The fear of what meditation might “open you up to.”

by K.W. Leslie, 13 November

Years ago in a prayer group, our prayer leader asked us to sit a moment and meditate on the lesson we’d just heard.

“And I know,” she said; “some of you are worried about this whole ‘meditation’ thing. You’re worried it’ll open you up to evil spirits or something. Well, you’re Christians. It won’t.”

She didn’t go into any further detail; she wanted to get to the exercise, and didn’t want to spend the rest of prayer time explaining why it won’t happen. I’ve got time, so I will explain.

There are a lot of Christians who are big on what they call “spiritual warfare.” Which isn’t at all what the scriptures call spiritual warfare, i.e. resisting temptation: They think spiritual warfare means we fight evil spirits. Mostly by praying against them, but often by constantly, carefully watching out for boogeymen. Because they believe evil spirits are everywhere. Everywhere. Behind every corner. Even in the corners of our prayer closets. Waiting to pounce.

This dark Christian mindset makes ’em super paranoid. They call it being watchful or vigilant, but really it’s a lifestyle of fear. The sort of fear actual evil spirits can use to keep Christians far away from anything unfamiliar. Particularly new stuff the Holy Spirit himself is introducing into our lives to encourage growth and fruit. If it doesn’t look like the stuff their church does, or the popular Christian culture, or even just looks like something they don’t feel like doing, they presume that’ can’t be of God. Thus they follow their comforts instead of Jesus, and never doubt the two might not be the same thing at all.

So, meditation. As I said in the appropriate article, the middle eastern stuff is about filling our minds instead of blanking them, and the Christian stuff is about filling our minds with God. We think about him. We contemplate him. We go over what we read in the bible, what he’s shown or told us recently; anything God-related. Eliminate distractions as best you can, and do some deep thinking.

But if all you’ve known thus far are the pagan forms of meditation—if, really, you’re surrounded by it—you’re gonna think that’s the default. Maybe wrongly presume “Christian meditation” is an attempt to Christianize the pagan stuff. Except, as your paranoid dark Christian friends might warn you, some pagan practices can’t be Christianized. They’re just too inherently wrong.

Well, we’re not appropriating the eastern practices. If you know your ancient middle eastern or Christian history, you’ll know people have been practicing Christian-style meditation for at least as long as easterners and Hindus have. Our practices developed and evolved very differently. ’Tain’t the same thing. No matter what physical traits we might share—like sitting down, closing one’s eyes, controlled breathing, concentration. No matter what external accouterments we might also have in common—maybe soothing music, candles, privacy, whatever. If you’re worried the tchotchkes might lead you astray, go ahead and leave them out. But don’t believe the rubbish of fearful Christians who don’t meditate, and clearly lack the fruit of peace.

The worst-case scenarios.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s. Back when pagans were pagans.

From time to time, my fellow Fundamentalists would share one tale or another about a Californian public schoolteacher teaching her kids to meditate. ’Cause they did; I know from experience. Some of my teachers would have us kids close our eyes, breathe in and out, and concentrate on the sounds our breathing made. It does calm you down, y’know. Helps you focus. There are plenty of non-spiritual benefits to these practices… and yeah, the non-spiritual stuff regularly gets people to dabble in the spiritual stuff. (Ideally the Christian stuff, but I digress.)

According to their horror stories, a schoolteacher would have her classroom meditate, and then introduce some basic visualization exercises. “Picture yourself in a boat on a river with Plasticine trees and marmalade skies.” Or, more commonly and innocently, “your happy place.” For me that’d be with Jesus. But in the horror story, kids would visualize an imaginary land, or an imaginary friend.

And then some evil spirit would somehow see into the kids’ minds, climb in, and become this imaginary friend. For this imaginary land was’t Narnia; it was hell.

Yeah, it’s a bad sign when people fear imagination itself. But that’s how outrageous these fearful Christians can be. They’d seen The Exorcist; they knew how demons supposedly worked. So however the story was told, critters invariably slipped into the kids, and Christians clutched their pearls in fright and despair: “This is what happens when we take prayer out of the schools!”

Okay. Yes there are such things as evil or unclean spirits, which Christians tend to call “demons” or “devils.” Yes they try to tempt both pagans and Christians alike, so as to lead us away from Jesus. Yes they could take advantage of grade-school meditation time, and whisper things into children’s souls when the adults aren’t looking. But they can—and do—do this any time. Not just meditation time! You could be listening to a Spirit-filled preacher give a Spirit-filled sermon, and a devil will whisper, “Oh he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Besides, there’s a game on and you’re missing it. Don’t you just hate that other team?…” and just that quickly, our minds fill with outrage or hate, and we’re away from Jesus.

Yep. You could be driving to work, watching TV, walking the dog, reading the internet, stomping a mushroom to death in a video game, falling asleep… and if our minds aren’t conditioned to stay on God (and you know what helps us do this conditioning? Meditation!) devils can hop on these opportunities.

Christian meditation is actually the least opportune time for a devil. When we’re so focused on God nothing else matters, devils are gonna stand out like a urine sample at a wine tasting. We’ll be so far into the light, 1Jn 1.7 their suggestions aren’t gonna tempt us whatsoever. They’ll strike us as ridiculous.

So evil spirits seldom bother to tempt us during meditation. They prefer trying to distract us instead. Much easier to break our concentration with the sound of the kids wrecking the living room furniture, than with the thought, “Hey, when you’re at work today don’t forget to steal a ream of paper; you’re running low.”

When we’re practicing other forms of meditation, devils can tempt us same as usual. When we’re properly practicing Christian meditation, we’ve given ourselves over to the Holy Spirit. Unholy spirits can’t handle his holiness!

The fear of conviction.

More often when Christians balk at meditation, it’s not really that we’re afraid devils will climb into us and corrupt us. The cold hard truth: We’re afraid we might actually hear the Holy Spirit.

’Cause a lot of people honestly don’t wanna hear from God. Don’t want him to change our attitudes, change our minds, change our way of thinking, change us. We’re happy where we are. We’re happy imagining the Spirit affirms everything we’re currently doing. We’re right, and never wanna hear we’re actually not.

We got hypocrites. Doctrinaires. Legalists. Mammonists. Bibliolaters. All sorts of people who prefer that God stay distant; who like to imagine he’s far, far away, so we can stay the sinners we are, and maybe get away with it. When we meditate, it becomes mighty obvious God is immanent, and there’s always a chance he might say something. We’d rather he didn’t.

Sometimes it’s because we’re not aware how kind God is. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, so it’s one of God’s character traits. It’s actually his specialty. So the first thing the Spirit tells us isn’t gonna be, “Stop doing [that sin you’re doing].” Instead he’s gonna love us so much, we’ll want to stop sinning. The reason we incorrectly assume God’s gonna be harsh, is because other Christians are harsh and we assume God’s no different. A lot of Christians don’t have a solid grasp on kindness, and forget to demonstrate it, or talk about it when we discuss God’s will. So all this fear-of-God’s-voice stuff is totally unnecessary, but a lot of Christians still have it, ’cause we have God all wrong.

Christian meditation isn’t anything to fear. Well, unless you’re an evil spirit.