All in the mind

Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House

St Paul exhorts us in several places to seek ‘the renewal of our mind’ and ‘to put on the mind of Christ’. He is thinking of the mind as the source of reason and he is making the assumption of the classical world that reason without divine inspiration is dull and blind. The mind becomes ‘dull’, says St Paul, when it is not placed in the light and grace of God’s love and purpose. The outcome of all our practice of prayer should be that we think differently.

This is a huge challenge for most of us as we have been taught from an early age that ‘reason rules all’ and that truth is a simple matter of logical proof. This is even more the case of the younger people in our communities whose education has been much reduced in the area of spiritual experience through the lack of collective worship, and by the marginalizing of the humanities in the curriculum (but that is another story). It was ever the case; as the great spiritual director Ignatius said, ‘Give me the boy till he’s seven and I’ll give you the man.’ It is this pre-eminence of reason over revelation that is the source of ‘liberal theology’ but also of much that purports to be Christian spirituality.

The challenge has to be met in two ways. The first is to seek a ‘humility of mind’. This humility demands an openness and vulnerabilit. Take time to reflect on how you ‘think through’ a problem – if you rely on reason alone then the mind has too exalted a place. As Augustine said, ‘Put your mind in your heart, and your heart in the love of God and then think whatever you like.’ The second way is to ‘set your minds on the things above – where Christ is’ or ‘to now to things eternal look’ or ‘whatever is honourable, lovely and true think of these things.’ The mind has to be fed with what will give it life and light rather than dull its sensitivities and warp its way of working. The first way invites us to move away from mental activity in prayer to a more wordless opening of the heart to the Lord. This could be by a deliberate contemplation of a flower or a painting. It could be the use of our memory or imagination ‘to place our mind in our heart’. It could be by the subduing of our mental activity by the repetition of the Jesus Prayer or some other short phrase or word. This is the way to contemplation – which is a totally irrational way of communion with the Lord.

The second way invites us to think again (the right use of the mind) about what we feed our mind with. It is a good idea to review one’s reading, viewing and listening diet. At the same time seek out alternatives that will give light and life and spiritual wisdom and open windows into the wonder of God’s love for you. You know it makes sense!