Thanksgiving Day is upon us. Within the next week our minds begin, if they haven’t already, to shift towards the upcoming holiday season. As we approach Thanksgiving, may we find at least a few moments to pause and truly consider what it is that we are thankful for. No matter how brief or extended our recognition of gratitude may be, the impact of pausing and turning our awareness towards gratitude can have monumental effects in our lives. In fact, it is the pausing and turning of our awareness that can renew our spirits.
Throughout his life of ministry and teaching, Jesus spoke to His disciples about awareness and, to use the language of our culture right now, mindfulness especially when it came to the way He told parables to explain the Kingdom of God. Mark 4:9-12 gives us an example of this. This is what is written,
Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” When he was alone, the
Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The
secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside
everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
According to Jesus, it was attentiveness, awareness, or mindfulness that was key to seeing and perceiving, hearing and understanding the secret to the Kingdom of God. Jesus also points out in this Scripture that the secret is not something that is earned or worked towards, but rather it is a gift that God gives. Therefore, obtaining that secret of the Kingdom of God means simply receiving what God offers.
Beginning next Sunday, November 26th, our Advent series through the journey to Christmas is called “The Gift of Being Present.” Thanksgiving Day seems a very appropriate time to highlight and kickstart our thinking about how we can be present this holiday season. Where does our gratitude begin? What is the source of our thankfulness? Surely it is in Christ alone who gives us life and gives it abundantly. How do we adequately express our gratitude to God for all He has done from creating us in His image, to inviting us into life with Him? Surely, there is no greater pleasure than to choose to be present with God in a very similar fashion to how we gather around our tables with family and friends this Thanksgiving.
But how? How does one grasp intimacy with the Creator of the Universe? No matter how feeble or imperfect our attempts towards intimacy with God may feel, the reality is profound. What is the secret or mystery to the Kingdom of God Jesus mentioned before in the passage in Mark 4? The mystery is this: “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” Ephesians 3:12. How does this look? Let’s at least begin with attentiveness or mindfulness.
In her book, Right Here Right Now, Amy Oden outlines four brief steps that help us pay attention to God’s presence in our lives. If you’re reading this Renew, the invitation that is implicit in what follows is to follow along in this process. Perhaps you can even copy and paste these steps into a text message to yourself or into a new Note on your phone so you have easy access to them throughout your days.
Attentive breathing (about 30 seconds)
Breathe slowly and deeply.
As you breathe notice your breathing, the feel of your chest rising and falling with each inhale and exhale.
While breathing is an involuntary act of your body, choosing to be attentive to this process can turn your heart towards the Creator who made you so intricately.
Attentive Embodiment (about 30 seconds)
Continue to breathe mindfull
y and let your breathing fill your whole body.
Visualize the oxygen filling your lungs, then your torso, then your arms and legs, providing life-giving oxygen throughout your bloodstream from the tip of your head down to the bottoms of your feet.
As your continue to breathe, simply notice sensations in your body - are there areas of tension, areas of warmth or areas that are relaxed? Don’t analyze what you notice, simply observing will do.
Acknowledgement (about 30 seconds)
Recognize the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and/or attitudes that are in you right now. Whether those are positive or negative, whether you like them or don’t like them, acknowledge what those things are.
A lot of our time each day is spent avoiding, denying, rejecting and/or repressing what is actually happening in our
bodies. Take this time to prayerfully observe with the Lord what is in your body.
To be clear, your acknowledgement does not mean that you must accept any harmful or unjust situation, only the thoughts or feelings that arise, recognizing that those thoughts and feelings are there.
Discovery (about 30 seconds)
As you acknowledge the things going on inside of you, what do you discover about those things?
Do thoughts or feelings shift shapes - increasing or diminishing as you hold them before the Lord? Does a sensation in your body move elsewhere? Do some thoughts or attitudes disappear altogether now that they’ve been exposed in the Lord’s presence?
The point in mindfulness practices such as this is simply noticing, not analyzing, judging or processing. You may find that these four steps are actually quite difficult for you the first few times you try them (or you may not even make it through all of them).
Consider the following and share your results with a spiritual friend, triad, or life group.
What was your experience of the four steps listed above? Would you consider adding these steps into your daily or weekly spiritual practices?
Thanksgiving Day, or t
he days around it, is often a day we set aside to share a meal with family or friends. Try the four steps in the Spiritual Practice segment above the night before or the morning of Thanksgiving. Then, try is again after you have spent time together. Did your time in God’s presence effect your time with your family? If so, in what way? *Note: If your time with God through these four steps didn't seem to yield "results," take heart. As mentioned earlier in this Renew, no matter how feeble or imperfect our attempts towards intimacy with God may feel, the reality is profound. What is the secret or mystery to the Kingdom of God Jesus mentioned before in the passage in Mark 4? The mystery is this: “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” Spending time with God is itself a gift and treasure.
With you right here, and right now