From The Tennessean
by Bonna Johnson
Like many churchgoers in the Bible Belt, Kristy Robinson teaches Sunday school with her husband and helps prepare communion at their Episcopal church in Franklin, Tenn.
She rounds out her church- and prayer-filled life with another spiritual practice that’s not quite as familiar: meditation.
“I’ll see a difference in my day if I don’t,” says Robinson, who opens each day with 20 minutes of silence.
All the chanting and incense and even meditation altars may seem too New Age and mystical for some, but meditation has gone mainstream.
Younger generations get an introduction in yoga classes, careerists escape on meditation retreats and boomers seek tranquility in meditation gardens.
Some approach meditation through Buddhism or other Eastern religions; more and more Christians meditate through the ancient ritual of centering prayer; while others develop their own style.
Most sit still, usually focusing on a mantra or on their breathing, but you can even clear your mind while walking around, tending a garden or through movement-based activities, such as tai chi.
A report released this year showed a high number of Protestants — nearly half — say they meditate at least once a week. Among the public, 39 percent meditate at least weekly, according to a report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
“We’re a mentally focused, hard-core, achievement-oriented society,” says Dr. J. David Forbes, a medical doctor and meditation teacher in Nashville. “People are finding it hard to quiet the brain down.”
Studies show daily practice can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and even increase life expectancy in the elderly, he says.
Robinson’s mind-clearing ritual helps her figure out her beliefs and hopes, her doubts and wishes.
She loves the way prayer gives her a chance to talk with God.
“With meditation,” Robinson says, “It’s me listening for God’s response.”
For Carolyn Goddard of Nashville, she was drawn to centering prayer, a form of contemplative prayer, to deepen her connection with God. A Colorado monk revived this ancient ritual of “resting in God” in the 1970s as an alternative for Christians lured to transcendental meditation.
“You don’t have to go outside the Christian tradition to find methods of meditation. It’s part of our heritage, as well,” says Goddard, who is an instructor with Contemplative Outreach of Middle Tennessee.
Meditation has been, at times, eyed with suspicion. The Vatican in 1989 went so far as to say that methods such as Zen, yoga and transcendental meditation can “degenerate into a cult of the body” and be dangerous.
And the notion that meditation is too way out there for Christians, if not rooted in the Bible, still exists.
“The idea of emptying the mind is not biblically based,” says Don Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “There can be a danger.”
Referring to meditation’s long association with Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions, Whitney says, “Some of the yoga stuff, where you’re given a mantra, that is rooted in false religions.” He sees no problem with stretching, but once you start chanting, you’re treading on treacherous ground, he says.
But for many Christians, meditation fits nicely into their religious life. They’re drawn to biblical Scriptures, such as in the Psalms, which says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
For them, meditation has brought deeper meaning to their lives.
“I discovered my true self through meditation,” says Cassandra Finch, a former Nashville television reporter. “Often because we are so busy, we don’t make time for self-discovery.”
A Christian who attends an interdenominational church and considers herself nondenominational, Finch, 42, has also been attending a Buddhist center to meditate.
“Going to church is where I’m being talked to. There is not a lot of silent time,” Finch says. “I feel the power and presence of God through my meditation.”