Interior freedom and the present moment

I have been impressed with the tacit emphasis on mindfulness in the writing of Jacques Philippe. Like so many Christian writers he uses terms more in keeping with our tradition but an emphasis on being aware of the present moment with a certain quality of apprehension is present. Below is a wise statement on how interior freedom is linked to living in the present moment.

One of the essential conditions of interior freedom is the ability to live in the present moment. For one thing, it is only then that we can exercise freedom. We have no hold on the past—we can’t change the smallest bit of it. People sometimes try to relive past events considered failures (“I should have done this … should have said that … ”) but those imaginary scenarios are merely dreams: it is not possible to backtrack. The only free act we can make in regard to the past is to accept it just as it was and leave it trustingly in God’s hands.
We have very little hold on the future either. Despite all our foresight, plans, and promises, it takes very little to change everything completely. We can’t program life in advance, but can only receive it moment by moment.
All we have is the present moment. Here is the only place where we can make free acts. Only in the present moment are we truly in contact with reality.
Someone might think it tragic that the present is so fleeting and neither the past nor the future really belongs to us. But, approached from the standpoint of Christian faith and hope, the present moment is rich in grace and holds immense reassurance.
This is where God is present. “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). God is the eternal present. Every moment, whatever it brings, is filled with God’s presence, rich with the possibility of communion with God. We do not commune with God in the past or the future, but by welcoming each instant as the place where he gives himself to us.
— Philippe, Jacques (2010-07-08). Interior Freedom (Kindle Locations 826-838). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Saying yes to what we are

A basic move in mindfulness is a commitment to seeing things as they are. This often begins with simple practices of becoming more aware of our body and our embodied reactions to what is going and seeking to adopt a position curiosity rather than evaluative labeling of what we experience. I was struck by the wise words from Jacques Philippe on the necessity of Christians being deeply committed to seeing the reality of our situations.

Yet one of the most essential conditions for God’s grace to act in our lives is saying yes to what we are and to the situations in which we find ourselves.

That is because God is “realistic.” His grace does not operate on our imaginings, ideals, or dreams. It works on reality, the specific, concrete elements of our lives. Even if the fabric of our everyday lives doesn’t look very glorious to us, only there can we be touched by God’s grace. The person God loves with the tenderness of a Father, the person he wants to touch and to transform with his love, is not the person we’d have liked to be or ought to be. It’s the person we are. God doesn’t love “ideal persons” or “virtual beings.” He loves actual, real people. He is not interested in saintly figures in stained glass windows, but in us sinners. A great deal of time can be wasted in the spiritual life complaining that we are not like this or not like that, lamenting this defect or that limitation, imagining all the good we could do if, instead of being the way we are, we were less defective, more gifted with this or that quality or virtue, and so on. Here is a waste of time and energy that merely impedes the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

What often blocks the action of God’s grace in our lives is less our sins or failings, than it is our failure to accept our own weakness—all those rejections, conscious or not, of what we really are or of our real situation.
— Philippe, Jacques (2010-07-08). Interior Freedom (Kindle Locations 324-334). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The freedom of being attached to Christ

One theme in this blog is finding places where mindfulness is taught in Christian devotional literature and done without any self-awareness of it being mindfulness.

Today's post is from a devotional book, that is a compilation of writings from Jack Miller, who had a profound ministry as a seminary teacher and mission leader. The unnamed mindfulness theme here is relinquishment.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes. and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.Luke 14:26-27

Jesus wants to free us from our tendency  to try and own his kingdom work. We should work hard, of course, but not for our own glory. We say we want to succeed for Jesus' sake, but often underneath is the desire to prove ourselves, to get our security from our success. When that happens, our work for God owns us. We become defensive, fragile, and vulnerable, emotional prisoners of our work. Then, if someone attacks our ministry or if it seems to be failing, we're shattered, our identity in tatters.

Being free from all that is as simple as giving up everything--our reputation, success, glory--and following Jesus. When we lay it all down to follow Jesus, then the success of our work is up to the Spirit, and our identity isn't tied to our success or failure. Jesus calls his disciples to give up everything and follow him. He calls us to the freedom of being attached to Christ and his kingdom. How liberating it is to discover grace afresh!

Miller, C. John. Saving Grace : Daily Devotions from Jack Miller. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2014, 141.

What Is Mindfulness?

I recently came across a book of mindfulness exercises aimed at children. There were a number of helpful exercises in this book and I thought this definition or explanation of mindfulness was helpful.

Mindfulness is nothing other than present-moment awareness, an open and friendly willingness to understand what is going on in and around you. It means living in the present moment (which is not the same as thinking about the present moment) without judging or ignoring any­ thing or getting carried away by the pressures of everyday life.

When you are present while waking up, while grocery shopping, with your children's sweet smiles, and with every major and minor conflict, your mind is not elsewhere but right here. You save energy, as you are aware of what is happening while it is happening. This mindful, friendly presence changes your behavior as well as your attitude toward yourself and your children.

Mindfulness is feeling the sun on your skin, feeling the salty tears rolling down your cheeks, feeling a ripple of frustration in your body. Mindfulness is experiencing both joy and misery as and when they occur, without having to do something about it or having an immediate reaction or opinion. Mindfulness is directing your friendly awareness to the here and now, at every moment. But mindfulness practice involves some effort and intentionality.

Snel, Eline. Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents). Boston: Shambhala, 2013, 2-3.

Thoughts

When I was at St. John's monastery over spring break I picked up a copy of "Becoming Fire." A thick book with daily readings from the desert fathers and mothers. I thought today's reading encapsulates an important teaching of these writers on their understanding of mindfulness.

With regard to thoughts about sexual sin, another old man said, ‘Be like someone who, passing by a tavern in the marketplace, catches the scent of cooking meat or something roasting. Whoever wishes to, goes inside and eats; whoever does not wish to, simply smells what is cooking, passes on by, and goes his way. It is the same with you: shake off what smells bad; get up and pray, saying, “Son of God, help me!” Do this also for other thoughts, for our job is not to yank out thoughts by the roots but to struggle against them.’

Vivian, Tim. Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers Cistercian Studies Series. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2008, 164-5.

Statio: The Holy Pause

On the themes in this blog is to point out the deep Christian traditional practices associated with what we now refer to as mindfulness. In general, Christian practices are predicated on an engaged participant and mindfulness is an stance of engagement. In the following excerpt a Benedictine nun describes the simple practice of statio. Which she so aptly calls the “virtue of presence.”

In addition to silence, community customs, and the common table, the monastic practices of statio and lectio are also tools of the spiritual craft. Statio is a monastic custom that was born centuries ago but clearly belongs in this one. Statio is the practice of stopping one thing before we begin another. It is the time between times. It is a cure for the revolving door mentality that is common in a culture that runs on wheels. In monastic spirituality it is common for the community to gather outside of chapel in silence before beginning prayer or at least to gather for a few minutes together in the chapel itself be­fore intoning the opening hymn of the Office.

My novice mistress, in fact, insisted that we all be in chapel five minutes before the bell rang for prayer, an expectation the logic of which managed to elude me for years. After all, "an idle mind is the devil's workshop," the Puritan in me knew well. "Every minute counts," I'd learned somewhere along the way "Time is golden," the samplers taught. Think of all the things that could have been done in that additional five minutes a day or thirty­ five minutes a week or two hours and twenty minutes a month or twenty-eight hours a year: another chapter of typing, another batch of thank you notes composed, another wash ironed, another set of papers corrected. Work, valuable work, could have been done and I could still have made it on time for prayer.

It took years to realize that, indeed, I could have gotten all that work done and still had my body in chapel in time for prayer. It is highly unlikely, though, that my mind would have been there too. The practice of statio is meant to center us and make us conscious of what we're about to do and make us present to the God who is present to us. Statio is the desire to do consciously what I might otherwise do mechanically statio is the virtue of presence.

If I am present to this child before I dress her, then the dressing becomes an act of creation. If I am present to my spouse in the living room, then marriage becomes an act of divine communion. If I am present to the flower before I cut it, then life becomes precious. If I am present to the time of prayer before I pray, then prayer becomes the juncture of the human with the Divine.

We have learned well in our time to go through life nonstop. Now it is time to learn to collect ourselves from time to time so that God can touch us in the most hectic of moments.

Statio is the monastic practice that sets out to get our attention before life goes by in one great blur and God becomes an idea out there somewhere rather than an ever present reality here.

Chittister, Joan. 1990. Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 176-178.

Always respond to every impulse to pray

I am deeply appreciate of the writings and ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I thought his reminder for pastors to heed the nudge to pray is so relevant to all of us. Be mindful of the nudges to pray, don't put them off for a "better time."

"Always respond to every impulse to pray. The impulse to pray may come when you are reading or when you are battling with a text. I would make an absolute law of this – always obey such an impulse. Where does it come from? It is the work of the Holy Spirit (Phil 2:12-13). This often leads to some of the most remarkable experiences in the life of the minister. So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy. Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect. You will experience an ease and a facility in understanding what you were reading, in thinking, in ordering matter for a sermon, in writing, in everything which is quite astonishing. Such a call to prayer must never be regarded as a distraction; always respond to it immediately, and thank God if it happens to you frequently." (Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn and Kevin De Young. Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011, 170-171)