The practice of mindfulness, where attention is focused on the present moment, has exploded in popular culture in recent years, and each season dozens of books come out on the subject from a broad range of publishers. Stemming from Buddhist traditions, mindfulness is widely believed to lead to greater well-being and spiritual growth, but can the practice be incorporated into other faith traditions as well? Three books coming from Christian publishers are looking at the meditative and contemplative qualities that are already a part of Christianity, while also exploring how the practice of mindfulness can strengthen faith and enhance worship.
Barclay Press, a Quaker publishing house based in Newberg, Ore., is releasing a history of contemplative spirituality found in both Buddhism and Christianity in Presence and Process: A Path Toward Transformative Faith and Inclusive Community by Daniel Coleman (Aug.). In it, Coleman argues that mindfulness can draw people together and revitalize the Christian church. In fact, part of the reason Barclay acquired Presence and Process was the hope that those who identify as nonreligious might be attracted to the concept of Christian mindfulness, according to publisher Eric Muhr.
“Religion has a poor political reputation, and the ‘nones and dones’ are distancing themselves from it,” said Muhr. “We’re hoping readers might agree that this mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy activity has the ability to connect us.”
Further, Muhr pointed out similarities between mindfulness and Quaker traditions such as silent worship. “Mindfulness is part of our Christian heritage,” he said. "It's not a trigger word; there are similar principles."
Also exploring the use of conscious awareness within Christianity’s history is Right Here Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness (Abingdon, Aug.) by Amy Oden, professor of early church history and spirituality at Oklahoma City University’s Saint Paul School of Theology. It suggests that the practice has been a part of Christianity long before the mindfulness movement of the late 20th century, and that it can help Christians deepen their faith.
“Amy defines mindfulness as ‘the practice of prayerful attention in the present moment to God’s abundant life,’” said David Teel, senior editor at Abingdon. “I hadn’t seen any book like it—that looked at the cultural sensibility of mindfulness from a Christian perspective.”
Lastly, Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality: Making Space for God (WJK, Aug.) by Anglican priest Tim Stead explores mindfulness and its benefits to Christians who want to make their faith a bigger part of their lives. Jessica Miller Kelley, acquisition editor at Westminster John Knox, acknowledged that some Christians may disregard mindfulness as being “new age” or foreign, but in today’s digital-driven world, stress and distraction are pointing more and more people toward it.
“We at Westminster John Knox appreciate the ways other traditions can enhance Christian spirituality and practice,” said Miller Kelley. “Mindfulness can help quiet the self-centered voices of anxiety, shame, and busyness that get in the way of hearing God and cultivating compassion for others.”
Although mindfulness is not a new trend in the general market, Christian publishers agree that interest is on the rise in evangelical, Presbyterian, and several other Christian circles today. Books that blend the Buddhist practice with biblical study and Christian worship will likely grow in number in the next few years, especially as church leaders search for new ways to keep millennials in their pews.
“Mindfulness can help people experience inner peace,” said Abingdon’s Teel. “It lowers anxiety and opens more creative curiosity, giving us space to reinterpret texts and allow more room for joy and real life.”
Muhr at Barclay said, “It is a spiritual practice that can change lives and the world. There might be Christians who are doing this at work or in yoga, but not as part of their spiritual practice, and more mindful equals more faithful.”