#Mindfulness, Incarnation, Grace & the Ordinary

MIndfulness, Incarnation, Grace and the Ordinary

 

The grace of the Incarnation means we can look for the incarnation of grace in the embodied world in which we live. This grace is incarnated in different ways, including the embedding of wisdom into the natural world.

Grace is often incarnated but unlooked for in the ordinary. It wasn’t until the ordinary was temporarily under threat in my life that I rediscovered this truth.

Earlier in November a joint in my back jammed, causing a band of muscles to go into spasm and probably pinch a nerve momentarily. For two days I couldn’t sit up or walk without help. I needed help to get dressed and to wash. Every time I tried to sit up or stand up, my back would spasm again, and I would be literally screaming with the acute pain. I later discovered that I had also suffered an annular tear in one of the discs in my lower back.

Suddenly, in the moment, those ordinary, taken-for-granted experiences, such as sitting, walking and taking a shower, seemed to be wonderful, mysterious things filled with grace and glory. I longed to be able to do them without pain, and to really appreciate them.

How can we remember to appreciate the grace that dwells in ordinary things?

By indwelling our grace-given embodied awareness. This embodied awareness is called ‘mindfulness’. Mindfulness is our universal human capacity for awareness and attention and needs to be distinguished from the mindful awareness or meditative practices that enable us to become more mindful.

The gravity of awareness and attention – gravity because it is central to our life and as invisible to us as gravity – is one of the central gifts of grace that is incarnated in our embodied living.

How might we define mindfulness? The most well-known definition is by Jon Kabat-Zinn: ‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally’.[1] This definition can be broken down into three main components, of intention, attention and attitude.[2]

The purpose of intention is very important. For example, I use secular mindful awareness practices to face my anxiety. I use Christian mindful awareness practices to come into the presence of God, in whose love my fear dissolves. Jesus put intention at the heart of the attentive life, ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matthew 6:33, emphasis added). Out of our intention comes the motivation to keep seeking, to keep meditating. Bernard of Clairvaux also puts intentio, intention, at the heart of the life of prayer. At the heart of intentio is the idea of ‘looking closely’ with what Bernard called ‘the face of the soul’.[3]

The second key element of mindfulness is attention, which is how we use our awareness. Awareness is ‘attending to experience itself, as it presents itself in the here and now.’[4] Jesus also commands us to clearly focus our attention. He does this through stories where we fail to pay attention to the detail: ‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them’ (Matthew 6:26, emphasis added). This is not a casual glance but involves looking with attention and awareness for the wisdom embedded in the life of these small birds.

Shapiro et al suggest that the third axiom of mindfulness is attitude. The authors explain that ‘persons can learn to attend to their own internal and external experiences, without evaluation or interpretation, and practice acceptance, kindness and open-ness even when what is occurring in the field of experience is contrary to deeply held wishes or experiences.’[5] Very importantly, they say that this enables us to develop ‘the capacity not to continually strive for pleasant experiences, or to push aversive experiences away.’[6]

Jesus tells us to face the reality of our internal attitudes: ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’ (Matthew 7:3). He also commands us to be non-judgmental and to practise being non-judgmental in a continuous way: ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged’ (Matthew 7:1). What he commends is clear seeing: ‘First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye’ (Matthew 7:5).

Clear seeing through cultivating watchfulness became the intention of the early Christian contemplatives. The aim of watchfulness was to achieve diakrisis – ‘the seeing clearly into oneself.’[7] Diakrisis could lead to diorasis, or discernment, and one could become a diaratikos, a ‘Discerning One’ – or one could say a ‘Mindful One.’[8]

With this came a new centre, which was a mindfulness of God. This phrase was used by a fifth-century bishop, Diadochus of Photike. The Greek phrase Diadochus uses, which was translated as ‘mindfulness of God’, was mneme theou, literally ‘the memory of God’, or ‘the remembrance of God’. It was a living, embodied memory.

Mindfulness helped relieve my acute pain in the moment, and it also helped me stop the pain becoming suffering. I was able to catch undermining thoughts such as ‘My back is always going to be like this now,’ and let them go.

It also reminded me of the grace of the Incarnation. As I sit here just before Christmas I can better resist the siren calls of the false Christmas of the adverts, incarnated in emptiness and ultimately disappointment. I will savour every ordinary moment, considering each one, until I see the grace incarnated in them.

Shaun Lambert is a trained counsellor and psychotherapist as well as being Senior Minister of Stanmore Baptist Church.

The second edition of ‘A Book of Sparks – a Study in Christian MindFullness’ is published by Instant Apostle and is available in paperback and electronic formats.

 

For trade, it is available from Lion Hudson c/o Marston and from CLC.

[1] Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life (New York: Hyperion, 1994), 4, quoted in Zindel V. Segal, J. Mark G. Williams & John D. Teasdale, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression (New York: Guilford Press, 2002) 40.

2 Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ Journal of Clinical Psychology 62, no.3 (2006): 374, accessed 18 July 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20237.

3 Michael Casey, Athirst For God: Spiritual Desire in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1988), 117.

4 Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ Journal of Clinical Psychology, 376.

5 Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ Journal of Clinical Psychology, 377.

6 Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ 377.

7 Mary Margaret Funk, Thoughts Matter, New York: Continuum (1998) 89.

8 Irenee Haussher, Spiritual Direction in the Early Christian East (Cistercian Publications, 1990), .91.

 

 

[1] Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life (New York: Hyperion, 1994), 4, quoted in Zindel V. Segal, J. Mark G. Williams & John D. Teasdale, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression (New York: Guilford Press, 2002) 40.

[2] Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ Journal of Clinical Psychology 62, no.3 (2006): 374, accessed 18 July 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20237.

[3] Michael Casey, A thirst For God: Spiritual Desire in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1988), 117.

[4] Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ Journal of Clinical Psychology, 376.

[5] Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ Journal of Clinical Psychology, 377.

[6] Shauna L. Shapiro et al., ‘Mechanisms of Mindfulness,’ 377.

[7] Mary Margaret Funk, Thoughts Matter, New York: Continuum (1998) 89.

[8] Irenee Haussher, Spiritual Direction in the Early Christian East (Cistercian Publications, 1990), .91.

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One response to “#Mindfulness, Incarnation, Grace & the Ordinary”

  1. kalicet says :

    Reblogged this on Understanding Alice and commented:
    A good article on the Christian walk and the place of mindfulness within it.

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