If you have paid much attention at all to articles, podcasts, and books on spirituality, then you have come across the word mindfulness. This is a general term for paying attention, being truly present to the moment at hand. And this word is used in various religious traditions. How can we consider mindfulness in our Christian faith?
Paying attention and being present are perfectly in line with Christian belief and practice. I think, though, that we can add a dimension to mindfulness if we consider how the Holy Spirit participates with and in us. In this post, I’ll focus only on two points.
Mindfulness and Reality
Paying attention is helpful only if we perceive what is real. For instance, I can be mindful of a person in the room, but if I believe that this person is aloof and thinks herself above me, then I perceive her in a certain way. My preconception of the person prevents my noticing that her eyes and posture speak of sadness or struggle. I am being mindful of what I already think about the person, which isn’t really mindfulness.
Or, I can be mindful of my own tight muscles and relate them to a tense discussion I had a few moments ago. It’s good to be mindful of the discussion, but those muscles have been tense for days, and they speak to something else going on in my life. My vision is too shortsighted to be completely mindful.
The Holy Spirit can help me see further than my own biases and immediate thoughts. When I am trying to be mindful, it will benefit me greatly if I add a simple prayer to my mindfulness practice: “Holy Spirit, help me see and perceive what is the truth. Lift me out of the limits of sin and weakness and lack of wisdom.”
What does the Holy Spirit do? Reminds me of what I have already learned. Challenges my perception if I will sit still and listen. So, when I am mindful of that person over there, rather than thinking about how stuck-up she seems, I will remember that she is beloved of God. When I am mindful of my tense muscles, I will remember that Jesus invites me to give my burdens to him and that his burden is light. That thought might inspire me to ask myself what burden has caused my shoulders to bunch up like this.
Mindfulness and Expectation
I don’t think we’re supposed to hope for or expect anything specific when we are practicing mindfulness; the goal is to receive what is there. However, we Christians believe that “what is there” is always under the onslaught of sin’s manipulation and damage and that Christ always shows us the way of love and healing.
When I am mindful of that person in the room, and when that mindfulness shows to me her sadness and stress, I can expect the Holy Spirit to move me to compassion and possibly to a silent prayer for the person. We are, every moment, invited to participate in God’s kingdom on earth. This means that we engage with reality. That doesn’t mean that a moment of mindfulness will lead to an action plan, but we can expect that our mindfulness is one of many gifts through which we enact God’s love in the world.
When I am mindful of my tense body, and when that mindfulness—with the Spirit’s help—leads me to think about the burdens I’ve been carrying, I can expect to hear Jesus say, once again, “Come to me, you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.” The Holy Spirit will lead us to Jesus, will remind us of Jesus’ words, and will draw us to respond to them.
Those who practice Ignatian spirituality often use the term magis, which means “more” or “greater.” The idea is that we are always alert to what will do even more for God’s kingdom. We take the situation that is and engage with God to make it better—more beautiful, loving, glorious, and peaceful.
This idea of magis suggests to me that I can take any practice, including mindfulness, and allow it to expand in my life. I believe that inviting the Holy Spirit into our practice of mindfulness is one form of living in a magis sort of way. I know that the Holy Spirit already dwells in me and works in my life. But when I specifically invite the Holy Spirit’s help in a situation, and when I then listen and pay attention to what the Spirit is inspiring me to remember or consider, then my mindfulness becomes an opportunity for my greater engagement in God’s lovely work.