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24 July 2012

Shaun Lambert, author

Shaun Lambert has followed the footsteps of the Invisible One from Africa to the UK, into banking, ministry, counselling and writing; into marriage, fatherhood and the world of mindfulness. He is author of A book of sparks – a study in Christian mindfullness.

He likes skiing, coffee shops in bookshops and learning. He'd like to do further learning through a PhD on watchfulness in Mark's gospel as it relates to the cultural phenomenon of mindfulness. He is the minister of Stanmore Baptist Church but apparently doesn't ski like a vicar.

What did you want to become when you grew up?
I wanted to be a Born free game warden, so not that dissimilar to being a minister. Then I wanted to be a journalist and didn't have the courage at the time (after university). When I do grow up I would like to be a writer of children's books.

What is the gist of your A book of sparks?
We have double-glazed eyes and selective hearing. A book of sparks is about trying to get behind that cultural blindness. As Jesus said to his disciples in Mark 8 after many miracles, 'Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember [aren't you mindful of]?' (Mark 8:17-18).   

I want to help ordinary, busy people like myself wake up, and in the words of Diadochus of Photike, a fifth century bishop, "follow the footprints of the Invisible One" into the world. And in the world be filled with the ecstatic joy of the presence of God while facing the reality of our culture.
But also many churches are empty and the spiritual pathways outside the Church are crowded – we have something to offer the world in contemplation and we have cast it aside. People are asking what are our spiritual pathways? The book is about those pathways, including praying the Word (Lectio Divina) – which by dwelling on the Word helps the Word dwell in us (rather than information about the Word), and the Jesus Prayer – a way of practicing the presence of God – helping us to remember/be mindful of Him.

So are we mindful enough?
No! Most of us have experienced going upstairs for something and then forgetting why we are up there. Usually and unknowingly we exist on autopilot ('Wake up, O sleeper...' Ephesians 5:14) and are not paying attention or living in awareness of ourselves, others, the creation or God. We are conforming to unhelpful footprints of our culture and not noticing helpful footprints of our culture (like a spiritual revolution towards silence and stillness). Others are stepping into the gap, especially psychology and Buddhist mindful awareness practices (MAPs). We have stopped offering maps to people in this area!

Would I recognise contemplative evangelism if I saw it in the wild?
There is a spirituality revolution out there which we are ignoring or judging. God, however, is out there and people are hearing His silent cry calling people to silence and stillness. We won't recognise it unless we become silent, listen to God and put on the Wakeful One, as Jesus was called in the early years of the church. But above all until we do contemplation ourselves we won't see its transforming beauty and outreach potential.

What scripture or biblical character inspires you at the moment?
Jesus: he was the 'stronger one', meaning the divine warrior, he was a contemplative who got up early in the morning to pray, and he came to set us free from the fearful saving of our own life (Mark 1:7, 1:35, 8:35). He was the master and commander of attention and awareness, knowing what was in people's hearts (Mark 2:8). Also he loved people we have forgotten to love – the outsiders, and in the process created living community.

Which movie character do you most relate to?
The dad in the film Fly Away Home who helps his daughter guide some orphaned goslings who imprinted on her as Mother Goose along their migratory route using micro-light planes, otherwise they wouldn't survive the winter. Helping people you love to 'fly away home' is a scary, risky endeavour but we need to do it.

The BBC's Monastery showed the 'power' of silence. How to recover this in life?
We first have to taste it over a longer period, like a retreat. Until we understand its importance we won't try to recover it. Then we need a daily rhythm of silence and stillness, punctuated by these longer periods.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Still showing up; or being sinful enough to attract God's attention, or persuading Clare, my wife, to marry me.

What would you recommend as a first step to a more contemplative life?
An orchestra tunes up before it plays not after, we need to do the same thing: we need to get up early and make contemplation the first thing we do. We won't do that until we have tasted it and seen that it is good…which goes back to going on retreat!

What makes you angry?
I recently came back from a 10-day study tour to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem, with the Council of Christians and Jews. I came away angry with my own being for the times I have been a bystander to injustice, collaborated with or even perpetrated it. 

Tell us a joke
Crime in multi-storey car parks: that is wrong on so many different levels. (courtesy of Tim Vine).