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.
This Wednesday night’s Christian Mindfulness session will host a visit from my dear friend, Rev. Aaron Miller. Aaron is the Lead Minister of University Hill Congregation, a progressive Christian church located at the University of British Columbia campus. Aaron is part of a network of church programs that includes embodied practices such as Yoga Chapel. Aaron recently created a pub theology event called Foxes & Fowl. His church also produces a beautiful wall calendar, filled with local art, that starts the year with Advent, Dec 1 and organizes itself around the liturgical year. I suggest you check it out. I’m breaking mine out today.
Miller and I became friends when I made regular trips up to the Vancouver School of Theology, where he has an office. Over the last year and a half, I’ve come to know Aaron, his wife Kate, and their two wonderful sons and been humbled by their generosity and strength of Spirit. Miller will speak for about 15 minutes before silent prayer.
The other day, a Christian man shared an amazing religious experience that he had had while practicing walking contemplation.
On this site, we’ve talked about various forms of Christian mindfulness. Walking contemplation is commonly done in a labyrinth. But this experience shows how many ways there are to practice mindfulness and how profound the experience can be.
About three weeks ago, I was in a group discussing the benefits of doing about 20–30 minutes of light exercise before one’s prayer. I mentioned that Asana Yoga was originally intended to prepare the body for contemplation (aka yoga-style meditation). This was a group of older folks, and we talked a little about tai chi and exercises that older people can do. “It can be as simple as walking for 20 minutes before your prayer,” I said.
This sparked a fascinating exchange of email afterward. One humble Christian man, who wished to remain anonymous, shared an extraordinary theophany while walking and reciting the Rosary.
“I paid close attention to Cornelius’ current research involving physical activity with spirituality via Centering Prayer. Combining Centering Prayer with Tai Chai is a promising combination – I wish him luck.
I have an exercise routine that mostly includes walking around in the basement while saying the Rosary. Not all that many years ago, I would say the Rosary while running. Then as I got older, I said the Rosary while walking outside. Now it is usually saying the Rosary while walking up and down the driveway or walking from one end of the basement to the other. So – I have for about 30 years combined spiritual activity with physical activity.
I [recently] had an email conversation with [name of a female priest withheld] recently, where she said she also usually said the Rosary while walking.
About a month or so ago, after saying one of the Rosaries while walking in the basement, I continued walking while trying to impose silence/(no thought) in my mind. After a few minutes, I “saw” Jesus walking beside me adjacent to my right shoulder. He mimicked every move I made as though we were moving in complete tandem. There was some humor as a few times when I moved or did a circle to the right while he did an exact mirror image opposite to the left – we exchanged smiles, and both considered this as true humor. This continued for perhaps several minutes, and we only communicated by looking at each other and using facial expressions – mostly smiles – it was obvious that there would be no verbal communication.
The message I received from the “communication” was that God is always with us in complete tandem, experiencing everything exactly as we do. The experience was, for me, definitely real. Somehow via heavenly power, I trust this is true for all the almost 8 billion of us currently living here on Earth.”
-Anon. Contemplative Christian
Truly amazing. But I am sure this kind of experience isn’t that unique, as I find Christians tend to be very hush-hush about their spiritual encounters. Thank you, sir, for sharing this expereince with us and our readers.
PraXis doesn’t promote mysticism or aim for such lofty things as visions of God. We endorse the use of Centering Prayer or other forms of contemplative mindfulness as a way of deepening our relationship with God, while cultivating the resilience to depression and anxiety that these practices also yield.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” Matthew 6:16
Fasting isn’t self-torture; it’s an ancient spiritual practice that improves our health while cultivating our intimacy with God. In remembrance of Christ, we recommend eating a “biblical” dairy-free, meat-free Christian meal two days a week, or any time you complete your session of light exercise and contemplative prayer.
As we’ve said before, nearly 25 percent of all US deaths each year are related to heart disease. Almost 72% of Americans are overweight or obese. Seventy percent of Americans also identify as Christians. We can’t say they are the same folks, but there must be a major overlap. Clearly, something has to change with how Americans eat. But that can be a hard pill to swallow.
Plant-based diets are not some trendy fad. They are part of ancient Christian practices. They are, uh, also a trendy fad. But, the wellness benefits of a plant-based diet is a scientific fact. It can:
reduce cancer risk
reduce inflammation in the body
help maintain a healthy weight
But it’s tough to change what we eat. Food can reflect our identity. We can find ourselves inextricably linked to our culture, traditions, and upbringing through the ritual of breaking bread. Whether we carry forth these values in our adult lives or teach what we’ve learned to our children, the prospect of changing our eating habits can be hard and even frightening.
The words “diet” or “fasting” might be loaded terms for us as we conjure up images of celebrities on low-carb diets or extreme times of not eating. But at a very basic level, Christian fasting means eating simple food or a plant-based diet without meat and dairy.
In the Synoptic Gospels, Christ’s disciples did not fast because God in Christ was among them. Every day was like a feast. But when he rose from the grave, it was expected that his followers would go back to the fasting tradition. That is how the early Church saw it.
In the Eastern Church, fasting is still done onWednesday and Friday in remembrance of the day Christ was betrayed, and the day he was crucified. Fasting, in this sense, is a tool that assists us in spiritual growth, rather than a kind of deprivation. These fasts were times of reflection. Times when Christians, and the Jews before them, turn their attention away from their stomachs and toward God.
Longer fasts like Lent vary depending on the season. Remember that in the earliest days of the Great Church, there were both feasts and fasts. Most of us still embrace the “feasting” while conveniently forgetting about the fasting. So burned.
Rules have been developed not for additional suffering but for guidelines for spiritual benefit. Remember, God’s grace in the process is part of our growth. There are exceptions to all rules.
1. Start small. Maybe fast one meal a week for several weeks. Then try two meals, and work your way up to three meals a day, for two days every week. Or eat a fasting meal after you exercise and pray. Remember not to eat at least three hours before exercise and prayer.
2. Plan what you’ll eat in advance. Fasting isn’t merely an act of mindful eating, but a spiritual discipline about being deliberate in the way you seek God’s fullness.
3.Don’t replace meat and dairy with sugar and a lot of carbs or seek out a lot of exotic spicy, rich, or saucy vegan options like Indian or Thai food. This is fine in the short run as you try to transition to a new habit, but the Christian fasting tradition is about simple foods, not simply being free of meat and cheese out of concern for animals or the environment (which is good to do, but not the point). We aren’t simply trying to replace one set of rich foods for another.
4. Consider how it will affect others. Fasting is no license to be unloving. You may get grumpy at first. Be mindful and pray upon how your behavior toward others during your fasts.
5. Pray and meditate upon the fast. Pray with special earnestness for God’s help. As hunger arises, become present and mindful of the sensation. Meditate on it and what it means to your relationship with God. What does it mean to your connection to the body God has given you to care for? What does it mean to your relationship to a life in Christ?
6. Go into itgradually. DON’T jump in with both feet. DON’T go all in. This will only make it more likely that you’ll break your diet and fall off the mark. If you GO BIG, you may quickly find yourself GOING HOME. Slow and steady wins the race. This is a marathon.
7. And like all things, do it with others in the Body of Christ. Find a group, start with some friends, talk with your parish about it. We all need one another and Christ in our midst to know God and make a change for the better.
We’ll have more posts with recipes and ways to ease into fasting in the future. Until then, think on it, and remember that it is Christ who fills our hunger, not bread…hmmm…yummy, yummy bread.
In our last post, we talked about the form of mindfulness prayer known as contemplative prayer. We also went through the step by step process of Centering Prayer. However, a lot of people find it hard to do Centering Prayer right off the bat.
For those unfamiliar with these types of silent prayers we recommend a gradual approach towards deepening into silence. Pick and choose. Go at your own pace. But the telios (fancy Greek word for goal) is to sit in centering prayer or ceaseless prayer (see below) for 10-20 minutes after light exercise.
Labyrinths are a form of walking contemplation (or what non-Christians would call walking meditation. See terms.) that appeared in Church around 1200 CE. The labyrinth itself is less important that being able to walk in a space where you do not have be aware of your surroundings, or respond to your environment. You need to be in a distraction free environment, so usually just walking around your neighborhoods or a busy park won’t do. Many church yards have Labyrinths these days. It’s worth searching around for area for a deliberate place to do this. This site can help you find one near you.
The key to this form of contemplation is to let your active thinking rest, even as your body slowly moves. Before you begin, open a prayer to God, asking only that you welcome the presence of the Lord into your heart. As you begin to walk place your attention on the souls of your feet, or the sensation of breathing in your chest. Let your thoughts and emotions go. Don’t put any more energy into them. Just let your walking or breathing let the thoughts and emotions dissolve. As new thoughts come up, turn your attention away from the thought and return it your feet or your breathing. When you get the center, you may pray again. Asking for nothing other the to invite God’s presence. Stand in stillness for a few moments, and then continue out the way you came. You can do this with any kind of there-and-back again, walk. Continue for 10 – 20 minutes. Learn more HERE.
Step 2:Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina or sacred reading in Latin, has been around since the 12th century. It is a kind of self-reflective scripture reading that leads gradually into silence. This form of prayer was based on the Jewish tradition, and was developed by Gregory of Nyssa in the 4th century CE. This can be done in groups or alone. It’s a good practice for someone who is not use to extended silence. Essentially there are four stages that gradually lead you to contemplative silence. There is a lot written on this, so we will simply refer you to this BLOG for the details.
Step 3: Audio Divina
This form of sacred listening, is less common, but it can be a step towards greater inner stillness. In this form of prayer, you actually just listen to a calm, soothing piece of music and reflect on God. In a four part process, just like Lectio Divina, you slowly become mindful of God and images and emotions that arise. The point here is to begin to let go of word prayers, and instead simply sit with the feelings and images that arise as you listen to the music. In time, you will want to let go of these images and feels, and just let them pass without pondering or savoring them. Here is a four step guide to the prayer. However, we recommend a slight modification. Do not journal or write your thoughts down after your prayer. Just let them go. Also, add a fifth step: just listen to the music one more time, as images, thoughts and feelings arise, just let them go, and turn your attention back to the music. Turn back to the music in the same way you would turn back to your sacred word in Centering Prayer.
“Pray without ceasing” 1 Thess: 5:17
Step 4: Ceaseless Prayer
This passage from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is at the root of the ancient Christian practice of ceaseless prayer. This is when a very short prayer phrase is repeated mentally to oneself over and over again. The prayer should not be longer than about thirteen syllables. Most commonly, in the Eastern Church this would be something like Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) or the Jesus Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me. As with Centering Prayer, as thoughts arise, return your attention to your prayer repetition. Do not ponder your thoughts, judge them (at this stage) or hold onto them, just return to your prayer. You should really only use this prayer as a way of getting to a more silent posture like Centering Prayer. We recommend, using ceaseless prayer for a few weeks, and then slowing your repetitions down until you have long silences in-between. Eventually you will come to rest at a mental posture that the same as Centering Prayer.
“The vigilant monk is a fisher of thoughts” – St. John Climacus, 600 CE
Please read the first post to understand some of the terms we will use in this conversation. The PraXis routine is to do 20 minutes of light exercise followed by 10–20 minutes of Christian Mindfulness, also known as contemplation. Ideally these sessions would be followed by a meat- and dairy-free fasting meal.
Christian Mindfulness is the term we use to describe contemplative prayer practices that help us to sit silently and wait on the presence of the Lord. Contemplation is a form of sacred silence that deepens our relationship with God. While in Contemplation, we also train our minds and our hearts to be more peaceful, flexible, and calm in the face of anxiety, stress, and depression. Medical science calls this type of resilience neuroplasticity.
“Be Still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
The training challenge
Contemplation is a form of spiritual training. Perhaps the most challenging form. The oldest contemplative tradition in Christianity is simply known as hesychia, the Greek word for stillness. Think of it as stilling the waters of a turbulent mind. When the waters are still, there is a moment in which God can emerge.
Contemplation is about sitting and waiting on the presence of the Lord. As one Christian has said, “We spend most of our prayer time asking the Lord for things. How often do we use our prayer time to simply sit and be in God’s presence. Just to be with Him.” Exactly. And it’s in the silence of stillness that God’s presence can emerge.
Silence and stillness, however, are actually very difficult to come by. It’s not only because we live in a world where we are constantly being stimulated by TV, mobile apps, social media, and earbuds blasting music into our brains, it’s just something most people don’t want to do. Studies have shown that 60% of respondents would rather give themselves an electric shock than sit in silence [citation pending]. When we still our bodies, and still our mouths (stop talking) we find that it is very hard to actually still our minds. We immediately see how many thoughts are popping in and out of our minds. And it can feel like our minds are out of control. That can be scary. But it’s very normal.
Our minds pump out thoughts in the same way our hearts pump blood. Thoughts come and they go. Just like clouds in the sky come and go. The monks of the Eastern Church call these thoughts logismoi—tiny words that pop in and out of our minds. And as we practice stillness and silence, we learn how to let these thoughts go, or just ignore them. Eventually the thoughts slow down, and this opens up a still and silent space in which God will emerge.
There are a number of different Christian practices that we can do to bring about this stillness. The most common one is called Centering Prayer.
This is the basic prayer we use in our own daily PraXis. This is a modern distillation of mental prayers that have been practiced through Christian history all the way back to the fourth century.
The practice is simple.
Set a time for ten minutes (at first) Sit comfortably: As you sit, you may find your body itches, or wants to move this way or that. Just ignore those urges. In time, those urges will pass. This will set an example to you. Just as these bodily urges pass, so too will your thoughts pass. Set your intention: Open your heart and invite the presence of God, wording it in any way you see fit. Choose a sacred word: This is a single syllable word, or short word like Abba (Aramaic for father), or Mar (Aramaic for Lord), or Kyrie (Greek for Lord), Christ, or Love. It should only be a short word. Sit in silence: Just sit with your eyes closed (or in a relaxed, unfocused, gaze in one direction if that is less distracting than closed eyes). Thoughts arise: As thoughts, feelings, sensations, and images arise, do not repeat them, judge them, add to them, or cling to them. As soon as you realize you are thinking, gently put the thought to the side, and repeat your sacred word to yourself silently. Try to once again rest in stillness. Repeat Timer goes off: Slowly come back into your sense of your self and your body. Say a closing prayer thanking the Lord. Goal: 20-minute sits, twice a day.
There are many resources out there for Centering Prayer. Go here for more support and information.
Easier in Groups
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” Matt. 18:20
It takes practice to feel like you are getting anywhere. Like most forms of training, spiritual training takes repetition. That can be very hard when you are doing it alone. So finding a group that can support you is vital. It will help your mind, body, and spirit to practice with other Christians.
That said, many people find this kind of silent prayer VERY challenging. So, in our next post, we will show you some other forms of Christian Mindfulness that will help you ease gradually into deeper forms of stillness.