Tag Archives: meditation

Grief

Yesterday was Gail’s funeral.

My wife has known Gail and her family for 30 years, maybe a bit more. Kristi and I have been married almost 21 years, and we lived in Gail’s neighborhood for about 13 years.

I don’t know how to grieve the loss of Gail.

I don’t think I completely grieved the loss of Billie Sue. She died a few years ago, and my family had known her and her son for about 30 years.

I don’t think I adequately grieved the loss of my grandfather.

I don’t think I fully grieved the loss of my grandmother.

I don’t think I entirely grieved the loss of my other grandmother.

Maybe I’ve done a better job accepting death, my own eventual death and the eventual deaths of others. Having really thought and wondered about death a lot, too much, I might have gotten to the point at which one sees all of life shot-through with this inevitable, time-bound tainting. That doesn’t lead me to think everything is futile or meaningless because the creative works and good deeds of a person can have an impact on the continuing, overlapping drama of birth and death.

More likely, however, I’ve realized that overwhelming emotions are a waste of time, and something that should be controlled. I have to guard against the derailment of my days. Am I in denial when I wittingly choose denial?

Two perspectives seem less like denial: The realization that Gail lives on in the blood of her children and grandchildren, and the realization that Gail is very much present in a uniquely human way that neither requires nor negates metaphysical and supernatural beliefs.

To put the second realization in other words, yesterday, when a full church remembered Gail, when everyone’s minds and hearts were focused on her and memories of her, she was almost present.

I don’t mean that like a psychological trick one might play on oneself. With so many people beholding Gail’s image, with so many people loving her individuality, with so many people knowing just what she would have said or done in a variety of circumstances, with so many people imprinted by her life, she almost lives on within the community of those who knew her.

I wonder if that’s what the New Testament really meant, when Jesus said, essentially, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them.”

If we gather in the name of, in the memory of, in the love of another person, something like a presence is present.

Gail is gone, an infuriating, heartbreaking truth. She’s not with us any more. Yet she nearly remains. We carry out the rest of our days with her imprint present in our lives.

Grace is for the norm

Grace is for the norm. Everything that is normal is sinful. Some of us become saintly, some of us become perverted, but most of us are just as sinful as we are normal. Grace is for the norm.

Psalm 112: the death of desire

Take a look at Psalm 112.

Imagine even the desire of the wicked perishing.

A French psychiatrist (quoted in Wim Rietkerk’s book “If Only I Could Believe”) said that the essense of being human is desire. We are desires.

Now imagine every desire being for God and the expansion of his goodness. Eventually, that desire will be fulfilled, and there will be no need for desire. Wicked desires will die, good desires will be fulfilled, and desire will be no more.

In perfect fellowship with our Creator, we will be what we are, and not what we desire.

Observation on faith and change

Much of an individual’s “faith struggle” is internal. Great changes could go completely unspoken.

Circumstances color wounds as well as blame

How do people assign blame, and how do they characterize wounds?

Let’s say I was walking on a suburban sidewalk late one afternoon when a car swerved off the road and hit me. I was stuck with a limp for the rest of my life.

The driver’s circumstances would color how I told the story of my limp.

I could say, with a tone of hot disgust, I was HIT by a DRUNK DRIVER. Some people just ignore all common sense!

I could say, with a heavy heart, I was hit by a car when a middle-aged man had a heart attack and died behind the wheel. I feel horrible for his wife and children. I am lucky to be alive.

I could say, with sense of resignation, I was hit by a sweet, little old lady with an oversize hat who has yet to stop apologizing, and she keeps baking me chocolate chip cookies, like twice a week! Oh well, what can ya do?

I wish I had that type of clarity about the accidents of my life, but most of the time, I can hardly tell what the actual outcomes have been.

-CFB

‘Take every thought captive’ — to something, anything

The distractions of our times certainly don’t help us slow down and consider the presuppositions that underlie our daily thoughts. We don’t consider how we’re thinking, or if we do, we don’t often take it a step further to ask why we’re thinking a certain way.

The mainstream Christian book industry offers little help. Instead of teaching us how to think, how to reflect, how to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), the Christian bookstore shelves offer a never-ending supply of techniques, spiritual recipes, formulas, buzzwords, and forgotten moralisms we urgently need to recover (urgently, or else the publishing house will lose money!). Plus, there’s an endless supply of Christianized entertainment to be purchased, as if the problem was our taking in “secular” stories, rather than our unproductive addiction to being entertained.

I realize this is starting to sound moralistic and ascetic and Puritanical, but that’s not where I want to end up. I don’t endorse merely a cognitive-behavioral technique for the purposes of considering our thought lives, or an argument to stop watching TV, or an unqualified call to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” My plea is much simpler, and it is this: figure out how to take every thought captive. Find a way to slow down and muse and wonder about the source of your daily thoughts and assumptions about people, about yourself, about God and the Bible, about what you need to be doing with your life.

It’s kind of like this: you can’t read the Bible if you haven’t learned how to read.

You can’t take every thought captive to obey Christ if you haven’t learned to take every thought captive.

You have to learn how to push the pause button on your thoughts and take a good look at them.

Another example: most of the time, I’m looking at the world through my eyeglasses and not thinking about the lenses at all. But sometimes I have to stop and look at the lenses to make sure they are clean enough to see clearly.

Slow down your thoughts enough to realize what assumptions you hold and how they operate in your life.

After you figure that out, then maybe you can incorporate some good theology into the mix, you might be on your way to taking every thought captive to obey Christ.

For my part, I’m still trying to consider the assumptions in my own thoughts, and I’m still trying to learn what good theology looks like. Some day I’ll bring the two together. Grace allows me to go at a reasonable pace. Thank God I’m not a big-time evangelical author who has to churn out another consumable product faster than I can grow spiritually.

I often think that Sunday school needs to be about basic modes of education and self-reflection, the kind of critical thinking that allows one to analyze himself as well as his culture.

-Colin Foote Burch

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Considering Tiger Woods’ Buddhism

The Times of London posted an interesting article about Tiger Woods at TimesOnline, which included a good quote about the golfer’s religious life:

Woods does not talk much about the fact that he meditates, something he learnt from Kultida, his mother, who is a Buddhist. “In the Buddhist religion you have to work for it yourself, internally, in order to achieve anything in life and set up the next life,” he said. “It is all about what you do, and you get out of life what you put into it. So you are going to have to work your butt off in every aspect of your life. That is one of the things that people see in what I do on the course.”

Two things are important to me in this quote. First, it expresses the value of meditation in training one’s mind to focus: “you have to work for it yourself, internally, in order to achieve anything in life.” Second, it expresses a view of salvation and afterlife: “[to] set up the next life.”

I have to admit on the second part, I like the Reformed Christian idea that says you cannot work hard enough to set up the next life, therefore accept grace through faith!

On the first part, however, I wonder if some people will confuse the views of salvation and the afterlife with the discipline of meditation. Or, if some will dislike Woods’ views of salvation and the afterlife so much, they’ll dismiss the discipline of meditation. That would be a bad idea. Some research suggests that meditation strengthens the brain.

An article in the June 2007 edition of Men’s Journal addressed meditation techniques in which a person would relax and focus on a repeated phrase. “When Harvard researcher Sara Lazar recently compared the brains of American meditators to a control group, she found that parts of the cortex responsible for attention were on average 5 percent thicker,” according to the article.

And that’s just a piece of the research that’s available on things related to the mind, the brain, focus, attention, and mental discipline. (The emerging field of neurofeedback directly relates to some of these issues; in some cases, neurofeedback helps participants create a meditative focus.)

“Parents and teachers tell kids 100 times a day to pay attention, said Philippe R. Goldin, a Stanford University researcher, last year in New York Times article about “mindfulness training” in schools. “But we never teach them how.”

Certainly non-Buddhists will want to proceed with caution, but there is some evidence that certain types of meditation and focused attention will be beneficial in ways that have nothing to do with views of salvation and the afterlife.

Meanwhile, I really like the following segment from this post by Pastor Jimmy Fuller of Harbour Lake Baptist Church in Goose Creek, S.C. (complimenting a Baptist — might be a first for this blog!):

Speaking of golf, I watched Tiger woods lose his first golf tournament of this season last weekend. I must say that I was disappointed that he didn’t win. Though Tiger and I would disagree theologically, he, a Buddhist and I, a Christian, I have to say that I admire many things about him. First of all I salute him on the basis of his character. He is a great role model for kids and adults alike when it comes to character. And his character came from a great relationship with his mother and father as he was growing up, particularly his father Earl Woods. Tiger said about his dad, “My dad has always taught me these words: care and share. That’s why we put on clinics. The only thing I can do is try to give back. … it works, it works.” Someone asked tiger about being a role model and he commented, “I think it’s an honor to be a role model to one person or maybe more than that. If you are given a chance to be a role model, I think you should always take it because you can influence a person’s life in a positive light, and that’s what I want to do. That’s what it’s all about.” And when it comes right down to it, all of us are role models to someone—our children, our family, or friends, our neighbors. We should never treat that as though it were a small matter. We influence them either positively or negatively, but influence them we will. And our influence on others will have a definite impact on the lives of those know and love. Remember, “Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” (Gal. 6:7)I also admire Tiger for his work ethic. He didn’t get to be the number one ranked golfer in the world by being lazy and irresponsible. He worked at it. He spent (and still spends) long, disciplined hours on the practice range honing the skill and talent that God has given him. And why?—Simply to be the best. Tiger was quoted as saying, “That’s why I’ve busted my butt on the range for hours on end and made changes to get to this point where I’m able to compete at the highest level in major championships. That’s where you want to be.” There is no doubt that Tiger desires to be the best. We too should desire to be the best at what ever we do. It honors God, it honors our family, and it honors us individually. I am teaching my grandchildren to say and believe someone is going to be the best—it may as well be me!

I really liked that last line: “someone is going to be the best — it may as well be me!”

-Colin Foote Burch

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