Be still and grow

Isn't mindfulness doing nothing?  It turns out, there is a lot more going on than you think.

Full Text: 

Let go and grow

March 25, 2015 – Psalm 46:10

Be still, and know that I am God.

 

There is an old Dilbert comic strip that features Dogbert.  Dogbert is sitting on a cushion.  He thinks to himself, “I should keep myself busier.”  In the second panel, he continues, “Time flies when you’re busy…”  And in the last panel, he concludes, “Which means you die sooner.  I better sit right here.”

When I offered a meditation group at my last church, I used this strip on a poster, with the invitation, “Join Pastor Chris’s meditation group and live longer!”  At the bottom I added a disclaimer in fine print, “Actual results may vary.”

So, why should we mediate?  Why should we try to be more mindful? Will we really live longer?

There are certainly health benefits that anyone can gain from practicing mindfulness meditation, and we’ve touched on some of these over the last four weeks – lowered stress, strengthened immune system, improved concentration, even, as Dogbert points out, a slowing down of life.  Those things may lead to a longer life, or perhaps only a feeling that our life is longer.  Whether longer or not, though, mindfulness can contribute to a deeper enjoyment of life right now just as it is.

Those are good reasons for anyone to be more mindful.  But why should a Lutheran seek greater mindfulness?

There are few things more important to Lutherans than grace.  Grace is what God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves and God does so without our deserving.  And, for me, mindfulness meditation has brought me a more profound experience of the reality of grace.  Most often, Lutherans think of grace as a past action, accomplished in the offering of Jesus on the cross.  But, through his Spirit, grace is also a present experience, an experience that continues also within us.  This is the grace I have experienced in mindfulness meditation.

In the last few weeks, I’ve used a few different synonyms for grace: acceptance, non-judgement, as well as Carl Rogers’ phrase, “unconditional positive regard.”  We could add others: openness, kindness, hospitality.  Mindfulness is an attitude of welcoming whatever comes up, whatever is in our hearts and minds, and being present to it with love.

But if we meditate and simply accept the way things are, how does anything ever get done, you ask?  Is meditation just an excuse for passivity, a way to avoid what needs doing?

You might think that when you sit, nothing is happening.  This is very common.  I myself sometimes wonder what good all this sitting is doing me.  But I have seen that, with time, a great deal is happening that I cannot presently sense.

I got a lesson in this once from Stanley Dodson.  I met Stanley at the Tai Chi Center, where I practiced for a number of years.  He was a professor of zoology at the UW.  Unfortunately, one month after he retired, Stanley died in a bicycle accident in Colorado. 

While he was still alive, Stanley was also an active member of McFarland Lutheran Church.  One year, they did a Lenten devotional booklet on praying and Stanley wrote a devotion.  He drew on what he knew as a zoologist about spring bulbs in winter:

As the bulbs sit in the cold moist earth, a lot is going on. They are regulating their water content, absorbing oxygen, leaking carbon dioxide, and constantly checking for the signals that will start the growth of roots, leafs, and the flower. They are also living totally in the present moment. The bulbs have the potential for big changes when warm weather comes, but for now their planning is limited to a quiet readiness. They have a schedule, but no scheming.

This “quiet readiness” not only describes the winter posture of bulbs.  It also describes the waiting posture of mindfulness meditation.  There is patience.  There is awareness.  There is self-control.  But, mostly, there is hope without agenda, or, as Stanley puts it, “a schedule, but no scheming.”

Mindfulness, as I have said before, is not zoning-out or blissing-out.  Mindfulness is quiet readiness.  It is preparation for whatever is next by focusing on the present moment.  It is preparation for doing the right thing at the right time in the right way.  It is preparation that happens while we sit, seemingly, while we do nothing.  It is the beginning of change that we are unable to accomplish by our direct effort.  We change when we begin with acceptance, an acceptance that has no agenda.

 

One of Martin Luther’s favorite psalms was Psalm 46.  It begins, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  This psalm was the inspiration for Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”

A mighty fortress is our God, a sword and shield victorious;

He breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod and wins salvation glorious. (LBW 228,229)

It is a powerful hymn of praise for the mighty acts of God to defeat death and the devil and the forces of evil.  This is not something we can do ourselves.

But the psalm also one line that is near and dear to meditators everywhere:

Be still, and know that I am God.

It is quite a contrast to the powerful work of God.  Yet, it is a call to witness.  We can witness the mighty acts that God does for us, without our help or deserving.  It is in our stillness that we see God act, within and without.

 

So, let’s do some mindfulness meditation, using this verse:

            Settle in to the seat where you are, feet flat on the floor if you can, hands resting in your lap, body upright, eyelids lowered.

            Bring your attention to your breath.  Observe it just as it is.  Accept it.  Welcome it.  Follow the breath as it passes in and out.

            Whatever thoughts arise, whatever sounds occur, whatever sensation you feel, do the same.  Welcome them. Accept them. Let them go.

            Using your breath as an anchor to your awareness, bring your attention also to these words:

            Be still and know that I am God.

            Be still and know that I am.

            Be still and know.

            Be still.

            Be.

            Be.

            Be.

           

            Now in your stillness, come back to your breath, come back to your body seated in the pew, come back to your presence in this room.  And when you are ready, I invite you to open your eyes.

 

            Mindfulness is a way to rest in God’s grace, confident that God is present, confident that God is at work.  Even in the midst of the tumult of the outside world or the craziness of our inside world, we can welcome and let go of all things.   We can accept with contentment the way things are right now, assured that things will change, that the grace of God is active. 

            Anne Lamott says, “I do not understand at all the mystery of grace – only that it meets us exactly where we are and does not leave us there.”

            This is the work of grace.  It is the work of God in us.