Whereas sabbath is emphasized as a communal practice, meditation is generally an individual experience (although both can be practiced either individually or communally).
The other day I was stressing out, as I have been doing far too much these past few weeks. It's tough settling into a new job and new ministry roles and as I have been going through that process I have found myself quite anxious, even depressed at times. The other morning I was having a bout of anxiety, triggered by something totally irrational. It was early in the morning, I was alone, and it was quiet but inside my head it was loud and unbearable (I hope I am not the only one who has had this experience). I sat on the edge of the bed staring at the wall and just as I was about to just ignore my anxiety, distract myself from it and continue with my day, I decided that I was not going to settle for being uncomfortable with silence anymore. I was not going to let my anxiety rob me of my ability to sit alone with my thoughts. I stopped and I meditated. I wasn't very successful but it did something to me.
I have often thought of meditation as a miniature sabbath, a time to stop and remember that all the stuff we're constantly preoccupied with does not have to own us, we are still human without it. Meditation, like sabbath, can be painful. It means actually facing what's going on in our heads, tapping in to God's creative energy, and bringing harmony in chaos.
The pattern we've gotten caught up in for too long is the pattern of distraction: we do whatever we can to keep from having to deal with ourselves. We go from one activity to the next, we deal with one person's problem to another's (this will make more sense if you're a pastor), we engage in one project, finish it, and move right on to another one. We turn up the radio, we put on the iPod, we flip the channel and flip it again, and we never have to stop and look in the mirror, we're never left along with ourselves. What has this pattern produced? explosive destruction.
What do I mean by explosive? As we distract ourselves from what's going on inside us we are actually refusing discipline, we're refusing to deal with things as the come along. Thus, since we don't deal with them, they slowly swell within us until they burst (This may have something to do with what Rob Bell calls "death by paper cuts"). Each little thing we ignore stays there and we try to go around it but "your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). Those little anxieties can blow up inside of us and cause us to do destructive things to ourselves and others.
I am sure we could link many of the "big sinns" we see in the church, with this pattern of distraction from the little things. We've all seen on the news those trajic stories of a someone blowing up and doing very destructive things. The church is not immune. We've heard of pastors beating their wives, youth pastors sleeping with their students, elders in the church overdosing on drugs, etc. Now, not that mediation replaces therapy, it doesn't! (in fact it takes a level of meditation to see that we may need therapy), but much of these problems may be linked to our inability to deal with what's going on inside of us and our overwhelming addiction to distract ourselves from it.
Perhapps our only freedom from the corrosive and explosive power of distraction is mediation. That freedom strats right now. Take time, get alone (if you are concerned that the anxieties have swollen to a dangerous level and that you may be capable of hurting yourself physically, you should not do this alone but find someone with whom you can do it), ease the restlessness, take the time to clear your mind of all the distractions and simply be still. For many of us us, this will be a painful practice. But we go through the pain, following Christ's pattern, with hope that resurrection is on the other side. This is a practice which must be revived in the church if the church if the church is to be people of the new humanity.
Start small but start indeed. See what happens...