True meditation – mantras? or mumbling?

We all talk to ourselves, do we not? Come on, admit it; say out loud: ‘I often talk to myself.’ Did that embarrass you, or amuse you? We even use special words for the exercise –some in regional slang: chuntering and mythering, wittering and murmuring, babbling and gabbing, chattering and prattling, humming and hawing, or muttering.

But probably few of us realise that God designed us so that we should behave in this way. After all, he told us right from ‘the beginning’ that humans were made in his image, and he created Adam by talking to himself: ‘Let us make man in our image’ (Genesis 1:26). So, no wonder that the psalmists also talked to themselves in their worship of him:

‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name’ (Psalm 103:1-5).

Also, it may come as a pleasant shock to some readers to be told that the two OT Hebrew words for meditate both mean to mutter or utter. The value of ‘meditation’ is highly publicised nowadays, but neither of its two worldly varieties resembles the biblical way. Either practitioners are encouraged to sit in the lotus position and think of nothing and hum a mantra (‘Oh-oh-oh-ohmmmm!’) in the eastern fashion, or else follow the western alterative of silent, unstructured, free-ranging thinking. But the Hebrew way – Middle Eastern, between both schools of thought maybe? – is to vocalise, to mutter or utter. So let’s ask some very practical questions on this matter of meditative mutter:

  1. How should I meditate? 

‘The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught …; morning by morning he awakens … my ear to hear as those who are taught’ (Isaiah 50:4).

The prophet here refers to the Middle Eastern traditional school method, where the teacher recites something to be memorised and the pupils sitting on the floor around him repeat the words he has just spoken in the same tone of voice. That is meditation. The contents of the Lord’s speech are varied and include ejaculatory phrases and single words – Oh! Alas! Hallelujah! – laughter, applause etc, for we find all these in the Good Book.

  1. On what should I meditate?

‘This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it [mutter it] day and night’ (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2).

  1. To whom should I mutter?

‘… speak to himself and to God’ (1 Corinthians 14:28, in tongues or native language).

*    Thus one builds oneself up and can sustain the weary with a word (Isaiah 50:4).

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