Because of the spread of mindfulness in secular society and because of its origins in Buddhist practice, some today mistakenly believe that all meditative and reflective living practices are based on Eastern traditions. The reality, however, is that elements of mindful-like meditative practices go back thousands of years and all of the major world religions have meditative traditions.
Christians see all human persons as ‘children of God’ who have the innate capacity to be open to and live out of the awareness of who we truly are. According to the Christian faith, human beings are not only created and loved by God but, as the human spirit is transformed by the Holy Spirit, we also participate in God’s own life and are destined for union in and with God. When we are truly present to ourselves, to our own spirit, we are simultaneously present to God. In his teachings, Jesus promoted the practice of taking time out for silent, interior prayer:
And when you pray, go into your private room, shut yourself in, and so pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
In your prayers do not babble like the Gentiles do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. (Mt 6:5–7)
The Gospels recount many occasions when Jesus ‘withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed’. Sayings, such as ‘I and the Father are One,’ as well as indicating his divine identity, also suggest that he was familiar with prayer as a form of silent communion with his father. Jesus proposed we base our life on loving God with all our heart, soul and mind; and neighbour as yourself. It is on this basis that his teaching on prayer includes moments of interiority and silence, calmness and attentiveness to the present moment.
With two thousand years of experience, the Christian tradition has a deep vein of spirituality that encourages us to focus on living the present moment in God, taking time out for meditation, and developing a lifestyle of contemplation in action. This long Christian tradition has some elements that are also found in mindfulness. Indeed, some believe that the spread of mindfulness, although it is a secular practice, is to be welcomed because it has the potential to reawaken the Christian faithful to the ever ancient, ever new contemplative path that is distinctively part of the Christian tradition.
The theme of stillness before the Lord, for instance, is found in Scripture. An essential difference, however, between secular mindfulness and Christian meditation and spiritual practices, is that the Christian tradition regards meditation and various spiritual practices linked to living the present moment as expressions of prayer. Like secular mindfulness, they involve a certain ‘emptying’ of ourselves of stresses, distractions, busyness. But in Christian meditation and prayer, such ‘emptying’ is in order both to allow ourselves be filled with the presence of the personal God who, in the power of the Holy Spirit, has communicated himself to us in Jesus Christ, and to love our neighbour in compassionate thoughtfulness and care.
There are many approaches to prayer and living a fulfilled life. It is important to recognise, however, as Pope Francis reminds us in his recent letter on holiness, that we need to be careful not to be seduced by deceptive ideas that would actually take us away from a Christian notion of salvation, human fulfilment and holiness. In particular, in our day, we need to remember that Christian faith is not limited to prayer or mindful practices. Nor should a peaceful Christian life be reduced to prayer practices or somehow helping us to avoid the day-to-day toils of life or indeed as something we can achieve merely by our own personal effort. It’s not techniques, stillness or personal efforts that matter most in the Christian life, but rather the depth of our love as a response to God’s immense love for us. We always need to let God’s tenderness touch our lives.
This Reflection on Mindfulness in the Christian Tradition can be accessed here: