Maturing of Christian faith and mindfulness – UCA News

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

A considerable amount of silence is needed to discover just where God is present and active

Maturing of Christian faith and mindfulness – UCA News
 Maturing of Christian faith and mindfulness

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto closes his eyes during a mindfulness exercise as part of the Happy Healthy America Campaign in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 15, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

There are at least two approaches to assessing whether the Church is doing its job in lending plausibility to the affirmation of faith in Jesus. The first goes to the relevance of the Church’s messages and services and how adequately or appropriately they meet the challenges of the times. This first challenge is relevance and that was the challenge the Church in general set itself in the issues mostly considered at Vatican II.

The second way of assessing the Church’s performance in proposing and promoting the plausibility of the Gospel for us today is what might be termed a more “essentialist” challenge: Do the claims of the message and for the person of Jesus make sense? Are they coherent? Do the “stack up”?

These challenges are more urgent to us at different times of our lives – challenges to the plausibility of faith claims occur at times of our intellectual maturing and when claims and evidence or argument become very important to us.

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Challenges to the relevance of faith claims occur when events, movements, or the coherence of our understanding push us or are pushed by us beyond the limits we have been satisfied to live within till a crisis happens and the limits are dispensed with.

Intellectual blockages occur when previously accepted frameworks are no longer sustainable and the overwhelming sense of irrelevance hits us when what we think and believe no longer strikes us or anyone as the way to make sense of our lives.

But I have a deep misgiving with both of these approaches to faith and the plausibility of the person and message of Jesus because their focus begins and ends with me. The focus is almost exclusively on me and what I want and need.

It may be OK to start there. But if the approach is to have any lasting purchase, it needs to move beyond such reference points around me as soon as it can.

What does that mean? It’s very simple: if claims invite us to faith – in Jesus or any ultimate reference point like God – they need to move beyond claims that make functional sense about what benefit they are to me or about the way they satisfy my requirements for intellectual coherence.

They need to make sense, of course. But they need to move beyond that if they are to lay hold of my mind and heart as offering something of which I can be in awe.

Let me explain what I mean by this parallel example. When I was much younger than I am now, I really wondered how on earth someone could ever choose to enter a monastery and adopt a commitment to perpetual silence.

Living in the shadow of the Biblical “three score years and ten” – I am in my seventieth year – I am much more alive to how my taste for life, engagement and interaction changes with the years. I am now much more at ease in my own company and have had plenty of time to consider the shortness of life and the certainty of death.

Moments of arresting incoherence are in fact precious gifts if we can let them become that. If we don’t just brush them off and dismiss them as obstacles to getting on with our lives, we can be driven to our knees to listen and to learn. We can be driven into the presence of God where we recognize our lives are really mostly out of our control and we are in God’s hands. We are driven to contemplation.

In other words, I can understand how a person can live in their own company and in the company of the mystery of God and little else. And it can happen to us not only when meaning in our lives runs dry but also when we become dizzy with the frenetic pace life moves at.

The calling of a contemplative is to discover the hidden meaning and divine resonance in all experience and for that, we need a considerable amount of silence to discover just where God is present and active.

And what happens as we do that on a daily basis – and as often as not many times in a day – is that we let go into that mystery and cease the futile attempt to control our experience and specify what we want as the outcome. In other words, we give ourselves into the uncontrollable mystery of our experience and wait for God to take hold of us.

In recent times, I have discovered a further reach of this experience. Frequently I long to be with people living and dead – family and relatives, friends living today, or ones who have been with me in life and may now have gone to God. I give each and everyone into the hands of God and make a prayer of my remembering them.

Of course, we aren’t the first people to reach that point in our lives. I have been greatly helped to understand and draw benefit from such experiences by the writings of a 17th-century spiritual writer, the recently canonized St. Claude de la Colombiere.

St. Claude achieved celebrity because he was the spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque who is the fountainhead of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But his enduring doctrine and advice that even holds in the 21st century is his encouragement of the “practice of the presence of God” which is the Christian equivalent of the Buddhist practice of “mindfulness.”

Being aware of the presence of God makes us alert to the promptings of the Spirit and moves us into God’s presence in all we experience. And this experience is the antidote to the exhaustion that comes when we realize that our struggle for relevance in our faith or compelling intellectual coherence in our understanding of faith assertions will never actually meet our requirements.

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