Is meditation overtaking prayer?
In the ancient Jewish world it was the practice to sit in meditation for an hour, then turn to the prayer service and then to sit again for another hour after the service. (Babylonian Talmud, Ber. 5:1, 30b)
Jewish Meditation never disappeared. But for many of the past 2,000 years, it was kept alive only by the mekubalim, the Jewish mystics, a decidedly small group. When Rabbi Nancy Flam of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality came to my synagogue to teach Jewish Meditation a number of years ago, I dare say that most of the people who turned out to hear her talk had never heard of it.
So I was interested to read an article last month in the Vancouver Sun, in which Douglas Todd wrote of what he calls a…
…religious war of words, with the West Coast serving as one of its most intense battlegrounds. The bid to win hearts and minds pits Buddhist meditation against Christian prayer, with meditation, especially so-called "mindfulness," seeming to be gaining ground. It's been the focus of more than 60 recent scholarly studies. It's being embraced by hundreds of psychotherapists, who increasingly offer Buddhist mindfulness to clients dealing with depression and anxiety.
And yet, Todd wrote, there is a tradition of meditation within Christianity as well. Indeed, no less a light than 20th century Anglo-American monk Thomas Merton engaged in a dialogue with Zen Buddhists and saw “Zen-like forms of contemplation as the route to authenticity.”
And so are prayer and meditation really in conflict; or are they, as Todd suggests, closer than most of us know? Or perhaps a better formed question would be: In what ways, in your experience—given your own particular religious background—have these practices seemed to conflict, and in what ways have they seemed to complement each other? Please share your thoughts. LEAVE A REPLY below.
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Rabbi Mark Sameth is the spiritual leader of Joyful Judaism: Pleasantville Community Synagogue an inclusive, progressive synagogue – with members from twenty towns, villages and cities all across Westchester. Read The New York Times article. Weekly meditation at the synagogue every Saturday morning at 9 am is open to the public. Everyone – without exception - is welcome and warmly invited.