Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 10, no. 1, Spring 2010
When passing on a spiritual tradition, therefore, we must be wary of the scholastic approach, sometimes misnamed ‘scientific’ or wissenschaftlisches, which, when employed in matters pertaining to the Spirit, is no more than one’s self-diffidence boosted by the authority of secondary sources. What matters is not my knowledge of what they say about mindfulness, but the fruit, which my own humble struggle to practice it, produces in me for my benefit and for the benefit of others.
It may be relevant here to recall gratefully a fraternal correction I was kindly offered by the Archimandrite Ambrosius of the Greek Orthodox Church. After listening to a lecture I delivered at Oxford University some years ago, he gently chided me (in private, not in public) for not perceiving the difference between the brand of Hellenism affecting Western theology that had absorbed the philosophical thought of ancient Greece, and the Hellenism of Eastern Orthodox theology which had assimilated the spiritual praxis of their non-Christian ancestors. Mulling over this critical observation of his, I came to understand why our scholastic tradition has not given importance to what Greek Orthodox spirituality has named nepsis (vigilance), which is its own technical term for mindfulness.
A “discerning person” (anthropos diakritikos), according to the Orthodox Greeks, is someone perpetually mindful or watchful of God working in all things and at all times. Ever conscious of God’s Love, which is God’s Will, a vigilant Christian is never taken unawares by circumstances. In the eschatological discourses of the Gospels, Jesus advises us to read the cosmic signs that announce God’s recurrent visitations and thus remain watchful and awake every hour of the day and night, that is to say, remain perpetually mindful. Hence there is no better description of biblical spirituality than ceaseless vigilance or perpetual mindfulness.
When we ceaselessly recall how our motherly Father has been mindful of us in all the vicissitudes of our life, fighting our battles with us, suffering our humiliations and overcoming them within us and through us, filling us with consolation, we cannot but fall down on our knees and burst into psalms of praise and thanksgiving; and at the same time, on the basis of that past experience, we become profoundly convinced that God is so reliable ('emet) that we can unreservedly rely on Her in the future too. 'Emuna, the biblical word for “faith” literally means “total reliance” on the one and only Person who is “totally reliable” ('emet). Faith, which is reliance on God (and on no other god of our making) can be experienced only in the process of incessantly recalling how She has demonstrated Her reliability in the past.