How to Lead a Mindful Christianity Group


How to Lead a Mindful Christianity Group


Using the book as a text, you can form a Mindful Christianity group in your home, church, or other setting.  I recommend that the group have a “host” – a person designated to convene the group and keep it on schedule.  The “host” need not be a trained mindfulness teacher or highly experienced meditator.  Hosting is not formal teaching.  I recommend that your group have a limit of fifteen people in order to ensure that participants feel able and willing to share their experiences.  I suggest that the group maintain confidentiality about what goes on within it.  I suggest that the group agree that should anyone in the group experience acute distress as a result of experiences that well up in the course of practice, the group will urge the person to seek professional therapeutic help, and then be welcomed back to the group when the acute disturbance has passed.  (This is not an unusual consequence of beginning mindful prayer practice.)
I would like to know about your group! Email me so I can learn from your experiences and share it with other groups.


Suggested format for 1-1.5 hr meetings weekly:


1)      Greeting/check-in – ask participants to respond in 2 minutes or less:  “What do you bring to our group today?”
2)      Chant  – from Taize Community – or “Mira que te mira” – words: St Teresa of Avila
3)      Lectio Divina, ending with contemplative silent prayer:  From the book, Mindful Christianity, you can choose readings from the canonical and other Christian scripture and passages from the writings of Christian mystics of history, as well as from other texts.
4)      A brief time of “check-in”:  any experiences to report from contemplative prayer.  “How is your practice going, both in the group and between sessions?”
5)      Optional:  conversation about the book or other text the group is studying.
6)      Chant, to close.


Lectio Divina:

A 12th c Carthusian French monk, Guigo II, described the spiritual life as climbing a ladder.  The steps were lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio – reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation.  This “ladder” has defined Catholic Christian spiritual discipline ever since.55 An ancient practice, employed today in churches both Catholic and Protestant, is called “lectio divina”.  It follows Guigo II’s steps.  It is about reading passages from the Bible in a way that lets them dwell in the heart.  It’s not about parsing some official theological meaning or historical context out of the passage, but instead is about directly experiencing it.  The passage is read aloud four times, each followed by a time of meditation.  Then follows a prayer as a petition to God, asking for inspiration.  This is followed by contemplative prayer, in which the focus is on listening to God.  “Contemplatio” is the goal-state of mindful Christian prayer:  present awareness of the union of one’s soul with God.


Lectio:  Read the scripture passage aloud, slowly.  Release any interpretation or opinion you may have about this passage, as you read it.
Meditatio:  Let the passage “sink in” for two minutes.  Sit with the passage.  Hold it lightly – don’t force any attempt to interpret it.
Repeat “lectio” and “meditatio” three more times.  (If time is an issue, just do Lectio and Medatio once each.)
Oratio:  Pray aloud:  “May we receive from the scripture what our souls need for today.”
Contemplatio:  (20 minutes of silence)
To start the group, you can use the introduction to mindfulness practice at the beginning of the book – also here at this website under “mindfulness”.  The group can view my video introduction to Christian mindfulness practice:  VIDEO with Jim Burklo on Mindful Christianity
Get into a physical position in which your body will be comfortable but you’ll be unlikely to fall asleep.  (The “lotus position”, seated with legs crossed and tailbone slightly elevated on a little pillow, is just one way to achieve this balance.)  Close your eyes, and in silence, observe whatever arises to take your attention.  The object of your observation can be anything at all.  A thought.  An idea. A sensation – something your body feels, something you hear.  A memory.  A scheme for the future.  It can be an urge – a desire – a sense of needing or wanting to do something.  Just watch the urge.  Let it be.  Watch all that arises and passes, observing with non-judgmental, caring attention.  Be a quiet presence, like a friend who stays close in silence with a loving attitude toward you. Who is doing the watching?  Know the divine Knower within you as you mindfully contemplate.


Assignment for participants, for practice outside the group:   Ten Ways to Meet God Mindfully

1.      Watch your thoughts and feelings and urges.  Close your eyes, stay quiet for at least 20 minutes, and observe what is going on in your mind and your body.  What claims your attention?  What emotions and bodily sensations do you feel?  What ideas and plans and memories bubble up?  Simply be present for your experiences, like a trusted, caring friend, without trying to judge or change what you observe.  God is the one within you who observes all with loving attentiveness and acceptance.

2.     Look at an everyday, unremarkable thing – anything at all – for several minutes, until you notice something beautiful about it that you never saw before.  That out-of-ego moment of wonder is an experience of God.

3.      Look at another everyday, unremarkable thing for several minutes, very closely and intently.  Then release your attention to it, and notice what you experience.  That moment of expanded awareness is an experience of God.

4.     Find somebody you don’t like, and listen to them for at least half an hour.  As you listen, observe and then release any attachment you have to your opinions of this person.  Show love to this person, without needing to like or become a friend to this person. But act as if you love this person, until the moment comes when you begin to feel like you really do.  This love is God.

5.     Choose one public policy issue that has an important direct or indirect effect on vulnerable people: the young, the elderly, prisoners, the sick, immigrants, people with low incomes.  You probably don’t have time to go deeply into every issue, so just pick one.  Seek information about that policy issue from the most reputable, objective, in-depth sources you can find.  Stay on top of current debates or events that relate to this issue.  Inform your friends and family about it when the right occasions arise.  Communicate with your elected officials and other policy-makers about your views on this issue, on a regular basis.  Every so often, show up at public events that may have a strategic effect on making things better for people affected by this policy.  The deep concern you feel for those people, expressed through your learning and your activism, is God.

6.     Immerse yourself in nature.  Take a walk in the wilderness, or at least in your neighborhood.  One word per stride, ask yourself:  “What… is… here….?” over and over, until you begin to feel present in the moment, noticing and appreciating all that is around and within you, instant by instant, item by item.  The moment you can say “I… am… here…” as you walk, you have arrived at God.  (This is my primary daily form of mindfulness practice.)

7.     Watch a small child play.  Observe the child trying to do something he/she cannot yet accomplish.  Observe your urge to help the child do the task, and let go of that urge.  Let the child know you are there, paying attention, but don’t intervene in the play until, and if, you sense a clear invitation to do so.  Imagine what the child is thinking and sensing, and begin to play with the child in the way that the child is playing.  The moment you give up your adult perspective and take on the child’s perspective in play, you are playing with God.

8.     Draw a picture.  Then look at the picture.  Observe what’s there, but also observe your reactions to your picture.  Do you judge it somehow?  Do you have opinions about it?  Do you wish it were different?  Notice these experiences as you look at the picture.  Then draw another picture slowly, and do the same thing as you are drawing it – noticing your feelings and opinions about it as you go.  Look at the finished picture and again observe your reactions to it.  Do it again and again until you feel liberated from your opinions about it, and simply enjoy the process of drawing it and looking at it.  When that happens, you have drawn a picture of God.

9.     Go to a house of worship – of any faith – and sit and listen to the liturgy or prayers.  Instead of focusing on the words being said or sung, or on their meanings, focus intently on the silences between the words and the sounds.  Notice and savor as many moments of quiet – some extremely short, others longer – as you can.  Let the silences be the focus of your worship.  Let the silences become the source of meaning for the sounds in the worship service.  When you are enthralled by the sound of sheer silence, you are hearing God.

10.     Take a walk in a familiar environment:  one you see every day.  Look at everything around you and name it.  “Tree” – “house” – “car” – “dog”.  Then start to do it another way:  “My idea of tree” – “my idea of house” – “my idea of car” – “my idea of dog”.  Then, in the same way, start naming your emotions and feelings and thoughts alongside naming the things and events in your environment: “My opinion of dislike for that car” – “my feeling of pain in my foot” – “my thought of trimming that tree”.  Do this until you are awakened to the fact that so much of your inner and outer experience is based on your ideas of things, rather than the real essence of them.  When you are awake to the possibility that the world around you has an essence that is beyond your ideas and opinions, you have awakened to God.

Reviews for Mindful Christianity the book:

Mindfulness has been liberated from religion.  This book liberates religion with mindfulness.

For forty dawns in solitude before he began his ministry, what awe filled Jesus’ soul?  To what inner and outer realities did he awaken?  In silence, searching for himself, whom did he find?  MINDFUL CHRISTIANITY invites the reader to join Jesus in his desert sojourn, and with him meet God face to face.  Today, mindfulness – defined in secular terms, studied scientifically, and practiced ubiquitously – has come fully into the cultural mainstream.  This book locates mindfulness in the mainstream of Christian faith and practice. 
MINDFUL CHRISTIANITY reveals how mindfulness has manifested among Christians from the days of Jesus until now.  It allures the reader to integrate it into every aspect of Christian living: prayer, worship, study, and service.   And it shows how mindful Christian practice can lead to a humbler, kinder, livelier, more inclusive and common-sense form of the faith.  It is structured for use as a program resource for churches, retreats, campus ministries, and other groups.
Mindful Christianity is beautiful, compelling, and highly original, reframing Christianity for the global village.  The great religions have much to offer each other, a fact that Jim Burklo dramatically demonstrates in this book.  I’m tempted to call it a blockbuster!   Michael Murphy,
author and co-founder of the Esalen Institute
Mindful Christianity could not come at a more crucial moment in history. At a time when American Christianity seems to find itself at the crossroads of power and ethics, Rev. Jim Burklo builds a strong case for why mindfulness should be — and in fact historically has been — at the heart of the faith. Burklo traces a lineage from the Bible, to ancient Christian mystics, to the contemporary mindfulness movement, offering an inspiring vision for the future of Christianity. Rich with engaging stories and practical tips that will resonate with Christians and non-Christians alike, Mindful Christianity is a book to keep close by and refer to again and again.  Antonia Blumberg, religion reporter
Karl Rahner said that the future of Christianity would be mystical or nothing at all. Jim Burklo has given us a 21st-century version of an enchiridion, a practical handbook, for 21st-century Christians navigating the rich connections between mindfulness practices and their own ancient tradition. The spiritual landscape he maps out sparkles like the horizon of the California desert. The book will inspire readers with the same sense of wondrous possibility — not only progressive Christians but modern contemplatives of all stripes.  David Albertson, Associate Professor of Religion, University of Southern California and author, MATHEMATICAL THEOLOGIES
In this wonderful book, Jim Burklo makes a convincing case that mindfulness is a way to save Christianity. It is time to move back to the heart of Christianity, to learn from the mystics.  He draws the reader a path to do it, both individually and in community.   Fred Plumer, President,

Website: MINDFULCHRISTIANITY.ORG Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

Review & Commentary