This silly little trio of words came to me in a class I was teaching about meditation. But sometimes these little teaching tools come in handy when trying to explain things and help people move from ideas to action. Let’s look at the function of each of these three ideas.
Meditation certainly gets much more attention than it did when I was a kid. Maybe I was out of it when I was younger, but I don’t recall anyone in my church tradition talking about meditation. Granted I did not grow up Catholic, but I am not sure young Catholic kids heard much about meditation either. Perhaps meditation is only a grown-up thing.
I know there is a long and storied history of meditation in Christianity. After studying Christian history and spirituality, I know Christians have always practiced some form of meditation. I know meditation was important in the monastic tradition. Monks have been meditating for centuries. Perhaps the common layperson also was exposed to that, but I am less aware that they were.
In my lifetime I think meditation became more mainstream in the 60s, when there was an influx of religious traditions from the East. It was only in the 60s that people began to be aware of Buddhism and Hinduism. In fact, when I was in graduate school, I met a number of folks from Asia who were practicing Buddhists or Hindus. The Buddhists regularly meditated. In fact, their meditation equaled or exceeded the time devout Christians spent in prayer. Through this process of developing my awareness, I was driven back to Christian roots, about which I was ignorant.
I know people use the word, meditate, in the secular world in a way that suggests, “thinking something over.” But I would like to keep it in the religious realm. In this sense meditate means a focused pondering of something God-given. I might meditate on a short piece of scripture, some aspect of nature, some spiritual reading. In meditation I let the material simmer and soak in my mind and in my heart. I open myself to be taught and to be formed in a spiritual way. One way I like to explain meditation is to say it is designed to bring me into the presence and power of the Holy One.
That could be sufficient in itself. However, I like to move further. I meditate and then, cogitate. This simply means I move from meditation to thinking about the fruit of meditation. I try to think about what this means in my daily life. For example, in my meditation I might have come to sense that I am a beloved child of God. As I cogitate on this realization, I think about what this can mean for me in my normal, daily living.
If I am a beloved child of God, that means I should not have to worry about other people’s approval. In my past I know there have been too many times my actions were dictated by my desire to have other folks like me. Many of us have been people-pleasers. That is not wrong, but it can be limiting. If I am worried about what others will think, then I am not free to be who God wants me to be. And I am shackled in my efforts to grow up in the Spirit of the Divinity.
I am not content to meditate and cogitate. I want to move to the third phase, namely, to activate. Clearly, this is the action phase. Spiritually I don’t want to settle for simply a mental kind of spirituality. I do not think God created us simply to think about holy things. I am confident that we are beloved children of God and we are to be present in this world “acting out.”
We live in a world where clearly the kingdom has not come. There is injustice and hate. There is too much poverty and degradation. There is still a huge need for helping and healing in many corners of our communities. This is the kind of stuff that Jesus meditated on and cogitated on. But in the final analysis Jesus went into action. He became a helper. He called people into new places with new lives. He helped and he healed. Nothing less is expected of us.
One of my personal risks in teaching is to see spirituality as solely an academic exercise. I can teach students about meditation and we can even spend some time meditating. But then class is finished and we all can go about our merry way without affecting the world in any way.
The stage of activation is a key for me to go beyond “playing around with spirituality.” Jesus also was a teacher. But he was so much more. That is precisely what all of us are called to be: so much more. That is worth meditating on. I should even spend some time cogitating where and how I can be “so much more.”
But finally, I have to activate. I have to motivate myself to go do likewise---just like Jesus and the other spiritual giants have done. I am called to live the gospel in deeds---in doing.