How to Start a Christian Meditation Prayer Group

034If you want to start a Christian meditation group, there are a number of meditation techniques to choose from.   When forming a meditation prayer group, you may need to begin by teaching how to mediate on Bible verses or how to engage in contemplation.

Christian Prayer Meditation groups enable meditation by offering a structured setting to deepen your relationship with God.  Christian meditation uses a variety of ways and means to help us reflect on and personally experience the reality of God’s love as expressed through God’s son, Jesus Christ and through God’s words to us as found in the Bible.

Because what happens during Christian meditation is extremely personal, the role of a meditation group  is to provide the structure of place and time to facilitate each individual’s inward journey.  Meditation prayer groups enable meditation by:

–          Adding the elements of discipline and structure

–          Providing the ability to discuss experiences and insights with others

–          Providing a way to learn new ways of meditation.

–          Helping guard against our personal inner quests veering off of the path of Biblical Christianity.

Here are some ideas to help you form a Christian meditation prayer group.

1.  Explore meditation as an essential part of Christian prayer.

Meditation has always been an integral part of Christian prayer.  There are two main types of Christian meditation.  The first is active meditation where we use our minds to actively ponder a Scripture or an aspect of who God is.  The second type of Christian meditation is stillness meditation where we quiet our thoughts and allow God’s presence to move in our hearts and souls.

When planning a meditation prayer group, be aware that mediation is not usually the entry point of prayer for beginners because it requires prior prayer experience and a familiarity with Biblical Christianity.  Most prayer beginners start with “vocal prayer” where we say things to God either out loud or mentally, asking God for His help and favor in our life or in the life of someone else.  When inviting others to join a meditation prayer group, look for those who have some experience in “vocal prayer” because it helps form a relationship of trust with God.  It is also essential that group members have a basic knowledge of who God is as revealed to us in the Bible.

Meditation is very different from vocal prayer because when we meditate, we make a conscious effort to cease thinking about what we need or want and to instead open up our minds, hearts and spirits to who God is, how much He loves us, how much we love Him, what the Scriptures mean and what all of this means to the way we live our lives.  Of the two main types of Christian meditation, active meditation is the best place to start for a beginner.

fort worth 017There are three essential characteristics of Christian meditation:

–          Must be grounded in the Bible. This is because Christians believe that the Bible is the way that God has revealed Himself to us.

–          Christian meditation grows out of God’s love and helps us grow into a deeper love for God.

–          These two aspects spontaneously create an atmosphere of praise, adoration and worship in our hearts.

Christian meditation is made possible by our relationship with Jesus and through the help of the Holy Spirit.  In Matthew 11:27 Jesus says, “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (NIV)  And I Corinthians 2:9 – 11 says, “”No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him – but God has revealed it to us by his Sprit.  The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”   (NIV)   According to Thomas Merton, “The true end of Christian meditation is…a deeper union by grace and charity with the Incarnate Word, who is the only Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, Christian meditation is not simply an optional prayer experience.  Meditation is essential in order to grow in God’s love.

2.  Become familiar with the various means of Christians of meditation

There are a number of different ways and means of Christian meditation.  Here is a brief summary of some of them to aid you in deciding what kind of mediation group you may be called to form.

St. Philips 022Lectio Divina: This is a Latin phrase that means “divine reading.”  In this meditation approach a short passage of Scripture is read and then reflected upon in depth.

There are different phases of Lectio Divina meditation time.  The first is reading the passage from the Bible, letting your mind take in the words.  After reading the passage, you then meditate on the meaning of it which you might do by vividly putting yourself in the situation and thinking about what you might have felt, seen or thought.  It also involves thinking about what God might be saying to you personally through the verses.   The next step involves saying something to God about your reflections and interactions with the Bible verses.  The final stage is what is known as contemplation where you set aside all of your thoughts and simply allow God to move in your heart at a deeper, often wordless level as a result of the time spent mediating on the scripture passage.

Here are some suggestions of how to do Lectio Divina in a group setting:

–          Meditate on the same passage of Scripture

–          Meditate for 30 minutes or so in individual, silent meditation

–          After meditation, share with group members some of your reflections, thoughts and experiences.

–          Alternatively, have the group leader share their meditations on a Scripture, then allow time for group members to do their own meditations on the scripture.

–           In a silent retreat setting, meet together in a chapel or other sacred space, give out written scripture passages and  everyone meditate in the same place at the same time.

Liturgical meditation:  The word liturgy means the traditional words and rites that have been used by the Church to form the basis for public Christian worship.   Christian denominations vary as to the degree that their worship uses liturgy.  Examples of denominations where liturgy is an integral part of worship  include the Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal,  and Anglican denominations.  Liturgical mediation means simply using the traditional words or rites of the Church in a meditative way and thinking about their deep meaning.

One liturgical meditation approach is what is the Liturgy of the Hours where written prayers are prayed with a group at certain hours throughout the day.  Most people have heard of Vespers in reference a short evening time of prayerful worship, and this is the name of one of the liturgical prayer times.  The content of the Liturgy of the Hours are usually Psalms, songs, responses and other meditations and Biblical passages.  This method is commonly used in religious orders and communities.

As an example of how the Liturgy of the Hours might be used as a form of group prayer, I attended a Compline service which is a 9:00 PM prayer hour where the liturgy thanks God for the day and prays his protection during the coming night.  This service was held once a week on a Sunday evening.  The church was lit by candle light and worshippers sat quietly in the pews in meditation.  A choir of cantors wearing robes filed in silently and entered the back choir loft.  From this position they prayed the prayers and sang the chants while the congregation sat in quiet contemplation of the empty altar area of the church with a large lighted stained glass window of Christ ascending into heaven.

The rosary is another form of liturgical meditation where participants are invited to take time to meditate on the mysteries of Christ.  The stations of the cross is another form of meditation where participants move from spot to spot in a church or an outdoor area while using a guidebook to contemplate Christ’s journey from His condemnation, up the hill of Calvary to his crucifixion and burial.

The Jesus Prayer: The Jesus prayer is a very short sentence that says, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  It is based on the Bible verse in Luke 18:10-14 where Jesus commended the sincerity of the prayer of a tax collector who prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

This prayer is used in several ways in meditation.  One way is to repeat the phrase multiple times emphasizing a different word and therefore a different thought each time.  Another way to use this prayer as meditation is to keep it constantly being repeated in your mind in order to achieve a way of “praying without ceasing.”  And a third way to use this prayer as mediation is to repeating it for a short length of time as a beginning or entry point to deeper meditation or contemplation.

The Jesus Prayer can be used in group meditation by repeating it together as a group in unison before a time of meditation or by inviting the group to repeat it individually to begin private meditation time.

053Meditative Prayer Services: An example of meditative prayer service is a Taize prayer service, named after the town in France where it was originated.  Such services help participants direct their attention to focus on Christ and God by flowing through a series of simple repetitive praise songs, refrains and melodies interspersed with times of silence and Scripture reading.   Often an atmosphere of meditation is established by the use of candle light and/or the use of a visual focal point or symbol in the altar area, such as a picture of Christ or the provision of a large cross where participants might kneel and pray.

Meditative Prayer Services can easily be used to encourage group meditation as they provide an atmosphere that helps individuals focus in a directed and focused way on God’s love and presence.  As an example, in the Atlanta area, four different churches have joined to host a Taize prayer service once a month in their churches so that there is a Taize service weekly on the same evening in one of the four churches.

Guided Christian Meditation: Guided Christian meditation helps participants meditate on God, His presence and His words in the Bible by using words from a leader interspersed with short periods of silence or soft music.  The group leader may read the words out loud during the meditation time or the group might watch a video with words spoken or written in it, or the group might listen to a downloaded audio meditation.   These meditations may be on themes, such as forgiveness, scriptures on healing, etc.

Please be aware that this type of meditation should be solidly anchored in the Scriptures to guard against slipping into New Age relaxation techniques or techniques practiced by other religions.  Please consult your Church’s guidelines as far as what is acceptable and what isn’t in regards to guided meditation.  To be absolutely sure that guided meditation time is authentically Christian, use or create ones that are entirely made up of Scriptures.

Contemplative Prayer: This form of prayer is also called the prayer of the heart.  It differs from meditation such as Lectio Divina where the mind is engaged in thinking deeply on a passage of scripture.  Instead, contemplative prayer is more a case of being still in God’s presence, communing heart to heart with no active need to think or do anything except enjoy God’s nearness.  St. Teresa describes it this way, “Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”  This can be a very abstract seeming prayer practice, especially hard to grasp by in the Internet Age of Information, but it is well worth the effort to develop.    Traditional contemplative prayer is typically not a group prayer experience.  However Centering prayer, which is a form of contemplative prayer, can be successfully done in a group setting.

Centering Prayer:  Centering Prayer is a method of entering into “interior silence” in God’s presence where we allow our relationship with Him to be the focus of our thoughts.  This method was developed by Father Thomas Keating and uses a simple technique of sitting comfortably and quietly for 20-25 minutes with eyes closed.  He suggests the use of a sacred word of your choosing “as a symbol of your intention to connect to God’s presence and action within you.”  He also advises that to deal with extraneous thoughts that are bound to come between us and God to simply disregard them, as you do the background music in a grocery store.

It is very important to note the distinction between this type of meditation and that of other religions or New Age practices.  In Christian meditation, one is not trying to achieve a state of being a blank slate and being absorbed into the general cosmos.  Instead one is actually journeying inward to meet the God who is always there waiting for us and whose presence is often hidden from us by the distractions of our life.

To do Centering Prayer in a group setting, a group leader sets a time and place for the group to meet and then sets a timer to indicate the time to begin and end the time of meditation.

Soaking Prayer:  Soaking Prayer is a group mediation method that structures an environment conducive to meditation and resting in God’s presence.  The simple provision of a place and atmosphere of prayer stands on its own and during this time there is no formal group songs, no official “start time” or any spoken guidance from the leader.  In Soaking Prayer, the leader sets up a space in a church or a home for individual mediation while resting comfortably in God’s presence.   This might include the playing of soft recorded background music, the presence of Christian symbols and the provision of comfortable seats or pillows inviting participants to rest comfortably.         

Mary Lou retreat 12 069Christian Art Meditation: Christian art meditation includes using religious art such as icons as a focus of meditation and reflection.  It also includes the process of creating religious artwork, such as painting an icon or fashioning a collage type cross out of “found” materials.

Religious icons are an ancient form of Christian painting that has standard forms, symbolism and colors.  They are often called “windows to the soul” in that they help us look beyond the picture into the character and faith of the person depicted, whether it be a picture of Christ, one of the apostles or a saint.  Icons can be used in group meditation in a number of ways.  A group may mediate on a single icon together or the group leader may set up different stations with different icons where participants spend time in meditation on a particular icon before moving on to the next.  The group can then share their experiences if desired.

Creating a symbolic Christian art piece can also be done as group mediation.  In the group I participated in, our objective was to fashion a cross using items we found.  The items we chose were to represent some sort of interaction between ourselves and God.  The leader provided an array of materials, glue guns etc. and we were encouraged to take a walk outdoors and find objects for our cross.  The entire process was done in meditative silence.  When everyone had finished our crosses, we shared what each part of our cross meant.

4.  Do not mix Christian meditation with techniques from other religions or from New Age practices. 

Mediation unfortunately can be very trendy and the word is used to cover a large variety of non-Christian practices which are contrary to Christian teaching.  Many are spiritually dangerous.  There is agreement within the Christian Church that the meditation techniques of Eastern Religions and also New Age practices are incompatible with Christianity.  To make sure that meditation is firmly Christian, the Catholic Church offers us all a sensible approach and “recommends the reading of the Scripture prior to and as a source of Christian prayer and meditation.”

Before starting a Christian meditation prayer group, thoroughly investigate whether the technique is centered on Christ and the Bible and consult with your Church’s guidelines as far as what is acceptable and what isn’t in regards to meditation.

5.  Educate others about meditation as you seek group members. 

When starting a meditational prayer group, as you publicize and invite others to join you may also need to do a bit of educating as to the crucial role meditation plays in Christian prayer.   You might find the following Bible verses helpful in educating others of the Biblical precedence for meditation.  The word meditate or meditation is found twenty times in the Bible, the majority of the references coming from Psalms.  Here are some verses on meditation in the Bible:

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”  Joshua 1:8 NIV.

“O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is…My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall  praise thee with joyful lips: When I remember thee upon my bed and mediate on thee in the night watch.”  Psalm 63, 1,5,6  KJV.

“And Isaac went out to mediate in the field at the eventide.”  Genesis 24:63.  KJV

“Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.”  I Timothy 4:15 KJV

“I will mediate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.”  Psalm 77:12  NIV

“May the words of my mouth and meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”  Psalm 19:14 NIV

“My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.”  Psalm 104:34 KJV

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  Luke 2:19 NIV

You also may want to read classic writers such as Thomas a Kempis who wrote The Imitation of Christ which is the most read devotional book in the world with the exception of the Bible.  Here is a brief exert:

The kingdom of God is within you, saith the Lord. Turn thee with all thine heart to the Lord and forsake this miserable world, and thou shalt find rest unto thy soul. Learn to despise outward things and to give thyself to things inward, and thou shalt see the kingdom of God come within thee. For the kingdom of God is peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, and it is not given to the wicked. Christ will come to thee, and show thee His consolation, if thou prepare a worthy mansion for Him within thee. All His glory and beauty is from within, and there it pleaseth Him to dwell. He often visiteth the inward man and holdeth with him sweet discourse, giving him soothing consolation, much peace, friendship exceeding wonderful.

6.  Choose a type of meditation prayer according to the makeup of your group members.

A good starting point for groups with little background or experience in meditative  prayer might be Lectio Divina where you actively meditate on Biblical passages.  Another good starting point might be with a meditative creative activity such as cross making.

Other groups may be much more familiar with the teachings of the contemplative saints, such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross and therefore may be interested in beginning with a more contemplative prayer group.

Links for more information:

How to meditate outdoors in nature

How to do Christian reflection in nature

Making Crosses book review 

How to meditate using Scriptures article

PDF of book The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis

Liturgy of the Hours book review

How to pray the Rosary

Contemplative prayer book review of Time for God

How to meditate article from St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Soaking prayer article

Copyright Karen Barber 2013.  All rights reserved.