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The Way of the Heart

Henri Nouwen in his book The Way of the Heart say, ”Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul….

….Just look for a moment at our daily routine in general we are very busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks filled with engagements, our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do, and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say or do are worth thinking, saying or doing.   We simply go with the many ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ that have been handed on to us…..

….Why is this so?  The answer is quite simple…

…Our identity and our sense of self is at stake. The false self is the self that is fabricated by social compulsions.  Who am I?  I am the one who is liked, praised, admired……Whether I am a businessman, a pianist, a minister (or a charity worker) what matters is how I am perceived by the world (or at least my colleagues and friends). If being busy is a good thing then I must be busy, if having money is a sign of freedom then I must claim my money (or buy those new things), if knowing many people improves my importance I will have to make the necessary contacts.  The compulsion manifests itself in the fear of failing and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same – more work, more money (or possessions), more friends.”

The desert fathers and mothers decided to escape the rat race of the 4th and 5th centuries and spend time in solitude.  “Good for them” I hear you say, “I can’t do that, I have a family to look after, a mortgage to pay.  I don’t have time for stillness and solitude!”

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What I have come to realise is that if I don’t have stillness and solitude, if I don’t take time out to stop and wonder and to admire our amazing God and the beauty of His creation then I am living a half-life robbed of the joy and experience that God has in store for me.

God has not just called me to “do” he has called me to “be”: to be His child.  He has chosen me and called to live my life following the path that He has set for me.  He has also called me to ‘be’ the person that He has designed me to be. If I am too busy in the rat race how do I know I am on the right path, how do I have time to reflect not just on what I do but on who I am.  Am I the person that God wants me to be?  Am I filled with the fruits of the spirit?  If not then it’s time in solitude that is needed to spend time with God, giving Him the space to challenge who I am and shape me into who He wants me to be.  It’s silence and solitude, spending time just being with God where I can learn who I truly am as His child and can be equipped to go back into the world to serve Him. It’s in silence and solitude that my soul can be renewed by His presence, the beauty of His world and be surrounded by His love, giving me the strength and wisdom to face the rat race.

I’m now beginning to realise that making time for silence and solitude each day is not an optional extra, it’s essential if I am to experience life in all its fullness and the true blessings that God wants to bestow on me.  Without it I am missing out on the most fundamental part of life – being at one with God, feeling his love, experiencing his peace and ensuring that He is at the heart of who and am and He is the one who inspires what I do.

I need to get off the treadmill, out of the rat race, and spend some time in the desert, not a dry and barren place, but a quiet place where I can learn ‘the way of the heart’.

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If you need help with the practicalities of stopping being busy and having time wisdom, you might find Stephen Cherry’s book ‘Beyond Busyness’ a useful read.

 

 

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Food for thought this Lent

Lent is traditionally known as a time of prayer and fasting, a time reflecting on Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, where Christians give something up to provide extra time and space to concentrate on God.  For many 21st century Christians, and I count myself among them, fasting is not part of their spiritual life.  In the past I have made the token gesture of deciding to give up chocolate or cake; in a society where we are surrounded by such luxuries (there is always cake in our office!) it can be a challenge and a good discipline but I’m not that sure it ever brought me any closer to God.  It might be different for you, but I’m sure my motives were more about losing a few kilos rather than spiritual in nature.

I find giving up food difficult, mainly because I am a foodie, but also because I get headaches if I don’t eat frequently. Perhaps giving up a meal each day would allow me more time to spend with God. If I also gave up eating out I could give extra money to charity. Call it an excuse if you want but I decided this year that I was not going to give up food for Lent (although I’m sure I would benefit from a little less excess).

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I’ve often heard people say that giving something up is negative and they are going to do something extra, something positive for Lent, like giving to charity or spending more time in bible reading.  There is certainly nothing wrong with starting new positive habits and charities need all the support they can get, so its a great idea.   For me this year in Lent I wanted to do something positive and spend  more time in silence, escaping the seemingly never-ending rush of life, being still with God.

However, to do this required ‘finding time’.  I needed to give up something  to ‘find’ that time to make a real difference to my spiritual life, in the hope that the habit started for 40 days would become lifelong.  This Lent has been about slowly changing my lifestyle so that I am able to get a better balance in my life.  I’m trying to limit my excessive ‘work’ time to provide more time for family, friends and stillness, trying to take a few minutes each day in silence (not just those moments on the loo) to sit and be with God, to be mindful, appreciate the beauty around me and to thank God for all He provides.

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Books that have been helpful in this include Stephen Cherry’s book ‘Beyond Busyness – Time Wisdom for Ministry’. I’ve learned the difference between time management and time wisdom and have used various tools he suggests for making wise decisions about how I spend my time.  It’s a must read for workaholics and anyone in ministry.

The other book that has inspired me has been Mary C. Earle’s book ‘The Desert Mothers – Practical Spiritual Wisdom for Every Day’.

12745639_10208284540649310_1344397817639724825_nShe writes, “When we fast (whether it be from food or noise or busyness or buying too much), our fast is not only for our own health and deepening love; it is offered for the life of the world.  When we fast from mean-spirited conversation and from the need to be always in control and think ourselves to be right, we are allowing open space in which God’s healing silence can bring forth something new, if we give it time and care. When we fast from hurry and frenetic, non-stop rushing, we not only allow the distended stress of our bodies and souls to heal. We also practice one of the most subversive acts in this society: rest in God, trusting that God’s own recreating and restoring grace will be sufficient for the tasks at hand. We put aside the addictive behaviour of working as if everything depended on our own efforts, and allow real questions to surface…..the questions are an essential part of discovering who you are and who you were called to be.”

I don’t know about you but I so relate to this passage.  Up until now my life has centred around doing…..now I’m trying to balance the doing and the being.  Who are you and what has God called you to be?  My food for thought this Lent!

 

 

 

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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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