Christian Mindfulness

Elijah

You wanted to descend like a storm wind

And to be mighty in deed like the tempest,

You wanted to blow being to being

And bless human souls while scourging them,

To admonish weary hearts in the hot whirlpool

And to stir the rigid to agitated light,

You sought me on your stormy paths

And did not find me.

You wanted to soar upward like a fire

And wipe out all that did not stand your test,

Sun-powerful, you wanted to scorch worlds

And to refine worlds in sacrificial flame,

With sudden force to kindle a young nothingness

T0 new becoming of blessed poem,

You sought me in your flaming abysses

And did not find me.

Then my messenger came to you

And placed your ear next to the still life of my earth,

Then you felt how seed after seed began to stir,

And all the movements of growing things encircled you,

Blood hammered against blood, and the silence overcame you,

Then you had to incline upon yourself,

Then you found me.

— Martin Buber

There seems to be a lot of disconnect when it comes to the subject of mindfulness.  Most people assume it is a Buddhist thing and so many Christians who are careful not to tiptoe the inter-religious lines shy away from it like an unclean leper.  The truth is, though, that mindfulness exists in all religions and no religion.

When one thinks of mindfulness, depending upon the person, the mind goes to certain aspects: meditation, enlightenment, awareness, presence, breathing, etc.  None of these are particular to Buddhism.  Meditation and contemplation, for example, are something that go back to the early days of Christianity when the desert fathers and mothers escaped to isolation where they could avoid politics and experience God.  Centering prayer, Lectio Divina, and even meditation are ancient practices common to Christianity.

The practice of awareness is one that Jesus spoke of extensively.  He constantly warned the disciples to be aware and the Psalms are full of hymns that sing of the awareness of the presence of God.  Being present to those whose company we keep, focusing on our breath, active listening, all of these things bring a deeper awareness of the sacred space between and around us.

I often wonder if joy is somehow our perceptible inner reaction to the awareness of the presence of God.  I believe it was Buechner who said that happiness can be attained anywhere, but true joy can only come from God.  This past week as my boys are in Japan, I spent four days with my daughter.  Cuddling, laughing, going on carnival rides, chatting, drawing together, skipping while singing songs, making up silly songs about her beating up monsters, and all of these things brought me such joy.  Feeling her head on my shoulder as I patted her back to sleep and hearing her say, “I love you, daddy” served as a bigger testament to the presence of God than any written scripture.

It matters not what religion we practice nor who we credit with “inventing” mindfulness.  What matters is the way we sit in the silence and watch the gentle rise and fall of a small child’s chest as she breathes; the way she rolls over in her sleep to touch your arm to make sure that you’re still there and in that moment your mind and soul are aware of nothing else. Just like Elijah, it is only when we pause so still and quiet as to hear the beat of our own heart and sigh from our chest in synchrony with that of the universe that we are truly aware of the essence of life.

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