Microdosing on Christianity

It’s been a thing for a while in Silicon Valley. Computer engineers, seeking a creative edge, take small doses of hallucinogens on a regular basis. They claim it enhances their problem-solving capacities without impairing their ability to function. (Having lived in that part of the world for over two decades, I can attest that while IQ’s are high in Silicon Valley, EQ’s – emotional intelligence quotients – are often not up to par. Folks in that business already get away with odd behavior, so who notices or cares if they microdose on the job?)

Hearing about this phenomenon got me to thinking. What else could people microdose, to good effect? Then it dawned on me that Christianity might well be a candidate.

I’m into a strong dose of Christianity every day. Works for me! But people are different. Some folks can’t deal with full-strength Christianity – not even full-strength progressive Christianity. So they forget the whole thing. But some of them might find that microdosing on the faith could do them good, and serve those whose lives they touch. I don’t believe anyone goes to hell for failing to accept all or any of the Christian tradition. But I am enthusiastic about welcoming into it those who have any level of interest.

So in this spirit, here I offer some perfectly legal microdoses of Christian spiritual practice:

1.) Mystical contemplative prayer. For twenty minutes, daily or at least weekly, pray like Jesus did in the desert before he started his ministry. Go to a quiet place – a metaphorical desert, if not a physical one – and 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. As you enter into deeper and deeper present awareness of your physical and mental experiences, ask yourself: who is doing the watching? Who is paying loving, non-judgmental attention to your experiences? The answer of the mystical teachers of the church is that God is doing the watching within and through you. Awakening to the presence of God within you is the moment of your spiritual union with the divine.

2.) Adore the sacrament. This is an adaptation of a very old Catholic spiritual practice of contemplative prayer in front of a “tabernacle” box containing the wafer of bread for communion, blessed by the priest as the “body of Christ”. Take a cracker or a loaf of bread or a piece of bread. Place it on a table or mantel or other surface where you can comfortably gaze at it. Look at the bread for ten minutes. The ritual of communion, or eucharist, has many meanings in Christianity. What are its meanings for you? A simple one to consider is that by mindfully observing and appreciating everyday things like bread and wine, we enter into spiritual communion with the universe. We can experience the whole by fully embracing the particular. The bread becomes a window through which we are able to see and experience the Ultimate Reality. Look at the bread, admire it, consider its origins in fields of wheat tended by farmers, in the hands of bakers and shop-keepers. Love the bread with your deep attention. Then, slowly and with reverence, step forward and take it and eat it, savoring the experience.

3.) Listen to the Christ. At least once a day, as you are listening to another person talk, imagine that the person is the Christ. The name “Christ” has layers of meaning and significance in Christianity, but you don’t need to know them all. Just go with one of those meanings, such as this: the Christ appears in our encounters with other people where unconditional love is shared. When you are with another person, and you are paying deep attention to them, and releasing judgment toward them, and/or they are doing the same toward you, then that person becomes the Christ. First imagine that the person is the Christ, and then “love your way” into that reality through deep listening – which is one of the highest forms of service we can offer each other.

4.) Choose your focus in worship. When you are in a church for worship or another occasion, and feel some trepidation about it, just choose one thing as your focus. Maybe you can’t handle a full dose of the Lord’s Prayer, for example – so just pick out a word or phrase from it that speaks to you, and meditate on it. Pick out some feature of the worship space and focus your attention on it. Let an image or a snippet of a hymn or a phrase from the sermon become the “mustard seed” for your contemplative prayer. Christianity should be a gift, not a burden. So reverently receive the gift from the church that most speaks to and for you, and leave the rest alone for the time being.

5.) Turn acts of service into sacred offerings. Our ability to give is itself a gift. Our ability to serve others comes from a Source beyond ourselves. So when we do any act of kindness for others in our jobs, our homes, or our communities, we can dedicate it in silent prayer: “I serve in the name of the Christ.” It’s a way of acknowledging that true service is “selfless”, given while releasing any expectation of reward, as Jesus taught us in his Sermon on the Mount.

You don’t have to identify as a Christian to microdose on Christianity. But if taking it a small step at a time begins to work for you, don’t be surprised if you start taking more!

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

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