At the start of this term my school had a staff retreat at Luther Heights campsite at Coolum. It was well received by staff to be at an external site and in such a beautiful part of the Sunshine Coast. Despite the Covid restrictions for the number of people we could have in buildings, we will still able to use rooms and the outdoors, rotate groups of people, and be blessed by our own staff leading activities based on the theme. The theme for the retreat built on the college's theme for the year, Connection to Self, Connection to Others, Connection to Creation and Connection to Christ. One of the activities for the Connection to Self station was a self guided Examen that staff were able to use for their own silent prayerful reflection while taking in views of the ocean. If you are unfamiliar with the Examen it comes from the Jesuit tradition of the Catholic Church from St Ignatius. Below you can view this self guided Examen we used. Most of the content in it comes from an American Catholic Educator called Dennis Hamm.
The following devotion gets to the guts of a biblical, Hebraic and I would say Lutheran understanding of meditation. This devotion is from Chad Bird's "Unveiling Mercy; 365 Daily devotions based on insights from Old Testament Hebrew" p.181.
This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.
The Hebrew verb for meditate is hagah. But don't conjure up the image of a Buddhist monk sitting in the lotus position chanting "Om." Picture a lion growling over his prey (Isa 31:4). Picture a dove cooing or moaning in distress (Isa 38:4). The prophet Isaiah uses hagah to describe the sounds of both these animals. This is the voice of meditation.
Meditation, in other words, is not about closing your eyes, saying nothing, and disappearing inside yourself. It is about focusing your eyes on the Bible, saying the words, and disappearing inside Christ. When you meditate, you are a lion crouching over its prey. You are the eater and the Word is your food. Take a bite, chew it, taste it, crunch the verbs, salivate over the nouns. There's no rush. This is not McDonald's. Savour the feast. Growl over the words you swallow. Let them echo from the chambers of your body. Let each one have its say. No word is unimportant. Each has a voice. Let them roll off your tongue. What you are eating is what you are saying. God's Word becomes your word.
O Lord, teach us to delight in your Word, that we may meditate in it day and night.
For over a year I have been working with a small group of senior students for a lunchtime meditation group. Even during the enforced home learning of Covid last year we continued the group meditating via our screens on a Teams video call. This year we meet in one of the quieter classrooms of the school. We bring our lunch and eat beforehand. Then we sit in a circle with a candle and chime in the middle. Someone lights the candle, we read a verse of scripture and pray. Then we hear the chime before we enter ten minutes of silence. The meditation timer on my phone reminds me to hit the chime to bring everyone back to the present moment. We finish our meditation time by debriefing how we found the experience. This model of meditation which recommends linking a mantra with our breathing comes from the wisdom of the early church and monasticism via a contemporary meditation group called the World Community for Christian Meditation. Below is a 8 minute animated clip on how to do this style of Christian mediation.
There is a form of contemplative meditation that has become more mainstream in Christian Spirituality (both Catholic and Protestant) in recent decades called Lectio Divina. I have used this practice in staff devotions at my school occasionally. Lectio Divina simply means ‘divine or sacred reading’. It is a way of meditating, contemplating on the Biblical text that comes out of the monastic tradition of the church. For centuries, monks, whether they lived solitary or in community would use Lectio Divina for their private and communal devotions. The process involved what is called in Latin; Lectio (reading the text), Meditatio (meditating on the text), Oratio (praying) and Contemplatio (contemplating). What is particularly noteworthy of this practice from a Lutheran point of view is Luther’s experience of the Lectio.
Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk. His reforms of the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages was birthed out of his experience of monasticism. And in many ways, Luther reacted against the monastic practices he was formed in. He reacted against many of them as he saw them contributing to his image of an angry God who needed to be pleased. They were works he tried to perfect to obtain God’s grace and favour. Indeed Luther vigorously tried to be the best possible monk he could. He prayed hard, he worked hard, he confessed every sin, yet he still felt it was not enough. Worse still, his failures towards God lead him to deep spiritual despair where he doubted God’s grace and mercy.
When it came to the Lectio, which was embedded into every monk's daily life, Luther reacted against it becoming a performative work in which we try to interpret what the Holy Spirit is saying through our ideas, our thoughts, our contemplation. Even meditating on the Bible can become a work to get the favour of God, a ladder to climb to heaven.
The gospel which Luther rediscovered is the opposite of this. We meditate on scripture as God comes down to us. In Jesus, God became flesh and blood, so in the Bible, God comes down to us as the Holy Spirit is given to us through his word as gift and promise. When viewed through this upside-down lens, scripture has the capacity to interpret us rather than we trying to interpret scripture. When we come to the text with humility, the Holy Spirit becomes our teacher through faith in Christ.
Luther reformed the monastic Lectio by changing the order of devotion from ending in contemplation to ending in something entirely different. Something that speaks to Luther’s theology of the cross. Luther’s Lectio went like this; Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio. Prayer, meditating on the text, then testing and spiritual attack. Luther went so far as to say from his study of the Psalms that this triad of oratio, medtitatio and tentatio is what makes a theologian. Theology is learnt not from academic study or speculation about who God is but by praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, dwelling on God’s word to us, and experiencing the cross as we endure with Christ the trials and suffering in our lives. In the end, when we meditate on the word we meditate on the cross. For it is only through the cross that God fully reveals himself.
Below are two mindful meditative exercises I used during staff week of the new school year with our executive leadership and whole staff teams. So much of our work in schools involves the head, it is important to pause and take time to connect with the heart and centre ourselves before we connect with students. The aim of these exercises is that movement from the head to the heart.
This morning I have two mindful meditative exercises we will experience which are based on words from Psalm 139. One of these exercises is for the head and the other one is for the heart. But first, let’s FOFBOC. Feet On Floor, Back On Chair.
Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when
I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. (Psalm 139:1-2)
When you are still and comfortable, imagine you are sitting or lying on a grassy hill looking up at a clear blue sky. You might like to imagine Christ is there with you, silent beside you, accompanying you as your friend. As you sit there you look at the sky and every now and then clouds pass by.
In this exercise, focus on the sky and let the clouds pass. You will notice that, from time to time, thoughts will come into your head. It might be about the things you have to do today, the people you need to talk to, the emails to respond to. It might be about what you are going to eat for morning tea or lunch, or a worry or a memory you have.
When this happens, place these thoughts onto one of the passing clouds. Do not try to control these thoughts. Rather each time they occur, simply place them on a cloud and let it pass by you, through the sky.
Always redirect your attention to observing the sky. In this way you are not controlling or interacting with your thoughts, you are simply noticing them and letting them pass by.
Continue this task for a couple of minutes.
(Katherine Thompson, Christ Centred Mindfulness, p.138)
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23)
Debrief; How did you find that? Are you someone who can visualize imagery and think in pictures? If you’re not that’s OK. How did you go with what the Buddhists call the monkey mind? Did you tame the wild elephant? We can’t block our thoughts or stop them from entering our minds but what we can choose to do is to not listen to them or be controlled by them. With a mindful activity like this and the help of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word we can instead befriend our thoughts.
In this second activity, the silent meditation, we are moving from our heads to our hearts. It might only be about 40cm from our head to our hearts but it can be longest and most difficult journey we ever take. One of the ways people have done this journey of connecting the head to the heart is through breathing.
In this exercise I invite you to choose a mantra, a short phrase, that you will repeat silently as you take a breath in and then breathe out. The mantra I might suggest to you from yesterday’s service is; “I am a loved…child of God”. So, to connect it to your breath, you would say to yourself as you take one breath in “I am a loved”. And then as you take that breath out and exhale “child of God”. We will try doing this during five minutes of silence. I have a chime for the start and the end of the five minutes. (You can also use a meditation app on your phone that has a timer). By saying over and over the words we choose, with our breaths in and out, we will hopefully be moving from those restless thoughts in the head down to the heart, where the Holy Spirit can centre us in Jesus.
You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… Search me, God, and know my heart; (Psalm 139:13,23)
Sound a chime or use a chime on a meditation app to signal the start of the five minutes of silence. Then at the end of the time sound the chime again. And as people open their eyes repeat verses twenty-three of Psalm 139 again.
Search me, God, and know my heart; (Psalm 139:23)
Debrief; How did people find that meditation experience? Were people able to get out of their heads and focus on their breathing and chosen words?
Prayer: Thank you God for moments of stillness and silence and we commit this day into your hands. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Have you ever thought about your breathing? Probably not that often, but did you know that in an average day an active adult can take up to 50 000 breaths? And would you believe a one year old can take up to 86 000 breaths? We do it automatically but every breath we take is an absolute miracle, a gift from God. With the popularity of mindfulness, the importance of concentrating on our breathing to help us be in the moment has resurfaced. But religious people, including Jews and Christians have known this a long time.
In the beginning in the book of Genesis we read God; formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a human being (Genesis 2:7). We believe that humanity was created to breathe, to take in the breath that comes from God to truly live. And what’s more in John’s gospel we read that on Easter day when Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples, he spoke to them, reassured their fears then breathed on them and said receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). God has made us as human beings with his living breath as the resurrected Jesus lives with and in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. In using our breathe in conjunction with prayer we are centring ourselves on the Triune God.
Focusing on our breathing in times of anxiety is a great skill to learn. Below is a 3 minute video from Mindful Schools called "Just Breathe". It is not from a specifically Christian worldview but it does have wisdom for faith based schools as we make the connection to the spiritual for our students.
In these anxious times of the corona-virus pandemic, pausing, taking a breath and centering ourselves on God is so important. The rate of change in the day to day life of schools for the end of this first term has been mind-blowing. Teachers and staff have been amazingly open to the huge demands put on them, especially in the area of upskilling their digital technology capabilities. In what looks like a totally new technology driven learning environment for students and staff next term, taking regular breaks from screens and connecting with our bodies will be necessary for everyone's well-being.
With this in mind I have created a devotional resource for staff and possibly secondary students based around the ancient concept of breath prayers (thanks to Steph Maher from LEQ for the idea!). There are lots of mindfulness and well-being resources floating around at the moment but there is not much mindfulness material that uses biblical passages and the promises of God. These breath prayers link a focus on our breath with succinct phrases from the scriptures. I have put them into a PowerPoint Presentation with guided audio on each slide. Below is a taste of what I have created with introductions and the whole script of ten prayers. If you are interested in the whole collection of breath prayers for a ten week term click here Staff Devotions.
About this site
"Meditations & Musings" is my humble attempt to share what I have found useful in ministry in an Australian Lutheran School setting. It contains chapels, devotions and other resources I have written, used and adapted in my K-12 school context. If you would like to also share your ideas, resources or start a conversation about mission and ministry in your church- school location, feel free to contact me.
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