Is your school implementing positive psychology programs like PERMA and other wellbeing systems? How does this work in a Lutheran school? Here is a condensed version of a paper I have already posted on this site on my school's journey with Positive Psychology and some of my thinking on how it dialogues with Lutheran theology. My original longer paper was written to help me explore points of connection and gaps between Lutheran theology and positive psychology. This shorter paper was written for an educational supplement edition of the Lutheran Theological Journal which came out in May this year.
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.
What does formation look like for a staff member in a Lutheran school? By that, I mean what does a spiritual-theological experience of formation looks like that helps shape a person's understanding of why we do what we do in a Lutheran school? Does a formation experience in a Lutheran school look like staff undertaking the official LEA Connect program? Is it about their induction into a new school setting? Or what about a staff member's engagement in a school's worship life, be that a chapel service or staff or class devotion? These situations can indeed be formational experiences for staff new to a Lutheran school, but they are not what I would argue is deep intentional formation.
A truly intentional formation experience for staff in a Lutheran school involves transformation. Transformation by the gospel as a person's heart is shaped by God. Formation in a Lutheran school is not just about being informed by the gospel, but it is being reformed and transformed, personally, professionally and vocationally.
Over the last year, I have undertaken postgraduate research into the formation of staff in Lutheran schools. Part of my human research involved a case study of a Lutheran school where I interviewed two teachers and the principal and pastor. In these interviews, one formation story of transformation stood out to me. This formation story involved a complete change of mindset for one of the teachers regarding their attitude to the weekly compulsory staff devotion. When this teacher first arrived at the school, they were frustrated that prime time at the start of the school day was used for staff devotions. However, gradually God broke through this person’s attitude and heart as they came to a change of mind. This teacher learnt to deeply value this time with fellow staff members listening to God's word, praying, reflecting and being still together before the rush of the school day.
Formation experiences in Lutheran schools like this one involve much more than information. They involve a transformation of the heart as people engage with the gospel and are changed by the Holy Spirit.
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.
Here is a padlet I have created for Primary aged kids to experience a Lenten devotion. Students or teachers can create their own devotion by choosing a beginning, a bible reading, a prayer and a song. Included in the padlet are questions and videos. Lenten themes and stories include the temptation of Jesus, the Hebrews wandering in the desert, Jesus sacrifice, the way of the cross, the Last Supper and a Palm Sunday Readers Theatre. Thanks to the LEA elibrary for the idea and to LCA Grow Ministries for a couple of the resources.
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.
The following piece is a devotion I wrote for parent information evenings we recently had in our college:
It is impossible to be the perfect parent. To give our kids the perfect life and a perfect education, a perfect experience of school. We know in our minds that perfection doesn’t exist. But it still doesn’t stop us, as humans and particularly as parents, of putting ourselves under immense pressure to be the perfect parent, the supermum and überdad, successful at everything, trying to give our children only the very best.
Way back in 2017, a post from a Facebook page about how to be Mum went viral. In one hundred words the author, a mother called Bunmi Laditan, wrote this;
How To Be A Mom in 2017:
Make sure your children's academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, nutritional, and social needs are met while being careful not to overstimulate, understimulate, improperly medicate, helicopter, or neglect them in a screen-free, processed foods-free, GMO-free, negative energy-free, plastic-free, body positive, socially conscious, egalitarian but also authoritative, nurturing but fostering of independence, gentle but not overly permissive, pesticide-free, two-story, multilingual home preferably in a cul-de-sac with a backyard and 1.5 siblings spaced at least two year apart for proper development…also don't forget the coconut oil.
She then finished her post by saying; How to be a Mum in literally every generation before ours: Feed them sometimes.(1)
This post revealed vividly how impossible and laughable so much of modern parenting has become. Being a perfect parent is unrealistic. It’s bound to fail, to end in a miserable mess of sad tears. But that’s OK, because it is only by acknowledging and embracing our failures that we can begin to see how incredibly perfect the healing love of our perfect parent in heaven is. God’s grace silences all our false expectations, and pressure and guilt we put ourselves under. It's at these times that we are directed to the only true help we have as parents, God's grace for us.
My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9
Prayer; Loving God, teach us to fail. To fail as parents so that we are directed outside of ourselves, to you for strength, hope, and wisdom. Give us your grace, love and freedom when we put ourselves under the pressure of being the perfect parent. Teach us the blessings that flow from our imperfections and weakness. Help us to learn from our failures as parents and for our children to learn from this wisdom too. Give us a strong relationship with our children, their teachers and our school community. We commit into your hands our children, their education, their wellbeing, their lives. May we trust in you in all things, especially in our parenting. Amen.
(1) This quote and the inspiration for this devotion came from the book Upside-Down Spirituality; The 9 Essential Failures of a Faithful Life by Chad Bird.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17
Lutheran Christians believe that the human being consists of body and soul. This is not a separating of body and soul like the ancient Greek philosophers did but a holistic view of humans that is deeply embedded in the Old and New Testaments. In the Freedom of a Christian Luther also phrases it as the flesh and the spirit, or the outer and the inner person. Contrary to some philosophies of our time this means that the Lutheran school provides education for the whole student body, mind and soul. Our wholistic approach for the development of children and young people always involves the spiritual, giving time for the growth of the interior life of the person. This interior life or spirituality in which we experience the struggle between what our body wants to do and what our mind wants to do at times.
The section of the Freedom of a Christian that we are about to read outlines what is needed for the soul, the inner life of a person. Luther is convinced that one thing alone is necessary for the Christian and for their freedom, that is the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our interior life can lack everything except the word of God, nothing else satisfies the soul as the word of God which brings life, truth, light, peace, joy, wisdom, power grace and every imaginable blessing. For Luther this word of God is so much more than an individual reading ink printed on the page of a bible. The word of God is a living active dynamic thing when one person speaks it or proclaims it to another person and primarily that word is the gospel, the promises of God in scripture which deliver Christ to us. When we hear this word and it sinks into our soul, faith is produced in us by the Holy Spirit and we learn to rely on what God has done for us rather than our good works. What makes us right with God is not the good works our bodies can do but faith in what Jesus has done for us. Faith alone, in Christ, justifies, makes us righteous.
A Reading from the "Freedom of a Christian"
Every human being consists of two natures: a spiritual and a bodily one. According to the spiritual nature, which people label the soul, the human being is called a spiritual, inner, and new creature. According to the bodily nature, which people label the flesh, a human being is called the fleshly, outer, and old creature… This distinction results in the fact that in the Scripture these contrary things are said about the same person, because these two “human beings” fight against each other in the very same human being, as in Gal. 5[:17], “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the spirit, and what the spirit desires is opposed to the flesh”
The Spiritual, New, and Inner Person
In looking at the inner person first, we grasp how someone may become righteous, free, and truly Christian, that is, “a spiritual, new, and inner person.”
What Christian Freedom Does Not Consist In
It is evident that no external thing at all, whatever its name, has any part in producing Christian righteousness or freedom. Nor does it produce unrighteousness or servitude. This can be proven by a simple argument. How can it benefit the soul if the body is in good health—free and active, eating and drinking and doing what it pleases—when even the most ungodly slaves to complete wickedness may overflow in such things? On the other hand, how could poor health or captivity or hunger or thirst or any other external misfortune harm the soul, when even the godliest, purest, and freest consciences are afflicted with such things? Not one of these things touches upon the freedom or servitude of the soul. Thus, it does not help the soul if the body wears the sacred robes set apart for priests or enters sacred places or performs sacred duties or prays, fasts, abstains from certain foods, or does absolutely any work connected with the body. Righteousness and freedom of the soul will require something completely different, since the things just mentioned could easily be done by some ungodly person and since such efforts result only in producing hypocrites. On the other side, the soul is not harmed if the body wears street clothes, goes around in secular places, eats and drinks like everyone else, does not pray aloud, and fails to do all the things mentioned above that hypocrites could do.
The Word of God Is Necessary for the Soul
Moreover, so that we may exclude everything—even contemplation, meditation, and whatever else can be done by the soul’s efforts—all of this has no benefit. One thing and one thing alone is necessary for the Christian life, righteousness, and freedom, and that is the most holy word of God, the Gospel of Christ. As John 11[:25] states: “I am the Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in me will never die.” And John 8[:36]: “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” And Matt. 4[:4]: “One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Therefore, we may consider it certain and firmly established, that the soul can lack everything except the word of God. Without it absolutely nothing else satisfies the soul. But when soul has the word, it is rich and needs nothing else, because the word of God is the word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, freedom, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and every imaginable blessing.
David in Psalm 119
This is why the prophet throughout Psalm 119 and in so many other places [in the Psalter] yearns and sighs with groans and cries for the word of God.
God’s Cruelest Disaster
Again, there is no crueler disaster arising from God’s wrath than when it sends “a famine of the hearing of his word,” as stated in Amos 8[:11], just as there is no greater grace than whenever God sends forth his word, as in Ps. 107[:20]. “He sent out his word and healed them and delivered them from their destruction.” And Christ was not sent into the world for any other office than the word. Moreover, the apostles, bishops and the entire order of clerics have been called and established only for the ministry of the word.
What the Word of God Is
You may ask, “What is this word and how should it be used, when there are so many words of God?” I respond as follows. Paul explains what this word is in Rom. 1[:1, 3]: “The gospel of God . . . concerning his Son,” who was made flesh, suffered, rose, and was glorified through the Spirit, the Sanctifier. Thus, to preach Christ means to feed, justify, free, and save the soul—provided a person believes the preaching. For faith alone is the saving and efficacious use of the word of God. Rom. 10[:9] states: “If you confess with your heart that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” and again [in v. 4]: “For Christ is the end of the law, so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” And Rom. 1[:17] states: “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
Faith Alone Justifies
For the word of God cannot be received or honored by any works but by faith alone. Therefore, it is clear that the soul needs the word alone for life and righteousness, because if the soul could be justified by anything else, it would not need the word and, consequently, would not need faith. Indeed, this faith absolutely cannot exist in connection with works, that is to say, in connection with any presumption of yours to be justified at the same time by any works whatsoever. (1)
 The Freedom of a Christian 1520: The Annotated Luther Study Edition, translated by Timothy J. Wengert, Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 2016, 11-15.
 Carmelo Santos, The Freedom of a Christian: A Study Guide for Martin Luther’s Treatise, Marking the 500th Anniversary of its Publication, ELCA, Chicago: 2020.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
As educators in a Lutheran school we know how important it is to encourage students to learn through making mistakes, to move through those times of feeling stuck, to step out of the learning pit, and be challenged, to question, to reflect, and grow in resilience and mindset. Luther knew how important these aspects were in learning, not just in the classroom but also in the Christian faith. Luther emphasized that as Christians we learn through our trials, tribulations and even through suffering in life. It is in this vein that Luther begins his introduction to the Freedom of a Christian.
As a Doctor of Theology who lectured at university in Biblical studies Luther suggests that he has little faith. He encourages us on our spiritual journey that no matter how great or small we think our faith is, we all can access and experience the strength that is offered through faith in Christ. For Luther this faith lies outside of ourselves. It is not mere knowledge. Yet it does include knowledge, reason and logic. Faith in Christ is reasonable, verifiable, historical. That is really important when we encourage and nurture faith in students. For Luther and Lutheran theology faith is primarily trust. Trust in who Christ says he is and what Christ has done for us. Trust in the promises of God. Promise which is found in the Biblical story together with the demands of God. This is where we find paradox and two seemingly contradictory themes; because of God’s grace and forgiveness we have freedom yet as flesh and blood humans we are still bound up by sin. Let’s read now the opening paragraphs to “The Freedom of a Christian.”
A Reading from the “Freedom of a Christian”
Many people view Christian faith as something easy, and quite a few people even count it as if it were related to the virtues. They do this because they have not judged faith in light of any experience, nor have they ever tasted its great power.
This is because a person who has not tasted its spirit in the midst of trials and misfortune cannot possibly write well about faith or understand what has been written about it. But one who has had even a small taste of faith can never write, speak, reflect, or hear enough about it. As Christ says in John 4(:14), it is a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Although I cannot boast of my own abundance of faith and I also know quite well how short my own supply is, nevertheless—given that I have been troubled by great and various trials—I hope I can attain to at least a drop of faith. And I hope that I can talk about faith in a way that, if not more elegant, is certainly clearer than has been done in the past by the fancy writers and the subtle disputants alike, who have not even understood their own writings.
In order to point out an easier way for common folk (for I serve only them), I am proposing two themes concerning the freedom and servitude of the spirit:
A Christian is lord of all, completely free of everything.
A Christian is a servant, completely attentive to the needs of all.
Although these topics appear to contradict one another, nevertheless, if they can be found to be in agreement, they will serve our purposes beautifully. For both are from the Apostle Paul, when he says in 1 Cor. 9 (:19), “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all” and in Rom. 13 (:8), “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.” But “love” by its very nature is dutiful and serves the one who is loved. The same was true of Christ who, although Lord of all, was nevertheless “born of a woman, born under the law” and who was at the same time free and slave, that is, at the same time “in the form of God” and “in the form of a slave.”
Let us approach these two themes from a rather distant and unsophisticated starting point. Every human being consists of two natures: a spiritual and a bodily one. According to the spiritual nature, which people label the soul, the human being is called a spiritual, inner, and new creature. According to the bodily nature, which people label the flesh, a human being is called the fleshly, outer, and old creature. Paul writes about this in 2 Cor. 4(:16), “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” This distinction results in the fact that in the Scripture these contrary things are said about the same person, because these two “human beings” fight against each other in the very same human being, as in Gal. 5(:17), “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the spirit, and what the spirit desires is opposed to the flesh.” 
 Timothy Wengert Translation, Fortress Press: 2016, pp.10-11.
 Carmelo Santos, The Freedom of a Christian: A Study Guide for Martin Luther’s Treatise, Marking the 500th Anniversary of its Publication, ELCA, Chicago: 2020.
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.
Links I Like: