06/06/2018

Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality (by Tim Stead)

I don’t remember where I saw the book ‘Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality’ recommended. I had never before heard of the author, Tim Stead, who was an engineer and is now an Anglican minister. Possibly I saw the recommendation in another book I read in the past few months. In any case, it looked like an interesting book on a topic I knew little about, so I put it on my wishlist. I was given it for a recent birthday, and have just finished reading it.

The subtitle of the book is ‘Making space for God’, which sounds a bit vague, but the book is full of practical and helpful suggestions. The author enthuses about his own experiences with ‘mindfulness’ courses, some of them specifically Christian, and others more secular, open to anyone.

He makes it clear from the start that mindfulness is simply a way of being. Some people might think it ‘new age’ or Buddhist, because followers of these beliefs often use mindfulness practises. But it can also be used as part of the long tradition of Christian meditation - or simply as a way of calming one’s mind and heart, slowing down a little, seeing the present moment rather than worrying about the future or the past.

The first chapters give a little history and background to the idea of mindfulness, with some sample exercises which encourage the reader to use observation skills to focus on small objects, or on one’s own breath, or some part of the body.

The author acknowledges that it’s remarkably difficult to do this for any length of time, that the mind will wander, and the concerns of the day will become distractions. So the next main part of this process is to be non-judgemental - to see the thoughts, ideas and worries in a neutral way, and then gently guide the mind back to the intended focus.

The Christian aspect is quite low key, but there’s an ongoing awareness that God is here, with us, in each present moment. By pausing in our busyness, and taking a moment - if only half a minute - to slow down, we give God some space to speak. I very much liked the idea that intercessory prayer, very often, doesn’t need words - but a sense of holding a situation or person up to God, and asking him to act in whatever way is right.

I read about a chapter each day, over a period of a couple of weeks, and found a lot to ponder on. The explanations are clear, and I could see even from brief attempts at the few exercises, that it can indeed be possible to develop more of an attitude of mindfulness.

The writing is mostly good - clear, sometimes self-deprecating, and easy to read, with plenty to think about. I felt in places that it could have done with a good proofreader, when some words are repeated too many times, or there are an abundance of exclamation marks, but these are minor and didn’t really detract from the overall value of the book.

I would recommend it highly to anyone who is interested in becoming more mindful, thoughtful or non-judgemental. It’s written from a Christian perspective, and would be particularly interesting to anyone suspicious about the idea of mindfulness. But so long as you don’t mind discussion of God and prayer, it could be of value to anyone as a thorough introduction to the topic.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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