Mindfulness in a “Good” World.

Like any good college student in Southern California, I spent a couple years as a Buddhist.

This was really the first time I was exposed to meditation.  It was a powerful thing.  Sometimes, too powerful.  Incredibly profound spiritual experiences while meditating kind-of scared me away from meditation.  That is a story for another time.

Despite those negatives, I found meditation powerful and helpful.  When I began following Jesus, I spent some time assessing these practices and my motivations for engaging in them.  I have had this on-again, off-again relationship with spiritual practices.  Sometimes, I have engaged in things very much like the old meditations I used to engage in.  Other times, I have pursued other more intentionally Christian disciplines…

If I were to be honest, I would say that most of the time, I haven’t done either.  Most of the time, I have just steered clear of all this stuff.  Some of my reasons relate to myself as a person: I am not sure that the reasons I would do these things are the right reasons.  Some of them are more collective: Christianity as a whole is quite split over what to do with these sort-of practices, particularly when they are borrowed from other religious traditions.  Perhaps an even more important reason is sheer laziness.  To do these things requires a sort-of effort.  Perhaps you are like me.  Even the things that have a pretty quick pay-off, sometimes it is hard to get myself to do them.

Meanwhile, the secular world is starting to grab on to the value of spiritual disciplines.  Mindfulness, for example, is a buzz word these days.   Ted Talks and  newspaper articles continue to list the benefits of creating times in our busy lives where we are not thinking, where we are just be-ing, just breathing.

benefits-of-meditation

I hate it when the Church is on the wrong side of things.

As a Christ-follower, I have always been open about how spiritual practices help me to get closer to God.  Mother Theresa had this mind-blowing description, of what prayer was like for her.  She said that sometimes, she listens to God.  The interviewer asked her what she was listening to.  She answered that she was listening to God listen to her.  I love that: sitting in silence, with God, listening to God listen to me.   Like those wonderful times when you are sitting on a blanket with a good friend, and maybe the sun is setting, or there is a breeze, or the scent of something lovely wafts to your nose, and you are not talking, and you are just filled with the conviction that everything is pretty o.k. in the world.

Budhist, and secular, and other forms of meditation speak a lot about another benefit of meditation.   This is one I continue to feel.  It is not one that my brothers and sisters in Christ are always on board with.  After I am engaged in prayerful meditation, I see the world differently.   It is not so much that they help me to see the world anew, it is something different.  The original, (way better) film version of Willy Wonka features one of his research prototypes.  It is a little piece of gum, or candy, or something, that replicates an entire meal.  The actress does this incredible job, as each course comes in, of helping us to see her joy and excitement as the flavor of each course strikes her taste buds.

Prayerful meditation is like that: I see things, and hear things, and smell things, and taste things in a way that is delightful and surprising.  I feel the surprised joy of the character from Willy Wonka.

I am beginning to suspect that the reason that we don’t want to talk about this benefit of prayerful meditation is that we have perverted the gospel.

I could ramble on for a dozen pages about ‘why’ it seems like this came to be.  I think maybe I will continue next post with this idea.  For now, I will try and be (uncharacteristically) brief.

Their was a conspiracy that broke the meaning of the gospel.  One member of the conspiracy was Greek understanding of the world.  The Greeks, through folks like Plato, idolized ideas and disdained the “dirty” world we live in.  The second conspiracy was a short-sightedness in theology.  We turned Jesus promise of the redemption of all things in to a ticket to some ethereal plane beyond the world.   The third was the political landscape.  It benefitted some people with a lot of influence to mantain their power, position, and prestige.  These folks wanted so spin Christianity in a way that lead to people focusing on the next world at the expense of this one.

The result of this conspiracy is a Christianity that is out-of-balance.  It tries to ignore that when Jesus came back, he did so in a body.  That body ate.  It could be felt by Thomas, who explored its wounds.  It has taken communion, which might have been a hearty carnival for the senses; a feast, and it has turned this into a chomping a flavor-less cracker and drinking a sip of water; it complicates the meaning of pretty straight foreward pronouncements, like the created world is good, and the kingdom of heaven is among us.

I have come to believe that we are born to be in the world.  (God had hoped it would not be broken, though.)  I have come to believe we will spend eternity on a restored and urgraded Earth.  I have come to believe that the biblical injunctions to enjoy the bounties of this world are to be taken at face value.

And when I connect with God he gives me new eyes to see the world around me.  He gives me new ears to hear it.  The world is good, the kingdom is among us, and eternity can began right here, right now.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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