Living with the mind of Christ: Mindfulness in Christian spirituality
Stefan Gillow Reynolds
Church Times Bookshop £11.70
CHURCH House Bookshop in London recently had a table display given over to books on the subject of mindfulness. I counted 26 titles. Both number and variety are revealing. There were popular, actually mindless, self-help guides alongside professional studies on the contribution of mindfulness to cognitive behavioural therapies and the treatment of stress and mental illness. The appeal of other titles was plainly that mindfulness offered something “post-” Church, Christianity, and religion, etc.
The relationship between mindfulness and Christian spiritual life is a matter of both curiosity and anxiety. For those looking to understand this better, Living with the mind of Christ: Mindfulness in Christian spirituality is possibly the most accessible, thorough, and theologically rooted. The author is a Benedictine oblate and a member of the World Community for Meditation. He has studied Christian theology and its varied historic spiritual traditions of prayer. He has also carefully engaged with contemporary expressions of spirituality beyond the Church. Individuals and groups will find this an excellent resource for discussion.
Stefan Gillow Reynolds understands mindfulness as a form of “secular contemplation” — and one that has been reminding those who follow traditional practices of some neglected parts of prayer, such as the bodily and mental processes involved. In his foreword, Laurence Freeman emphasises the significance of this. “The mindfulness movement has got a foot in the door of the over-secularised in mind, allowing a wisdom stream of great hope to seep into the institutions and mindsets which have rejected them for so long.” It means that meditation is being offered to a far wider audience than the Church has traditionally reached.
But for Reynolds this is both its gift and a limitation. The starting-place of Christian meditation is that God is mindful of us. With typical courtesy of style, the author suggests that “Mindfulness, by packaging itself as something secular, may be neglecting a potential source of human flourishing.”
This book sets out the practical Christian vision of this flourishing. Drawing richly on a wide variety of Christian teachers — St Augustine, Eckhart, John Main, Julian of Norwich, Simone Weil, and others — Reynolds suggests that the core themes of mindfulness teaching and practice will find their deepest context and meaning in the historic approaches of Christian spirituality and prayer.
The Revd David Runcorn is Associate Diocesan Director of Ordinands and Warden of Readers in the Gloucester diocese.