In Eastern mysticism, a person is to clear his mind and simply focus on his mantra. A mantra is the name of a pagan deity. Mystics in the Catholic church slightly modified that type of meditation and replaced the name of a pagan deity with a special word like love, peace, Jesus, or justice. Many Evangelicals have adopted this practice as well.
In the contemplative practice of meditation, the person does not meditate on the word in question. What? you ask. How can you meditate on a word and yet not think about it? Let me explain. If a modern contemplative were to choose love as his meditation word, he would not engage his mind. He would not think about the myriads of ways in which God has showed mankind love, how He has shown me His love, how I am to love others, etc. Instead, what he would do is silently repeat the word over and over again, forcing out all thought: love, love, love, love, love, love, love… One-word meditation is a clearing of the mind, not an engagement of it.
In an article called “One Word Meditation” (see here), the author writes, “This meditation works well because it helps you reduce your thoughts down to a single word” (emphasis added). Another article, entitled “Why do Christian Meditators call the prayer word a ‘mantra’?” (see here), the author warns, “in introducing Christian meditation to a new audience, especially a non-English speaking one, it may be wiser first to use the terms word or prayer word. Then at the point in the introduction when a specific word is recommended–for example, Jesus or Abba or Maranatha, the speaker can refer to them as ‘early Christian mantras or sacred words’.”
Such “meditation” is not meditation at all.
Biblical meditation is mulling over the words of a passage of Scripture. It is like a cow chewing its cud. One-word meditation is contrary to the teachings of the Word of God.
The word used in both the Greek OT (the Septuagint, also referred to as LXX) and the NT is meletaō. It is used in Ps 1:2, “Blessed is the man [who]…in His law meditates day and night”; Ps 63:6 (62:7 in LXX), “I meditate on You in the night watches” (see also Ps 119:148 [118:148 in LXX]); and Ps 77:12 (76:13 in LXX), “I will also meditate on all your work” (see also Ps 143:5 [142:5 in LXX]). It also occurs in 1 Tim 4:15, “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.”
Joshua 1:8 in the LXX uses the same word in the same sense: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
The so-called meditation of contemplative spirituality, derived from Eastern mysticism and Catholic mysticism, is not meditation at all. It is a counterfeit spirituality.
I graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary back in 1982. A friend from my days at DTS who pastored for decades told me that he kept a large supply of books promoting centering prayer, another name for one-word meditation (see this article), to give out to those in his Bible church who came to talk with him. He felt this mind-clearing practice was very important in helping people draw closer to God.
That tradition may indeed result in people feeling closer to God. But it will not result in people being closer to God because transformation comes as the Holy Spirit takes the Word of God that we have heard and renews our minds (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18). We do not grow by emptying our minds. We grow by filling them with God’s thoughts.
Peter, quoting Isaiah, wrote, “The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the LORD endures forever” (1 Pet 1:24-25 and Isa 40:8).