I had a friend deny my invitation to a Progressive Christian bible study that incorporates mindful meditation like this:
"Hey Angie! Hmm...I believe there are some assumptions/practices involved in mindfulness that are unbiblical and for me to go would be participating in something I believe God does not approve of..."
I used to be an evangelical Christian too. I was raised Catholic and when I started college, I became heavily involved in the Intervarsity (IV) chapter on my campus. Most of my friends were from IV and I was spending three hours a week in bible study, two hours a week at our large group meetings, and multiple weekends at retreats. By my second semester, I was on the way to becoming a social justice area leader. I was neck deep into the evangelical waters of Intervarsity.
I'm not going to lie -- I loved the sense of purpose and identity that being part of this community gave me. God was my loving father and I was his beloved child. My dad walked out on my family when I was 12 so this was a comforting image of God. IV reinforced the image of God that I grew up with and used it to mend the broken image I had of my real father. IV's image of God filled the hole my dad left behind. The evangelical water was up to my ears.
I also loved that Intervarsity helped me realize the weaknesses in my character. For example, one of my mentors helped me realize that I cheated on my long distance boyfriend because I needed validation from men. God said to me, "Your self-reflection and self-control are subpar," so I stopped drinking alcohol for the rest of that year. "Oh you're not pursuing your passions or dedicating time to yourself?" He continued and I took every Sunday that semester as a Sabbath day. Intervarsity challenged me to live my life in a radical way and it was exciting; it gave me meaning and put me on a raft floating toward personal growth.
However, after about a year, I started to realize I was drowning, not floating, in the evangelical currents of IV. We proselytized extensively as an organization and my inner psychology major disliked the idea of forcing my beliefs on someone else. I also took an introduction to Christianity class and the violent history of Christianity made me uncomfortable.
How could people kill in the name of God? How could people justify forcing beliefs on others in the most violent of ways? As a leader in the social justice area, I was given the task of reaching out to freshmen -- the potential future members of IV. As I began the process, I realized the conversations I was having with these students over milkshakes and coffee weren't genuine. I didn't care if Christianity was a faith that would help them grow spiritually. My mission was to sell them on the idea that they should join Intervarsity because Jesus Christ was their savior and Christianity was obviously the faith they should follow. I was being told to drown others in dogma with me.
It has been about a year now since I stepped away from the leadership team on Intervarsity. It was a long, hard year. I lost my sense of purpose. I lost my community. I felt lost in every sense of the word. I had lots of questions, and very few answers. Who was God? Who was Jesus? Did it really matter if I belonged to a church? What was truth? What should the role of an institution be in the relationship between an individual and their higher power?
During this time of confusion, I turned to my mindful meditation practice for answers. Mindfulness is described as moment by moment awareness of one's thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. The practice dates back thousands of years, with roots in the Buddhist tradition, and for me it was a refreshing way to destress and connect with my higher power in the most intimate and comforting of ways. I have been meditating for about two years now and I am a strong believer in its health benefits. It has made me a happier, more introspective and compassionate person.
Along with my meditation practice, I also began to study world religions. I learned about Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, etc. and I took from each faith the ideas that deepened my understanding of God. From weekly discussions with people of different faith backgrounds, I learned about the value of respecting differences and witnessed firsthand the beauty that individuals' faiths bring to their lives.
As a person respectful of others' faith beliefs and practices, I respect my friend's decision not to attend my Progressive Christian bible study. It is her decision not to attend if our mindful meditation practices make her uncomfortable. However, I fundamentally disagree with her reason being that mindfulness is "unbiblical."
I don't believe Jesus would tell anyone to live in the past or the future, and not in the present moment. He would never discourage someone from being self-reflective, and he definitely wouldn't be happy knowing that somebody's participation in a Christian group hinders them from trying a practice that could help them grow in their relationship with God. Jesus preaches love, not closed-mindedness, and he invites us to walk on water with him, not drown in it.