How Meditation May Change the Brain,” an article published in the New York Times last Friday has remained one of their most emailed articles throughout this week of insane news. Despite the craziness of winter weather across the country and the intensity of the Egyptian riots, people have been drawn to an article about how meditation may actually make our brains look different.

Here’s the gist of Sindya N. Bhanoo’s article: “…those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.”

Of course, that’s not surprising to me, even though I have no idea with “gray-matter density” actually means. I know that when I consistently spend time in quiet reflection and connection with God, my sense of self, my empathy and my ability to deal with stress in my day is different. My usual responses to running late, or August’s public outbursts, or my own sense of failure (and success) shift and I become much more full of kindness and compassion for others and myself.

I know that this article is mostly pointing to a specific type of meditation with roots in Buddhism, which I know very little about (though my friend, MK, who regularly reads this blog, could teach us plenty about her practice in that vein), I do believe that meditation should be a significant practice in Christian life.

For most of my praying life, I practiced the talky-talk version of prayer. I was given formats and formulas for prayer, but they all included making words (in my head or out loud) through a series of checkpoints: telling God why he was great (Praise), thanking God for the good things in my life (Thanksgiving), speaking my sin out loud (Confession), asking for things (Supplication).

Over the past few years (and especially with the shift motherhood and all its lack of alone-time has brought to my life), my most significant times of prayer have become much less prescribed and full of words, and much more silent and open (and often short). I find it more meaningful to pray for a friend by sitting before God with her face in my head. I often find that my prayers feel more sincere when I’m not struggling to find words for her situation. Instead, praying for her feels more akin to sitting beside someone in grief. Being near without having to speak unnecessarily.

That’s why I’m drawn to the Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina, allowing scripture reading and prayer merge into a powerful time of silence in which God speaks a word or phrase from that scripture passage over and over to my mind.

What about you? How’s your “gray-matter density”? What is your experience with meditation? Do you feel that Christians tend to avoid the practice in favor more controlled prayers?  Why or why not?

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  1. My early prayer life was similar to the way you described yours: full of words and activity. Reading and study has changed that for me. Now I’m more likely to pray scripture, especially using the Psalms. Centering prayer makes a lot of sense to me now, and I’m intrigued by fixed hour prayer, although I haven’t experimented with it much.

    I’m learning to sit and listen, which actually takes at least as much focus as I needed when reciting my lists of advice to God, maybe more.

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