I came across secular mindfulness in my therapy training in 2006 when I was very anxious, stressed, and burnt out. Mindfulness helped me recover. I also met Simon Barrington-Ward, former Bishop of Coventry, who taught me the Jesus Prayer. As I researched the Jesus Prayer, I came across a phrase by fifth century Greek Bishop Diadochus of Photike, pioneer of the Jesus Prayer. He wrote, Let us keep our eyes always fixed on the depths of your heart with an unceasing mindfulness of God.”

Since 2006, interest in mindfulness has grown exponentially and over two million people subscribe to Headspace, a secular mindfulness app, with over 65 million downloads. Philosopher Mark Vernon has called mindfulness a spiritual revival, and this cultural turn to the contemplative is something the church can bring beautiful biblical and historical practices to. As I grew in my understanding of mindfulness, I quickly realised that secular and Buddhist practices dominated the marketplace and Christian mindfulness just didn’t feature. Most popular forms of mindfulness also didn’t focus on our awareness of God and I saw this as something distinctive that we could offer as Christians. 


Overcoming suspicion

First, we need to overcome some suspicion toward mindfulness and we can begin doing this by exploring the origin of mindfulness. If you define mindfulness as a universal human capacity for attention and awareness, and mindful capacities for self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence, then these are God-given capacities. Mindful awareness practices only work because we already have mindful capacities to enhance. Although you can have different cultural or religious forms of mindfulness, all working with the same attentional capacities, as Christians we know that God gave us these capacities and He wants to use them for our flourishing and connection with Him.

Wellbeing and the way of beauty

Jesus is interested in our wellbeing; He came to offer us life in all its fullness’:(John 10:10). Secular mindfulness is sacramental, it is good for us, and it uses our God-given mindful capacities. However, it is not redemptive. Only mindfulness of God is redemptive. Using the Jesus Prayer as an ancient mindful awareness practice shows us that our focus is Christ himself: Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Colossians tells us to focus our hearts and minds on things above where Christ is (Colossians 3:1 – 3). The intention within secular mindfulness is to find wellbeing, the intention with mindfulness of Christ is to find redemption.

I see contemplative outreach and evangelism as part of what Pope John Paul II called the way of beauty.” Much of our evangelism traditionally uses a rhetoric of persuasion. In Christian contemplative practices like the Jesus Prayer or Lectio Divina (slow meditative reading of Scripture), however, the Holy Spirit enables us to re-perceive God, ourselves, and others. As we are helped to re-perceive by the Spirit of God, we de-centre from our automatic self-focus and can live out Jesus’ words in Philippians about attending to the interests of others as well as ourselves (Philippians 2:4).

Overcoming the sanctification gap

Church historian Richard Lovelace has written about the sanctification gap in the church: we are supposed to look like Jesus, but we don’t. A sanctification gap in the church means there is also a credibility gap in the world. The world looks at us and does not see Jesus, and so our witness lacks credibility. One of the reasons there is a sanctification gap is that we have often ditched these transformational contemplative practices. As we authentically turn toward contemplation ourselves, we are transformed into the likeness of Christ, and our ability to witness credibly is greatly enhanced. In this way, Christian mindfulness plays a vital role in underpinning our Christian witness, allowing the world to witness our transformation as those who truly love God and each other.

Contemplation is never for its own sake. Liberation theologian Segundo Galilea says contemplation and action belong together. As we immerse ourselves in God’s love, we are led to Christ-like action, which includes witnessing and social action. Secular mindfulness helped lead me out of anxiety and stress, but mindfulness of God enabled something more.

One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Mark 9:15. Jesus has just returned from the Mount of Transfiguration, and we then read, As soon as the crowds saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.” Mindfulness of God enables us to see Jesus, be seen by Him, so that we are overwhelmed with wonder and run to greet him. Christian mindfulness could enable crowds to run toward Him this year.