When July began, I set seven goals for my life, seeking to develop a sense of Christian mindfulness. Three of those goals were:
“Worship services will be attended, not for me to be uplifted or entertained or educated, but for me to spend time in the house of my God and among the people of my God.
Personal devotional time, consisting of reading the Bible and of prayer, will be conducted, not as an intellectual exercise and not for self-improvement, but for bonding. The purpose of prayer and of Bible reading will be to spend time with the Lord, improving our relationship…
Because this is my personal experiment in Christian mindfulness, I will make regular reports by means of this blog to let you know how things are going. If any of you care to join in this experiment, please also make comments on this blog to let me know how things are going for you.”
Obviously I am trying to keep goal number seven, but I will do so by referring to the first two goals.
From time to time I visit a church where I used to work. Yesterday was one of those times. I sincerely like and love the people there, the building and artwork, the music, and so on. Otherwise, I would not return when I have the chance. Even so, Sunday mornings there can be difficult for me to endure. Members of this congregation brought (and still bring) a lot of resentment, frustration, and anger with them when they come to church, and they often aim it at one another. Under the surface veneer of a friendly and happy church lurks a powerful stream of vitriol that sooner or later emerges into the open. I feel the tension inside myself when I am there. As a result, I become petty in my own thoughts about the congregation and its members. I judge the preaching, both for what it contains (an occasional error) and for what it lacks (substance and significance). I judge the music, including the selection of hymns, the playing of the music, and the singing of the congregation. I judge the way people dress and the way they treat each other. When I do all this judging, I stand in the way of the Lord who wants to bless me in his house.
But not this time! When I went to bed Saturday night, I reminded myself that I would be going to a friend’s house in the morning, and I would not let anything there keep me from enjoying time spent with my friend. I said the same thing again when I got out of bed yesterday morning. It seems to have made a difference! It helps that two of my favorite hymns were included in the service. But I sang to honor Jesus, not to perform for others or to judge their singing. I picked up some good points in the sermon. And whenever my mind started to wonder, I let the artwork in the windows remind me whose house I was visiting and why I was there. For once, I left that building without anger and frustration churning inside of me.
I wish I could write as glowingly of my daily Bible reading and prayer, but the best I can say is that I have had good days and bad days. Since early childhood I have been a rapid reader with good retention, but some kinds of writing needs to be read slowly and thoughtfully. It needs to be savored, not merely read. Some days I have been able to remember this, but other days I have raced through my Bible reading and devotional reading, treating it more as a chore to check off the list than as time spent with a friend. I am still working to change this.
Along with the Bible reading, I have returned to some of the masterpieces of medieval Christianity. First I read The Cloud of Unknowing, limiting myself to ten pages a day so I could consider the flavor and the meaning of what I read. Now I am reading The Dark Night of the Soul, again sticking to ten pages a day. These texts are helping to remind me of the purpose of my devotional life, but at times I still read even them too quickly, too eager to get to the next task of the day.
Christian mindfulness does not develop overnight. It takes a long time to master the discipline of Christian mindfulness, just as Buddhist mindfulness or Hindu yoga take a long time to master. Any aspect of Christian living will take time to master, apart from salvation, which does not require any effort or practice on our part, because Jesus has done all the work for us. Thanks be to our Savior Jesus Christ!