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Monthly Archives: November 2015

Christian Mindfulness – Part 4

Who are you?

How do you generally answer the question ‘who are you’?  Perhaps the first thing you say might be your name. Then what?  Cultures vary on this one:

In the UK you are often defined by your job, so my response is likely to be “Head of Programmes at The Leprosy Mission”.  In fact, my job is so much part of me I find it hard to separate the two.  Who would I be if I was not The Leprosy Mission’s Head of Programmes?  An entrepreneur with my own Cookie business?

But isn’t there more to me than my job?

In India registration documents of women require that you give the name of your father or spouse – defining you as a child or wife of ……. So I suppose I am daughter of Chris and wife of Amit.

In Zimbabwe women are usually know as the mother (Amai) of their first child i.e. Amai Tasha.

These responses all state who I am in relation to others or  what I do.  But if we take that away, who am I?

Philosophers and social scientists have debated for centuries the concept of identity and I’m not going to go into that now.  However, during my recent studies on Mindfulness, I’ve become conscious that life in not just about doing, its about being – being one with God, being who God has called us to be.  So some of the questions I have been pondering are: Who am I? What is the real me like? How can I be more Christ-like and live the life God has planned for me, being the person He wants me to be i.e. the person He created – ME?

Being still, sitting quietly in reflection I’ve been trying to consider who I really am and what the difference is between the ‘me’ that I portray to others and the ‘real me’, the ‘me that God sees’.

How much do I bury the ‘real me’ and put on an a facade so that I seem stronger, more confident , more capable and more acceptable to the people I am with?  How much do I conform to cultural expectations and what I perceive to be the expectations of others, rather than ‘be me’?

Today I watched the Hindi film Tamasha.  It starts off with a man and women who meet in Corsica and agree not to tell anything to each other about who they are (i.e. the labels indicated above in terms of job and relationships) – they are just themselves, have great fun and a bit of a holiday romance.  After a very enjoyable week together they go their separate ways. Two years later they meet up back in Delhi. However, Ved is not the man that Tara met in Corsica.  He is an office worker who follows a routine, conforming to the rules and society’s expectations. Tara sets about convincing him to be the real ‘him’, the free spirit, rather than the corporate slave.

The movie made me reflect that we spend so much of our life doing the things that others want us to do, with our thoughts and actions shaped by the society in which we live.  I’m not saying that we should all break the rules and do what we like oblivious to the needs of others, far from it.  Although it is great to break the rules sometimes, if they are man-made rules rather than the God given ones. Our actions should be shaped by our beliefs and values.  However, should they be governed by our culture and our perception of the expectations of others, or should we  be ourselves?  How can we be ourselves and better enjoy the moment, rather than shoehorning ourselves into the shape of the world?

Romans 12: 2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

I am beginning to recognise that mindfulness helps us to do just that. In the stillness we are able to question the ways of the world, to better understand who we are in God, so we can be our true selves – the person God has created us to be.

When we are silent and resting in God, in union with Him, we are perhaps the closest to our true self as we will ever be.  And what’s wonderful is that I can be ‘me’, the ‘real me’ and know that despite my imperfections God still loves me, and has plans to prosper me and not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11).

So today when the movie finished, I decided to be the ‘real me’.  The ‘conforming me’ would have walked quietly out of the cinema hall and back to the car discussing the movie on the way.  The ‘real me’ danced out of the cinema hall and gave Kung Fu Panda a run for his money….. mindfully enjoying the moment!  Watch out folks – I think the more I get into this mindfulness business, the more you might get to see the ‘real me’ ….

 

 

 

 

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Christian Mindfulness – Part 3

Do you think in words or pictures?  For me and my analytical mind its almost always in words.

Mindfulness or contemplative practice is the new way I have adopted to try to escape these incessant thoughts, causes of anxiety and depression, to be able to reconnect with God.  When I sit still and try to be silent its always verbal thoughts that are going through my mind that I have to try to bat away.  Occasionally though I see a picture, and when I do it usually has some significance through which God speaks.  Yesterday was a picture day!

I saw a fairground with a Big Wheel. I knew I was in the picture somewhere, it was a bit like Where is Wally!  There was lots going on.  Then I spotted myself, at the top of the Big Wheel.  Yet not sitting comfortably in the chair….. I had fallen out and was hanging on for dear life, legs swinging and holding on with one hand on the bar at the top – rather stressed!!!  I was scared, I needed the wheel (the busyness of life) to stop so I could climb back in.  I wanted to sit down in the chair, be still and enjoy the view.  Clearly a message from God to slow down, take time to relax and appreciate the view of the wonderful things that God is doing.  Message received and understood!!  Now I just have to make it happen (its not easy climbing back into the chair from that height).  I’m sure mindfulness practice will help.

However, today I realised that climbing back into the chair is just the first step.  This morning I started reading an amazing book “Into the Silent Land” by Martin Laird.  Godincidentally, Chapter 1 explained one of the early church images of the wheel. It explained that God is the hub at the centre that unites all the spokes (us).  Most of us spend our life at the outer rim (like I was, clinging to the chair on the Big Wheel). We are far from God and distant from others, we might trust God and even allow him to guide us through the circle of life, but we are not living in union with Him; we are still caught up in the ways of the world. Our relationships with others are often strained and not rooted in love.

Union with God is not something to be acquired it is something to be realised (we already have it but do not experience it or appreciate it).  It is beyond thoughts and pictures, beyond our emotions and feelings; it is being immersed in the love of God. It is through silence that we are able to journey towards the centre of the wheel and the closer we get to the centre the closer we are to God and to others; the more we are able to experience and share God’s love.

In doing so we come to know our true self and to truly experience the love of God.  As St Augustine said in Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”  When we live life from the centre the stresses of life recede, we see God in everything we do and we are able to live in the likeness of Christ.   However, that journey to the centre is not easy.  It requires us to take time out from the world to be still and enter the ‘silent land’.

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It’s not necessarily about joining the monastery or the convent, God can work in you wherever you are and you can rest in Him in your living room as well as in a monks cell.  However, it is recognising that it if we don’t spend time in silence we will miss out so much of what God has for us.  Silence is necessary if we are to hear God speak; prayer is not a shopping list it is spending time with God listening to Him.

So in your next prayer time, talk less – God already knows what is on your mind and the desires of your hearts. Start by offering these to Him and then nudge away those thoughts and feelings that are distracting you and just spend some quality time quietly in His presence, demonstrating your love for Him. As St John of the Cross said, “Our greatest need is to be silent before this great God….. for the only language he hears is the silent language of love.”

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Christian Mindfulness – Part 2

Launde Abbey, near East Norton in Leicestershire is one of those thin places where God is close. Set in 450 acres of parkland it has had people praying there since 1119 when the Augustinian Priory was founded.

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The Launde Abbey Prayer says:

Father,  here may the faithful find salvation and the careless be awakened;
here may the doubting find faith and the anxious be encouraged;
here may the tempted find help and the sorrowful comfort;
here may the weary find rest and the strong be renewed;
here may we all find inspiration, and that peace which the world cannot give: your precious gift to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

For me it is certainly a place of peace and relaxation where you can feel God present. As you enter the Launde bubble you step away from the distractions and busyness of the world – even the mobile signal does not work – and you have the opportunity to rest in God. This special place was the setting for my mindfulness retreat.  The 12th Century chapel has a time for contemplative prayer each morning at 7.45am, a great way to start the day sitting in silence before the Lord.  This is followed by morning prayer. The place exudes God’s presence.

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However, the place were God spoke to me most during by time there was not in the chapel, but just outside the chapel door in the ‘quiet’ garden.  I had been taught how to do a mindfulness walk.

Mindfulness walk

A mindfulness walk is walking the same 10-20 steps backwards and forwards, gradually slowing down the pace, at the same time experiencing the sights, sensations and smells around you, and experiencing the sounds and images from around you and within. Its important to experience the moment and to listen to God.

As I chose my path to walk the first thing I saw was the chapel doorway.

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The bible reading I had been focused on in morning prayer that day was Matthew 7:13-14:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

As I walked slowly back and forth along the path to the chapel door I felt God saying, “Take the narrow gate, the gate of heaven.  The path may not be easy but just trust in me. I will be your strength and your guide. You can do all things in Me.  Don’t rely on yourself. Trust in me and refresh yourself as you rest in me and visit my house.”

Then my attention turned to the path.

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It was covered in holly berries.  As I walked slowly along the path I looked down at the berries, scattered both on the path and on the grass to the side.

I heard God say, “I have chosen a path for you. Each person you touch, you bring a bit of Me to them.  Even when you stray off the path I can use you to touch others with my love. Share with them the drops of blood I have shed for them. Let them know that I love them too.”

Berries – a profound symbol of the love of God shed through the drops of blood of his Son.  It reminded me of the words of the carol the Holly and the Ivy….‘The holly bears a berry, As red as any blood, And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ, To do poor sinners good.’

Then I looked more closely at the holly and the berries, and listened to the birds singing. It reminded me how God takes care of his Creation.

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I heard God say, “I am the God of Creation. Just as the holly bears beautiful berries (despite being a bit prickly) and glorifies Me, so do you.  I provide the berries to take care of the birds because I love them; how much more will I provide for you because I love you. Sometimes you look so worried, as though you have the cares of the world on your shoulders. Let me carry your burdens.  People hurt you, you have become weary.  Do not worry, bring your hurts to Me and I will heal you and give you rest.”

As the wind blew that day the trees swayed and creaked, and the cool breath brushed against my cheeks.  The leaves were blowing off the trees and dancing across the path in front of me.

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God said, “As the wind blows in the trees and has power and force, so do I through my Holy Spirit.  I am a powerful God able to act and bring change. Sometimes the storms of life can be a bit scary but trust that I am in control, blowing through change.  Just as the wind blows the leaves off the trees and they dance along the path and I guide their journey, so I want you to dance with joy and move through life in my power and strength.  Allow me to lift you up, to twirl you around and send you in the right direction so you can do my work.”

Then I saw the lamp post.

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And God said, “Realise that I am not just the light of the world but I can angle my light to shine it in the darkest of places. I shine my light through you. Be prepared and open and allow me to use you to light the way for others. And remember, I am your light.  I will show you the way.  You just need to look and I will light the path.”

Then as I walked away, back to the group I glanced at the gate post.  It was covered in ivy and its head had fallen on the ground.

I heard God say, “You are like this gatepost. Ivy, the stresses and strains of overwork, are pulling you down. You have lost your head in the busyness of life. Put me back where I belong as head of your life and I will help you, guide you and help you to guide others on the narrow path to union with me.”

What comfort I drew from these words.  And how a realised that mindfulness practice, such as meditative walking, can help me to be still enough to hear that ‘still small voice’ of the Lord.

 

 

Christian Mindfulness – Part 1

Is Mindfulness Christian?

If you are reading this I’m guessing that you have heard about the concept of mindfulness – “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”

It’s often regarded as a Buddhist meditation practice or a new age self-help phenomenon, and as such some Christians have been wary of it.  However, the more I learn about it the more I believe it is in synergy with the teachings of Christian mystics such as Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing.  Used well, Mindfulness practice gives us space to appreciate the moment; to be rather than to do; to be responsive rather than reactive; to feel rather than to over analyse; to appreciate our senses and the blessings God has given us; to love God, ourselves and others from our heart and not just our head. It enables us to be still and quiet, rest in God and hear that still small voice.

How much of our life do we waste pondering the past or worrying about the future?   Do Not Worry – Jesus said…(Matthew 6:25-34)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

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In 1 Peter 5:6&7 we are reminded, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

Christian Mindfulness teaches us that it is the present that is important: it is the present where we can enjoy life, experience the blessings God has given us and be with Him.  By allowing our thoughts to wander, dragging things up from the past or planning for a future out of our control we waste precious time; time that we could be using to enjoy the present. Instead of appreciating the moment we often reside in a life of anxiety or despair.

By rushing through our day, always busy doing, we miss so much of what God has in store for us.  I’m sure you remember having driven somewhere and not remembered how you got there, operating on auto-pilot.  Not only is this not safe but its a sign that the mind is too busy working on other things and is not actively experiencing the present. The huge demands of life lead us to become stressed, prone to burn out and we end up taking our frustrations out on others, having a negative impact on their lives as well as our own.

Mindfulness practice gives the the space we need to appreciate the wonders of this life, to enjoy the moment, to be still, to rest in God, to love Him and to experience His love. It is intrinsically linked to prayer. Not so much prayers of words, rather prayers of the heart, where just like the contemplatives Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross we come to a place where we can just be with God and love Him; where we can follow the most important of the commandments to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strengthand to ‘love your neighbour as your love yourself’.

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The challenge for many of us is that before we can truly love God and others we must learn to love ourself.  This means first getting to know the ‘real me’, not ‘me’ in terms of what I do but ‘me’ in terms of who I am.  How would you answer the question ‘who are you?’? We spend so much time rushing around ‘doing’ that we often define ourselves by what we do – our occupation or our role in life, as parent, spouse, carer, etc.  We don’t take time out to reflect on who we ‘are’ and how God sees us. This often results in us failing to appreciate the wonders of our true-self and prevents us from growing in the likeness of Christ.

Mindfulness is a simple concept – its about being mindful of the present and how we are experiencing it, and being mindful of God – but its not easy to do. It’s a long hard journey which takes a life time.  However it is a journey where even the first few steps will start to transform your life for the better, letting you appreciate the wonder of the present and enabling you to know, love and experience God and yourself in a new and special way.

Now I expect you are wondering what you have to ‘do’ to start this mindfulness journey. First remember its not about doing, its about being mindful!  Here are a few simple tips to get you started:

  • As you shower, appreciate the feel of the warm water flowing over your skin, the smell of the shampoo, the texture of the soap, watch the condensation on the glass, enjoy being clean – and thank God for the blessings of clean water and the ability to keep clean, pray for those who do not have such luxuries.
  • Eat your food slowly without talking, look at the colours, feel the textures and taste each flavour – and thank God for the abundance of food He has provided for you, pray for those who are hungry.
  • Rather than rushing through all those emails in your inbox, before you open each one – thank God for the person who has sent it and pray for God to bless them.
  • Go for a walk in the countryside or park, feel the wind or the sun on your cheeks, look at the patterns of the clouds, hear the birds, see the leaves on the tree, the flowers, appreciate the beauty of your surroundings – thank God for the wonders of His creation.
  • When an issue arises or someone is confrontational don’t react. Take a step back (either physically or figuratively), breath, put the situation in God’s hands and respond calmly and with love.
  • Sit or lie quietly for at least 10mins each day (more than once if you can), close your eyes, breathe deeply – in and out, in and out. Hear the sounds around you and before naming them gradually push them away. Do the same with any thoughts that come to you mind, acknowledge them and then push them away. Let your mind be quiet, feel the warmth of God’s presence within you, His love surrounding you and rest in His peace.  Take three deep breaths in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, before returning to the world.

Follow me for more on Christian Mindfulness…..

 

He Named Me Malala – don’t be afraid to speak out!

If you haven’t seen “He Named Me Malala” do so.  It’s not necessarily the greatest documentary ever, but is certainly focused on an inspiring young woman and father, who were prepared to risk their life to stand up against injustice and oppression.

It was on her way home from school on October 9th, 2012 that the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head. This assassination Malala Yousafzaiattempt sparked international condemnation for the Taliban, but also mass support for Malala and her campaign for girls education.
Through a combination of narrative, animation and questioning from the Director, David Guggenheim, the film tells the story of Malala and her family.
Malala’s inspiration is her father, Ziauddin, who has a huge influence on her life.  He is a man able to step outside the confines of his culture and who recognises the equality of women and the importance of education.  He married Tor Pekai for love, rather than an arranged marriage and Malala was their first child. She was named after a 19th Century Afghan national hero, teenager Malalai of Maiwand, who with her speeches, including a now infamous line “It is better to live like a lion for one day then to live like a slave for a hundred years”, rallied the soldiers in the fight against the British.
Just after Malala was born her father got out the family tree that traced back their ancestry for over 300 years.  He noted that only the male lineage was recorded.  However, under his name he broke tradition and added his precious Malala.
Ziauddin had a passion for education and fulfilled his dream by setting up his own school.  There he taught both boys and girls, instilling in them a willingness to question and to search for truth.  It was very unusual for girls in the the Swat valley of north-west Pakistan to go to school, but Ziauddin knew it was essential both in terms of fulfilling their human rights, but also as a means of protecting them from abuse and exploitation. He actively encouraged girls to attend school as did Malala. However, as the Talaban took more of a foothold in the community this became more and more difficult.
The Taliban publically burnt TVs, computers, films, books, anything they felt was influenced by the west.  They outlawed girls education and bombed schools.  People who spoke out against them were killed, often in public executions. But this did not stop Ziauddin.  He openly spoke out in rallies, condemning the acts of the Taliban, calling them the enemies of Islam, and demanding gender equity and peace.
Malala had grown up watching her father, and education was her primary focus.  She did not intend to let the Taliban take the opportunity from her or the other girls in her community.  She began campaigning when she was 11 years old by writing a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC, each night the BBC correspondent would phone her and she would dictate her blog detailing her life under Taliban occupation. The anonymity of this made her feel safe.  However, nothing was changing. Girls were still being prevented from learning. Pondering what to do next she mused, “there is a moment where you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up”.  We all know which she chose. She agreed to the New York Times making a documentary about her life in the Swat Valley, it was a way for her to raise international awareness of the issues that girls were facing and that their right to education was being denied. As a result, her prominence grew, and her life was under threat from the Taliban.
On the 9th October 2012 her father was speaking at a public meeting and Malala was traveling home from school when the Taliban stopped her school bus; she was shot in the head.  With her skull in pieces doctors did not think she would survive.  However after initial treatment in Pakistan she was airlifted to the UK and her family joined her.  After numerous operations and physiotherapy she is now studying at an English school. In the film she reflects on how different life is here in the UK and how she misses home in Pakistan, although she knows that if her family were to return they would be shot.
Her father, Ziauddin, the “he” in the film’s title, speaks of his guilt for allowing Malala to speak publicly against the Taliban’s ban on female education.  He clearly blames himself for what happened to her, for the fact that she has lost her hearing in one ear, despite his daughter’s insistence that it was her choice.
There is a shocking parallel that, although 140 years between them, both Malalai the Afghan hero and Malala spoke up and were shot immediately afterwards. But Malala Yousafzai survived this horrific attack, and continued to share her message. Ironically the shooting has only furthered her campaign efforts and made her story even more renowned.  She has travelled to numerous countries speaking out on the issue of girls education.  She has met the queen, numerous presidents including Obama, has spoken with eloquence at the UN stating her famous slogan “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”.

In 2014 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for  her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. Yet as well as being a world renowned figure she is also an ordinary teenager. The film allows us to observe how different Malala is with her family compared to when in the public eye. We hear her talk about celebrity crushes, fighting with her brothers and what she deems ‘bad grades’. All things which should not be remarkable, accept these were all aspects of her life the Taliban wanted to stamp out with their policies. The director asks Malala how her life would be different without education, Malala tells Guggenheim she would likely have two children now and be illiterate.
What is striking is that despite her fame, Malala shows true humility.  She reinforces through the film that it is not her story, but the story of million of girls across the world. Its a touching and powerful film that I hope will raise awareness on the current situation of child rights and gender equity.  However, I also hope that it will inspire people everywhere to stand up against injustice and to realise that we all have a responsibility to do all we can to make this world a better place.

Well done Malala!

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in History, Life, Reflections

 

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