The term “meditation” has 4 different meanings in use today. First, it can refer to deep and continued thought on a subject. For example, someone can be said to be meditating on the reasons people do wrong actions. Second, the term can refer to a speech or sermon given on a subject. So, we might hear that a pastor gave a meditation on “sin as a cause of wrong action”. Thirdly, meditation can refer to a devotional method in which a person reads and re-reads a passage of sacred writing, letting it “sink in” and speak deeply to them. Thus, for example, we hear of people “meditating on the passion of Jesus”. Fourth, meditation can refer to various spiritual practices found in Eastern Religions and recent adaptations of these practices now found in the West; such as “transcendental meditation”.
In premodern (medieval) Christian use, meditation refers to a devotional method of reading and re-reading a bible passage (number 3 above) in order to gain insight into its meaning and let it speak deeply to the spirit. A devotional book from that era then would have instructions on, for example, “meditating on the psalms”. This would then be contrasted with “contemplation”. Contemplation would be a stage beyond meditation. In monastic thought meditation is a discipline that beginners will pursue. It is expected that they will be subsequently led by God into contemplation.
A confusion of terms now arises. “Meditation” used in a Christian sense is an activity that uses the mind and builds understanding. “Contemplation” is a wordless state that transcends the mind. But “meditation” is sometime used (#4 above) to refer to similar wordless states in Eastern Religions. Eastern meditation and Christian contemplation have many similarities. Conceptually then, “eastern meditation” should be compared to Christian contemplation, not Christian meditation.
Further questions thus arise: are Eastern meditation and Christian contemplation both valid revelations from God? Is Eastern meditation a counterfeit experience? Can Christians learn anything from Eastern Religions? The reader is encouraged to contact us for more information covering these subjects.
To read more on meditation and contemplation see Meditation Vs. Contemplation.