of TM, for example, is rooted in Hindu monistic philosophy. Clowney writes,
Stages have been marked out in gaining this [transcendental] experience. First is the state of pure awareness. In this state we are no longer aware of any thing or idea but only of awareness itself. The repetition of a word or syllable aids in this, for the mantra first blocks out all other ideas and then loses all meaning or suggestive power of its own. The resulting state of mind is called transcendental consciousness. Beyond this lie cosmic consciousness, God-consciousness, and unity consciousness. These are progressive steps in a “pure” awareness that experiences identity with the cosmos and the absolute. The oneness with the absolute that the Maharishi pictures as the goal of human destiny is really the opposite of Christian fellowship with the living God. It is not the experience of knowing God but the delusion of being God.Clowney, 9.
In other words, it is pantheistic. It is directly opposed to the wonder and joy we come to experience through covenant. It fundamentally misses what Geerhardus Vos called the deeper Protestant conception. It also presupposes that God cannot be known except through this transcendental experience via a different type of consciousness. Yet God has revealed himself to us. Even his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived through the things that have been made (Rom. 1:20). Clowney explains how Christian meditation is (1) rooted in God’s truth, (2) responds to the love of God, and (3) is an excercise of praise unto him.
It is critical for Christians to be self-conscious about their practices. The type of meditation described in God’s word can bring focus to our lives especially when we have become complacent, living on auto-pilot. Clowney remarks,
But too often, through lack of meditation, Christians become secularized and their capacity to see the world before the Lord shrivels. It is not a fixed stare at a stone or a tree that aids meditation. Such fixity leads to illusion not perception. But a focused seeing, a contemplative examination of both the richness and reality of one of God’s works—that is productive if done in fellowship with the Creator. If you are looking for a place to begin, try meditating on your own hand—not on one spot, but on your whole hand as God’s creation. Read Psalm 139, then look at your hand again. Write down some of your reflections. Then praise God for your hand, claim his cleansing of your hand, and seek his blessing on it (cf. Ps. 90:17). How will you use it in his service?Clowney, 41.
When influential voices ranging from Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan to Michael Pollan suggest or propose the use of psychedelics as a means for accessing a greater reality, Clowney reminds us that God’s word advocates for the reality of God’s presence accessible through his personal revelation. We do not need to escape ourselves, to disintegrate the ego, in order to commune with the triune God. We simply must seek him in spirit and in truth.
Clowney’s CM, Christian Meditation is a delightfully succinct yet significant book for our present moment. It is a call and encouragement for all Christians to take seriously their daily spiritual disciplines and to seek the Lord while he may be found (Isa. 55:6).
Participants: Camden Bucey