Julian of Norwich, the 14th century English anchoress, or religious hermit, wrote: “He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for little[ness]. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall [last] for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God. In this Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it. But what is to me verily the Maker, the Keeper, and the Lover, - I cannot tell; for till I am Substantially oned to Him, I may never have full rest nor very bliss: that is to say, till I be so fastened to Him, that there is right nought that is made betwixt my God and me.”
Julian "one-ed" with the All by contemplating the particular.
During a summer sojourn at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico, I gathered dark red earth into a bag and put it in the back of the car to take home. It was a sample of the Chinle Formation, a distinctive layer of lavender, red, and blue-grey soft dirt, formed from alluvium over 200 million years ago and sandwiched between layers of hard sandstone. Back in Los Angeles, I put the dirt in a bucket, added water, formed a mud ball, and began the process of making a dorodango, a Japanese art form. I shaped the ball, put dirt on the surface to get it dry, then put it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Hours later, I took it out of the bag, where it sweated out moisture from its interior. I spread more dirt on its surface, rubbed it smooth, and put it back in the bag. I repeated this process every day for about two weeks. Finally the ball ceased sweating in the bag, and at that point I gave it a final polish with a soft rag. The deep color of the dirt came through the shiny surface. It looked like a ceramic ball, glazed and fired in a kiln, but it was no more and no less than a handful of dirt. The process of making this dorodango was very satisfying, in a way I can barely verbalize.
In New Mexico, I gathered dirt from another source, as well: the Santuario de Chimayo, an old adobe church from the Spanish era. In the back of the sanctuary of this little church in a tiny town at the base of the mountains north of Santa Fe is a little adobe room with an earthen floor, and in the floor is a hole full of pale, pink, powdery dirt that pilgrims for 200 years have rubbed on whatever part of their body ails them. The reported cures have drawn devotees from all over the world to fill vials of the dirt to take home with them. I put the dirt into little glass vials to give to my students when they are in crisis or when they are about to begin a new venture. As is the case every time I visit the Santuario de Chimayo, I felt holiness, and palpable wholeness, in that little adobe room.
William Blake, in his poem "Auguries of Innocence", wrote: "To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour...." One way to apprehend the Universe, which is one-ed with the Divine Being that includes and enlivens all within it, is to hold reverently a handful of dirt. The Whole is in every part.
"The Universe creates its own observers and admirers," wrote Friedrich Shleiermacher, a 17th-18th century German theologian. By admiring dust, I admire the One who forms me from it.
“One knows that which one thinks one knows less than that which one knows one does not know.”
Nicolas of Cusa, 1444-45 Ever tried so hard to solve a problem that you thought your head would explode? You're not alone. Sometimes our obsession to figure something out gets in our way of finding the answer.
George Polya, a celebrated mathematician who pioneered the field of multi-dimensional geometry, was concerned with the state of mathematics education. To contribute to better teaching methods, he wrote a classic book, "How to Solve It", in 1944. In it, Polya repeated this admonition: "Look at the unknown." Stop trying to solve it, at least for a while. Just look at it, sit with it. Give it your mindful attention. Let it sink in. Admire it! Then compare it to other unknowns, other problems. How were those problems solved? How might those solutions apply to this problem? Polya's wisdom generalizes to all forms of problem-solving, within and beyond mathematics. Though Polya might not have described it this way, his method can be characterized as contemplative and meditative.
I set up a blackboard in the courtyard of the University Religious Center at the University of Southern California. I invited students, staff, and faculty to write down "unknowns" from any or all disciplines. Participants are invited to use a color of chalk not yet used for other initial "unknowns". If a contributor sees an "unknown" on the board that is reminiscent of another "unknown", even from an entirely different academic discipline, they are invited to write it down with the same color of chalk, with a line connecting it to the "unknown" that inspired it. If the connection between "unknowns" seems a bit tenuous, there's no worry - the contributor can add it to the board, with a line to the one that inspired it, and see where the conversation leads - and later see if others add "unknowns" that relate to that addition. Contributors can take pictures of their additions and post them with comments at #lookattheunknown on social media.
Contributions so far, in 3 days: "My destiny in this world." which led to: "What is after life?" "What can I learn about my religion from non-practitioners?" which led to: "What can I learn from your religion?"
(PS: I hope others copy this idea at other schools, churches, etc., and post their results at #lookattheunknown !)
I'm 100% in support of Hillary Clinton becoming our next president, a candidate whose qualities I admire 75%.
I'm 0% in support of Donald Trump becoming our next president, a candidate whose qualities I admire .01%.
That's my November 8 spiritual math. What's yours?
Many of my friends and colleagues admire Clinton less than I do, and I can appreciate their viewpoints. But I am praying that they'll join me in the first part of my equation, and support her 100% nonetheless. Because as recent events further underscore, there's zero good in letting Donald Trump enter the White House because people were too discouraged, disgusted, or complacent to vote. And in order to get Hillary Clinton elected, full emotional engagement is required. Her election will be won with infectious peer-to-peer enthusiasm, or it won't be won at all. I will focus on and lift up her positives in the election season, and commit myself to political engagement for the long term after she is elected in order to address the problems that come with her flaws. No news in this. This is always required of us as citizens, no matter how stellar the candidate, after every election.
Till then, I'm in, 100%, for Hillary Clinton, with a holy spirit of hallelujiah! 100% for Supreme Court nominees that will preserve abortion rights, consumer protections, voting rights, and protect us from big money in politics. 100% for preserving and extending Obamacare. 100% for massive investment in public infrastructure and the un-offshore-able jobs that will go with it. 100% for preserving and improving the public safety net for seniors, the disabled, and the poor. 100% for a sane, seasoned person to have control of the nation's nuclear arsenal, until we rid ourselves of that menace. 100% for a president who shows respect for ethnic and sexual minorities, and shows respect and offers cooperation with other nations in making the world secure. 100% for a president who takes science seriously in shaping public policy.
Commitment to Hillary Clinton's election can and ought to exceed our level of admiration for her qualities as a candidate. I was 100% for Barack Obama, too - a candidate whose qualities I admired 85%. Today, 100% enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton is necessary for the well-being of our fellow citizens, in America and around the world. The stakes are too high, the consequences too serious, to be half-hearted or even three-quarters hearted about her as we talk with our friends and relatives and colleagues about this election.
Let's all take deep breaths and open ourselves to an attitude adjustment, regardless of where we stood before the Democratic convention. Optimism isn't optional this time around!
I’m going to fight AGAINST my (diabetes/cancer/heart disease/aging process) with (money, prayer, medicine, exercise, therapy) and I’m going to beat it!
I aim to live in as much health as I can, and use every available approach to be healed, and I aim to get THROUGH what ails me gracefully, no matter what the result.
I’m going to put up an emotional wall AGAINST my partner or relative or co-worker so that he or she can’t hurt or disappoint me any more.
I’m going to engage with my partner or relative or co-worker so that we can work THROUGH our conflicts.
The Christ within us transforms AGAINST into THROUGH.
The cross is the central symbol of the Christian religion. Yet I know a lot of Christians would prefer to ignore it or avoid it. And for good reason. It is strange to be part of a religion that puts an instrument of torture and death at its very center. I’m not comfortable with it, either.
And yet that might be the very point. To take us out of our comfort zone, and get us to confront the tough realities of our existence. Instead of ignoring the cross, setting it aside in our minds as an obnoxious thing that just detracts from an otherwise nice religion of love and compassion; we do well to face it squarely. To recognize that it’s not just a strange symbol from 2000 years ago, but that indeed, each of us is on the cross with Jesus, one way or another.
So often, the only way out of that tough spot between the cross and a hard place is to go through it. I think of the cross in the same terms that St. Paul thought of it in his letter to the Ephesians. He said that salvation comes THROUGH the cross. It’s no good to fight against the crosses in our lives. So often, fighting against things is what puts us on the cross in the first place. We are fighting AGAINST our mortality, our emotions, our friends and enemies who fail us, fighting against them so hard that we get stuck in the fight, stuck in a state of resistance and tension and anger and angst. But if we can with open hearts face the truth of our struggle, see it for the cross that it is, we can go THROUGH the cross to its other side.
What are you fighting against, that you really need to go through?
WITH or FOR?
(FOR talks on a cell phone, away from communion table.)
(WITH touches communion table, facing it while talking.)
Hi honey! So you want to plant a vegetable garden in the backyard! I’m all FOR it. Oh! Incoming call! Catch you later!
I’ll plant that garden WITH you. When is a good time for both of us to start?
Hi! So you are running for city council! That is so great! I’m all FOR you! Oh! Incoming call! Catch you later!
I think you’ll make a great city council member. How can I work WITH your campaign?
Hi, Billy! So you’re having trouble with that term paper? No problem, Billy, I’ll call your tutor and I’m sure that for a little extra, she’ll write it FOR you. Oh! Incoming call! Catch you later!
Billy, I’d be happy to sit down WITH you and look over that term paper WITH you, and if you want some suggestions about how you might improve it, maybe I can help that way.
Thank you, Jesus for dying FOR my sins! All those years of acting like a jerk – you erased them FOR me! I promise that I’ll never sin again, but if I do, it sure is nice knowing you’ve taken care of it FOR me and that I get off scot-free from any consequences for the bad things I do! Oh! Incoming call! Catch you later!
Thank you, God, for reminding me, through the example and words of Jesus, that you are WITH me no matter how tough it gets, that you are WITH me when I fail to do the right thing and need forgiveness, that you WITH me, giving me inspiration to seek and to do the right thing, and that you are WITH me when others hurt me and lead me into forgiveness.
The Christ within us transforms FOR into WITH.
When President Carter reinstated the draft registration for young men, the memory of Vietnam was fresh. Many were either afraid the draft might start again or were angry about having to register. I was the associate minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Palo Alto at the time, and I volunteered to become the area’s primary source of draft counseling. My role was to explain the draft laws and procedures and to counsel young men who wanted to understand the system and make conscientious choices. A lot of my work was done on the phone, but some young men wanted to meet with me or our other draft counselors in person. One of those encounters is still fresh in my memory.
Although I suggested to him that its actual reinstatement was unlikely any time soon, this young man was very worried about the draft. He asked me a lot of questions about how the system worked, especially about conscientious objection, and I answered them. Finally, he asked me: “What should I do? I think I’m a conscientious objector. Should I register, or resist the draft and not register?”
And my answer was, “Conscientious objection is about just this: a personal conviction. It is up to you. Nobody can tell you what you should choose. It’s between you and the inner voice of conscience within you. And in any case, I really don’t have an opinion about what you ought to do.”
And his response was, “But I came to you for advice! Tell me what I ought to do!”
And I said, I’m here to give you information and support, but I’m not here to make up your mind FOR you. This is what it means to be conscientious: to make your own choice, on your own.”
And the look in his eyes, as he quietly pondered these words, was all the response I needed. I could see it sinking into him. I could tell that for him, at that very moment, childhood was over and adulthood had begun. For him, at that moment, a profound shift had occurred. I was there WITH him, but I didn’t flip the switch FOR him. I never found out what he decided. But that wasn’t nearly as important as what he had discovered in that moment. He found his conscience, and realized that it was up to him to listen to it and make his own choices.
A few years later, when I was working with homeless people, a couple with a little baby came to our drop-in center. The woman was young, but her face was worn. The man was a pretty rough-looking fellow. The baby was fussy. They sat down with me and the woman smiled toothlessly at me and said, “We come down to stay at his uncle’s, but his uncle got mad at me and threw us out on the street. We ain’t got no food. We ain’t got no diapers. We ain’t got no gas for the truck. We ain’t got nothing!” And she cheerfully asked, “Whatcha gonna do FOR us?”
I remember being uncharacteristically speechless. Just what could I do FOR them? I could write them a motel voucher to keep them off the street for a few days; that was before we developed a half-decent shelter system in the area. But then they’d be back on the street when the motel money ran out. I could tap a fund to pay for some gas, but the truck was on its last legs anyway. I could give them food. That was no problem; we could feed them indefinitely, but it wouldn’t solve their underlying problems of chronic poverty and homelessness and lack of life’s skills that resulted in making so many bad choices. Where would they cook the food I gave them? They could come to our soup kitchen every day for the rest of their lives, but what kind of a place was that for a baby? I looked at that baby and wished to God that I could do it all FOR the kid, much less the kid’s parents.
I did what I could. But the best I could do, besides vouchers and referrals, was to be WITH them. To listen to them, and show them compassion. To let them know I cared, and that I’d keep caring.
I tried to do what Jesus did with the people he served. His promise wasn’t to fix all their problems. He could only do healings FOR a few folks; the rest of the healing work was theirs. He could only find food FOR a few thousand hungry folks, for a few times. The rest of the hunger work was theirs. But he promised us all: “I am WITH you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
How do you need others to be or do “for” you? How do you need others to be or do “with” you?
If I were to condense a definition of mindfulness into a single word, agape would be the one.
Every time I teach a five-week mindfulness course for students and staff at USC, I introduce the class with a simple definition of the state we are trying to reach in the practice: a loving awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations, urges in the present moment, while letting go of judgments about them.
But what kind of love do we employ in mindfulness practice? It takes some explaining to my students. Love is a fraught word, with many meanings and shades of each.
The Greek words for love in the New Testament are “eros” - romantic love,“philia” - filial love or friendship, and “agape” - unconditional love – love no matter what. In 1 John 4:8, where it says “God is love”, the word for love is agape.
Mindfulness is this specific kind of love. It is deeply attentive, open, curious, engaged; inclined to enjoyment and delight, but willing to experience suffering as well as to commune with the suffering of others. It refrains from judgments or evaluations. It gently and appreciatively holds whom or what is observed without preconditions or assumptions or fixed definitions. What is, as it is, it allows to be. It does not grasp or clutch. It affords freedom to whom and to what it attends. It is not focused on fixing or changing people or things.
Agape is God. Agape is prayer. Agape is mindfulness. Agape is the love we practice in mindful prayer.
My shoes fell soundlessly on the brown pine needles blanketing the trail following the course of the Deschutes River in eastern Oregon. Green pine needles, vibrating in the breeze, acted as vocal chords for the sighing trees. My body flowed up and down the trail, around rocks and logs, through meadows and forest. The big river tumbled and churned around a rough, rugged, black island formed in a lava flow 6,200 years ago. Farther along, the water spread into peaceful eddies gliding past a grassy shore where red-winged blackbirds chirped and flitted. Mountain air was no impediment to the intensity of the sun's radiation: cool in shadows, hot in spangles of light between trees.
The 12th c Carthusian French monk, Guigo II, described the spiritual life as climbing a ladder. The steps were lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio – reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. This “ladder” has defined Christian spiritual discipline ever since. I climbed it as I hiked.
Lectio: observing the wilderness around me as I walked. St. Bonaventure, a 13th century Italian theologian, wrote that "there are two books... or better, there are two readings of the same book: one writes interiorly, which is the art and eternal wisdom of God, and the other writes exteriorly, which is the sensible world.” Bonaventure said that there is one sacred book, which can be read in two forms - through the reading of scripture, or through the reading of nature. On my hike, I read nature.
Meditatio: letting what I read in nature sink into me, deeper and deeper. My hike was a form of the lectio divina, a meditative way of reading the Bible in which the text is repeated aloud, slowly and deliberately, in order to let it take its course through the mind and heart. To the repetition of footsteps, the parade of trees, the roar of the river, the aroma of the pines and the scent of the flowering ceanothus I paid closer and closer attention.
Oratio: I sought awareness of the presence of God as I walked. Prayer is conscious desire for communion with the divine. And it is a wanting that is simultaneously a having. As the anonymous author of the 14th century English spiritual classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, wrote: “The will needs only a brief fraction of a moment to move toward the object of its desire... The aptitude for this work is one with the work; they are identical… You possess it to the extent that you will and desire to possess it, no more and no less.”
Contemplatio: Words and a tune welled up from within me: "All flows 'round the One who knows all flows 'round the One who knows all flows...." I began to know the One who knew what I was knowing. I sensed the flow that went 'round the quiet Center of all experience. That Center was my center, but at the same time was the center of every person who passed me on the trail, every bird that raced in a burst of color through the air, every tree I passed as I walked. And at the center of every atom of every molecule of each tree. As I walked in contemplative union with God, I chanted: "All flows 'round the One who knows...."
(A sound recording of the chant is attached at the bottom of this post - use freely with attribution!)
(Progressive churches -- let's do our part to end the "bathroom wars" and stand up for full LGBT equality! Through Progressive Christians Uniting, you can order "all gender" bathroom signs at a deep discount, and get publicity for it at a national level. Click HERE for details.)
"Love the sinner, but hate the sin."
This phrase has been used countless times by some Christians to pretend to offer welcome to LGBT people while condemning the natural consequence of the way God made them. It speaks for a shallow kind of love at most: one that claims to be okay with a person's same-sex orientation while stigmatizing its fulfillment. This noxious phrase also summarizes the underlying attitude of many people of other religions towards sexual minorities.
It is a phrase whose time has come - and gone. More than ever, it needs to be excised from the vocabulary of faith, once and for all, as it pertains to homosexuality.
What happened in Orlando can be interpreted in many ways and at many levels. One of them surely is as an act of unspeakably violent hatred against gay people, motivated in part by a twisted interpretation of a religion. This horrifying massacre happens against the backdrop of a backlash against increased acceptance of LGBT people in American society: hundreds of anti-LGBT laws have been passed at the state and local level in the last few months. This mass murder and this rash of legalized bigotry remind us that religion continues to be part of the homophobia problem.
Things are changing fast. Young people who have grown up in evangelical churches are increasingly mystified that their pastors still believe homosexual sex to be sinful. Fewer and fewer of these young evangelicals are going with the "culture war" program, as more and more of them maintain friendships with lovely, caring LGBT people who are in obviously healthy same-sex sexual relationships.
And more and more of these young evangelicals, both straight and gay, are getting disgusted with the faux welcome that their pastors and churches offer to LGBT people. There is a category of evangelical churches that take great pains to appear culturally relevant. They look and feel like places that would be LGBT-friendly, and make no mention of homosexuality in their sermons and websites. But eventually both gay and straight folks discover that these churches claim to love the homosexual sinner but hate the sin of homosexual sex. Mosaic Church in Hollywood is an example. You have to probe deep into the internet to discover that this groovy congregation with hipster decor and Hollywood production values is really a Southern Baptist church. Its pastor, Erwin McManus, in an LA Times interview, described homosexuality as a "lifestyle", which is fundamentalist code language for a "choice" rather than something intrinsic to a person's very being.
Fake love and empty welcome need to be named for what they are. Let's save gay people and their straight allies the pain and hassle of going to churches that pretend to be what they aren't. It's time to love Christian homophobes while outing them for their homophobia. And it can be a genuine love, because homophobia is not part of who they are. It really is a choice! Abstaining from homophobia deprives them of nothing but delusion for themselves and pain for others.
There's at least one thing that progressive Christians can do right now to go public with a truly loving form of the faith. A simple thing: posting all-gender signs on our church restrooms. Let's show America that we have gone beyond the bathroom wars, and that we stand for full LGBT inclusion and affirmation. Through Progressive Christians Uniting, you can order the signs at a deep discount, and get publicity for it at a national level. Click HERE for details.
A young man rapidly walked into the parking lot of our drop in center just as we locked up for the day. We had served 60 hamburgers and a lot of other donated food, witnessed dozens of stories, and distributed a load of donated socks to homeless people who took off their holey or decomposed ones, tossed them in the garbage, and put on the new ones. This young man, one of our regulars, didn't make it until the food and socks were gone and the folding chairs were tucked away neatly in the back of the motor home that served as our headquarters.
He was a lost soul from the South who migrated to California to live with his brother and seek a better life. But his brother turned him on to crack cocaine, got them both evicted, and introduced him to the world of the streets instead.He got into fist and knife fights. He was in and out of hospitals and jails.But he was a hard worker.When he was straight, when he wasn't institutionalized, he always held jobs, sometimes two or three at a time. He was helpful at our center; he brought listings for our job board in order to help the others find work. He helped with the cleaning and the cooking. He was a lost soul from the South who migrated to live with his brother and seek a better life. But his brother turned him on to crack, got them both evicted, and introduced him to the world of the streets instead.
"What, no food, Jim? I gotta eat."
"Sorry, but it's all gone.Our food closet is closed, too, at this hour. But in a few hours our soup kitchen will be open."
"Forget it!" he yelled. "I gotta eat now. I'm starved. I've been working all day at my job, and I'm not going to wait. Don't worry about me, I'll just go and steal something." He spun and raced back downtown before I could plea for his patience.
Such was the service that we provided at the Urban Ministry of Palo Alto when I was its director in the 1980’s and 90’s. We didn't fix his cocaine dependence. We didn't end his homelessness. But we received and honored his story. We acknowledged his experience of the meaning of his circumstances. After all, it wasn't everywhere that a man could feel comfortable announcing his plans to rip off a supermarket.
He came back the next morning and apologized for his frustration the night before. "I went and ate dinner at the church last night, and I didn't steal anything." He had told me lies before, and this might have been another one. But I accepted his apology, which I needed less than his affirmation of our relationship.After a good chat, he ate some of the breakfast food we offered at our drop in center, and went off to do his day.
In my years of serving homeless and other people in crisis on the streets, there were many times when I succumbed to the temptation to use phrases like "down on their luck", "just having a hard time", “made bad choices” or "people like us who happen to be in trouble".But explaining their circumstances in these terms did not honor the meanings their stories had for them. The events of their lives were rich with significance, if only I had ears to hear them.Even their lies were worth noting.Often I was able to listen for truth they told in choosing which of the many untruths they could have told.Being mindful of these meanings was a high form of service to them.
Was this young man a criminal, a drug addict, a mother's loving son, a faithful brother, a good worker, or one of those homeless people whose "plight" was decried in the papers? A person might be defined as merely homeless, and afforded all manner of charity. The next day, that same person might get arrested for an old warrant and be defined as a criminal, one of those drunk drivers that mothers are against, one of the reviled dealers or users of dope, one of those awful wife- and child- beaters. The public begrudges feeding in jail the same anonymous people they are glad to feed in the soup kitchen. This irony is not lost on homeless people; they know when they are not being treated as individuals, that their personal stories are not heard and valued.
Mindful prayer and service to other people are one and the same spiritual discipline:paying attention with intense interest and an open, caring, non-judgmental heart.
Many saints of the Church’s history appear to have had contempt for their own bodies. The mortifications to which they subjected their flesh are incomprehensibly grotesque to Christians today. It is hard to reconstruct the cultural milieu in which these mortifications had meaning and purpose. There is a lingering disdain of the body still evident in most branches of the faith, and it is problematic. For too long we have viewed our faith as just a head-trip. We Christians need to take better care of the rest of ourselves, and to embody our spirituality more fully.
It turns out that correctives to this problem can be found in the mystical tradition. The early 16th century Spanish Franciscan lay brother and medical doctor, Bernardino de Laredo, wrote an elaborate treatise about the way God manifests in the inner workings of the human body. In his “Ascent of Mount Zion”, working within the constraints of physiology at the time, Laredo taught that self-knowledge begins with understanding how God dwells and works within and through the organs and processes of one’s body. Physiology was Laredo’s interpretive key to a mystical theology of the incarnation of God in the Christ. By knowing the body in contemplation, one could directly experience this incarnation, and through it know God. By attending in great detail to one’s physical suffering, whether self-inflicted or not, the mystics could enter into the experience of Jesus in his crucifixion, and through it could join him in spiritual union with God. For these mystics, the body was a precious gift in which God lived, moved, and delivered them into divine presence.
Perhaps the mystic with the most radical experience of God’s presence in the human body was Hadewijch, a 13th century Dutch member of one of the women’s lay religious communities called the “beguines”: “I desired that God should be with me so that I should be fulfilled together with him… he came to me himself and took me completely in his arms and pressed me to him. And all my limbs felt his limbs in the full satisfaction that my heart and my humanity desired. Then I was externally completely satisfied to the utmost satiation.” Hadewijch and Jesus Christ had orgasms together, it would appear. While this seems wildly salacious today, it was just a point on a continuum of physical ecstasies experienced by mystical Christians in that era. Despite the Neoplatonic division of the physical from the spiritual that infected the Church, there always have been Christian mystics who kept body and soul together through keen, cultivated mindfulness.
A mindful kind of Christianity incorporates the body in prayer. It starts with a present awareness of our physical condition, our bodily sensations, with warm, caring, non-judgmental attentiveness. Here is pain in the arm: exactly what is that pain like? From exactly where does it radiate? Here is the sensation of the chest swelling with breathing in; here is the sensation of the belly relaxing when exhaling out. Observing the body with loving, intense interest is a powerfully effective way to train oneself in mindful prayer. Beginning and ending prayer with body awareness is a way to ground the practice in the here and the now. It is a way to celebrate the divine gift of our physicality.
I regularly experience a kind of physical ecstasy in mindfulness prayer, a bodily thrill of releasing the ego, sensing the physical presence of the divine Presence, and knowing the Knower. Whenever I have this sublime experience I find myself wondering why I don’t go there all the time! But I have come to understand that the value and benefit of mindfulness practice is not just to be found on the mountaintop. It is a spiritual practice that, over time, suffuses everything I do., physically and mentally.