Living with the Mind of Christ: Mindfulness in Christian Spirituality

mindfulnessAuthor: Stefan Gillow Reynolds
ISBN: 978-0-232-53250-0
Price: £12.99
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Year: 2016
Publisher: Darton, Longman and Todd
This, the first book from a former Pastoral Review Bursary Scholar, is an accessible account of the modern mindfulness phenomenon and its relationship to the Christian mystical tradition. Stefan Reynolds is very well placed to undertake this survey having not only completed a doctorate on the Cloud of Unknowing but spent some time studying with the late Bede Griffiths OSB at his ashram in Tamil Nadu - Shantivanam. Reynolds begins his task by setting before us the biblical roots of Christian contemplation by reviewing the biblical passages pertaining to the 'mind of Christ' - or as he transposes it - 'the mind(fulness) of Christ'. He is happy to go beyond the canonical Gospels to the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas to support his argument that mindfulness and attentiveness are integral to the Gospel message. From here he moves to the modern mindfulness movement reviewing its development in recent decades, especially its clinical aspects. From this he makes an appeal for a more inclusive Christianity that will embrace Christ's maxim that he is the Way, Truth and Life for all people. From this analysis Reynolds asks the question 'whether, alongside Buddhism and secular humanism, Christianity can also serve as a broadening and deepening context for mindfulness?' (p.53). His answer, as demonstrated in the remainder of the book, is 'Yes' and for him this is found in the 'Christian mystical tradition'. Thus, for the rest of the book we have a review of this tradition showing how the various 'mystics' reflect the modern concerns of mindfulness, including a host of luminaries from the Danish philosopher, S¿ren Kierkegaard, to the early Desert Fathers and Mothers. In reviewing this latter tradition the author translates the key term apatheia as 'mindful attention' which 'establishes health in the parts of the soul that deal with anger and desire' (p. 84). From here we move to St Augustine and his Confessions where, in Chapter 11 of which, Reynolds finds 'the samatha aspect of mindfulness' (p.99). However sense-awareness, Reynolds stresses, remains a 'lower capacity for the mind' in Augustine which cannot lead to knowledge or contemplation. From Augustine we move to Eckhart and the Cloud where again Reynolds contrasts their respective approaches to contemplation with the work of contemporary mindfulness exercises. Throughout Reynolds is keen to impress the dictum of the late John Main OSB that 'the journey of prayer is simply to find a way to open our human consciousness to (Christ's) human consciousness, and to become, on that way, fully conscious ourselves' (p. 129) assisted by the use of a prayer-word or mantra as advocated by the group inspired by Main: the World Community for Christian Meditation. Despite his desire to show parallels between the various traditions: Buddhist, Christian and contemporary mindfulness, Reynolds also acknowledges the pitfalls in such syncretism by stressing that mindfulness, in many respects, fails to address what he calls 'the deeper motivational resources' that lie at the heart of established religions, especially when it comes to aspects of social action and having a socially-minded ethic. Here, he says is 'where religions can give resources for the on-going journey' whilst 'mindfulness practice can help religions to find their contemplative centre again, to bring religion back to its senses' (p. 173). Reynolds' vision, then, is essentially optimistic, where the dynamo of mindfulness will invigorate and restore a new purpose and drive to the sometimes moribund forms of contemporary religion. Readers may disagree, but I think he presents his argument cogently and with passion. His book, well written and scholarly, will certainly appeal to anyone wanting to know more about the contemporary practice of mindfulness, its place within Buddhism and its relationship to the Christian tradition.

Peter Tyler, St Mary's University, Twickenham

Encounters of Evangelisation

encounters of evangelisationAuthor: Diana Klein
ISBN: 978-0-85231-488-3
Price: £12.95
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Year: 2017
Publisher: Redemptorist Publications
The foundations of this excellent publication are firmly based in the New Testament and on a fascinating development as a result of Vatican Council II. Chapter one begins with a wonderful quote from 1 Peter, 'Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have and do this with gentleness and respect' (1 Peter 3.15).

One of the greatest needs for all Catholics in our time is hope. Bishop Nicholas Hudson in his forward to this book throws down the challenge to every believer when he says this book is for teachers, preachers, catechists, parents, individuals, in fact everyone who desires a relationship with Jesus. The very word 'Encounter' is a clear benchmark where Diana Klein wants us to go with this publication.

She invites everyone to re-examine all the things we do in the home, school and parish in the light of sharing the Good News with all those who cross our path. I love the idea that all the sacraments and indeed the Church itself are God smiling on us. To really evangelise, all we need to do is smile in turn and then the stranger will ask the reasons for our hope. Nobody needs training in order to be a smiling Catholic.

This is not a heavy theological work but a practical guide on how everyone can be an evangeliser from the rite of Baptism to our funeral rites. All our Church ceremonies present us with opportunities to share with others the reasons for our hope. In fact the Church building itself becomes an evangelist, especially if the general public finds the door open. Diana tells a lovely story of an 'out of touch Catholic' finding Jesus in the church car park. She also relates personal accounts of her own encounters with Jesus and the real consequences of those encounters.

We are frequently challenged to ask the question, 'how welcoming is your Parish?' The author includes people on their own, the divorced, those with disabilities, visitors, gay, separated and divorced people.
But not only are we challenged, we are given many wonderful and workable ideas to make every Catholic an evangelist. I recommend this publication for everyone who is involved in pastoral activity but especially leaders. There is sufficient material here to occupy a Pastoral Council for at least 12 months on how to make their community an evangelising people.

Tom Grufferty, Diocese of Portsmouth


confessThe Healing of the Soul
Author: Peter Tyler
ISBN: 978-1-4729-3432-1
Price: £14.99
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Year: 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury

A confession which might surprise some laypeople or deacons: in over twenty years as a Catholic priest (and eight years as an Anglican one before that), I have had hardly any discussions with another priest, or other priests, about confession. This may be simply the company I keep but I think this is because of a sense of reserve rooted in the 'seal': if we talk about it we might let slip something said to us. Even though the practice of regular confession has fallen off dramatically, many of us do still spend much time 'in the box' - and yet we simply never talk about it; nor do we seek guidance from others about it. We just get on with it and hope for the best.

By contrast this new book is by a distinguished lay pastoral theologian, Professor Peter Tyler. This gives the study greater objectivity as home-spun reminiscence is avoided. Tyler claims that the practice of confession can experience a revival as a source of grace for the Church.

This book is the second part of a trilogy following The Pursuit of the Soul: Psychoanaly-sis, Soul-making and the Christian Tradition (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2016). In the first chapter, 'The Confessing Animal', Tyler examines confession 'from what can be called a psycho-spiritual perspective' (p. 11), and helped by John Cassian and St Augustine he shows how early Christians saw the act of confessing 'as a means of expression of their essential Christian identity' (p. 19); both Freud and Jung acknowledged their debt to the Catholic practice of confession.

After this introduction there are four focal points in the book. First, Tyler links the beginnings of the practice of individual confession in Ireland and Britain from the sixth century (becoming universal in the western Church by the thirteenth) with the Celtic legend of Tristan, re-telling the story, focusing on the poisoned wound which Tristan receives at the hands of the Irish prince Morold. This is a symbol of dysfunctionality to which we are all prone if we fail to know ourselves: '... the Tristan wound, the wound ... that we all possess. It is the wound that can only be healed by the transcendent, and it if is not, it just festers and stinks.' (p. 56) The writing down of this story in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries shows the beginning of a terrible gulf between the Church's life and pain in society. Tristan represents 'the wounded secular soul, lying prone on its psychological couch sickening for the transcendent.' (p. 62)
Tyler's second hero is Wittgenstein, criticising the tendency of some editors to ignore the great man's reflections about his inner self - and the gap is filled by means of his 'confessions' in notebooks (particularly from his periods away from Cambridge) and letters, shedding light on confession itself in three ways: first, philosophy is 'work upon oneself', a form of therapy; second, confession is practical and rooted in the 'everyday', avoiding 'a metaphysical temptation - to over-generalise, to create the 'sublime conception' that will move us from 'concrete cases' to the 'ethereal regions' (p.91); and finally confession is transformative, leading to the transcendent.

Tyler then moves to the French Benedictine monk Henri le Saux, who became a mystic in India from the late 1940s known as Abhishiktananda, tracing his progress from being a conventional Christian missionary to one who pioneered Christian-Hindu understanding, drawing on private diaries and letters. Just as Wittgenstein's confessions point us away from preoccupation with metaphysics, so Abhishiktananda moves away from both Christian and Hindu 'theologising' by the end of his life: 'Ultimately he was left with a 'scorching fire' that burnt away all religious forms, ideas and duties. This fire...constellated for him around the nature of our relationship with Christ ... the channel by which we are scorched by the fire of encounter with the Beyond' (p. 131). The act of confession strips away our 'comfort zones' to draw us into a real encounter with God.

Tyler is an authority on St John of the Cross so the great Spanish mystic is his final example, concentrating on his last poem, The Living Flame of Love. The Carmelite Order began in the Holy Land at the same time as the writing down of the Tristan story and the codification of the practice of confession. John was a renowned confessor - 'the ultimate aim of the director or confessor...for John is to lead the soul to greater 'solitude, tranquility and freedom of spirit' (p.163). What Tyler writes next is good advice across the board: 'So then, John advises, if we would be a confessor or spiritual director the first and last qualification is to 'know thyself'. If we are more proficient at guiding people at the more meditative stages then we should stick to that. Dangers arise when we go beyond our competencies and think that we know about spiritual things of which we have little knowledge and experience.' (p. 164)

There is much more one could say about this profound book. It is not a 'noddy' guide - priests and others need to make an effort when reading it. Some may even skip much of the first part to go straight to John of the Cross, thinking him to be more in their 'comfort zone'; but Tyler's overall case is that the examples he gives show how confession enables us to strip away what's disordered in our lives and grow closer to God. It ought certainly to be on the syllabus in seminaries and houses of formation, but also for other pastoral ministry programmes. My only hesitation after reading this is that I would feel a little nervous if Professor Tyler appeared in 'my' box on the other side of the grille.

Ashley Beck
St Mary's University, Twickenham

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