You might associate meditation and mindfulness with Buddhism and modern psychology more than with Christianity, but there’s also a rich Judeo-Christian tradition of such practices, which are slowly being rediscovered by the western church.
(In fact, meditative and mindful practices are common to humanity. You could say they are traits of being human, before being spiritual or religious.)
Ancient Jewish prophets and teachers would take time out in the countryside, the mountains and deserts, to be still and listen, using all their 5+ senses to attune to the Divine. They’d observe all that was around them, in prayer and stillness, and maybe discover spiritual or prophetic metaphors in the sights and sounds of nature.
God, who they believed was the source and sustainer of everything, could surely be seen and heard through the things he’d created.
This becomes obvious when we read the Psalms of David, who spent days and nights on the hillsides minding sheep (see for example Psalm 23: The Lord is my Shepherd), or Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, where he offers invaluable and insightful advice on life from his reflections on the sparrows and lilies of the lush Judean countryside.
One example I’m particularly fond of, though, is the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah. Right at the start of his contemplative prophetic accounts, he describes a moment when God asks him, ‘What do you see?’
When Jeremiah replies, ‘A branch of an almond tree’, God creates a word play, saying:
‘That’s right, and I’m watching [the Hebrew words for “watch” and “almond” sound very similar] to make sure my words are fulfilled.’ I’m glad I’m not the only one who likes puns.
‘What do you see (or hear/smell/feel/sense)?’ is a good question to ask ourselves in mindful prayer or contemplation.
I asked myself this question the other day.
At least, I think it was me who asked the question. It might have been God who asked me. There’s little difference, really. If we’re looking to live in tune with the Divine, whatever we call him/her/it, then the voice of I Am (as God revealed himself to Moses) is going to resound in the inner voice of the little I am, who is us.
I share this preamble with you on the traditions of faith so that what follows may not sound quite so wacky as it might do otherwise….
So the other day, as I sat in the comfortable heat of a gorgeous October day, resting from work for a few minutes’ contemplative prayer on a sunny, grassy spot, my eyes alighted on a half-crushed Coke can lying on the ground just a few yards ahead.
‘What do you see?’ I asked myself (or God asked me).
The following are the thoughts that came to me in response.
I see a Coke can.
I see a can that is bruised but not crushed. It reminds me of the traumatised people I work with, bent and bruised – but not crushed – by life. Who get up and keep going against all odds. But they, like you and me, sometimes need others to nurture in them that resilience. To ‘top up’ their courage levels. To inspire them to keep going. Getting alongside someone, showing support, not giving up on them, makes the world of difference.
I see a Coke can.
…that had contained a caffeinated drink. That played a part in energising someone, stimulating activity, productiveness, work perhaps.
Maybe it will be picked up and recycled, becoming useful again. But for now it lies dormant, in a restful state. We, too, need times of dormancy, of non-productiveness. Rhythms of work and rest. Times to bear fruit and times to soak in the soil.
There’s ‘a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones’, as another ancient prophet wrote. Times to be energised before we can energise others.
I see a Coke can
…even in its twisted condition, reflecting the sun.
And we humans – even in our damaged state, reflect the light and dignity of the Divine.
In fact, Judeo-Christian spirituality sees the poorest and most marginalised of society as representatives of God: how we treat them is the measure of how we treat God.
There is accumulating evidence that austerity measures (the effects of which are clearly far from over, whatever our Government might say) are directly killing the poor, and are therefore seen by many as expressly anti-Christian. Such Government actions are not neutral. In their blatant disregard of the poor, the Conservative Government demonstrate spiritual blindness of the worst kind. (Just a little political aside there…)
But those who have eyes to see (whether religious, spiritual or not) perceive the precious light, the holiness or divinity, you could say, of those who, bruised and battered, are trying to battle their way through the obstacle course of their lives.
I see a Coke can.
The thought that came to me most strongly – from the Spirit or my spirit, my mind or the mind of the Spirit – was this:
‘I want you to have a “CAN do” attitude’.
That’s right. A play on words, like the words heard by Jeremiah.
You CAN do it.
Around this time, I was facing a new challenge at work.
Because of not uncommon issues I grew up with at home and at school that demoralised and demotivated me, I’ve always tended to lack a certain confidence to try new things, to believe in my abilities and, like a lot of people, tend to fear not getting things just right.
But one of the greatest changes in my life over the years has been a growth in confidence and I actually felt quite prepared, if still daunted, to face this new challenge.
The Spirit says to me – and to you – ‘Yes, you CAN.’
You CAN do it.
Whatever daunting task or challenge you’re facing.
Whatever new creative or constructive project you’re considering.
You may not get it perfectly right, but it’ll be good, and most importantly it’ll be a beautiful expression of the unique individual you are.
So go for it!
A little self-belief goes a long way.
My colleagues at work, and my wife, are amazing at nurturing that confidence in me.
That willingness to step forward.
I hope and I try to do the same with them, as well as with the homeless and other vulnerable people we support.
I undertook that new challenge a few days later and was very happy with the way it went. I’d be prepared to do it again, learning from what worked well and what could be improved.
Yes, YOU can.
Let’s continue to encourage each other.
And one final question….
What do you see?