The front page of Time magazine last week focused on the international interest in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Based on Buddhist practices, it has proven to help people reduce stress in our frenetic world. I attended a seminar on this years ago and was saddened how few people associated Christians and churches with contentment, joy, and “centeredness” in life. The tradition of “centering” is rich in our biblical, Christian tradition. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness in God’s presence. Elijah was a prophet of the desert who learned to hear God in silence. John the Baptist’s ministry flowed from the quietness of the desert. Jesus had rhythms of activity and aloneness. John Cassian wrote extensively on meditating on Scripture in “mindfulness” before the Lord in his Conferences. The desert fathers and monastics, through history, have continued this tradition. The ministry of Contemplative Outreach, founded by Trappist monks in the 1960′s, was an effort. Read more.
Our two-week vacation in Italy confirmed what I had heard for the last 30 years: Italy is one of the least evangelized countries in the world. It is a country filled with beautiful, historic churches and, perhaps, the best Christian art in the world. While open to spirituality, the population is alarmingly disconnected to Christ and His church. As much as I attempted to shake off my grief (and enjoy vacation), I had a deep sense God might be saying something. Allow me to offer you a few gleanings that emerged out of my wrestling and listening: We need to recognize that the old wineskins and ways of doing church are over. We need new wineskins today for the wine of God that flows from His throne. The way we presently do church cannot contain what God wants to do, not only in Europe, but in North America, Asia, Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe,. Read more.
The Desert Fathers in the 3rd to the 5th century, following the tradition of Elijah, Moses, and John the Baptist, fled to the silence of the desert to purify their hearts in order to see God. Ultimately, they sought to save the world, and the church, from idolatry. Their wisdom has endured almost 2000 years. The next time you are criticized or slandered, remember these words from Abba John: “One day when he was sitting in front of the church, the brethren were consulting him about their thoughts. One of the old men who saw it became a prey to jealousy and said to him, ‘John, your vessel is full of poison.’ Abba John said to him, ‘That is very true, abba; and you have said that when you see only the outside, but if you were able to see the inside, too, what would you say then?’ How very true.
Be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10) At our staff meeting yesterday, I introduced “Centering Prayer.” I shared from the notes below and answered a few questions. Then we took ten minutes of silence together before the Lord. Their overwhelming positive response truly surprised me! While my life has been significantly impacted over the last four and half months by this, I was unsure of what to expect. The following notes are quotes and insights from my Sabbatical journal. They come from the following three books: Thomas Keating’s, Open Mind, Open Heart, Cindy Bourgeault’s Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, and Basil Pennington’s Centered Living. Introduction: There are 2 primary ways of praying in the church:kataphatic – prayer that uses words, images, e.g. Scripture, icons, song, worship and; apophatic – prayer that is beyond words, thoughts and images. There are many ways of prayer. Centering prayer is only one form, a form. Read more.
The greatest richness and learning that comes out of us learning church history, especially early church history, is the perspective it gives us on the North American church. This leads me to the next few lessons. The first relates to the state of the church today in light of history. One twenty two year old in our church put it well: “I had no idea how weak we as the church in America are until I heard/saw all this.” This came out of listening to the purifying effect of the persecutions up to 311 ad where Christians experienced 129 years of persecution and only 120 years of relative peace. This eliminated any notion of half-way, nominal Christians rather quickly. Christianity is an Asian religion with rich African roots, not Western. They continually moved Eastward in their mission. Who knew there were three “Christian kingdoms” in Asia before the Roman Empire. One seminary alone, in. Read more.