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Meditation apps are booming: How Augustine’s “Confessions” may guide Christian meditation

Mark Legg is a senior in his undergraduate at Dallas Baptist University, studying philosophy and biblical studies. He wants to pursue a PhD to eventually become a professor and scholar in philosophy. He currently takes up leadership and mentoring roles at DBU and works as a content intern for the Denison Forum.

A man prays with his head looking up, eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer
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It’s not surprising news that stress has been on the rise during the COVID pandemic. 

Many have turned to meditation, and the quip “There’s an app for that” certainly applies. Given this surge in anxiety, these meditation apps have seen booming growth. 

The Washington Post reports that at the beginning of the lockdown last year, “Downloads for ‘mindfulness’ apps hit 750,000 during the week of March 29, a 25 percent increase from the weekly average in January and February.” 

By the end of 2020, the meditation app Headspace had an estimated 65 million downloads, followed closely by its competitor, Calm, with an estimated total of 60 million downloads. 

More recently, Christian meditation apps like Abide have seen a similar increase in usage, opening an entirely new category of apps, with daily Scriptures to reflect on and other devotionals to guide meditation. 

What is Christian meditation? Should I meditate as a Christian?

Dedication to regular solitude and meditation is a rich part of the Christian tradition. 

Richard Foster provides a simple, approachable understanding of Christian meditation in Celebration of Discipline. He writes, “Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word. It is that simple.” 

In distinguishing it from Eastern meditation, he writes, “No, detachment is not enough; we must go on to attachment. The detachment from the confusion all around us is in order to have a richer attachment to God.” 

As we remove ourselves from distractions, we can attach our souls to God and become attuned to his presence. For example, Foster says we can meditate on his promises, on Scripture, or on the goodness of his creation. The Christian practice of meditation infuses our hustling, busy lives with much-needed stillness and quiet.

What St. Augustine knew about meditation

There are many great resources for meditation, but St. Augustine provides unique insight. His celebrated Confessions is not an ordinary autobiography. In fact, it’s hard to categorize because the book includes a great deal of philosophizing and rich theology. 

As Augustine “confesses” the events of his life, he attributes his good deeds entirely to God’s grace and, with sorrow, confesses his own sins. For example, he writes that “my good deeds are Your act and Your gift, my ill deeds are my own faults and Your punishments.”

Though St. Augustine intended Confessions to be published and reach a wide audience, he continually switched to second person and addresses God as though he is writing a private, devotional prayer. He reflects on his life with depth and vulnerability, always including insights on sin nature and God’s sovereignty. 

This authentic examination of life is where we can learn something about meditation.

“I loved my own undoing”

Augustine describes his experience as a sixteen-year-old stealing pears with a group of friends. This seemingly trite act struck him as a stark example of his sin nature, since it seems that his motivation for sinning was the wrongness itself. 

Though this intense condemnation of his own sin might seem overly harsh, considering its relative insignificance, Augustine is weaving in his rich theology of sin nature, grace, and God’s sovereignty into this confession. 

He writes, “The malice of the act was base and I loved it—that is to say I loved my own undoing . . . my soul was depraved, and hurled itself down from security in You into utter destruction, seeking no profit from wickedness but only to be wicked.”

Augustine goes to an extent in naming his own sin that might make us uncomfortable. How can he explore the depths of his own sin in a confession like this without being crushed? 

His answer is a beautiful explication of the gospel: “What shall I render unto the Lord, that I can recall these things and yet not be afraid! I shall love Thee, Lord, and shall give thanks to Thee and confess and confess Thy name, because Thou hast forgiven me such great sins and evil deeds. I know that it is only by Thy grace and mercy that Thou hast melted away the ice of my sins . . . I confess that Thou hast forgiven all.”

When confession becomes meditation

Let’s apply this principle from Augustine, this “sin-meets-grace cycle” we find in Romans 3:9–26. Augustine applies these gospel truths to his life in an authentic way worthy of reflection. 

God’s grace and immeasurable mercy saturate the Confessions and all of Augustine’s writings. It is evident why: Augustine’s early years were full of debauchery and worldly pursuits, and the occasion for his repentance from those sins was a mystical experience that pointed him to Romans 13:13–14. 

Why should we bring this point up in the context of meditation? 

Because sometimes when we sit in solitude, we feel guilt as we reflect on our life’s course, or some specific sin of ours will “haunt” us, dragging our awareness of God out of the quiet, contemplative nature of meditation. 

When this happens, we can spend time meditating on the riches of God’s grace. 

Or, conversely, we ought to purposefully reflect on our own sinfulness. 

This practice of confessing to God everyday matters, everyday sins, as well as major mess-ups in our lives, can be an act of meditation. 

Remember, at the center of meditation is listening to God’s voice. We can ask, along with the Psalmist, for God to search and know our hearts and to reveal our sin (Psalm 139:23–24). 

If all of this sounds like confession, it is. 

We can make this an act of meditation, spending more time in the reflection. 

So, we press into these sins, as deep as they will go (and this process is painful). And, in silence, God may reveal to us hidden sin. 

Then, with full and beautiful confidence, we can realize how messed up we are and yet know God’s mercy fully meets this—head-on—so that not a trace of sin is left.

This ought to lead to communal confession, but the act of meditating on God’s love can also help us to feel the depths of God’s grace. We know that as deep as our sin goes, God’s grace runs deeper still. 

Reflect on your own sin and then see God’s grace overwhelming that sin. Be saturated in that grace. This trains the heart to see God and his grace even as we recognize the weight of sin. 

The weightier sin becomes as we meditate on it, the better we recognize the weight of God’s grace. 

And recounting that weight will cause us to echo St. Augustine’s assertion: “I confess that Thou hast forgiven all” and experience the peace that forgiveness offers.


Mark Legg is a senior in his undergraduate at Dallas Baptist University, studying philosophy and biblical studies. He wants to pursue a PhD to eventually become a professor and scholar in philosophy. He currently takes up leadership and mentoring roles at DBU and works as a content intern for the Denison Forum.

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