.
Sections
Features
header bar gradient


A national mindfulness day for Christians 


The first ever national mindfulness day for Christians takes place next year – and one of the organisers is Baptist minister Shaun Lambert, who explains more 

 

Mindfulness Day
 

What’s the event all about – and who is it for?
 
Mindfulness is a cultural and global phenomenon that has dimensions of human flourishing, both physical and spiritual that the church should be interested in. What is clear is that Christianity hardly features in the marketplace of mindfulness, even though we have both biblical and historical contributions to make in the understanding and practice of mindfulness.

Some parts of the church are also confused about or suspicious of mindfulness. The National Mindfulness Day for Christians is about helping us be well informed about mindfulness, addressing the gap in knowledge and common concerns.
 
The main aspect of secular mindfulness is mindfulness for health with a whole range of applications such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain, stress, psoriasis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, drug abuse, psychosis, eating disorders, self-harm, borderline personality disorder and others. But because it is a form of attentional training you also find it being used in education, the world of work, and in creative fields. It is important that Christians are well informed about mindfulness in these fields and able to make discerning choices about whether to access mindfulness for health or other reasons.

So the event is also for any Christian who might be interested in knowing more about mindfulness. We also want to address mindfulness for health and mindfulness as spirituality, so again the day is for any Christians interested in these important strands.

 
Isn’t mindfulness a Buddhist thing?
 
There is this myth around that mindfulness is uniquely Buddhist and that simply isn’t the case. All the main faith traditions have some form of mindfulness and more recently cognitive psychology, neuroscience and other secular disciplines have got very interested in mindfulness, which is fundamentally our (God-given) universal capacity for attention and awareness.

When mindfulness is properly defined then generally people are able to see that it is not uniquely Buddhist, any more than gravity is British because Isaac Newton discovered it. What is confusing is that mindfulness is used as an umbrella term and so one needs to define carefully what we mean by the term. We plan to do that at the conference.

As human beings we have mindful states of mind that can be accessed and enhanced through mindful practices. We also have important capacities for self-awareness, self and emotional regulation, and what psychologists call self-transcendence or pro-sociality and these are mindful capacities. With training these mindful capacities can become traits and part of our character and being.

Neuroscience tells us that mindfulness can change the structure and activity of the brain for the better – this is because we have neuroplastic brains. There is also evidence that Christian spiritual practices are transformational at this level of neuroarchitecture.

It is, therefore, a human and spiritual and Christian thing!

 
What’s the unique Christian element of mindfulness? 
 
Christian mindfulness is uniquely mindfulness of God. Psalm 8 reminds us that God is mindful of us, and made in His image we are called to be mindful of Him. This is easier said than done, and requires spiritual practices. This is more important than is often recognised in the contemporary church, especially in Evangelical or Charismatic circles, which for the most part lack a contemplative strand.

Something that scholars are commenting on is what they are calling the sanctification gap in the church. The church doesn’t match the ideal found in scripture of becoming like Christ. One of the reasons for that is that the contemplative dimension is largely missing.

Colossians 3 tells us to set our hearts and minds on things above, where Christ is, but how many of us do that, or know how to do that? In 1 Corinthians 3:18 we are told that contemplating the Lord’s glory will transform us into His image, but I don’t know many Christians who actually live this verse out. Professor of early church history and spirituality Amy G. Oden says in her new book Right Here Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness that the ‘Gospels are full of Jesus’s teaching about the critical importance of mindfulness for those who want kingdom lives.’

Christianity would also emphasise the importance of paying attention to our neighbor, and creation as well as being ‘mindful of the things of God’ (Mark 8:33, NKJV). Christian discipleship is also about self-examination (which requires self-awareness), self-regulation in our relationships (‘in your anger do not sin…’ Ephesians 4:26) and being attentive to the needs of others (‘Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ Philippians 2:3-4), which is a form of self-transcendence. In this way mindfulness and Christian discipleship have a significant overlap. From a Christian perspective we are also recognising we need the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in helping us be attentive to God.

 
Would you recommend contemplative practices to all Christians?  
 
I first came across mindfulness in 2006 when I was stressed, anxious, depressed and very close to burnout. I was studying counselling and psychotherapy part-time at Roehampton University as part of my continued professional development as a minister. Secular mindfulness practices helped glue me back together and enabled me to learn to hold my anxiety, rather than it holding me.

At the same time I came across Christian contemplative practices and the idea of mindfulness of God. I also found these practices transformational and central to the idea of spiritual formation or transformation. I have more recently been introducing mindfulness to others through retreats, lectures, seminars and writing and have heard many other stories of transformation and freedom. In particular I have found formational reading of Scripture as commended in Psalm 1, sometimes called meditative reading or lectio divina particularly helpful.

I have also been deeply impacted by the ancient contemplative Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’ I do commend contemplative practices to all Christians because I believe without them we will continue to have a sanctification gap in the church! There are of course many other contemplative practices within the Christian tradition.
 

Is it fair to say that Christians, maybe those suffering with depression and anxiety, have benefitted from secular mindfulness?
 
Whenever I talk to someone with an acute mental health condition I always advise they talk to their Doctor or other mental health professional before practicing formal mindfulness themselves. But with professional advice sought it is fair to say that in my experience Christians suffering from depression and anxiety, and other conditions have been helped by secular mindfulness. In fact I use both secular and spiritual mindfulness practices.

It is important here that we don’t adopt the Gnostic heresy where our mental and physical health is concerned, the idea that the Spirit is good and the body is bad. We need to look after our mental and physical and emotional health – and that means looking after our bodies. Stress and anxiety and other such conditions have powerful physiological effects on us – with stress chemicals racing through our bodies. Mindfulness practice is very embodied, because awareness and attention are embodied. Many scholars recognize that we live out an embodied gospel: baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, table fellowship are all embodied practices.

 
Have you seen an increase in awareness and popularity of mindfulness in recent years?
 
Interest in mindfulness is growing exponentially, as is the number of academic articles on the subject. Earlier this year I was at the Mindful Living Show which showcased the current trends in secular mindfulness. There is a growing interest amongst Christians with increasing numbers of popular books written on the subject, along with the availability of mindfulness retreats.

I am also coming across an increasing number of academic articles written by Christians. I have been working with different Christian organizations interested in mental health and spirituality, like Richard Johnston’s  http://christianmindfulness.co.uk/, the Mind and Soul Foundation, the Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC) and Pastoral Care UK, the British Association of Christians in Psychology (BACIP) and the Theology and Counselling team at London School of Theology.

They all have a profound interest in mental health and spiritual wellbeing and it is out of conversations with these groups that the idea for a National Mindfulness Day for Christians emerged. I am really pleased that it is being sponsored by the ACC and Pastoral Care UK and that these other organizations are partners in the day along with me. I am also pleased that we are doing a day in Leeds as well as a day in London. We hope to follow it up with an even more developed programme next year. I have heard the other key note speakers and I can’t wait to listen to their wisdom on the day.


The National Mindfulness Day for Christians takes place on 12 May at St Paul's Church in Ealing, London, and 19 May at Bridge Community Church, Leeds

For more information and to book visit www.nationalmindfulnessday.co.uk.

 
 

 

Baptist Times, 09/10/2017
More Features
header bar gradient
 
comments powered by Disqus