Inside Higher Ed ran a story today entitled “Meditative Spaces,” about efforts at various colleges and universities to create space for meditation and contemplative prayer. The schools in the article represent a broad range of heritages – private secular, Buddhist, Baptist, Catholic, even a college based on Transcendental Meditation. On one level, I think this can be a promising development, as students, faculty, and administrators recognize the spiritual component to life and attempt to honor our human need for transcendence. The article quotes a recent study from UCLA, which found that most college students were looking for spiritual meaning in their lives:
Indeed, it seems the majority of college students consider themselves to be spiritual in some way. A 2005 study by University of California at Los Angeles researchers found that 80 percent of freshmen have an interest in spirituality â€“ but while they expect guidance from their colleges on spiritual matters, those expectations often arenâ€™t met. In an earlier pilot study of college juniors, the researchers found that nearly two-thirds said their professors donâ€™t encourage discussion of spiritual or religious matters.
The meditation spaces described are as diverse as the schools: prayer rooms, small chapels, outdoor labyrinths. However, the article fails to mention the most important element of meditation. Who or what is the object of meditation?
Psalm 119 is perhaps the central Biblical text regarding meditation. The psalm is organized into 22 sections, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each line of each section begins with the same letter. Acrostic poems, like Psalm 119, were a Hebrew device for capturing the entirety of God, as if to say that the theme at hand is being covered “from A to Z.” In this case, the theme is God’s word itself.
The second section, Bet, vv. 8 – 16, has always spoken strongly to me:
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, O LORD;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
The impulse of the colleges above is correct. Human beings are designed to seek transcendence, and meditation is a natural part of how we are wired (some more than others). I pray, however, that students and faculty across our country will discover the proper object for meditation. May the Christians among them be salt and light, so that they will see true spirituality, focused on Christ and God’s revelation.