Mindful Christianity; towards a theology of mindfulness.

Several weeks ago, during a lecture on ‘Attentiveness,’ the lecturer introduced the concept of Mindfulness; my ears pricked up as I am drawn towards the quieter, more reflective forms of Christian prayer and worship.

My ears then started burning as she started to talk about how Mindfulness was frequently used in the treatment of depression and anxiety. I made a mental note to Google mindfulness. After the lecture I dashed straight to my computer and put the words ‘mindfulness’ and ‘Christian’ into the search engine. I did this because the lecturer has talked about its eastern origins and, I wanted to see whether anyone had ‘contextualized’ (awful word – sorry) for a Christian audience.

My initial search, instead, aroused my curiosity even further because it revealed a significant volume of anti mindfulness rhetoric from within the Christian community.

One of my very rough rules of thumbs is that Christian outrage is frequently a good indicator that further research is warranted!

In the spirit of mindfulness I ordered five books (I am being ironic, taking the …. out of myself – go on be honest you use this word too!). I then approached a couple of friends from an evangelical background, to ascertain whether they felt that I was about to embark on an heretical voyage of discovery.

One of my friends is a clinical psychologist (and a priest) and she felt that mindfulness might be right up this depressives street.

The other chum felt that the criticism came from a lack of understanding of the Christian tradition and, it does seem, that mindfulness is highly congruent (hope you like the use of psycho language) with practices such as Lectio Devina (Benedictine) and the Examen (Ignation). The word practice is important because mindfulness is all about practice, where practice leads to richer understanding, renewal of the mind (very St. Paul) and, the possibility for modified behavior, and even healing.

The words in bold and italics are motifs belonging to both the Christian faith and mindfulness. So far no heresy! 

But if I were to pick one motif that I think describes both mindfulness and the habituation of the Christian life it would be abiding.

Abiding describes a state of resting (in God), where we are, in the state we are in.

Abiding accepts that that the past has happened and the future will happen, but stresses the importance of the now.

Abiding accepts a lack of control over events, past and future, whilst trusting in providence. Abiding, suggests an attitude of patience, as in let’s ‘bide our time.’Abiding is the answer to the tendency to ‘pre-live’ our lives in response to projections about how the future may pan out.

Abiding is hospitable, because it accepts that we stand before God, just as we are. When we abide we accept our thoughts and feelings, hospitably, in the full recognition that we are not our thoughts. When we abide we reject the Cartesian notion of ‘I think therefore I am.’

Abiding is charitable and non-judgmental towards self; to abide is to love self in  a way that replicate’s God’s love.

To abide is to cast aside fear, to trust in providence and to live in the present.

When we abide we enter into the fullness  of the Sermon on the Mount (especially Matthew 6, 25-34),  with it’s invocation to live fully in the moment, understanding that ‘tomorrow will take care of itself.’

When Christians abide they are literally in-vocation.

Abiding is also concerned with commitment, a commitment to act responsibly in order to achieve the breaking in of the kingdom on earth as in heaven. Such a commitment is realized through starting with self. The ancient Christian meditative and contemplative traditions stress a series of practices designed to bring increased sense of shalom over time.

Shalom is itself a manifestation of reconciliation with self as lived in the present. Shalom and reconciliation are practices which lead to potential outcomes; let’s not put the cart (or should I say Descartes!) before the horse .

Mindfulness (just like the ancient Christian spiritual practices) invites practitioners to enter into a process where they become fully aware of how they feel, both emotionally and bodily, (and yes, we are supposed to worship God in 3D using our soul, mind and body) and therefore opens up the possibility for self-healing, a practice Jesus advocates: ‘physician heal yourself,’  (Luke 4, 23). 

If abiding is my chosen motif, then the incarnation is my  theological rationale. Christianity is a fully embodied faith!  Mindfulness celebrates the unity, the interpenetration, of mind-body-soul – so does Christianity. Orthodox Christianity rejects Cartesian ‘non humanistic’ logic and Platonic dualism, so does mindfulness. Mindfulness, when done in a Christian context, allow us to accept Jesus’ great invitation to all who feel downtrodden and anxious both emotionally and physically:  ‘Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.’  (Matthew 11, 28 & 29). 

So why not give it a go? 


2 thoughts on “Mindful Christianity; towards a theology of mindfulness.

  1. Biblical “mind-full-ness” means filling your mind with Scripture and meditating on it—-not emptying your mind. And, btw, Evangelicals have a tendency to jump on any of the latest pseudo-spiritual bandwagons, Contemplative “Christianity” being the more recent of such fads. Few Christians nowadays have the kind of mature discernment that the Word calls us to develop. (The perils of an entertainment culture—recognized even by a brilliant Leftist non-Christian, Neil Postman: cf AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH.)

    As for the “physician” quote, sigh, you’re taking that totally out of context and misapplying it. Recall that Jesus never told folks to heal themselves, but rather did all the healing *HIM*self. In the O.T., God is called the Great Physician. When Trophimus was sick, Paul didn’t tell him to heal himself.

    “non-judgmental towards self”: hmmnn, I read in 1 Cor. 11:31 a specific injunction to judge ourselves… {shrugs}

    And goo’ness sakes, how DID Paul and the other Apostles (and JESUS!!!) ever manage without such indispensable tools as the Lectio and Examen? Poor disadvantaged creatures, having to rely solely on Scripture…

    • Yes, and this is what I true to do, meditate on Scripture and letting it penetrate not just mind but body. Mindfulness, by the way, is not about emptying the mind, but rather understanding what exactly is going on in your mind (and body) – it is about attentiveness and not detachment, it is an acknowledgement of reality not an escape from reality – but it does invite us to see our thoughts, feelings (both spiritual and bodily) from a different perspective. It creates space. I pray to see myself from God’s perspective. This is why it provides scope for healing and as a Christian I invite the Holy Spirit to take the lead. Christianity is an embodied faith, not just a mental ascent. We worship with body, mind and soul. Healing must be the image of this. Contemplative Christianity is slowly chewing on the mystery of the Word and the wonderful Biblical metaphors and Holy Mysteries – the kingdom of God is like, I am the ‘bread of life’ etc. Lectio invites participants, guided by the Holy Spirit, to highlight a word or phrase that speaks directly to them – the word of God is alive and active (and deeply personal) and is therefore both Biblical and Mindful. Lectio and Jesuit forms of mediation deliberately invite the participants to be freed from just context. I am not denying God is the great physician, why would I? But, I do believe he asks us to be participants in our own healing. And, I do believe He, through Biblical revelation, has given me the tools to lead me out of darkness and into light. So is my progressive healing Divinely inspired? I think so (know so) and am sorry if it doesn’t conform to the way that some feeling healing should work.

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