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
The media and coffee shop conversation is all about how the crowds at the Olympic venues have lifted the athletes to new heights of glory. A case perhaps of the crowds becoming more than a crowd, actually becoming community. Many of the athletes have also talked about their inner mental battle to believe they could win their particular discipline. In the crisis moments the hugely positive encouragement of the crowds have helped them believe.
In their book ‘Mindfulness – a practical guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World’, which is based on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) Professor Mark Williams and Dr. Danny Penman talk about one of the insights of MBCT and other therapies: the reality that we attack ourselves with self-critical thoughts and that our minds are a rumour mill, constantly making often false interpretations of the world around us.
If I had listened to my self-critical thoughts my own book ‘A Book of Sparks – a Study in Christian MindFullness’ might never have come about. What brought about a change in my thinking was the encouragement of others as well as becoming aware that I was bigger than my self-critical thoughts, and my thoughts were not a direct readout of reality.
The encouragement of others in my community to write the book was hugely important. Simon Walker, an Anglican Vicar and author of ‘The Undefended Leader’ Trilogy acted a bit like a coach in pushing me to believe in myself, and gave me a lot of practical help. Another friend who was a professional editor did a lot of work on the book, followed by another friend who is a professional copy-editor who worked very hard on the original manuscript.
Yet other friends suggested possible publishers before a member of my congregation put me in touch with Instant Apostle the eventual publishers of ‘A Book of Sparks.’
When I was growing up in Kenya we didn’t have television and my mum taught me to read at the age of three. She was followed by a succession of English teachers who really motivated me to write. But why should we write? Simon Barnes who writes on sport for The Times wrote recently that Federer played not for fame or victory, but for playing’s sake, that he played with soul. We need to write not for fame or glory but just for writing’s sake – for the sheer joy of seeing words on a page. We need to write even if only one person reads what has been written.
Do you have a dream that you are not following because of self-critical thoughts? Is there someone in your life that you need to encourage to step out and dream? Helen Glover the British Olympic rowing gold medalist apparently only took up the sport four years ago. Her mother saw an advert in a newspaper calling for tall people to take up rowing.
If secretly you believe you have a book in you…start writing. Let’ s stop pulling people down and start building them up.