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May 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 24, 2015 – Psalm 139:1-6

Reflective Meditation

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it. Psalm 139:1-6

Intro: We have started collecting tools and skills for spiritual journey

Last week we went over Analytical Meditation
– a close reading of the Scriptures that rigorously follows logical rules
• today I will talk about meditating on mysteries
– this form of meditation can also be approached rationally
• but at some point intellectual methods and processes will give out
◦ then we must switch to another mental activity
◦ the psalmist came to end of his knowledge and understanding, but not his poem or meditation
• there’s more than one way to use our minds in med
◦ some truths require a different approach than rational analysis
◦ some insights are caught rather than taught

Meditation on mysteries leans more on reflection than analysis
– the goal of reflective meditation is not to:
• solve a problem
• explain a concept
• unravel a complex system (like taking apart a car engine)
– rather, it is interested in exploring the dimensions of a thing — its breadth and depth
• more interested in an encounter with wonder
• more interested in fascination than inadequate explanations
• reflective meditation welcomes feelings, emotions and symbols

You’re probably familiar with the term “hard science”
– it refers to the natural or physical sciences – experimentation, dissecting and quantifying
• the “soft sciences” are the social sciences
◦ until fairly recently, the methods of research were different
◦ and the distinction between categories were less clear
• if analysis is “hard meditation,” then reflection is “soft meditation”
– the analytical med is closed – it excludes subjectivity
• what I feel about a text is irrelevant, knowing its precise meaning is all that counts
• it also excludes what is not immediately relevant
– reflection is open – it looks everywhere for insight
• even in areas that may seem irrelevant

A research paper was recently published by Alison Preston, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, and a graduate student researcher. They ran an experiment in which they gave subjects two learning tasks. Between the two tasks, they were left alone to rest. What they discovered is that “the ones who used that time to reflect on what they had learned earlier in the day fared better on tests pertaining to what they learned later, especially where small threads of information between the two tasks overlapped. Participants seemed to be making connections that helped them absorb information later on, even if it was only loosely related to something they learned before. [emphasis mine]

• reflection roams freely from one field to another, discovering unexpected patterns and similarities

C. S. Lewis, wrote an essay entitled “Meditation In A Toolshed” that begins:

“I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.”

– then he moved and looked into the beam
• the shift yielded a different experience
◦ now the toolshed disappeared as he looked through leaves outside to the sun
• he described this as the difference between looking at and looking along
◦ looking at something from outside of it and looking from within
– he used an illustration in which a neurologist explains pain
• neurons along a patch of skin are stimulated, which, through a network of chemical and electrical processes, transmit a message to the brain where the “feeling” is interpreted as pain
◦ but we might ask the neurologist, “Have you ever felt pain?”
◦ should he say,  “No,” we could say, “Then you don’t know pain”
• he may know the mechanism of pain, but not the experience
◦ reflection is experiential – knowing from the inside

“Mystery” is a truth we can’t prove or even explain

One place to begin is to reflect on God himself
– terms like “eternal” and “infinite,” when you try to imagine them, boggle the mind
• in Psalm 139, the poet reflects on God’s omniscience (he knows all)
◦ beginning in verse 7, he will reflect on God’s omnipresence (he is everywhere)
◦ other food for reflection would be his holiness, goodness, and providence
• Then there’s the Trinity
◦ The first time I heard the opening lines of the Athanasian Creed I was bowled over

“. . . we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.”

– when reflecting, we do not strain for precise definitions
• we “study” a thought (or mystery) the way one studies a painting
◦ or an infant studies her mother’s face
• by looking, wondering (both meanings), sensing, and so on

Jesus’ teaching and especially his odd sayings also provide mysteries for reflection
– cutting off your hand (Mt. 5:30), hating one’s father and mother (Lk. 14:26)
• or one must eat Son of Man’s flesh and drink his blood to have life (Jn. 6:53-54)
– then, Paul, in his letters gives us plenty to chew on”

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Romans 11:33)
. . . to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ep. 3:19)
And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Php. 4:7)

• subjects that the Scriptures tell us to “consider”
◦ Paul’s analogies to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:7)
◦ writer of Hebrews: Jesus – his role and example (Heb. 3:1; 12:1-3)

When and why do we use reflective meditation?

Reflection is especially important when we:

  1. do not have enough stored knowledge to understand something or complete a task
  2. our brains cannot manipulate the knowledge that have to find the answer
    • reflection opens the mind to new information and to new ways to arrange information we have
  3. realize we will never have a solid or comfortable answer
    • reflection gives us a way to still hold the unknowable in our thoughts
    ◦ frequently this is enough to turn up a valuable insight
  4. are uncertain about an important decision we have to make

Reflection can rescue us from bad emotional habits
– why don’t we break them?
• one reason: we are not normally conscious of the process
• our our brain jumps from a triggering event to an instant reaction
◦ something happens and the brain immediately says, “I must react with fear” (or anxiety, or anger)
– reflection slows the process and moves us from reaction to observation
• “What is happening in this moment?”
◦ in these circumstances? in my body? in my mind?
◦ we call this “self-reflection”
• the goal of reflection is to observe in order to gain insight
◦ reactive emotional habits block the reception of insight
• when up against a mystery, like the Trinity, I don’t have to react to it
◦ as if I were too stupid to understand it or it is too impossible to be true

Reflection is serious thought
– but at any time we can add a dash of whimsy
• there is space in reflection for the imagination and creativity
• reflection is not irrational or nonrational
◦ it’s just not controlled by reason or logic

John Chapman once expressed his frustration in a letter over theological scholars who give explanations for the inexplicable. “What annoys me,” he wrote, “is, when perfectly simple Christian truths are turned into scholastic absurdities and ingenuities.” Any theological elaboration on these truths are for “guarding, not explaining.”

Conc: I think our brains need to pause, rest and reflect

To open a window of the mind and awaken it with fresh air
– but we do not give our minds space for reflection
• repetitive, anxious thoughts push reflection aside
• or we dull our minds with a constant media saturation, or with substances we ingest
First suggestion: treat yourself to some quiet reflection

If when you are deep in thought, if you’re face is scrunched up or you get a headache
– then you are not reflecting — reflection relaxes the tight control of our thoughts
• we don’t force the mind down a specific road
◦ instead, we remove leash and allow it to find its own trails
• to concentrate is to give brain chores
• to reflect is to let the brain do what it does automatically
◦ this can be seen even in very small children
Second suggestion: read the reflective writings of reflective people
• Anne Lamott is just such an author — so is Richard Bode

After a year of beachcombing at Miramar, Richard Bode explains why he had seen other people attempt it, but give up. He says it became too great a strain–not the hiking, but that there is so much to take in. “Someone not used to such abundance can grow weary quickly trying to gather it all in. . . . I’ve learned to pace myself so I’m not overwhelmed. . . . I’m a hunter-gatherer, but not of objects . . . . I’m searching for those unexpected images that arise from nowhere to define the nature of my life and remind me who I am.”
He later describes a couple who showed up “pushing a three-wheeled buggy . . . .” He watched as they began their warm-up stretching exercises and then pushed their stroller to the wet, compact sand and jogged in his direction.
“Heads down, eyes forward, they gain speed. They are serious runners; glancing neither to left nor right, they run in unison: left leg, right leg, left leg, right. A raven rises over the dunes; a sea lion surfaces in the breakers. They are unaware. But the child in the buggy swings his head back and forth from land to sea, from sea to land. The child sees.”

Third suggestion: welcome wonder and the awe it stirs up
– welcome the sacred and the worship it inspires

In fact, we may find it appropriate to mark the end of every reflective meditation with worship
– as the reflection begins to fade, we can praise God for the mystery
• whether it remains beyond our grasp or has left us with a fruitful insight

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