[This is a question that did not come through the website, but live… and many times.]
What is distinctive about Christian meditation?
The short answer is: the fact that it is done by Christians. For Christians, everything is Christian, unless it is false or perverse in some way. “All things are yours,” St Paul said, “and you are Christ’s and Christ is God's” (1 Cor 3:21, 23). This universality is plain to see everywhere in the New Testament. The Christian faith is not a sect, scrambling for a place among other sects. It is a world religion with universal claim. Through the Word everything comes from God and returns to God. “All things came into being through [the Word], and without the Word not one thing came into being” (Jn 1:3). Then later in John’s gospel (this is a verse many find perplexing), “No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). These two verses echo each other and are part of the one vision.
(As for that perplexing verse, type ‘other religions’ into the site search on the front page of this website and you will find several relevant pieces.)
When a Christian meditates, as I said, it is Christian meditation. Is meditation ‘neutral’, then, from a religious point of view? Yes. Meditation in itself is just meditation, just as water is water. But when a Christian meditates, it is a Christian activity. When a Christian breathes, that is a Christian activity. We make meditation Christian by being Christians. A Buddhist makes it Buddhist by being Buddhist.
That is the broad principle. In practice when Christians meditate they usually begin with some Christian prayer or reading – “reading, thinking, and praying,” according to the author of The Cloud of Unknowing (ch. 35). These provide a framework around your meditation, reminding you of where you are coming from. Think of them as ‘place-holders’, helping you to stay grounded in your own reality, instead of floating in generalities. Many will also have an icon in their place of meditation, and light a candle there…. A great many Christians use a mantra as an element of their meditation practice. This is the case with the Cloud (since I mentioned it) – though of course the author did not use the word ‘mantra’. The mantra is an essential practice in John Main’s form of Christian Meditation.
Conversely, if a Christian consciously cuts his or her connection to the Christian faith, then their meditation could not be called Christian. This makes for great difficulty – just as it would make difficulties for a tree if you were to cut its main root. It could drag on, but it would never fully recover. But short of that, you can take it that your meditation is Christian. This does not limit it, because Christianity is a world religion. Meister Eckhart said, “One should become a God-seeker in all things and a God-finder at all times, in all places, in all company, in all ways.”