Meditation Good for the Brain… and Soul

I read an article on this morning entitled “How Meditation May Change the Brain”. Recent research indicates that people who meditate on a regular basis increase gray matter in the area of the brain that supports memory and learning while also decreasing the gray matter in the area of the brain that registers anxiety and stress.

Sounds like meditation might just be the cure to a lot of problems in the stressed out, forgetful, anxious culture we have developed in America. Some of the most common complaints of people today include the symptoms we are told meditating will alleviate. The problem for Christians is that we have been trained to believe that meditation is related only to Eastern religions such as Buddhism. So, instead of taking time to meditate and relax, we medicate and continue our stressed out, overworked lives.

There has been much discussion lately concerning the use of Eastern religious practices by Christians. Yoga has been a hot topic debated back and forth. Should Christians participate in an activity that was designed as a form of worship for another religion? Can the benefits of an activity be “Christianized” so that believers can participate without being a stumbling block or inadvertently worshiping a false god?

One thing that needs to be considered in this question is that there are things the Bible itself tells us to do that have become related distinctly to Eastern religious practice because Christians have abandoned them. A great example of this is meditation. In our culture today, we relate meditation directly to Buddhism and we picture a person in a lotus position, emptying their mind and repeating the Ohm.

There is a distinct difference between the meditation found in Eastern religions and the meditation in which we are told to participate in Scripture. As an oversimplification, Eastern religions teach meditation is to empty your mind, to think on nothing, to focus on your inner self and become “one” with the spirit of the universe.

Scripture teaches us to separate ourselves from the stresses of the world. We are to clear our mind, but not to focus on nothing. We have something specific to meditate upon. We are to push out the stress and anxiety of the world and meditate on God, on His character, on His Word.

We are told in Genesis 24 that Isaac went out to a field at night to meditate.

Joshua 1:8 says: Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

The longest chapter in all of the Bible is Psalm 119, a praise of the benefits of knowing and meditating upon the Word of God.

Psalm 46:10 says, Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

So as far as I’m concerned, the research published in Psychiatry Today: Neuroimaging simply confirms what God has been trying for ages to get humanity to understand: doing what God tells us to do is for our own good (Deut. 10:13).

So is it wrong for Christians to meditate? NO! It’s actually a command from God. But the fundamental difference between Eastern meditation and Christian meditation is the focus of the meditation. Eastern meditation empties the mind and focuses inwardly on self. Christian meditation fills the mind with the Word and focuses outwardly on Christ.

I would encourage you to try the experiment the man in the article is attempting. Rise early. Spend one hour in still silence, thinking on the Word and person of Christ. Train your mind to focus on Him, not on the distractions of this world. In the words of the old hymn, “Turn your eyes up on Jesus, look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

Spend some time looking Jesus full in the face, and see if it doesn’t just change your outlook on your day. When we do the right things for the right reasons, the right results occur, and they bring glory to God. Meditation for the man in the article seems to make him a nicer husband, and that’s enough for his wife, but to meditate on and for Christ will change both heart and mind, and can change lives for eternity.

Against All Odds…

According to an article published in the New York Times on January 23, life began for Maurice Mannion-Vanover on September 11, 1990, with every odd stacked against him.

He and his twin sister were born to a crack-addicted, HIV-positive mother who was incapable of caring for them and soon abandoned them to be raised by the System. Their physical and mental struggles were so great that his sister lived only 20 months. Maurice was also HIV-positive and had severe developmental delays. He would require constant care for his entire life, but against all odds, he was adopted and he thrived under the love and care of his adoptive parents.  Maurice passed away on January 14th, a life cut short by the tragic choices of others. The mere fact that he had a life at all can be seen as nothing short of a miracle.

In a society which increasingly judges the worth of the individual by his or her ability to contribute to society, many would say that it would have been best for everyone involved if Maurice and his sister Michelle had been aborted. After all, their mother was obviously incapable of caring for them and they would merely be two more burdens on an already strapped Child Protective Services System. They were sure to endure lives of pain, suffering and rejection. Lives no one would choose to live.

I have heard more than once the argument that if a child will not be loved and well cared for by their parents then it would be best for them to never be brought into the world at all. Many attempt to twist logic and make their stance concerning abortion a humane one. Who, after all, would want to be born into a life of pain and suffering? Funny thing is, I know many people who were born into situations much like that of Maurice, and worse. (For a great example, check out the testimony of Tony Nolan.) Not a single one of them has said that they would have preferred to never be born. Given the option, the human spirit craves life.

If you read the article in the New York Times, you will see the impact that young Maurice had on a family and a community. An impact that never would have occurred had the “decrease the surplus population” attitude of social Darwinism succeeded in sacrificing Maurice and Michelle on the alter of the American Dream.

That is, in a nutshell, the ethical definition of abortion. It is the pursuit of an idol, one’s desired life, at the expense of another life. We read today with horror and disgust at the arcane practice of child sacrifice to ancient gods, but at its root, abortion is child sacrifice at the alters of convenience, financial stability, self-interest, hedonism.

The worth of a fetus is often determined today by the desire its parents have for it. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent in Neonatal Intensive Care units to preserve the life of premature babies; in some states, those same babies could be legally aborted by the same doctor that delivered and is now fighting to save its life. In some of those same states, a person can be charged with two murders if they kill a pregnant woman, even if that woman is on her way to an abortion clinic to voluntarily end the life of the fetus.

I am unashamedly pro-life and anti-abortion (yes, I believe these terms to explain two different yet related ethical stances). I believe that God is the one who knits us together, creates us each individually in his image. I believe that abortion is but one example of man’s attempt to override the sovereign creativity of the Creator.

But I am not looking to change minds based on Scripture or on my religious beliefs. In this month that we reflect on the Sanctity of Human Life, I am asking us all, regardless of religious or political beliefs, to look past “what-if” arguments of rape or incest (less than 1% of abortions performed are a result of such a situation), and think well about the question of life and the inherent worth of a human life.

Take the time to ask yourself the hard questions. What constitutes life? What gives life worth? How do our current laws concerning abortion, homicide and manslaughter, and emergency medicine contradict one another? Is there a way to build consistency concerning human life and dignity into our laws and so ensure that the weakest of our citizens, the unborn, have the opportunity to chase after life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

The rights of women are supposedly staunchly defended in the abortion debate, but we also speak loudly in America that the rights of one person only extend insofar as they do not infringe upon the rights of another. Abortion denies the right that we claim to be most sacred in America– the right to life.