2012-12-11

A Mindful Congregation

Congressman Tim Ryan wrote about “A Mindful Nation.” How about a mindful congregation? What would happen in a congregation committed to cultivating mindfulness?

A mindful congregation would, first, foremost, and always, be accepting, welcoming, and radically hospitable. If certain of the members aren’t ready to do the work, that’s OK. It’s OK for anyone to be exactly where they are in their spirit journey, even if you or I might think they are “stuck.” We have no way of knowing what seeds may be germinating below the surface of another person. By offering the water of unconditional acceptance, we do all that can be done to support the eventual sprouting of those seeds. In a mindful congregation, everyone who just needs a comforting presence for an hour, or a month, or 10 years, could find it, and no one would be castigated for not working hard enough.

At the same time, most of the members of a mindful congregation would be prepared to explicitly embrace the intentional work of emotional and spiritual growth and deepening. Most of the members most of the time would be able to carry through on a resolve to set aside time each day to journal, to study the texts that feel to them to be wise and instructive, to sit in quiet, still mindfulness 20 minutes – and would be able to cultivate the habit of returning throughout their day to attention to immediate experience.

The first source of the living tradition Unitarian Universalists share is:
“direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder affirmed in all cultures that moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life.”
A mindful congregation would be attuned to “transcending mystery and wonder,” yet, even more, would see “direct experience” as fundamental and would work at paying attention to direct experience.

Most of the members of a mindful congregation would be present on Sunday morning, because that’s part of the work, and most of them would also attend a smaller spiritual practice group once or twice a month because that’s also part of this joy-making work.

A mindful congregation would have an expectational mission: a statement that very briefly indicates the work each member is expected to engage insofar as they are able. There’s a Seattle congregation that has this mission:
"We covenant to awaken spirit, nurture hope, and inspire action."
There’s a New York congregation that has this mission:
“Healing spiritual disconnection by helping each other listen to our deepest selves, open to life’s gifts, and serve needs greater than our own.”
These missions limn the work the members come together to do. By themselves, these statements are unimpressive. Brief and general as they are, however, they are specific enough to guide congregational leaders in developing programs to flesh out the mission’s meaning. For the Seattle congregation, these would be programs focused on learning how to awaken spirit, how to nurture hope, how to inspire and be inspired to action. For the New York example, the programs explicitly explore ways to listen to one’s deepest self, to recognize and receive life’s gifts, and to serve greater needs. A mindful congregation would have an expectational mission, programs designed to specify how to embody that mission, and the members would show up in significant numbers at those programs.

The creation of mindful congregations is my, and our, work.

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This is part 4 of 4 of "Mindful Nation"
Previous: Part 3: "There's Our Work"
Beginning: Part 1: "A Midwestern Congressman Named Ryan"