Today is Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter (for the Western Church). Lent comes from a German word for “lengthening.” The spring is coming and the sunlight days are lengthening as life returns. This is a time for introspection and mediation on the Lord, in honor and communion with Christ. It is also an excellent opportunity to talk about Christian dieting and fasting. For the Great Church, Lent was the beginning of the Great Fast. This great feast is still observed in the Eastern Churches. Basically, that means that you follow a vegan diet. Orthodox Christians still observe vegan fasting or dieting on most Wednesdays and Fridays of the week. It’s more complicated than that, but over time the fasting tradition in Christianity slackened or disappeared entirely. Today, many Christians will observe Lent through some form of abstinence, AKA “Giving up something for Lent.” That is great, but here at PraXis, we emphasize that Christian Fasting is a spiritual practice that moves you towards God AND is healthy for you, if you do it right.
Now is the best time of the year for Christians to look at mindful eating and a plant-based diet as part of spiritual practice. In the coming weeks, we will post more about fasting. But for now, consider a Lent fasting challenge of your own. Considering following some of these guidelines for a fasting challenge of the length you chose:
A strict ancient fast (no dairy, meat, alcohol, seasonings, or oil)
Plant-based diet of whole foods, “angelic diet” or Genesis diet (Genesis 1:29, 3:18)
Eliminate meat, dairy, processed and high carb/sugar foods a day or two each week
Whatever diet you chose, combining it with not eat to “satiety.” This is a great way to exercise portion control and become mindful of your eating and your body. You simply stop eating before you feel full. Remember, most first Christians were poor, and most poor people did not eat meat or eat until they could not get one more bite in. Official feasts were usually the time when they got to overeat and had the luxury of eating meat. Today we feast every day and rarely fast. But the two were meant to go together.
Self-love, the “Divine Network” and Hope with Pastor Andru Morgan
Our Special Guest, Pastor Andru Morgan, spoke to us on the eve of Christmas Eve last year. He had a message to share from God on how to get through such a challenging year. How do you center yourself and place boundaries so that you do not let negativity in?
Even though this recording is from last year, it seems like 2021 has not been all that different. We are not yet out of the darkness of this season. So, we thought we would share this discussion and Andru’s message of hope, self-love and how we plug into the divine network that lifts our spirits up through contemplation.
Pastor Morgan was raised in the Pentecostal community in Kansas City and Tulsa before moving to Portland. He is currently the head pastor at Parkrose United Methodist Church. Morgan is the theological mentor to Cornelius Swart for the PraXis project. We hope you find him as inspiring as we do.
Last week we had a great time with Phil Vestal of Ruah Space, an online space for spiritual practices, including Christian Mindfulness, embodied prayer and fitness. In the above video you want watch Phil with the group and exercise along with us. We end up with a 20 minutes silent prayer. It’s a pretty good session. Jamie and I have been doing the Ruah Space exercises in combination with Centering Prayer (Mindfulness) for the last few days and it’s been great.
I’m a Christian convert of about 7 years now. My parents were non-practicing Christians, one Episcopal and one Catholic. I came to Christianity after years of New Age meandering and a few years practicing Buddhism at a Chinese community in Portland, Oregon.
Yoga is a super broad area from an ancient civilization that predates Christianity. It can’t be painted in broad strokes. I think some concerns Christians have about Yoga are valid. But just to get triggered by anything associated with the word Yoga is alarmist. We should talk with some precision.
The current Christian civilizational encounter with Yoga reminds me of the early Church as it wrestled with what to make of Greek Philosophy. Was it all pagan? Was some of it valid? Ultimately, the Church in the West said that some philosophy was just as valid when applied to Christianity as it was when applied to the pagan world. I’m thinking mostly of Aristotle. It took them hundreds of years to get there. I think today Christianity is still in the sorting out process when it comes to Yoga. Yoga has a fitness element, mindfulness elements, a worship element and much more. The point is to parse out what is and is not compatible with Christian spirituality and not throw the baby out with the bath water.
Here is a response to the question “Can Christians do Yoga” that we got on our FB page:
I used to believe that, but with more spiritual direction and prayerful discernment I have come to see and believe that any form of Yoga is harmful to the Christian spirit. [Quoting a website] “One indication of yoga’s spiritual nature is the way it affects practitioners over time. The International Journal of Yoga published the results of a national survey in Australia. Physical postures (asana) comprised about 60 percent of the yoga they practiced; 40 percent was relaxation (savasana), breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation, and instruction. The survey showed very significant results: although most respondents commonly began yoga for reasons of physical health, they usually continued it for reasons of spirituality. In addition, the more people practiced yoga, the more likely they were to decrease their adherence to Christianity and the more likely they were to adhere to non-religious spirituality and Buddhism.”
Personally having spent a lot of time with “New Age” spirituality and having converted to Christianity from Buddhism, I think this is a great comment to work with. First off, the comments is quote a Christian fitness group called Pietra. This exercise regime is actually no different from what last week’s guests were calling Christian Yoga. The only difference is that the other group calls their modality Pietra. They admit most of the moves are from Asana Yoga.
From what I’ve gathered most people don’t have a problem with stretching. Asana Yoga is just that. I’d be hard pressed to see people converted to another religion because they are watching the yoga practices over at our favorite secular fitness websites FitnessBlender.
The trouble comes in when you are practicing Yoga, with a group that is also practicing Vedic, Buddhist or New Age spirituality. That’s not a problem in and of itself. The problem comes if you are a committed Christian, and now engaged in someone else’s spiritual practices. It’s like having the free lunch at the mosque each week, just to get something to eat— don’t be surprised if you convert to Islam after a while. Phil and his wife Erin [see video above] say instructors are pretty upfront with what they are teaching. So just ask.
As Phil says in his presentation last week, “every group has an intention, know what it is.” And that’s really it. There should be no danger working Yoga with a group like FitnessBlender or 24HourFitness whose’s intention is 100 percent fitness for its own sake. By the same turn, a Christian group that is incorporating asana into a prayerful embodied prayer and fitness practice are not sell outs or syncretists, or sheep in wolf’s clothing. These folks, whether they are Ruah Space, or Pietra or RevelationWellness, have set an intention to unite fitness and Christian spirituality.
Phil and Erin’s Three Things to Avoid in Yoga: 1) Avoid classes that have a spiritual context. Go with the fitness class. 2) Avoid Kundalini Yoga (energy and breath work) 3) Avoid the Sanskrit names for the postures, only because of them them imply veneration of Vedic spirits.
The Slippery Slope
The Devil is in the details. Both the Pietra site and Phil’s discourse on the POD points to things in Yoga that might seem benign but that can take you off the Way of Christ. These are Kundalini Yoga, energy work, certain forms of breath work, any kind of meditation that involves reciting the names of, invoking the names of, praising the name of, or visualizing other spirits such as Vishnu, Ganesh, or Buddhist Saints like the Amitabh Buddha.
Kundalini and elaborate breath work can be particularly tricky. These forms of “energy work” do not necessarily involve the invocation of a named spirit. However, they can be very powerful forms of triggering altered states of consciousness, or at least, opening up transcendental experiences. What’s wrong with that?
Well, in my experiences, you just don’t want to blow open your psyche like that if you are not with a community you trust, and if you are not fully in the presence of God: The Creator of the Universe and your Savior Jesus Christ. It’s kind of like, it’s ok to go out and drink a little, but your don’t want to find yourself drunk beyond all self control, far from home and in a room full of people, that you suddenly realize, you really don’t know. Anything could happen.
For the most part, I think you are safe with those Christians who have done the work to parse out the safe space for you. Also, groups that are purely fitness oriented, like a gym, or FitnessBlender are also safe. Everything else, I would stay away from, at least for the next few hundred years while we figure things out.
These exercise tips are from my personal experience and have served me well throughout the years of my practice as a martial artist. I share because these lessons were learned the hard way and hopefully they can help you begin or continue your exercise habits.
Back in Madison, Wis. I was taught a form of Brazilian martial arts known as capoeira. I found that the exercise, community and discipline of the art form was both a fitness routine but also a spiritual journey. It kept me connected me with my body, and through my body I was able to experience of sense of awe in others and the world.
From my experience exercise is always more difficult when you do it alone. I’ve found that it’s always helpful to work out with someone else. That person should be someone you trust. Someone with whom you share your fitness goals and hopefully can join you on your exercise adventures. During the pandemic, it might not be possible to have someone else, so you may find that a virtual group such as the Praxis group, apps or social media may suffice to hold you to your next exercise challenge.
Work through the soreness
Have you heard of ‘no pain, no gain’? Well, there’s some truth to that…and take it with a grain of salt. When we work out, our muscle fibers tear and rebuild. That’s how we gain strength and appear more toned. If you pushed yourself yesterday and you find you have some muscle soreness (not pain, we will talk about that next), it can be most helpful for your body (and mind) to have an ‘active rest.’ This movement could be light cardio, stretching, light strength training or training a different muscle group. This helps circulate blood to muscle fibers and increase mobility so feel less stiffness.
The Rule of 3 Pains
This is not my tip, but is from a fellow martial artist. If I knew this when I was in the height of my training, I believe I could have avoided some injuries that still plague me. The Rule of 3 Pains is simple and goes like this. When you feel pain the first time, keep going. If we always stopped when something got difficult, we would get nowhere. When you feel pain the second time, notice it, be aware of your body mechanics and get curious. Why do you think you’re having this pain? Check your form. Is it compromised? When you feel pain the third time, take a break. It’s your body’s way of getting your attention to avoid a potential injury.
Create a Habit
Whether you’re new at exercise or you’ve fallen out of the routine, it’s important to move your body. In order to ensure that you have movement every day is to create a routine of it. One way to do that is to do it every day at the same time. This way your mind and body habituate to a time of the day and help you regulate your energy throughout the day. Another way to create a habit of exercise if to pair it with an existing habit. I used to pair brushing my teeth in the morning with exercise. It was a fail safe way to cue my mind and body for exercise. It’s just as important for our health as brushing our teeth.
Keep it Interesting
Whether you’ve been exercising all your life or you’re new at it, get curious about your body and your surroundings. Exercise doesn’t have to be a boring monotonous movement. It can be fun and can involve the whole family and pets. Create games, make yourself work harder to get places like walking, riding bicycles, or racing. If you’re a seasoned athlete, you could purchase some new equipment or search the internet for the latest and greatest exercise blend or craze. Changing it up a bit could be enough to get you through a plateau.
This Wed, at 6 pm PST our Zoom group will be led by Pastor Phil Vestal co-director of Ruah Space. He will take us through some moves and talk with us about what he refers to as “Christian Yoga.” Be prepared to move around a little. We might do a combination of both yoga before Centering Prayer and/or Yoga DURING Centering Prayer. It should make for a very engaging session of movement and mindfulness.
Jamie and I advocate for 20-30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week, as part of your prayer life. Ideally, you would exercise before your mindful prayer or contemplation. Yoga, specifically, the ancient Vedic practice of Asana, or stretching postures that we commonly call Yoga was initially designed to prepare the body for meditation (what Christians call contemplation).
For now you can find our podcast on Anchor.FM. Soon the little pods will start fanning out across the internet to platforms like iTune and Spotify. Give it some time. You also find the pods on our new YouTube Channel.
Episode 1: Our session with Rich Lewis: Pennsylvania-based Centering Prayer coach, and author of Sitting with God: A Journey to Your True Self Through Centering Prayer. Rich tells us how he came to learn silent prayer and the group discusses some of the finer points of this form of mindfulness. Then we all practice our silent prayer for 20 minutes. So, this podcast is …20 minutes of pure silence! We know. Innovative!
Welcome to the new year! If you want some relief from the stress, distraction, and isolation that 2020 (and now 2021) has thrown our way, we invite you to join our PraXis online group on Zoom and MeetUp.
Our Zoom group meets once a week, Wednesday 6 pm PST/9 pm EST. But we are also considering adding an earlier time on another day for those not on the West Coast.
This week we will begin our exploration of the Body. Over the course of the next few months we talk more about light exercise and how this can affect your mindfulness practice. Towards the spring, we will discuss fasting (which just means restricting what you eat, not giving up food entirely) in the run-up to Great Lent.
Along the way, we will invite members to various challenges— perhaps a 30-day exercise and mindfulness challenge, or a 30-day mindfulness and Daniel Fast challenge.
This Wednesday, we will kick off our New Year session with a short discussion on Interoception. This is our sense of inner awareness. In mindfulness, we become aware of our thoughts as we discern spirits, and humbly sit in the presence of God. Interoception is a way of describing our state of inner perception– how clear in the lens through which we view our inner states. For example, often we jumble physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts all together in one big lump. This lump then propels us to actions that say, “I’m Mad! I’m Want That! I’m Hungry!!!!” Introception describes how aware of the reasons we might be mad, why we might want something, why we might be hungry…even though we just ate.
After our discussion on this we will do a body-scan meditation. This will be a recorded guided meditation by Irene Kraegal. Kregel is a clinical psychologist who “speaks, teaches, and writes about the intersection of mindfulness practice and Christian faith.”
We highly recommend her site. This meditation will just get us oriented to thinking and feeling the bodies we have and how, this body has come to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
All times Pacific Standard Time 5:50 – 6:00 pm – Orientation for newcomers 6:00 – 6:05 pm – Chat as people filter in 6:05 – 6:10 pm – Introception 6:10 pm time uncertain- 20- Guided Meditation, body scan 6:30 – Eyes open, sharing, benediction, and depart.
…and so, you binge-watch. What else can you do? The other day Jamie and I watched the Man Who Invented Christmas. It’s a fanciful, fictionalized account of real-life author Charles Dickens and his trials and challenges in writing A Christmas Carol [think Scrooge]. It’s often been said that Dickens took a minor religious holiday, Christ-mass, and turned it into a global semi-secular phenomenon.
It’s old hat now to say there’s no Christ in Christmas [Christ is never mentioned in the movie]. And as I always say, my favorite cartoon Christmas special is A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s got the Spirit. And it’s the only show to include actual bible verses in the story.
I, for one, like that semi-secular Christmas out there spreading good cheer, even during these dark times of COVID, quarantine, and chaos. That’s the way God would want it. He would also say, “More piñatas!” But I also like the distinction some Christians make between Christmas and the Νativity, the feast in remembrance of the birth of the Lord.
Pastor Andru Morgan is a good friend of the family and spiritual mentor to me. He’s the pastor at Parkrose United Methodist Church. We’ll be blessed this week as he joins us to preach on the day the Word was born. Then we will go into our regular 20-minute mindfulness session of Centering Prayer.
All times Pacific Standard Time 5:50 – 6:00 pm – Orientation for newcomers 6:00 – 6:05 pm – Chat as people filter in 6:05 – 6:25 pm – Anru’s talk and time for questions 6:30 pm time uncertain- 20- minute silent practice 6:50 – 7:00 pm – Eyes open, sharing, benediction, and depart.
May peace and stillness be upon you this Advent. Merry Christmas, see you soon. In XP Cornelius
Salve! This week’s Christian Mindfulness session will include a presentation by author and Centering Prayer coach Rich Lewis. He’ll give a short talk, take questions, and then lead us into and out of our mindfulness practice. The session will be recorded for our upcoming podcast.
Rich has published articles for numerous publications, including Contemplative Light, Abbey of the Arts, Contemplative Outreach, EerdWord, In Search of a New Eden, the Ordinary Mystic at Patheos, and the Contemplative Writer. Rich’s newest book is titled, Sitting with God: A Journey To Your True Self Through Centering Prayer. He teaches centering prayer in both his local and virtual community and offers one-on-one coaching through his website www.SilenceTeaches.com.
I feel immensely blessed that Rich is available to speak with us. Rich is a rising star in the mindfulness world. He and I did some coaching sessions a few years back. He was incredibly helpful in keeping me on track and pushing me to go deeper with my practice. If you have never worked with a coach or spiritual director before, I highly recommend it. Like any coach or physical trainer, a mindfulness coach will help you with blindspots- making sure you have your basic form correct, answering questions, and most of all, motivating you to keep up with your practice.
He publishes a weekly meditation, book reviews, and interviews on his site, Silence Teaches.
Here’s what to expect:
All times Pacific Standard Time 5:50 – 6:00 pm – Orientation for newcomers 6:00 – 6:05 pm – Chat as people filter in 6:05 – 6:25 pm – Rich’s talk and time for questions 6:30 pm time uncertain- 20- minute silent practice 6:50 – 7:00 pm – Eyes open, sharing, benediction and depart.
We hope to see you there. Please sign on five minutes early if you are new to mindfulness and contemplative prayer. We also suggest you read the following
Lectio Divina is a method of reading Scripture as reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. It is a natural bridge between traditional scripture reading and supplicant prayer to the more challenging noetic or mental prayer of practices like Centering and/or Ceaseless Prayer.
With Advent in mind, Cornelius will lead off with a short exploration of the intersection of Abiding, or waiting on the Lord the Spirit, and abiding in the stillness in our contemplative prayer.
This will be followed by a 5 minute Lectio Divina on a passage from Scripture, and then silent prayer.
Opening: Wait on the Lord: 5 minutes Lectio Divina:5 minutes Silence: 20 minutes Prayer of Thanksgiving Sharing Benediction
Lectio Divina Instructions
The Bible passage will be read four times. We will pause between each reading as you reflect on the Word. You may speak up, if the reader calls for it, or you may respond silently in your heart as you are prompted.
Listen with full attention to the Bible passage and notice what word or phrase stands out to you. Repeat that word or phrase over and over within, allowing it to settle deeply in your heart.
Reflect and relish the words with an attitude of quiet receptiveness. Allow the Word to come alive within you and be attentive to any thought or reflection about it that arises and is meaningful to you. Where does the content of this reading touch your life today?
Respond spontaneously as you continue to listen to a word, phrase, or sentence. Silently offer any prayer of praise, thanksgiving, or petition that may arise, then return to repeating the word in your heart.
Rest in the Word, allowing God to speak in the silence of your heart. Simply be with God’s presence as you open yourself to a deeper hearing of the Word of God.
We hope to see you there. Please sign on five minutes early if you are new to mindfulness and contemplative prayer. We also suggest you read the following.