Intro: What is Christian Mindfulness? [Part 1 of 3]

There are many Christian contemplative practices (like walking a labyrinths) that can be considered mindfulness exercises.

PraXis explores evidence-based wellness practices in exercise, diet, and mindfulness as they relate to the ancient Christian tradition of askesis or spiritual training. Wellness addresses two core chronic health problems in America: heart-related disease, and mild anxiety and depression. In this post, we’ll introduce you to practices that contribute to our emotional and mental health, while deepening our relationship with God.

Before we can jump into what that mindfulness bit might look like, we’ll need to define some terms.

“Be still and know that I am God,” Psalm 46:10

Contemplation: Contemplation is an ancient Christian practice, but most don’t know much about it. This type of prayer is referred to as mental, wordless, imageless, silent, or noetic prayer. Contemplation is different from other common forms of active prayer, in which we spontaneously or through written words praise God or ask for something, i.e., supplication, intercession, confession, etc. In contemplative prayer we are sitting in silence, and without words or thoughts, we open ourselves and wait on the presence of God. 

“Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act.” Psalm 37:7

You might see contemplation in terms of the form of prayer that the Jews refer to as Tifalah, or join with the divine. Or we can look at the Latin word, con-templatio, which denotes con– (to join with) and templi (the temple). A nice way to think about it is that in contemplation we are engaged in the most sacred of actions: waiting on the presence of the Lord, in the same spirit that temple priests in Jerusalem use to enter the Holy of Holies once a year to encounter the Earthly presence of God. Contemplation is a spiritual act of intimacy with God that occurs in the deepest and most profound state of our own mental silence.  


“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” Joshua 1:8

In the Christian context, Meditation means to think profoundly on something.

Meditation: Meditation is a very confusing term, because it means different things depending on if you are a Christian or a non-Christian. Here, the term means actively thinking about or pondering a specific question, issue, or text. The scriptures say to meditate on the Bible every day.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a clinical term for the human ability to be fully present and aware of our thoughts and emotions on a moment-to-moment basis, without reacting to or judging these thoughts or emotions. We are mindful when we are not carried away with our own thoughts and emotions. You can think of this as watching your own thoughts and emotions as they come and go. Clinical research indicates that mindfulness practices lead to reduction in stress.

How are these things related?

Contemplation is not like other forms of prayer, in which your use words to praise God, or ask for Grace.

Contemplation is a form of spiritual training in which we learn to sit in silence and wait on the Lord. And that training essentially strengthens our ability to concentrate, while relaxing our tendency to react to our own thoughts and emotions prematurely. The process of strengthening and stretching our mental muscles is referred to as neuroplasticity. Increased neuroplasticity makes us more resilient to stress and less susceptible to anxiety and depression.

We’ll go into greater depths in other posts, but what is important to know at this time is that as we practice contemplative silence, we learn to let our thoughts just drift by. Eventually our thoughts slow down, and this opens a silent mental space in which we can encounter the Holy Spirit. Practicing this silence also allows us to respond to everyday life with more mental/emotional calm.

Christian Mindfulness: We are going to use this term to refer to anything that moves us along the path toward silence as we wait on the Lord. There are lots of forms of prayer, including labyrinth walking, and forms of Scripture reading like Lectio Divina, that move us toward silence without you having to actually sit in complete silence all the time. So if you are terrified of silence, don’t worry. There are alternative ways to ease into this at your own pace.

We’ll explore some of the health benefits of mindfulness and look at some forms of Christian Mindfulness in the next post. Hope you keep reading.


Published by Cornelius Swart

Master in Public and Pastoral Leadership Fitness and Wellness Coach in Training 200 RYT Yoga Instructor (former journalist)

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