February 23, 2015

A Question for Lent: Did Jesus Teach Mindfulness?

When you read this word, do you associate the concept of mindfulness with Christianity? Do you think of Buddhism, or do you think of the latest trends in personal development, neuro-linguistic programming, or business philosophy?

Did Jesus teach mindfulness? If he did, why do so few of us in North America associate becoming still and focused with the practice of Christianity? If he didn't teach it, should Christians fear the introspection so often associated with mindfulness? Does silence frighten you?

What is mindfulness, anyway? If you search the phrase "what is mindfulness?", you will find a variety of definitions--take your pick!  Mindfulness, however, is generally associated with becoming still, quiet, and allowing the mind and body to rest in a nonjudgmental (of self or others) state.

Let us consider what we know, from Holy Scriptures, that Jesus did teach.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his listeners each day had enough trouble of its own. In Matthew 6:34, Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow, that tomorrow would worry about itself. There is enough trouble for today. Here, Jesus is certainly telling the crowd to just focus on one day and on living that one day well.

We are not designed to worry about endless tomorrows and all of the troubles they may bring. First, some of those troubles never arrive. Second, even if they do arrive, we can't deal with them until they show up. Worrying ahead of time simply takes away our mental and emotional resources, making us less likely to be ready to handle what waits for us. On a stressful evening when I started to have trouble sleeping, I said a prayer and God said this: "Go to sleep now. No matter what happens tomorrow, you will handle it better if you get a good night's sleep."

It's unclear how many times the Bible says "Do not fear" or "Fear not." Some claim it says that phrase 365 times, one time for each day in our modern calendar.  That's unimportant from my point of view. Some of us could read that phrase 730 times and we would still be fearful, unable to become quiet and focused.

Christianity is not based on our actions of following certain practices or rituals. The faith is based on God always reaching out to and for us, filling the gaps in our abilities and perspectives as we seek to follow God more closely. It is a good idea to sit still for fifteen minutes per day, trying to clear or empty your mind? Maybe. Maybe not.  The real question is: why do you want to do this?

Jesus always focused his discussion of religious practices around what motivated the action.
In Luke 18:13, Jesus describes two men who came to the temple to pray. One man spent all of us prayer time describing his virtues to God, listing all of the things he didn't do, all of the sins he didn't engage, all of the righteousness he ascribed to himself.  The other man whispered from the depths of his soul, "God have mercy on me, a sinner." One prayer was focused inward. Another prayer was focused outward to God.  One prayer listed things and actions and status. Another prayer was a statement of truth and a plea for grace.  Which prayer do you think was truly mindful? Which prayer was heard and answered?

Yes, it is good to take time out to be quiet and still. In the stillness, real growth will come when we listen for God and cultivate the desire to know more of what God wants to say to us today, right here and now. Yes, as the phrase goes, "God is still speaking."  God, however, is unchanging because his perfection does not require change or improvement.  We need to know that God is still speaking so that we will value quiet time enough to insist upon it, to give up something else in order to have it, and to refuse to allow things, people, and activities to take it away.

That "time apart" we so desperately need is not a journey into our own minds and imaginings. It is a journey into the heart and mind of God, revealed to us who are his beloved creatures, to those who can have no real life apart from him.

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