The rhythm of alternate
Mindfulness/MindFullness can be set at the centre of an alternate rhythm of life. It has an important community aspect within Christianity. It has to do with an aware and attentive rhythm of life that is alternate, that is other-focused.
When our lives are out of rhythm we suffer. If the rhythm of waking and sleeping is off-balance life becomes about mere survival. If in a marriage the rhythm of intimacy, affection and sex is imbalanced or missing then we experience emotional pain and depression. If we do not eat regularly, or we overeat or eat the wrong things we will experience ill-health as well as emotional roller-coaster rides.
But having a rhythm of life is more than just a life-work-home balance. Rhythm is built into the created order – whether it is the rising of the sun or the setting of it. Our bodies run to rhythms from the obvious heart beat, to less obvious beats.
But the rhythm of life we are seeking to establish seeks to do something else – it is a counter-cultural response to the cultural trends of our day – consumerism, individualism and narcissism. These trends make us too busy.
The wisdom about rhythms of life is to be found in the monastic movements both new and old. These rhythms used to be called rules – in the sense that they help us measure what is right and wrong.
How important is a rhythm of life? It is as important as breathing. If we do not live consistently within a spiritual rhythm of life we shall die of spiritual asthma.
There are a number of key scriptures that inform our rhythm, and should inform the discipleship of any Christian. Romans 12:2 tells us that our transformed mind becomes the rule(r) that establishes and tests the rhythm of life for us, ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…’
What are we to be transformed into? We find the answer in 2 Corinthians 3:18, ‘And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness…’ We are looking to create an inner sanctuary that we can carry around with us into all of life. The most famous Rule is that of St Benedict. In his Rule Benedict explains how to live ‘a Christ-centred life with others.’
What makes up a rhythm of life and enables us to pay attention to the priorities of Christian faith and develop the awareness that can test what God’s will is for our lives? I have been looking at different communities to see how they live together; including Taize in France, the Bose community in Italy, The Moot in London, and the mayBe community. This is to try and answer the question, can a congregation be a real community?
Over the last few months we have explored The Moot’s structure to their rhythm of life beginning with spiritual postures – that develop the awareness of God’s presence in our lives. This begins with the idea of spiritual postures. This has been influenced by a brilliant book Faith Postures: Cultivating Christian Mindfulness by Holly Sprink. To The Moot this asks how we are in the present moment, in other words our way of being, not just doing.
An obvious posture is the one that sees the glass half-empty or half-full. The foundational posture is that of faith rather than fear. 2012 has been a year of fear in many ways and we need to daily re-align ourselves with a position of faith not fear.
A posture of faith and not fear needs to make vows, have values that guide the rhythm of life. We believe in a relational God who is presence, and so we are called to be present to each other. So presence to God, to each other, and to the world is a key value that we can vow to maintain.
One of the ways we can be present together is through hospitality. It needs an intentional rhythm. Another way we can be present together is through service.
As we work on a rhythm of alternate we are seeking something elusive, perhaps something we don’t believe in. This is what Abbot Christopher Jamison calls inner freedom, ‘Sometimes the way people speak about the human heart implies that in this interior world there is no freedom, that it is a fixed world that cannot be changed.’
There is freedom and we can find it.
The Moot’s address
Holly Sprink’s book
Rare sharing OtteR tracked to British Library. Read about how OtteRs share their country with us in Miriam Darlington’s Otter Country and how we can share their country with them. For OtteRs swim where they will.
What autumn leaf-thoughts are you clinging on to, that you now need to let go? Something from the past? Autumn leaves tell us that now is the time to let go of many of our unhelpful thoughts we no longer need to ruminate on. Sometimes they are well camouflaged and we don’t spot them.
Which thought-boats that come into your mind do you hook onto the most, and start ruminating about?
Mindfulness is not minefulness – a minefield as some Christians think, any more than religion is to blame for all the ills in the world. Those who are suspicious of it are to be welcomed though, for the difficult questions they might want to ask. Nothing should be unquestioned, accepted automatically. In psychology, we are always saying, do no harm.
Mindfulness is not a South Sea Bubble, soon to collapse and to be found empty of meaning, it is here to stay and it has real substance to it.
Mindfulness is not a bringer of world peace, and it is not the silver bullet to solve all the ills of our world and minds. But mindfulness is a universal human capacity, for we have a mindful brain. Although we often fail to remember to access that capacity for awareness and attention.
Mindfulness is a rapidly changing field. It needs to be examined with the rigour of evidence-based research, although those who work in that way do not have exclusive access to truth. Ordinary people have mindfulness and observations to make that could make all the difference. Theology will have something important to say as well. All the mindfulness-based and mindfulness-incorporating therapies coming out of mindfulness are different and need to be individually assessed and critiqued. They cannot be lumped together
Let’s not let the professionals take complete ownership of mindfulness, it should not be taken out of the hands of reality-focused poets, carpenters, fishermen and women, artists, contemplatives and mystics. It should help us see through consumerism and narcissism not be used as a tool of these things.
The ancient wisdom of religions has been dismissed by many in the West. It is now being rediscovered. What other hidden gems are there in the ancient paths? For Christians, mindfulness of God is central, along with reality-focused self-awareness.
It has been secularised, it is being rediscovered in Christian contemplation, Buddhists are asking how can they bring their wisdom to modern culture in a way that is different to secular psychology. Cognitive psychology and neuroscience have been looking at consciousness, awareness and attention before they ever heard of mindfulness.
If mindfulness (to rephase Goethe) is the liquid architecture of our mind, there is much more yet to be said. Is there a question not yet asked of it, and who will ask the question?
If mindfulnes is one of the central human capacities because we have mindful brains, how else can it be used? What other mindful awareness practices can be developed that help us cultivate mindfulness?
I for one, want to encourage Christians to be part of the dialogue in an intelligent, respectful and discerning way. One of the problems is that many comments about mindfulness are uninformed. Here is a good website which pulls together all the evidence-based research that outlines the benefits of mindfulness.
A NERVE got hit metaphorically speaking as I was reading a book about creeds like the Caesarean creed, and the Jerusalem creed which influenced the Nicene creed.
I felt the nerve tingle because I had just been reading the psychologist Erich Fromm about the marketing creed of western society.
The marketing society’s creed says all that is good exists outside of one’s self, and one’s self is defined by what we possess, not by who we are. It is only when people believe this creed and live it out by becoming ‘homo consumens’, a total consumer, that the marketing society can continue to survive. Everything then becomes narcissistic, and so the #narcissist’s creed is born.
In much of the Western church we have become consumers of worship, rather than people consumed by worship, even though we hide that unpalatable truth behind biblical sounding words.
I am always fascinated by stories of fragments of ancient documents that are found. Some years ago in the Egyptian desert a fragment of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed was found, and some scholars believe it may have been used as a sort of ecclesiastical charm bracelet.
In our consumer world God has become a sort of ecclesiastical charm bracelet, who will give us health, wealth, prosperity, and ensure that nothing bad will happen to us, who are of course, ultimately good people.
I wondered if maybe in a thousand years time fragments of the new creed of the church would be found, buried beneath the remains of a shopping mall cathedral, perhaps to be called, the Blue Water fragment of the Niceme creed.
I call it the NiceMe creed because it sounds almost authentic. Also it summarizes the main tenets of Niceme Christianity. I am ‘nice me’ not sinful me. God exists to be ‘nice to me.’ God being nice to me involves me never suffering or having pain, having the right house, car, clothes, children etc. God is nice to me by allowing me to take and not to give, and to walk away from relationships and churches if they fail to meet my total consumer demands. This is the creed of the narcissist.
As this creed is implicit and ought to be recorded for prosperity, I took the liberty of beginning to write it down. The Niceme creed:
I believe in One God, the Father of niceMe, who has made heaven and earth for niceMe, and all things visible and invisible for niceMe. I believe in one servant Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father, before all worlds to serve niceMe in the marketing world.God for niceMe, light for niceMe, very God of very God for niceMe, beholden to niceMe. Who for niceMe and my happiness came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man solely to meet all my niceMe needs and wants. He was crucified also for niceMe under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried that niceMe might never suffer pain; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, that I might be transformed into homo consumens. And he shall come again, with glory, to judge those who haven’t met my wants and needs, so that my niceMe kingdom might have no end.
This is just a fragment and it may be that there may be other versions of it in each of the great consumer centres of this marketing world that need to be made explicit.
Of course, this creed is something that the marketing society does not want made explicit. And it may be that copies of it will be seized and burnt, and that it becomes an offence to publicize the Niceme creed.
I understand that in the early church during times of persecution the Scripture would be seized and burnt, and that ministers who surrendered the Bible to the authorities were stripped of the right to be ministers by the church.
I hope the same spirit of resistance can be found somewhere in the church!
Erich Fromm wrote about this in 1955, and his words are prophetic and should have sparked a reformation of the church to avoid becoming homo consumens within church culture.
I wonder if we went even further back to the early Church fathers and their reflections on Scripture which took creedal form, we might be able to see the Niceme creed more clearly as it works its influence in our worship services and ‘just the minimum requirement’ and ‘just looking the part’ discipleship.
If Fromm’s analysis is correct, which I believe it is, then the big danger for pastors as Eugene Petersen puts it, is that ministers become shopkeepers.
As the only safe way to transform the church is to begin by transforming me, I am going to look and see if over the last 15 years I have been more a shopkeeper promoting the Niceme creed, or somone who by attentively reading the Nicene creed becomes someone for others not someone for me. And maybe Someone else will get the followers if we follow the right creed.