Should Christians participate in contemplative prayer and meditation? Kate Orson, who was previously immersed in new age practises, gives her view


Before converting to Christianity last year, I was involved in ‘new age’ practices and spent many hours meditating. This involved trying to focus on my breathing and counting my breaths. At the time, the restful stillness helped me deal with stress and fatigue.

Last year a friend of mine mentioned ‘new age to Jesus’ testimonies on YouTube and I was curious.

I started watching stories of people who gave up their new age spiritual practises to become Christians. They claimed that exploring the spirit world was dangerous.

One day I decided to say the Lord’s Prayer. I was surprised to suddenly feel the presence of God. As a life-long spiritual seeker I was stunned that a few minutes of prayer felt so different to anything I’d ever experienced in all of my hours of meditating. I instantly knew that the Christian God of the Bible was real.

Now a Christian, I’ve wondered if I should continue meditating. What could possibly be wrong with simply sitting still, concentrating on my breathing? A fellow former-new-ager now Christian friend mentioned she thought it might be okay as long as I didn’t open myself up as a ‘portal’ - channelling information in the way psychics and mediums do, as this is something the Bible clearly warns against. (Isaiah 8:19)

The problem was, I’d had experiences before I became a Christian when I’d been simply focusing on my breathing but unwittingly opened myself up to the spirit realm. On one occasion I had felt the presence of a ‘being’ in the corner of the room. On another occasion I heard the voice of what I thought was a dead relative.

The Bible gives us good reasons to be cautious. Scripture warns us that not all spiritual experiences are what they seem because “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (Corinthians 11:14-15, ESV) In Acts 16 a female slave is possessed by a ‘spirit of divination’ and tells fortunes. When Paul casts out the spirit her ability is lost. It seems clear that dabbling in receiving psychic information is opening ourselves up to demonic influence.

This realisation led me to swap my meditation practise for prayer. I found that if I sat in stillness praying for long periods I could experience all of the benefits of meditation without the risks.

But what about the forms of ‘Christian meditation’ which are taught in some churches, sometimes called ‘contemplative prayer,’ or ‘centering prayer’?

The line, “Be still and know that I am God,” from Psalm 46 is often misinterpreted as God telling us to be still in order to experience his presence. However, Bible commentators note that in its proper context this is a warning to the enemies of God’s chosen people to stop warring against them. Matthew Henry’s interpretation is, “Let his enemies be still, and threaten no more, but know it, to their terror, that he is God, one infinitely above them, and that will certainly be too hard for them; let them rage no more, for it is all in vain.”

What does the Bible actually say about meditation? The Bible uses the word ‘meditate,’ in terms of its older meaning “to engage in contemplation and reflection.” (Meriam Webster) rather than its more modern usage to describe a spiritual practise. For example in Psalm 1 “blessed is the man” who "delights in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night."

My experience and that of other ex-new-agers, is that periods of prolonged silence can leave us floating free, without the safe anchor of God, vulnerable to ‘spiritual brainwashing’ where ideas and spiritual experiences can enter our minds, that may feel seductive and enticing, but can in fact be darkness. As Jesus said, “Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” (Luke 11:35).

We must be cautious of practices that don’t have biblical verses to back them up. Christian contemplative prayer may be done with the intention to keep our minds on God, but if it’s done with silence, and not filled with God’s word, and through prayer, it is not biblical. Many new agers think they are in the presence of God when they are not. I think the same might be possible if we go into silence and neglect God’s word.

When I first realised meditation could be dangerous, I would talk very quickly, to make sure I wasn’t meditating! Gradually I’ve learned to slow down and trust that God is with me. There are brief moments of silence, in between my words. There might be times when I pause for a moment after a flurry of praise, or petition. I might then ask the Holy Spirit to guide my prayer. However this silence is a natural ‘by-product’ of the act of prayer, and not an aim in itself.

In a world where meditation and mindfulness are becoming more and more popular, it’s no wonder God instructs us to meditate on his word day and night. We need to have God’s word constantly on our minds so we are as "wise as serpents" (Matthew 10:16) in discerning the "many false teachers have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1) We should test everything against God’s word.

Are Christians who avoid mindfulness missing anything? I don’t think so. During prayer I notice my body relaxing and my breath slowing down. This is not done by hyper-focusing on my breath or body, but it happens naturally while keeping my focus on God. While the world might tell us that we need mindfulness to calm a racing mind, or ease stress, our God is a "jealous God." (Exodus 34:14) He wants us to lay down the heavy burden of our worries at his feet only. The reward of obedience is so much greater than anything else