Many Christians seem to believe in a God they do not know. They worship Jesus Christ because they believe he will take them to heaven. These beliefs create an ideology which provides meaning for their lives. The problem is belief as ideology is a human creation that fails to touch the heart. It is not transforming.
We are all born with a self-centered perspective. Our most natural stance is to process reality in terms of a narrow self-interest. It is necessary for survival. Worship of Jesus as savior is so much easier than patterning your life around his teachings. The problem is we can’t become a follower of Jesus, we can’t make his teachings the center of our lives, without enlarging our perspective to take into account the needs and interests of others.
Why would we want to enlarge our perspective to take into account the needs of others? In some ways, it doesn’t make much sense. It sounds nice to succeed, to attain wealth, to win at the expense of others, to attain your goals without worrying about their effect on others.
The problem is that the narrow pursuit of self interest has its negative effects. We give up peace of mind when we are always striving to win. It’s hard to trust others when you know that, like you, they are out to win at your expense. You also quickly learn that winning, acquiring success, is never enough. You always want more. The climate crisis tells us that when people fail to take into account the good of the larger society everyone loses. Finally, we have evolved over the centuries into social animals. Our hearts fill with love when we are able to enlarge our perspective to serve the needs of others.
So there are sound reasons why one would want to enlarge his or her perspective to take into account the needs of others. The question then becomes how is that achieved. The first way is by surprise. To encounter the live birth of a child shocks your perspective beyond self. To emerge above the tree line after a long uphill hike through the woods fills one with a sense of awe and wonder. To make love to a person you truly care about fills the heart to overflowing. To experience the suffering of another in a direct way generates compassion, a love that reaches out to another. There are many experiences that can temporarily lead one beyond self, but they are not lasting. You eventually return to your self-centered awareness.
The only way I know to broaden your awareness beyond self on a more lasting basis is through meditation. There are many ways to meditate. In Mindful Christianity, Jim Burklo presents one approach in clear, precise language.
According to Burklo, mindfulness is about what claims your attention, what thoughts bubble up. In silence with eyes closed, you observe whatever comes into your awareness. You watch these thoughts and feelings with nonjudgmental attention and compassion. The goal is to shine a loving light on the dark spots of your inner world, to observe and understand these demons and to reject them as not part of the real you.
In this way, over time, you come to identify yourself as the inner observer rather than the person having the thoughts and feelings. Because you are observing with compassion and caring, God becomes the center of your focus. The ego-centric attention to the small self is no longer the center of your being. Your perspective is enlarged. You come to see the world differently.
Burklo’s book refocuses Christianity away from doctrine and belief to knowing God through mindful practice and the compassionate action that follows from an enlarged perspective. He points out that Protestant Christianity for most people is about reading scripture, singing hymns, reciting creeds, and corporate prayer with little or no attention to coming to know God in a deep, transforming way. His book is concise, clearly written with the practical information required for any conscientious reader to come to know God. I can’t think of a better topic and resource text for an adult Sunday school class.
For Christians concerned with living the teachings of Jesus, there are no shortcuts, no easy road. I am convinced, however, that the disciplined practice of mindful meditation will get you there. If this is a new thought for you, you can start with Burklo’s book.