MINDFULNESS IN THE BIBLE

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Copyright 2012 Ian Ellis-Jones. All Rights Reserved.

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MINDFULNESS IN THE BIBLE

  1. 1. MINDFULNESS IN THE BIBLE By The Rev. Dr Ian Ellis-JonesAs a fearless fighter against the pretensions of religious fundamentalism –a wicked ideology if ever there was one – and illiberalism of all kinds, I saythat it’s time for freethinkers and libertarians to ... reclaim the Bible!What is the Bible?There is no single Bible.For a Jew the Bible consists only of the Hebrew Scriptures.As for Christians, they can’t even agree on what the Bible is!I always use a Catholic version of the Bible comprising 73 books – 7 morethan the Protestant Bible. Why? Because Jesus used the Septuagint,which is the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Now, theSeptuagint contains those very same 7 additional books – the so-calledApocryphal, more correctly entitled Deuterocanonical, Books. Indeed, morethan two thirds of the Old Testament passages quoted in the NewTestament are taken from the Septuagint.The audacity of the Protestant “Reformers” who chucked out those booksof the Bible – books that had been embraced by Jesus and his apostles!Don’t believe the silly evangelical Protestant nonsense that thoseadditional 7 books were supposedly added by Rome in the 16th Century.That is simply not the case.Moving on – Once you free yourself from the notion that just because theBible says something, it must be true, and true for all time, a whole newworld opens for you. The Bible has much in it that is beautiful and inspiring... and also much that is simply appalling. Do not accept anything thatoffends against your sensibilities or is contrary to reason.Today, we are going to look at some Bible passages that touch on certainaspects of life or the human mind that are relevant to the practice ofmindfulness. 1
  2. 2. Mindfulness is not peculiarly BuddhistNow, mindfulness can refer to a specific type or practice of meditation usedas a psychological and educational tool in Theravāda Buddhism (anaturalistic form of Buddhism of which there are a number of differentschools) known as Vipassanā Meditation.However, mindfulness is not restricted to Buddhism, Buddhists or Buddhistmeditation. Indeed, there are several different types or forms of Buddhistmeditation, and Buddhists do not claim to “own” or have a monopoly onmindfulness and mindfulness meditation.Also, mindfulness is totally different from all other forms of meditation inthat it is something you do throughout the whole day, namely,remembering to stay present, in the present, from one moment to the next.whilst paying attention, on purpose, to what’s happening in the presentmoment, without judgment. Your whole life becomes one extendedexercise in meditative awareness of what is.Any person can practise mindfulness, irrespective of their religion or lack ofreligion.Mindfulness requires an attentive mind – bare attention is the phrase – butalso a curious state of mind. What could be more curious than this (andnotice also the openness and perceptiveness of the senses) ... What is that coming up from the wilderness, like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of the merchant? (Sg 3:6)So vivid! You can almost smell it in your very own nostrils. 2
  3. 3. Mindfulness as a calm acceptance of what isNow, if there is an underlying philosophy to mindfulness it is a calmacceptance of whatever may befall us. Listen to these wonderful passagesfrom the world-weary book Ecclesiastes: A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south, and goes round to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. (Ec 1:4-7)[Hey, those last four lines are pure Zen!] For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ec 3:1-8) ... the same fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to those who 3
  4. 4. sacrifice and those who do not sacrifice. As are the good, so are the sinners; those who swear are like those who shun an oath. (Ec 9:2)Mindfulness as joyDon’t get the wrong idea. Mindfulness is not mere Stoicism. There is muchjoy associated with the regular practice of mindfulness, so beautifullytypified in this passage from that naughty book the Song of Songs: for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. (Sg 2:11-13)Notice, once again, the non-judgmental bare alertness and attention todetail, and the choiceless awareness of what is ... the flowers ... the soundof the turtle-dove ... the figs on the fig-tree ... the grapes on the vine, andtheir fragrance. That’s mindfulness in action! 4
  5. 5. The practice of mindfulnessListen to this sound advice with respect to your mindfulness meditation: ... ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ (Mk 6:31)Of course, mindfulness is to be practised from moment to moment ... evenin a busy street. I love this passage from Isaiah: ... in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. ... (Is 30:15)Yes, quietness ... even amidst the hurly-burly of everyday life. The choice isyours, so make up your mind to be open and attentive to whatever is yourconsciousness ... You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you, and light will shine on your ways. (Jb 22:28)Mindfulness is a non-judgmental state of mind. The Bible constantlyadvises us not to judge. Maybe life is unfair ... ... for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Mt 5:45)... but, ‘do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment’ (Jn7:24). So, let us watch our minds and maintain emotional equanimity andright relations with other people ... Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Pr 4:23) One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city. (Pr 16:32) If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Rm 12:18)Do not worryThe Bible advises us not to worry: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so 5
  6. 6. clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Mt 6:25- 34)Mindfulness as a source of strength and powerNo matter what happens to you in life, you need not despair: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; (2 Co 4:8)for, ‘as your days, so is your strength’ (Dt 33:25). Live from day to day and,even more importantly, from one moment to the next ... and you will haveall the power you need!Mindfulness is about being patient and gentle on yourself. Here is somesound advice from Romans: Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. (Rm 14:22) 6
  7. 7. Finally, mindfulness, which gives us so much insight into ourselves, otherpeople and life generally, is highly transformative. Why else would we doit? I have always loved this passage from Romans: ... be transformed by the renewing of your minds ... (Rm 12:2)That’s the spirit!Scripture references are taken from the Catholic edition of The New Revised Standard Version ofthe Bible, © 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of theChurches of Christ in the United States of America. The New Revised Standard Version CatholicEdition is fully approved for study by Catholics by the United States Conference of CatholicBishops. All rights reserved. 7

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