Intro: As I worked with my writing coach through the process of authoring Adopting Grace: A Parenting Journey from Fear to Freedom, there was one chapter that was cut from the original manuscript. But it is an important piece of my personal journey. Moving toward a more contemplative stance in my faith practice has at times saved me from chucking the whole thing out of the window. This is part one in a four part series on Becoming More Contemplative.
As I continued the pursuit of new and better ways to meet parenting challenges that were out of my league, two common and repeated themes emerged in the places I turned to for help. The first was that the parent must be the first to change. My heart began to soften, and this idea began to seep into my belief system. And often alongside this radical call to parental change was another foreign concept. The first step in being calm enough to address difficult parent-child interactions is to take deep breaths. “Really?” That seems way too simple.
I decided to give it a try. At first, this practice seemed irrelevant and silly. Then I taught deep breathing to our daughters, and it seemed to help sometimes in the midst of upsets. I started practicing yoga. I was invited to a monthly contemplative spiritual formation group where two mentors suggested that during our collective thirty minutes of silence and meditation to begin the morning, we consider a focus on “grace received” while breathing in and “grace released” on the breath out. Now, over many years, this specific meditation has become a well- loved companion. It has profoundly shifted the way that I view myself as well as others.
Mindfulness training, yoga, and other vehicles to access calm and presence in our often disordered and scattered lives are exploding all around us. Our western lifestyles cry out for strategies to create more inner peace and calm. Paying attention to the ways that we breathe, learning to slow it down, and repeated practice of this life giving exchange is a starting point.
I am not saying that intentional breathing has totally rid me of anxiety and stress or made me “Zen mama,” but it has definitely shifted my focus and given me a tool to access a level of tranquility in the midst of both internal and external upsets. Practicing meditation and breathing during the serene times in life helps to make peace more available during the chaotic periods of family life.
Allowing myself the freedom to engage in the practices of mindfulness and meditation required a mind shift. There were a number of messages and challenges from my religious upbringing that I had to confront before I could comfortably take part in a tradition that was often frowned upon and approached with suspicion by faith leaders. I had to open my mind to unfamiliar ways of thinking.
At one point in my young adult years, I tiptoed up to the ideas of meditation and how it fit into the experience of prayer. I read Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline and took special interest in his ideas around meditation. He and others tried to reclaim this ancient Christian spiritual practice that had somehow gotten labeled as “suspect” by many evangelical leaders.
I recently picked up my copy of Foster’s book, and tucked inside of it was an article from Christianity Today magazine entitled “Under Fire: Two Christian Leaders Respond to Accusations of New Age Mysticism.”* In this article, a number of Christian authors were questioned and asked to defend their encouragement of contemplative practices. Some evangelical leaders were quoted as they cast doubt and suspicion onto anyone who promoted such practices. Loaded words such as heretical, New Age, and Eastern religion were thrown around and attached to those with open minds and hearts toward such ideas. The scaremongers got inside my head, my faithful companion anxiety paralyzed me, and I turned away, for a time.
Part 2 will appear next Tuesday in this space.
*Christianity Today, September 18, 1987, “Under Fire: Two Christian leaders respond to accusations of New Age mysticism.”