Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Meditation Metaphor: Weed and Word

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Ephesians 5:18-20

Lots of people "get religion" when they get sent to prison. While some of them devote themselves to the "fake it to make it" religion, most are sincere in their seeking.

For many of them, their new found faith is tied mostly to the feeling they get when they're singing songs of praise and getting all excited about forgiveness and glory.  They're even told by some chapel groups that Ephesians 5 tells them the best way to get past their addiction is to "get all excited" by the Holy Spirit and jump around and sing in the Spirit.

I often tell the ladies in our weekly prison chapel services that if all they get from jailhouse religion is a spiritual high, then all they've done is exchange the addiction that landed them in prison with a different addiction.  When they're released and are back out on the streets, there will be plenty of other things available to make them high.  If they've done nothing to change their habits and focus, they'll likely go right back to the drugs or booze or adrenaline fix to get their high.

So we try to teach them how to fill themselves with a deep and lasting hunger for righteousness and to keep in step with the Spirit.

One of the keys to going deep in faith is to seek both the instant uplift of reading the Word and the long-term psychological and spiritual changes that results from prolonged and sustained meditation on the Word.

These dual effects are surprisingly similar to the short and long term effects of cannabis usage.  For the uninformed, that's marijuana.  Weed.  Mary Jane.

The immediate effects of smoking marijuana include relaxation and a mild pleasurable feeling- getting high or being "stoned".

Few who haven't been a part of the drug culture would describe it as such, but there's no denying that focusing on the scriptures can give you a "buzz" of good feeling. To put it in more biblical terms, mediating on God's Word can produce feelings of peace and joy.

The immediate pleasurable effects of marijuana are even more intense when the cannabis is eaten rather than smoked and inhaled.

This reminds me of several places in scripture where prophets talk about eating a scroll or the words given to them by God or angels (Ezekiel 3:1, Jeremiah 15:16).  They describe it as a pleasurable and motivating act, but it can also have less than pleasant results, just like orally consuming cannabis:
I took the little scroll from the angel's hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. (Revelation 10:10)
Through long-term meditation on the Bible, a residual of God's Word settles deeply into our minds and hearts and souls, producing lasting joy and peace.  This is the deep-seated "addiction" to following God's heart that that I think Paul was encouraging in Ephesians 5.

Much as an habitual user of marijuana takes on the characteristics and personality of the stereotypical "pot-head", so the person who is a habitual meditator upon the Word takes on the characteristics and personality of the Divine Author.

And I have to add, though some may say I'm stretching the metaphor to far, that there is another side effect of marijuana that has a spiritual parallel.

I'm talking about the "munchies".  Both colloquial wisdom and scientific research agree that use of cannabinoids makes people hungry.  Scientifically, the drug enhances the taste receptors and actually activates certain other receptors in the body that increases the desire the food.

Likewise, meditating on the scriptures increases our desire for and enjoyment of the Word. The more we consume of what God has to offer, the more we hunger and thirst for righteousness. As a result, we'll hunger less for other things that used to give us a high.

Blogger's note: No cannabinoids were consumed during the research process for this blog post.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Meditation Metaphor: Joints and Marrow

Like most dogs, our beagle, Katie, loves a good bone.

Whenever we have steak for our dinner, my wife always saves the bones,with the scraps attached.  We don't eat steaks all that often, so she freezes them instead of just tossing them all to Katie at once.  She parcels them out to her one at a time.

Katie will jump around eagerly, showing lots of love to whomever gets to be the bearer of such a wonderful gift.  But once she has the bone in her possession, she'll run off to hide somewhere.

Modern people sometimes forget that their domesticated pets are at heart wild animals.  Watching a dog with a bone makes this viscerally evident.

Katie will gnaw on that bone, periodically yipping with carnivorous intensity. Her respiration increases and her muscles tense and stretch with the effort.

Whatever you do, don't try to take that bone away from her.  Katie the pleasant pet turns instantly into Katie the beagle-ized wolf.  Her lips curl back in a snarl, her teeth bared.  Her eyes betray the threat posture of the predator, but also a recognition that she's threatening the person who sometimes feeds her cheddar cheese flavored doggy treats.

One winter when Katie got loose and was roaming the woods behind our house for several hours, she returned with something ugly dangling from her mouth and slinked into her dog house.  I went out to hook the leash back onto her and was met with that wolfish look.

I talked gently to her and the loyal pet part of her brain allowed me to fasten the leash to her collar.  While I was that close I realized that her prize from the woods was the unidentifiable long-dead carcass of something small.  It might have been a rabbit or a squirrel or even a gnome, but from its look and smell it had been dead for a long while.

I wasn't willing to let Katie consume something that might be carrying disease, but how in the world was I going to get it from her?

Only one thing would do.  I went into the house and returned with the shorter walking leash and a sandwich-square of American cheese.

There is nothing in the world she loves more than cheese, apparently not even smelly dead wildlife.  I waved the fluorescent orange square near her nose and then tossed it a yard behind me.  She looked back and forth between me, the cheese and her dead thing several times.

Finally, she turned her back on me and buried the carcass in the cedar ships inside her dog house, then darted out to the cheese.

I snagged her collar with the leash and then forcibly drug her around to the other side of the house and secured her to a tree.  I then dug around inside her dog house and found the disgusting treat and threw it as far I could into the woods.

When I returned Katie to her regular leash, she darted into her house and nearly turned it upside down searching for her nasty prize.  By the time she came out and looked accusingly at me, I had a steak bone from the freezer to toss to her.  We had microwaved it for a minute or two, but I'm sure it was still cold in the core.

She didn't care.  She immediately began gnawing on it, forgetting about her previous treasure.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.  Psalm 1:2
The Hebrew word translated as meditation in our English Bibles is hagah, a word also used to onomatopoetically describe the guttural growl/purr of a lion gnawing on the bone marrow of a kill.

When I devote myself to reading the Word, I dig deep for meaning, toss it about in my mind for understanding, and contemplate its nuances to apply it to life.  I can lose all track of time as I get lost in the depths of my meditations.  My pulse quickens at each new insight, my hunger and thirst for righteousness is excited.

Like my beagle, sometimes I come across other things to sink my meditative teeth into.  Some of those may excite my interest but are dangerous to my soul. Only by forcibly turning my attention back toward the Word can I tear myself away from the influences of decay and death.

What are you sinking your teeth into these days?  What makes you salivate?  The latest internet gossip? Polarizing political rumors?

Or are you gnawing on God's Word, eagerly working your way down to the rich marrow?

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Meditation Metaphor: At the Gym

Since I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes on September 1, 2012, I've been very diligent about making a trip to the local gym four times a week: Wednesday & Thursday, Saturday & Sunday.  Mondays there's no time, since I leave work and have an hour to get everything thrown together to hit the road with my wife for the weekly trip to the prison.  Tuesdays are no good, because after getting in late the night before (after prison) I'm physically exhausted by the time I get off work.  Fridays my body needs a break between the two pair of workout days.

The first thing I do upon arriving at the gym is to step onto the scale and dutifully record my weight on the My Fitness Pal app (which I highly recommend).

I learned early on not to react too strongly to the daily weight measurement.  My weight can swing within a 5-7 pound range from one day to the next, depending on what I've eaten, how long it's been since my last workout, the alignment of the stars, and which socks I'm wearing.  (And don't forget to put down the iPhone when you step on the scale - it adds a good pound or two, more if you have a lot of Skillet songs downloaded)

The history graph on My Fitness Pal gives a better picture of how I'm doing. The graph leaps up and down like a cardiac monitor during a stretch on the stair climber, but by looking at the bast month or the past 3 months I can see the general direction of its movement (or lack of  movement).

Losing weight is a slow process.  It's hard to be motivated to stick to the plan when someone in the next office over brings in a bag of fresh bagels in the morning. After getting past the initial fear that eating half a bagel would put into some sort of diabetic coma, my only real motivation is to look at that slowly dropping chart.

Even slower is the upward change in my muscle tone and strength.  Not only am I eating less and doing more cardio exercises, I'm also working out regularly with weights. I do this because I've read that muscle mass burns calories faster than other tissues.

Who am I kidding?  I pump the iron because, like most guys, it's the weight machines and barbells that get my adrenaline pumping and make me feel like a true gym rat.  And that self indulgence helps motivate me to go to the gym.

But there's no simple app for measuring my muscle mass.  I suppose I could chart the increase in the weight settings for each machine or the bench press.  But those numbers move even more gradually than my weight.

The only way to see the gradual changes in my physique is to take a monthly selfie of myself with my shirt off, doing the classic Charles Atlas pose.  And I'm afraid my wife and son would laugh at me if they were to catch me in the bathroom doing that.

Actually, I notice the effects of my gym time the most when I discover myself doing something I haven't been able to do for years.  The most recent example would be when I climbed the stairs at the library, a habit I've worked on as opposed to taking the elevator.

Just the other day I was halfway up the staircase when I realized I had been taking the stairs two at a time. In my teens and twenties I would scale stairways in such a fashion and just shake my heads at the slow old people I left in my wake.

Now, at the age of 57, I surprised myself by behaving like a teenager again.

I should note, for the sake of honesty, that I noticed I was skipping steps because after the third such double-step My knee reminded me that I am not in fact 17, and what did I think I was doing.

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.  This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.  That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.  I Timothy 4:8-10
Meditating on the Word according to a scheduled and consistent routine can sometimes be difficult to sustain. Many days the verses and chapters just don't jump off the page and produce rapturous visions of glory.

It's difficult to chart the changes that training (from the Greek gumnasia, from which we get our gymnastics) in godliness are working on our spiritual fitness.

Just as physical fitness presents itself most often in an occasional, "wow I look/feel better" moment, godly fitness tends to show its face when we're actually walking by faith, keeping in step with the Spirit, laboring and striving to do the things God has called us to do.

Don't expect to enjoy the fruit of your meditations unless you're also bearing the fruit of exertion.