|Photo by Eduardo Braga from Pexels|
by Irene Kraegel, PsyD
Contemplative practices related to present-moment awareness have been nurtured by Christians throughout the centuries as avenues for connection with God. Recently, a number of these practices have become particularly common – while not identical to traditional, formal mindfulness practice, they have significant overlap with the practice of mindfulness meditation.
To learn more about some of these specific meditation practices of Christian devotion, and to explore more traditional mindfulness meditation practices through the lens of Christian faith, I invite you to pick up my new book, The Mindful Christian: Cultivating a Life of Intentionality, Openness, and Faith, released today!
Here is a related excerpt exploring four of these practices: Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, Listening Prayer, and Taizé Worship. With or without accompanying mindfulness training, such practices can usher the Christian practitioner into a contemplative experience of God’s presence in the moment.
Book excerpt, pp 39-43 (Kraegel, Irene. The Mindful Christian: Cultivating a Life of Intentionality, Openness, and Faith. Fortress Press, 2020.):
Three Trappist monks in the 1970s drew on centuries of Christian contemplative tradition to formalize a practice of present-moment awareness called Centering Prayer. This is a silent practice of tuning attention to God’s presence in the moment.
Within a Christian worldview, Centering Prayer can be viewed as a type of mindfulness meditation that focuses on God as the object of moment-to-moment awareness. This is an adaptation of the practice of focusing on elements of the present moment, such as breath, physical sensations, or thoughts. Practitioners of Centering Prayer choose another element of the present moment—God—as the focus of their awareness during meditation.
The following four steps offer a guide for engagement with the practice of Centering Prayer:
1. Choose a prompt for your attention during the practice. This could be a “sacred word” (such as peace or Father) or a “sacred breath” that you attend to as a reminder of God’s presence. Then set a timer for twenty minutes.
2. Sit in a comfortable but alert manner. Close your eyes, if you choose, and settle your attention on the near presence of God, within you or in the room. As a sign of consent to God’s presence, introduce your chosen prompt in your mind.
3. Quietly and lightly repeat the sacred word in the background of your awareness, using it as a prompt to bring your attention back to God’s presence, or simply use your breath for this purpose. (The latter is more consistent with typical mindfulness practice.) When you find yourself distracted by thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations, gently return your awareness once again to God’s presence.
4. When the timer goes off, remain with eyes closed for approximately two minutes as you transition out of silence into the rest of your day, bringing the experience of God’s presence along with you.
Lectio divina is an ancient Benedictine meditative practice. Translated as “divine reading,” this prayerful engagement with Scripture is one way of centering our attention on biblical words in order to open our hearts to God’s present-moment movement in our souls. While lectio divina is often facilitated in a group context, it can also be practiced in solitude.
After choosing a brief passage of Scripture (often one to two verses) as your focus, the practice of lectio divina has four basic steps:
1. Read the passage out loud. Allow your mind to understand the words, to comprehend their meaning, and to rest in them. Get to know the passage. You may wish to read the passage aloud several times.
2. Meditate on the passage. Chew it over, use your imagination, and envision yourself in the midst of it. Open your heart to receive whatever God might have for you in the passage at this moment.
3. Respond to the passage. Notice if a word or phrase speaks to you, and say this out loud or write it in a journal. Acknowledge what the passage is saying to you, and talk to God about it.
4. Rest in the passage. Sit in silence, resting in being mode rather than doing mode. Allow God to work without effort on your part. Attend and listen.
Listening (or contemplative) prayer is the practice of bringing direct awareness to God’s presence and listening to God with intentionality. Listening prayer often involves sitting before God in attentive silence, but it can also be practiced on an ongoing basis throughout the course of one’s day. There is no standardized format for listening prayer.
Listening prayer can be traced throughout Christian tradition as a practice of being present to God. One well-known proponent of this type of contemplative prayer practice was Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a humble lay brother in a Carmelite monastery during the seventeenth century. He described his prayer life as “simple attention” to God’s presence throughout the mundane and ordinary moments of each day, and his thoughts on the topic were summarized after his death in what has become a classic and beloved spiritual text, The Practice of the Presence of God.
Listening prayer, like most mindfulness meditation, is largely a wordless practice. It does not involve forming thoughts and statements to project in God’s direction. Rather, it draws the practitioner into the present moment as an attentional exercise. The attitude of listening prayer acknowledges the temptation for humans to fill prayer with thoughts, words, and agendas, talking at God with no direct awareness of God’s presence and no expectation of a response. The goal of this practice is instead to listen for what God has to say in the present moment—to listen with the spirit more than with the mind.
The meditative style of Taizé worship is rooted in the ecumenical community of Taizé, France. Services typically include slow, repetitive singing, along with times for Scripture reading, prayer, and extended silent meditation. Candles (and sometimes icons) enhance the worship service. Many churches around the United States hold Taizé services as a way of slowing down to meditate and breathe in a corporate context.
Taizé worship lends itself to mindfulness practice in its meditative nature and the silence built into the service. The incorporation of extended repetition into song lyrics opens up room for the participant to settle into the words and practice openness to God’s presence through the singing. The sights and smells of candles add to the multisensory nature of the service, inviting participants into fuller awareness of the present moment as they engage in spiritual worship.
While we have covered only a few contemplative Christian disciplines, any Christian discipline can be enhanced by applying informal mindfulness during the practice. Scripture reading, singing, corporate worship, prayer, liturgical dance, meditation, and any other devotional practice can be blended with mindful awareness.
Remembering that mindfulness is intentional awareness of the present moment without judgment, what other state of mind would we want to cultivate during the practice of the spiritual disciplines besides mindful awareness? To be fully aware in the presence of God is the best place to be!
About the Author
Dr. Irene Kraegel is director of the student counseling center at Calvin University, a Christian university in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She has 17 years of experience as a licensed clinical psychologist, and her current work includes mindfulness training for students at Calvin. Dr. Kraegel shares her experiences and thoughts related to the integration of Christian faith and mindfulness practice at her website, TheMindfulChristian.com and in her book The Mindful Christian: Cultivating a Life of Intentionality, Openness, and Faith.