November 2023

Dear Group Leaders and Friends in Christian Meditation,

I’ve been fortunate to be a Christian meditator for a number of years. It came into my life at a challenging moment early in my ministry. Then, as now, it continues to teach me about what it means to be a minister, what it means to be a Christian and still more what it means to be human. My ego can run rampant as well as my fears and concerns. It can be hard for me to be present to the nowness of life. Maybe you can relate to this problem. I find sitting down to lay aside my thoughts and simply to say the mantra can ground me in the present moment. Every time I sit down to meditate, I learn again and again where I struggle. I also learn again and again that I am always a beginner. And there is real freedom in that, knowing that I am simply a student of faith and friendship with God.

Recently I have learned something about myself that I wasn’t aware of, even though it involves something intimate to me, my body. James Joyce, the Irish novelist once wrote this about one of his own characters, “He lived at a little distance from his body.” I have lived some distance from my own body. When I was at Bonnevaux, our international center and spiritual home in France, we took some time to learn about sitting for meditation. I usually meditate while using a chair, but we practiced with meditation benches and cushions for meditation. I love the name of the cushions; zafu. Saying zafu makes me feel like I am doing something exotic, so extraordinary. Yet we are doing something so human and so ordinary. As someone has said, meditation is to the soul as breathing is to the body. Using the zafu, I learned something about myself, about my very body. I slouch.

Fr. John Main gave very simple instructions for meditation:

  1. Sit down. Sit still and upright. Close your eyes lightly. Sit relaxed but alert.
  2. Silently, interiorly begin to say a single word. We recommend the prayer-phrase Maranatha. Recite it as four syllables of equal length. Listen to it as you say it, gently but continuously.
  3. Do not think or imagine anything – spiritual or otherwise. If thoughts or images come, these are distractions at the time of meditation, so keep returning to simply saying your word.
  4. Meditate each morning and evening for between twenty and thirty minutes.

I was drawn to the simplicity of Christian meditation. Fr. John once wrote that this discipline of meditation was so simple that it could be written on the back of a postage stamp. Simple but not always easy. That is where my back comes into the picture.

I was practicing on a meditation cushion when I was kindly shown the posture that I was incarnating. Fr. John says simply that we ought to be upright. That part of my practice needs some work. I mentioned that to a dear friend, and she responded in a way that only those who care about us can: “You definitely slouch.” I was a little distant from my own body and I didn’t even know it. It was a reminder that indeed we are all beginners. So, I decided to buy a zafu for my home. I am beginning to experiment with it at times of meditation, but especially at other times of prayer and reading where stillness isn’t as essential. In fact, I am sitting on it as I write this letter. I do need to confess that my cat, Clare, is better at using the zafu than I am. She always has been a pretty good spiritual director.

As Christians, we are bodily people. We are incarnational. We are so bodily oriented that we believe that our God took flesh to enter into the experience of human life. As meditators, we are incarnational, as well. We bring our bodies to our chairs, benches, and our cushions. I encourage all of us to pay attention as we sit down, sit still, upright and say our mantra.

As we soon enter the season of Advent, may it be a time of peace for each of you and our world.

Kevin Maksym