Use Your Fork. Your Mind Will Follow.

Mindful eating can be an impactful element of Christian mindfulness. When we stay present and grateful to God’s presence, the experience of wolfing down a meal changes. Better health and a deeper understanding of God’s role in “our daily bread” can result.

Some new ideas for building the mindful eating practice were in a recent article in Good Housekeeping by Stefani Sassos, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. Her article suggests combining intuitive eating, which rejects prescribed diets and helps people come to peace about food, with mindful eating, which requires staying present during the meal.

Sassos’ tips start with a body scan to see how hungry you actually are. Then she suggests eating without distraction … no screens, phones on mute and off the table.

Her third tip centers on gratitude. This is where we can give thanks to God for the food and the circumstances in which you are eating. Bless all those involved in the creation of your food, from the fields to the plants to the kitchen. If you’re the cook, thank God for your arms and hands, for your ability to read or create a recipe, and for the ingredients you found.

Then you eat. Your fork can be your best friend in eating mindfully. Pick it up to give yourself a bite, and then put it down. Eat the bite completely, paying attention to the flavors and the textures. Praise God and the cook for creativity. Then pick up the fork again. If you concentrate on putting your fork down after every bite, staying present with your food is much easier. You can find more on my approach to mindful Christian eating here.

Sassos also has some wise words about practicing mindful eating when children are adding joy and chaos to the meal. Just pick one thing, such as one bite at a time, to do. The kitchen table is also a wonderful place to inspire the rest of the family by saying grace that thanks all involved in the food, including God. The prayers can lead to real conversations about food production that kids will remember for years.

Autumn: It’s Nuts. And Holy.

Christian mindfulness practices are beautiful in the autumn. If we concentrate on our neighborhoods and local parks, we can all enjoy God’s majesty and creativity in the fall.

Here are some ideas:

  • Pick a tree in the neighborhood that changes color. Visit it every day to watch the subtle changes. I’ve always loved that the autumn hues are always present in the leaves. They are green only because they are full of chlorophyll.
  • Take your devotions outdoors. Bring a spiritual book to a park to read. Pray under the prettiest tree.
  • Go nutting. Find true nuts like acorns and hazelnuts. (Believe it or not, almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews aren’t true nuts, which are hard-shelled, one-seeded fruits of the tree.) You can use the nuts in decorating. Or go nuts and roast them. (Acorns are pretty bitter, but edible.)
  • Go for a gratitude walk to thank the Lord for all the natural beauty you see, one thing at a time.
  • Watch the squirrels getting ready for winter. Do you know the Lord has blessed them with the ability to remember where they stored their food?
  • Eat outdoors as often as possible. Even better, take Jesus on a picnic.

Autumn is a time when the beauty, creativity and wisdom of the Lord is visible throughout the landscape. Be sure to enjoy it.

Resource: Finding Yourself in the Kitchen

“Finding Yourself in the Kitchen: Kitchen Meditations and Inspired Recipes from a Mindful Cook” should be sipped, not devoured in chunks. Zen priest Dana Velden‘s book is a gathering of short mindfulness practices and essays based in the kitchen.

Velden, a food writer based in Oakland, Calif., provides a handful of detailed recipes. But most of the book is about paying attention while cooking. The book has a fan base. Goodreads readers give it 4.1 out of a possible 5 stars. On Amazon, it has 5 out of 5 stars with 40 ratings.

My favorite mindfulness practice in the book is soji, a 20-minute period in Zen temples where the whole community cleans together. It usually happens after morning meditation. Each person gets a simple cleaning task, such as sweep the floor. Everyone does their task silently and without hurrying to finish it.

You clean or sweep or dry dishes mindfully until someone rings a bell. Then you stop. And go onto the next thing, usually breakfast.

Velden suggests that we consider approaching some of our tasks on our to-do lists with a soji perspective. “What would happen if it wasn’t so much about finishing but more about simply doing? What burdens can be put down when we redirect our energies not toward the goal, but to the process itself each moment along the way?” she writes.

She also says that soji teaches people how to get tasks done when they don’t want to do them. She uses the principle to tackle jobs she dreads around the house. It’s an interesting concept, although I wonder if my family would feel comfortable in a house full of half-done tasks. Could be that’s better than not-done tasks.

You’ll find more resources for practicing Christian mindfulness here.

Make a Morning Playlist

The British magazine “Oh!” had an excellent idea in its latest issue: Make a morning playlist.

In Pandemic Year Two, many of us are trying hard to get back into the swing of life. Yet life does not seem to cooperate. “I thought this would be over by now” is the national mood.

So why not start by picking 10 songs that always lift your spirits. Put them in a playlist on Spotify or any other method you have. And use them to combat gray mornings.

For example, I find that I can work myself into a giant funk while getting dressed for the day. So I started listening and singing alone to uplifting praise music. It helps.

You can find some other ideas for your own list from these Spotify playlists:

Have fun! Let me know what your favorite songs are.

No More Mean Mondays

You are not imagining it. People are meaner on Mondays.

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that people display less civility and kindness on Mondays than they do the rest of the week. But the study does contain some good news for those of us who practice any form of mindfulness.

Mindfulness stabilizes this situation. People who practice it are able to maintain a stable level of kindness and courteous behavior across the week.

This is no surprise to me. My form of mindfulness … Christian mindfulness … gives you a solid foundation and handrails to walk across difficult days. It’s a stabilizing force for the kind of inner peace that only comes through a relationship with Jesus.

Staying in the present moment in the presence of God brings a continual source of strength. You learn, as many do, that the only thing you can control is yourself. Christian mindfulness actually gives you the graces necessary to be able to do that in a kind way on a fairly consistent basis.

Determination and Fear: The Legacy of 9/11

It’s the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. I remember that day:

  • Sitting in my office at my computer when a colleague named Jeff LaRue poked his head in my office and said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
  • Realizing this was not a small plane crash.
  • Interrupting my CEO in a client meeting in the conference room to say that planes had crashed into both towers and the Pentagon. “Could we turn on the TV here?” The client was annoyed at my interruption.
  • Listening to the church bell, located across the street from our office tower, begin to toll. It continued to toll all day. The last time that happened was Pearl Harbor.
  • Watching the first tower collapse from the same viewpoint where I last saw the towers two weeks before.
  • Heading home to be with my high school student, calling my other child in a college dorm room, and contacting my husband who was on the road.
  • Working on a proposal while watching the television in my living room.
  • Finding out that my husband didn’t realize the extent of the situation until he got to a hotel and watching it on television.
  • Looking at the sky which now contained no airplanes.
  • Waking up the next morning to wonder what would happen that day.

The United States was probably at its best that week. We were determined in the face of fear. Many bad decisions later, we aren’t at our best. But we know that Christians can always be determined in the face of fear. Our side has already won.

The Sept. 11 reading of Sarah Young’s wonderful devotional “Jesus Always” points out that the world has always been at war. Yet we do not have to be afraid. Jesus has achieved the victory that allows us to have a hope and a future. But we are still not alone in the world. The dark side is still setting off explosions as it moves in defeat. So we are cautioned to have self-control and be alert.

Is it possible to be alert without feeling all-consuming fear? Yes. But we must be determined and ask for grace to achieve that state. Paul of Tarsus tells us that we are at our best when we recognize that we are weak and allow God to move through us.

So what does determination look like when we know that we are weak? Here are seven indicators:

  1. We expect God to help when we are doing His will.
  2. We believe in the importance of our role in the kingdom of God.
  3. We focus our attention on the work we are doing.
  4. We listen to God’s word and seek his will for next steps.
  5. We avoid distraction.
  6. We ask for help when we need it.
  7. We keep going even when things get difficult.

None of us alive on 9/11 predicted the next 20 years. But God did know what would happen. Walking with Him in Christian mindfulness may help us to make the next 20 more successful for the kingdom.

Observe Water

Praised be You, my Lord,
through Sister Water
who is so useful,
humble,
precious,
and pure. 
Francis of Assisi, "The Canticle of the Creatures"

It’s essential to keeping us alive. So today let’s pay specific attention to water.

Observe water all around you … in nature and in your home, in your body and in your life. Those of us with clean running water are lucky people, and we need to give thanks.

According to World Vision.org, 785 million people around the world don’t have access to basic drinking water. Many drink impure water out of necessity. This leads to disease. Dirty water and sanitation issues cause more than 800 children under age 5 per day (297,000 per year) to die from diarrhea.

We can focus on water as a Christian mindfulness exercise multiple ways.

First, we can pray for clean water for everyone. World Vision is among the organizations in the world working to end the lack of clean water by 2030. This issue has become more urgent, if that is possible, because of the need for hand washing in the pandemic.

We can support this effort financially and in prayer. This is one prayer for that:

Loving God, we ask for Your blessings on children, mothers, fathers, and communities who are thirsty. Purify, protect, and multiply their water sources. Strengthen their resolve so they may fully enjoy the benefits of clean water — essentials like education, gardens of fresh produce, and good health.

We also can pray for the global will to ensure everyone has safe drinking water. At the same time, we can pray for the women and children who walk long distances to carry water. This has been women’s work since Biblical times.

In fact, a Samaritan woman who came to get water from a well had a memorable encounter with Jesus. He told her:  “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water,” (John 4:10). While we pray for the gift of clean water for all, let us also ask for Living Water for ourselves and the rest of the world. Here’s another prayer from World Vision:

We are grateful to You, Lord, for being our Source of living water — the One who satisfies our soul’s deepest desire with the joy of salvation. Open people’s eyes to recognize You as the only Source of living water for their parched souls. Let them be refreshed in Your love when they enjoy clean water to drink.

Another Christian mindfulness exercise is to be deliberate in giving thanks for our own clean water for a day. Each time you drink, hold the glass in front of you, and spend 10 seconds looking at it. Understand all the work and effort … and think of all the people … involved in getting the water to you. Then thank God for your drink. Or your shower or bath or laundry water.

For an even more thought-provoking exercise, take the Matthew 25 challenge from World Vision. Here’s how.

Observing water can provide us with many lessons. One unit of water can easily change from liquid to solid to gas, reflecting the impermanence of life. Water can show us how to flow through changing circumstances. And water can show its power, just when you think that people have conquered it. “Respect the river” is a motto in my boating life.

I hope you can take time to observe water this week. Let me know what you see.

Take Jesus on a Picnic

As summer starts to wind down, let’s go on a picnic packed with Christian mindfulness. It’s easy. Pack a lunch filled with the healthy food that the Lord wants you to eat. Include the Bible or a devotional, either in the basket or on your phone. Then go out into nature to intentionally spend time with the Lord and His creation.

Creating space with silence and beauty allows us all to open up to hear the Lord’s still, small voice. I do these picnics alone, but you can invite companions if they agree to the concept.

We spend so much time indoors, particularly if the weather is difficult. The concept of weather can help us to see the totality of God’s creation. Yes, God made the perfect sunny, breezy day. But He also made the rain, the wind, the searing heat and the gray skies. A daily walk in creation is always a good idea.

For the picnic, pick some time when you can devote at least an hour. Stay in the present moment, thanking God for the sky, the insects, the trees, the grass and everything else around you. Pray to God to bless the other people that you see. Quietly read your devotional or Bible, asking Him to speak to you. Bring a journal if you’d like to think through questions or concerns.

You can also add some fun. Bring some bubbles. Watch some birds. Borrow a child’s magnifying glass to look at insects. Revel in the wonder of nature. Doing this mindfully can help us all to feel God’s presence in the present moment.

Like many of us, I have missed having the opportunity to go on a retreat in the last two years or so. This is a retreat that you can take any time, and you don’t even have to wear a mask outside these days.

Jesus often went off by himself to commune with His father. I’ll bet he would love to go on a picnic with you.

Check out the menu to find other summer mindfulness exercises.

brown steel letter b wall decor

Becoming the Presence of Christ

As we are changed into more loving, surrendered Christ-followers, we become the presence of Christ in the world that God loves and sent his own Son to save. We are able to join others on whatever hard road they are traveling and discern loving, God-guided response to their need.

Ruth Haley Barton, “Life Together in Christ”

Create Your Rule of Life

The first back-to-school pictures arrived in my texts today. Pumpkins and autumn foliage line the shelves of craft stores. The pandemic has taken a turn for the worse. At least I held onto my masks made with “fall leaves” fabric. So it’s a good time to create or update your rule of life.

Schedules change. Every year we discover new resources that help us to grow closer to God. So updating a rule of life is an annual practice for me.

For those of you who have not created one, it’s a schedule, more or less, of things you will do on a regular basis to practice the presence of God in the present moment. “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero contains a chapter on creating a rule. His categories are:

  • Prayer
    • Scripture
    • Silence and Solitude
    • Daily Office
    • Study
  • Rest
    • Sabbath
    • Simplicity
    • Play and Recreation
  • Work and Activity
    • Service and Mission
    • Care for the Physical Body
  • Relationships
    • Emotional Health
    • Family
    • Community

Under this format, you go through each category to make rules about what you will and will not do.

Sample Rule of Life (It’s Mine)

My rule of life is more of a schedule. Each year, I do go through it to evaluate the helpfulness of each element and update the materials I am using. Here’s a peek:

Daily

  • Early morning: 20-30 minutes of centering prayer, read through New Testament annually, read a chapter of the Old Testament in chronological order, pray over to-do list, journal
  • 10 a.m.: Read one of Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling book series
  • Noon: Work listening to Pray as You Go OR do Liturgy of the Hours Office of the Readings OR read morning prayer in “Give Us This Day” magazine
  • 3 p.m.: Lectio 365 app
  • 5:30 p.m.: Evening prayer in “Give Us This Day” magazine.
  • Nighttime: Gratitude list, examen or night prayer in one of these apps: Pray as You Go, Lectio 365, Hallow, Pause or Abide.

Weekly

Sabbath on Sunday: nature walk, spiritual reading

Monthly

3rd Sunday: spend an hour reading a book about faith

Spiritual direction appointment (now is quarterly)

Yearly

Retreat

Celebrate the Christian calendar

Some feel my rule is excessive, but it has worked, even when I worked full-time. I describe it as handrails that keep me on the path. What would you like in your rule? Let me know.

You can listen to this episode on my podcast Mindful Christian Year by clicking here.

How to Be a Blessing

When more than one source tells me to try something, I think God is on the move. That’s why I am blessing everything around me.

This starts when Mindful Christian Year got some comments ridiculing Christianity. What should I do? As Jesus said in Luke 6:28: “Bless those who curse you.”

In Christian mindfulness, we practice the presence of God as we focus on the here and now. The act of blessing those who hated our faith strengthened my practice. It kept me even more focused on both God’s presence and the present moment.

So what happens when you ask God to bless everyone? It elevates our relationships with those around us while keeping us in continual communication with God.

In his book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” Peter Scazzero said the healthiest relationship between two human beings is an “I/Thou” relationship. Drawing on the work of Martin Buber, Scazzero writes that I/Thou relationships are those in which we recognize that the other person is created in God’s image. We know that God loves this person.

Most of the time we are in “I/it” relationships, he says. We do not connect the people we meet with God. We see them as objects, usually objects getting in our way. To routinely and continually bless people can change that.

As Pierre Pradervand writes in “The Gentle Art of Blessing,” the simple practice of praying for blessing for all those around you is a worthy goal. While Pradervand does not write from a purely Christian perspective, he does make a good argument that the Bible would embrace this practice.

Pradervand also does not distinguish “our blessing” from “asking God for His blessing” on others. I think that’s very important as we practice Christian mindfulness.

Ways to Practice Blessing

Nonetheless, Pradervand has some good suggestions. Here are some of them as well as those I’ve received from other Christians:

  • When praying for a person who is in the dark place, pray for blessings for the person’s body, mind and soul.
  • Ask for God’s blessing on your to-do list or schedule every day. Especially ask Him to bless the people that you are going to meet.
  • When passing people on the street, in the office, in public transportation and everywhere else, ask God to bless them.
  • When talking to people, ask God to bless them, including their relationship with God, their health, their relationships with others and their work.
  • When walking in an area, pray for God’s blessing on its government, teachers, health care workers, children, spiritual leaders, patients, prisoners, etc.
  • Ask for God’s blessing when something unexpected or unpleasant happens.

Let me know if using this practice helps you to practice the presence of God in the present moment.

Enjoy Calmtainment

What’s “calmtainment?” It’s on Wunderman Thompson Agency’s list of trends that will define 2021. Calmtainment is entertainment that helps people to relax and feel calm.

Life is returning to some kind of normal this summer. Many of my friends are going back to their offices, and social calendars are filling up quickly. Yet I also see that many people enjoyed aspects of the sheltering-in-place days: family dinners, reduced social demands, no business travel and so on. The question of “What am I going to keep doing from the pandemic days?” is on many minds.

Likewise, because of the stress of those days, the business of mindfulness expanded dramatically during the 2020 pandemic year. For example, the app “Calm,” which I recommend, was valued at $2 billion in December 2020.

A demand for calmtainment is in the air. It’s perhaps also a reaction to doom scrolling and ultraviolent and/or fast-paced video games, movies and television. To meet that demand, the entertainment industry is creating “unique, immersive experiences,” as Wunderman Thompson says.

This includes Netflix’s “Headspace Guide to Meditation” and the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos. ASMR videos feature someone whispering or tapping to give the viewer a sensation of brain tingling. This promotes relaxation and has attracted millions of followers on social networks.

Calmtainment doesn’t have to come in video or audio formats. Mindful Magazine’s August 2021 issue notes that LEGO has released an adult line described as “therapeutic, immersive and relaxing.” Other ideas include playing with Play-Doh, jigsaw puzzles and adult coloring books. You can turn nearly any play experience into Calmtainment if you slow it down, bring in Christian mindfulness and keep it quiet.

What kind of calmtainment do you enjoy?

Three Steps to Mindful Worship

My journey has taken me from liturgical music to contemporary Christian worship music. It took me a while to learn how to worship intentionally and mindfully while the band plays loudly. Here are three steps that will help you to practice Christian mindfulness as you participate in worship music.

  1. Sing to God, not about God. This is a similarity between liturgical music and contemporary Christian worship songs. But it’s different from some from mainline Protestant denominations. John Wimber, a musician who founded the Vineyard movement, and his wife, Carol, noticed that they experienced God deeply when they sang songs that personally addressed Jesus. Carol Wimber wrote, “Those types of songs both stirred and fed the hunger for God within me.”
  2. Worship with your body. During the pandemic, many of us have watched our services online, singing while we slouched in an armchair. Now we are back in church, standing and lifting our hands. The songs feel much more like worship. The Wimbers saw this, too. “Because the word worship means literally to bow down, it is important that our bodies are involved in what our spirits are saying. In Scripture, this is accomplished through bowing heads, lifting our hands, kneeling and even lying prostate before God.”
  3. Worship throughout the day. Worshipping can lift you up when you are doing something that normally brings you down. I realized that I was thinking very negatively when I was getting ready to go to work. So I started bringing worship music into the bathroom with me. Now I sing to God while I dress. It helps so much. Think about times of the day when you are feeling the worst and see if you can add worship music to the routine!

Do you have any suggestions of how to bring Christian mindfulness to your worship times? I’d love to hear them.

Cheer Up the Lonely!

As a retired public relations person, I have a special relationship with National Days. We kept calendars of them to link with events and social media posts. So I can’t believe I missed National Cheer-Up-the-Lonely Day on July 11.

Thus, I’m declaring this National Cheer-Up-the-Lonely Week. As the pandemic eases, it’s much easier to cheer up those who have spent too much time alone for the last 15 months or so. Think mindfully about who needs some attention and offer it.

The website, nationaldaycalendar.com, makes these suggestions for cheering folks up. The most obvious is to visit someone. Here are others:

  • Deliver a few spare magazines to an ailing friend.
  • Watch a movie with them and share some freshly popped popcorn.
  • Read a book out loud to your friend.
  • Set up a playlist with inspirational music.
  • Offer to go for a walk with them.
  • Mail a sweet or funny card.
  • Bake one of their favorite foods.
  • Call and visit on the phone.
  • Email funny jokes every day to remind them to laugh.
  • Play a board game.
  • Take someone on a drive.
  • Play 20 questions.
  • Watch funny YouTube videos together.
  • Make a prayer list of those who are isolated, and pray for them.

Resource: “The Cloister Walk”

“The Cloister Walk” by Kathleen Norris is one of the most significant books about contemplative Christianity in recent decades. Published in May 1996, the book is a series of essays about Norris’ explorations of the monastic life. She helps us see the cloistered world of nuns and monks from her own distinct viewpoint.

Norris approaches this world as a married Protestant who can struggle over her faith. Her previous life experiences were varied, from growing up in Hawaii to hanging out with the Warhol folks in New York City. She also has received the Guggenheim “genius” grant.

Kathleen Norris

After she and her husband (both poets) moved to her grandmother’s home in rural South Dakota, she began to be drawn to the contemplative monastic world. She became a Benedictine oblate (or associate) of the Assumption Abbey in North Dakota in 1986.

“The Cloister Walk” functions as a unique record of her experiences and observations, especially when she was in residence twice at the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. The book has poems, short essays and stories of saints.

The cover blurb from the Boston Globe called “The Cloister Walk” a “strange and beautiful book. … If read with humility and attention, Kathleen Norris’ book becomes lectio divina or holy reading.”

I took this literally, reading one essay a day. It took months to finish the book. This may not have been the best reading strategy, as I did not enjoy the book as much as I expected. But many others have.

The book spent 23 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was a Time notable book of the year. On Goodreads, the book has a 4 out of 5 rating from 9,031 readers.

Welcome Back, Gift of Hospitality

Loving God, your son Jesus said
your Kingdom is like a banquet; 
a festive gathering for all people 
of every race and color -- 
a table at which the lonely find company,
the hungry savor rich foods and fine wine,
and strangers enjoy warm family ties.
Jesus calls us to build this kingdom here on earth.

Teach us, Lord, the ways of hospitality.
Give us the spirit of joyful welcome and 
the sensitivity to help people on the move
to feel they belong.

Grant that our tables at home may draw
our new neighbors from other lands
into a loving community
and that the eucharistic tables 
in our churches may prefigure
that banquet in heaven where all are one in you,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
Amen. 

Prayer for Hospitality from "Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers" 

We are emerging from the pandemic into a world even more conflicted than when quarantine began. Splits in groups and churches, largely along political lines, have damaged the American church. The gift of hospitality could serve the church even more than ever, as it includes civility, mutual respect and kindness in its components. 

The practice of Christian mindfulness aids the re-emergence of hospitality, as the shelter-in-place/ Zoom nation practices are now habit. To be hospitable in person, we must be more intentional in our behavior and attitudes.

This is no surprise. Some Christians have hospitality as a spiritual gift. But many others do not. They would rather stay in and watch a movie alone. Yet all are called to be hospitable. 

In 1 Peter 4: 9-10, Peter writes: "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to share others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms."

In fact, the word for hospitality in the Bible's original Greek is "philoxenia," which means "love of strangers." I think we are called today to be hospitable to some "strangers" that we thought we knew, until their political choices involving votes, masks and vaccines made them seem different from us. 

In Romans 12:13, Paul encourages everyone to practice hospitality.  And St. Benedict asked his followers to see each person they encountered as a gift from Jesus.  

If God abides in us, as we who practice Christian mindfulness believe, we have the opportunity to show Him to all those we meet. Dealing with each other with civility, grace and love is a great step back toward unity in the church. 

This beautiful prayer for unity from Jane Deren of Education for Justice (published in July 2021's issue of "Give Us This Day") sums up our personal challenges within this period of time.

God of all, you challenge us
to be a unified national community.

You call us to move beyond 
partisan politics
so we may create
a vision of common good
so sorely needs for our country.

In this time of confusion, 
you call us to see clearly
with the lens of justice for all.

In this time of disrespect for so many,
you call on us to practice respect
for all voices around the table,
and for all voices not heard in the discussions.

In this time of personal insecurity,
you call on us to be grounded
in compassion for others
and secure in the knowledge
we are called to community.

In this time of despair for so many,
you call us to practice hope.

God of all, bless our nation at this time
and open the way to unity
so we may follow your call.
Amen.
wooden church

A Prayer for My Church

Is God indeed to dwell on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house which we have built? Regard kindly the prayer and petition of your servant, Lord, my God, and listen to the cry of supplication which I, your servant, utter before you this day. May your eyes be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, “My name shall be there.” Listen to the prayer your servant makes toward this place. Listen to the petition of your servant and of your people Israel which they offer toward this place. Listen, from the place of your enthronement, heaven. Listen and forgive.

1 Kings 8: 27-30

You Don’t Have to Be Strong

Getting through the pandemic has left many of us exhausted. Staying strong during the crisis … and falling apart afterwards … is a common pattern.

If you are struggling or pushing yourself just to keep the normal routine in place, it’s okay. You don’t have to be strong. Because God is. And He’s there for you.

Today, let’s try walking in Christian mindfulness step by step through the day. Let’s allow ourselves to rest in God as we face our daily routine. Remember: The Holy Spirit is our strength.

My sister gave me a perpetual calendar in 1994 that I’ve used ever since. Based on the work of Jan Silvous, its reading for June 23 is:

When our own strength is exhausted and we feel we can’t make it through another day, the Holy Spirit provides strength to go on. He will give us an extra measure of energy to do His will today.

Jan Silvious, “Meditations for the Busy Woman”

The best moments of Christian mindfulness come, not from our own strength and determination, but from God’s. Let God do His work for us today.

See the Suffering God

Yesterday’s Christian mindfulness exercise focused on noticing the suffering in our lives and all around us. We looked at everything from minor irritation to deep grief. This is life.

Today, while doing a spiritual exercise in “Emotionally Health Spirituality Day by Day” by Peter Scazzero, I heard an important concept. I confess I’ve never thought of this before.

Scazzero writes about how we want to follow Jesus, but not necessarily to Gethsemene. I’ve been struggling with decades-long unanswered prayers and the accompanying suffering lately. So I can relate to that. He says:

It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one can see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps this meant that no one can see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor.

Peter Scazzero, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day: A 40-Day Journey”

This is a good thought to meditate on after we have observed the suffering around us. We can ask for the courage to walk our path, no matter how crowded with thorns.

I am mid-way through Scazzero’s Day by Day book, which can function as a daily office and prayer book. It is a companion to his widely-respected “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” which we discussed here.

Observe Suffering

Jan Chozen Bays, MD, suggests a practice that sounds grim at first glance. In her book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness,” the Zen teacher says:

As you go about your day, pay attention to the phenomenon of suffering. How do you detect it in yourself or others?

We shouldn’t just look for obvious suffering such as death or starving children. (Those things are good to meditate on with the intention of determining if we can do more to help.) Dr. Bays wants us to be mindful of the spectrum of suffering, from minor irritation to full-fledged grief.

Gaining awareness of the suffering in our hearts and the hearts of those around us is good. But it is most helpful if it unlocks compassion. As Robin Williams once said:

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.

Observing our own suffering also gives us motivation to change. How can we stop it? How can we think about it differently? I’ve always believed that your greatest suffering can become your most effective ministry. Could that be true for you?

Dr. Bays also suggests that we use the Loving Kindness exercise when we are suffering to lift up others who are in pain as well.

Are we brave enough to notice suffering today? Let’s see how it changes us.

A Sword Through Your Soul Also

I admire the Virgin Mary for myriad reasons. But I relate to her for one that’s specific.

During the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the ancient Simeon recognized her baby as the promised Messiah. In talking with his parents, he looked at Mary and said: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35) As the Contemporary English version says, “Mary, you will suffer as if you had been stabbed by a dagger.”

The suffering of motherhood — particularly after giving birth to an unusual child — is where I relate.

Pope John Paul II wrote about the verse this way:

While this announcement on one hand confirms (Mary’s) faith in the accomplishment of the divine promises of salvation, on the other hand it also reveals to her that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Savior, and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.”

“Redemptoris Mater,” John Paul II

I attend a Vineyard church. There and in other Protestant traditions, I’ve seen many downplay Mary’s holiness and suffering in reaction to what they see as “Mary worship” in Catholic and Orthodox traditions. This is a mistake. There is no 100% human in the Bible to admire more than Mary.

Mary has been a mother to me when my soul is stabbed with pain over my own children. She understands how it feels. This is a place of comfort offered to all of us in parenting. It’s a good idea to grasp it. Trust me, she wants to help.

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Read Old Journals

A great Christian mindfulness exercise is to visit own past … and really look around. Reading old journals allows you to see yourself with some mindfulness and perspective.

If you are not journaling, I encourage you to start. Five or 10 minutes filling a blank page every day allows you to document your own condition. Link journal writing to another habit, such as doing it before breakfast or after a meditation practice. I prefer to handwrite my entries, using prompts to help. This can be as easy as starting a sentence with the words “Yesterday, I.”

Your journal can also become the home of answers to reflection questions in retreats or readings.

Those who have old journals can read them with an eye to seeing patterns. Do you complaint constantly? When are you joyful? When are you angry? Are you experiencing God’s peace on a regular basis? Can you see connections between events and your emotions, between people and your reactions? Do you think you want this to continue?

When you write, you can express yourself freely and truthfully. When you read it, approach your journal with prayer and curiosity. Ask God to show you something that you need to know about yourself: What do you need to start? What do you need to stop?

Proceed through it calmly and mindfully, giving yourself lots of grace. In the end, you may see some changes that you need to make.

Create Your Own Childhood Summer

The happiness expert Gretchen Rubin has a great idea to “design your summer” by planning to add enjoyable activities to your schedule. While you are planning, be sure to re-create activities from your own childhood summers.

In elementary school, summers were wonderful and endless. I would create a tent out of a old blanket hanging off the backyard fence and use another old blanket for a floor. There I would spend hours outside (yet inside the tent) reading books from the library.

Mother, who was a housewife, carted us to the pool when she could get the car from Dad. Otherwise we had a baby pool to roll in when we got hot, sprinklers to jump through and a garden hose to drink from when we were thirsty. We played school and other games in neighborhood basements.

Box fans tried to cool the hot house. No one in the neighborhood had air conditioning. So we often sat outside and watched the lightning bugs. Or we’d pack up snacks to go to a drive-in movie.

In junior high, my sister and I rode our bikes uptown to the bakery for doughnuts and then to the library. The pool was a constant, and we enjoyed heading there on hot days from our non-air conditioned house.

Fast forward a number of decades. The community pool is down the street, and I haven’t been in years.

This summer join me by making sure you add at least one activity to your summer routine that reminds you of childhood.  I’m going to read outdoors. I’ll be on a comfortable outdoor sofa instead of a tent. But that’s okay.

When we’re enjoying that activity, let’s praise God for our good memories of summer.

No Complaints for 24 Hours

The best way I’ve found to monitor my own ungrateful heart is to have a complaint-free day. I’ve put a rubber band or an easy-to-remove bracelet on my arm. Then, when I do get ready to complain, I move it from arm to arm.

This points out the problem. Gratitude is the solution. Whenever we are ready to complain or grumble, we need to follow the suggestion/command in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Gratitude is also the answer when we are prepared to be proud or boastful about ourselves. It’s not us, after all. God has given us the gifts we have, and He has provided graces to make things possible for us to do.

So try a complaint-free day. Change the band on your arm when you feel you want to complaint and consciously move to gratitude. You may find that it feels so good that you can stretch it into a complaint-free week or more.

communion elements

After a Year of Missing Communion

Today is Corpus Christi, the traditional celebration of the Body and Blood of Jesus. During the pandemic year, I missed communion so much. And I know I was not alone.

We bought matzohs and concord grape juice to have communion with our online church. But it just wasn’t the same, was it? It felt wonderful when we were able to join a congregration again to sing worship songs and take communion.

Many people celebrate Corpus Christi by taking a prayer book to the woods and communing with Jesus there. It’s rainy here, so we are inside. But we still can say a prayer to let the Lord know how much we appreciate his sacrifice to save us.

Here’s a prayer from the “People’s Prayer Book” that I appreciate today:

Lord Jesus Christ, we worship you living among us in the sacrament of your body and blood. May we offer to our Father in heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love. May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of the kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

What Do You Want?

This Christian mindfulness exercise allows us to monitor our wants and desires during a calendar day. It’s a self-awareness tool that can help to see just what we cling to, what we “have to have.”

Set up an hourly timer and make a list of the hours when you are usually awake. Start in the morning if you can. Then when the timer rings or buzzes, write down what you want.

It could be coffee, more sleep, a chocolate bar, a nap, a hug or something else. Looking at the patterns may help you spot things that you cling to when stressed. Are you running to the Lord or to the refrigerator first?

Try the exercise to see what it is you want. Then you can decide if that’s OK with you.

Celebrate Pentecost

Jesus told us that we would encounter plenty of false teachers in this world. How to detect them? It’s simple. You will know them by their fruit.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit is an excellent measuring stick to determine if someone (even ourselves) is a true witness of God. They are:

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-control

The American Christian church is going through a lot of tumult and soul searching these days. Measuring the tone and content of these various voices against the fruits of the Holy Spirit provides insight into who is speaking best on God’s behalf.

I am so grateful for the Holy Spirit’s appearance in my life. Indeed, Jesus predicted just how incredibly important the Spirit would be to his disciples.

Prayers for Pentecost

Today, let’s celebrate Pentecost by meditating on these prayers:

Prayer for Pentecost in the Pandemic (from America Magazine)

Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Spirit of God, come with your peace, your power, your light. Come with forgiveness, courage and hope. Come, Spirit of God, unite us with the risen Jesus. Turn us again to the Father of Jesus.
Together they pour You daily into our hearts. Come now to our suffering world, sick with a killing virus
and everywhere threatened with silent death, but most cruelly among your poorest children.

Prayer for Life-Changing Power (from connectusfund.org)

Breath of Life, on this Pentecost Sunday, we ask that You breathe on us once again. Make our consciences tender to Your touch. We hunger for the life-changing power that Your Holy Spirit brings. May our lives exemplify the fruit of Your Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. May we use the gifts of the Spirit that You have distributed to bless the church and build Your Kingdom on earth. Amen.

Prayer to Walk as Children of the Light

Joy of Heaven, we are so blessed that You came to dwell in each of us on Pentecost, when Your church was born. Surely, through Your Spirit, we have died to sin and are alive to holiness. May we serve You faithfully, in praise, prayer, and loving service to others, as we are changed from glory to glory. May we walk as children of the light, in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. Amen.

Do You Want to be Holy?

As we prepare for Pentecost, we are meditating on holiness, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Do we even want to be holy?

Ironically, holiness, or piety as it’s called in some lists, has a bad reputation in our times. It’s seen as false, self-righteous, judgmental, rigid, unhappy and even mean.

But there’s a big difference between being holy and being holier-than-thou. True holiness is all about love. That’s not a surprise. Because God is all about love, too. Yet so many people have the impression that the Christian God is about hate speech and condemnation. Not true. Although it is true about some of His followers.

The gift of holiness inspires us to love people, not just certain people. It’s OK to be saddened about sin, but never to turn against the person who is involved in it. After all, that would mean turning against everyone, including ourselves. No matter how much of the gift of holiness we receive, we are going to be sinners as long as we are on this Earth.

The concept of seeking holiness first impressed me when I heard a statement about marriage. The pastor asked, “What if marriage is meant to make you holy, not just happy?” That statement is also true about life.

We can take each event … good, bad and very bad … in our lives as an opportunity to grow, to become more of a light in this world. When we look back, we might see how that has worked in previous situations/disasters in our lives.

Today let’s meditate on the gift of holiness. Perhaps we will find that we want it after all.

the word know

Meditate on Knowledge

The Holy Spirit’s gift of knowledge is interesting because it allows us to see things as they are in this world. This reveals that all that glitters is not gold.

As we prepare for Pentecost, we are meditating on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Nearly everyone needs a greater awareness of this Presence that is with us 24/7, yet does not intrude unless invited.

The gift of knowledge is used in tandem with the gifts of wisdom and understanding. Yet it is different because it allows us to see our lives … in all their chaos and circumstances … the way that God seems them, at least partially.

Using this gift, we can better determine God’s purpose for our lives. Then we can proceed to live out that purpose.

The gift of knowledge is often associated with people who are gifted teachers. That’s because it helps us understand our faith’s principles more fully. This can inspire us to lead a life that is full of God’s light and love. And this knowledge continues to expand throughout our lives as we seek the Holy Spirit’s presence.

I do that through Christian mindfulness: living in the present moment in the presence of God.

Ask for the gift of knowledge as we prepare for Pentecost. It could open the door to a better life for you and those around you.

corn fields under white clouds with blue sky during daytime

Pray for Supernatural Common Sense

Today, as we await Pentecost, is a good time to meditate on the gift of counsel. The Christian news feed Aleteia.org published a preparation for Pentecost by Philip Kosloski in 2016 that refers to counsel as the Holy Spirit’s “gift of supernatural common sense.”

I love that.

Counsel allows souls to judge quickly and correctly what we must do, especially in difficult circumstances. It’s an extension of understanding and wisdom, two other gifts of the Holy Spirit.

This can help us to find God’s will in a situation. We still need to pray for the grace to incline our hearts and minds to do God’s will. This detachment from our own “wants” is impossible without God’s help. Our job is to pray for it, with fasting in difficult situations.

Philip Kosloski’s entire piece on his novena preparing for Pentecost is here.

It includes this prayer, which I have shortened, to meditate upon:

On my knees, before the great multitude of heavenly witnesses, I offer myself, soul and body, to you, Eternal Spirit of God. I adore the brightness of Your purity, the unerring keenness of Your justice, and the might of Your love. You are the Strength and Light of my soul. Mercifully guard my every thought and grant that I may always watch for your light, listen to Your voice and follow Your gracious inspirations.

two people making a handshake

Meditate on Understanding

This week we are meditating on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The most difficult to understand is: understanding. What does that gift mean? It took some reading to find out.

While wisdom allows us to understand things from God’s point of view, understanding allows us to grasp the essence of our faith. This gift allows us to comprehend how we need to live as a follower of Jesus.

Thomas Aquinas says four gifts of the spirit …. wisdom, understanding, knowledge and counsel … direct our intellect. So a person who has understanding isn’t confused about what to do, even in a world with many conflicting messages. Understanding allows this person to see what the next steps should be.

An example happens on the road to Emmaus. Jesus, in disguise somehow, walks alongside his disciples and “opens their minds” to understand what the Scripture were saying about the Messiah. The gift of understanding helps us to know the mysteries of faith more clearly.

Understanding gives us a deeper insight into the truths of our faith … a kind of permanent increase in faith I.Q. The Holy Spirit allows us to grasp this knowledge deeply and to hang onto it.

While being able to understand God is impossible to us on this Earth, we can have more insight into His ways through the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding.

Complicated and confusing? Yes. So meditating on the gift of understanding and asking for more of it from the Holy Spirit is a good idea.

Ascension, Awaiting the Holy Spirit

Today is the celebration of Ascension Day, when Jesus left the Earth via a trip through the sky. He promised to come back the same way.

He told us that it was good that He was leaving Earth. Because that meant that the Holy Spirit could come and live within us.

I have two traditions for this period between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday. The first is to say a novena … essentially to pray the same prayer every day for nine successive days. This year’s novena is immensely private, but you can pick from classic novenas or choose to write your own prayer.

The second tradition is to spend time meditating on the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. You can do one per day if you would like. Here is the list:

  • Wisdom
  • Understanding
  • Counsel
  • Fortitude
  • Knowledge
  • Piety
  • Fear of God
  • Fruits of the Holy Spirit
    • Love
    • Joy
    • Peace
    • Patience
    • Kindness
    • Goodness
    • Faithfulness
    • Gentleness
    • Self-Control

There is so much to ponder on these gifts and fruits. I pray we all become more like the Holy Spirit in the next 10 days.

Here are some Bible verses to meditate on that discuss wisdom.

Write Your Own Psalm

“How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community” by Judith Valente is one of the best books I’ve read this year. But, since I have 10 more chapters to go, I will save the glowing review for when I’ve finished the book.

Judith Valente does present two wonderful ideas about incorporating the Psalms into our daily lives that I’d like to share.

Her first idea is a good way to come alongside the meaning of Psalms you love. She suggest taking a Psalm that you know well and rewriting it to include the events of your life and/or the elements of your world.

This is an excellent way to grow closer to the times of David and his fellow Psalm writers. They wrote about their own personal worlds, filled with sheep and anointing oil. Turning Psalm 23, for example, into a poem about your life may be quite emotional and revealing. Some samples of that are found here.

The second idea is to take a current event … positive or negative … and create a Psalm about it. You can write a psalm of lament for a tragic situation. Or you can choose to glorify God for a positive event.

Each chapter of her book ends with suggestions for building the topics discussed into your daily life. I can’t wait to finish it!

Conduct a Personal Environmental Audit

Some of my steps to improve the environment had to be set aside for the pandemic. (I’m talking about you, Kroger plastic bags! Some of my Kroger baggers were so enthusiastic that they tended to use one bag per item.)

Like butterflies, we are emerging out of the pandemic crystallis. So it’s a perfect time to conduct a personal environmental audit. We can take a mindful approach to decide what habits to adopt to bring our love to God’s natural world.

Here are some areas to consider:

Energy Consumption

  • Use energy-efficient light bulbs.
  • Use Energy Star-rated appliances.
  • Wash clothing on cold.
  • Air-dry clothing when possible.
  • Keep computers, televisions, small appliances and chargers on power strips that are shut off when you leave home.
  • Maintain your water heater.
  • Increase the efficiency of heating and cooling your home. (insulation, new shade trees, etc.)
  • Add solar or wind energy sources, if you can.

Water Consumption

  • Shorten showers.
  • Collect rain water for gardens.
  • Use the washing machine and dishwasher only for full loads.
  • Wash the car only when necessary.
  • Stop leaky faucets and toilets.

Transportation and Travel

  • Bike and walk.
  • Resume using public transportation and carpooling, if fully vaccinated.
  • Consider how much you are ordering on Amazon.
  • Return to the farmer’s markets, if fully vaccinated.

Waste Stream

  • Resume using your own reusable shopping bags.
  • Get paper, not plastic.
  • Purchase durable goods.
  • Compost kitchen scraps and yard waste.
  • Buy less.
  • Grow food and herbs.
  • Cancel junk mail.
  • Try natural cleaning products or make your own.
  • Take your shoes off in your house.
  • Check for radon and carbon monoxide.
  • Refuse (to take plastic, etc.), reduce (your consumption), reuse, recycle and rot (in compost).

See if you can find one or two things to resume or add to improve your environmental impact.

Now: When Time Intersects Eternity

The present moment is the point at which time intersects eternity.

Sarah Young, “Jesus Always”

The present moment is the only time when we can truly connect with God. Thinking about the future is our own false narrative. Thinking about the past is clouded with misperceptions and mistaken memories. Now is all we have.

Today is May Day, a celebration not much in vogue in the United States. But it’s a wonderful time to stop and celebrate God’s spring. The holiday began in prehistoric times as a spring festival. May Day baskets of flowers and the Maypole dance are still involved in the celebration.

This year, as it is often, the first of May falls in the closing weeks of Eastertide. May Day is also the time when I start trying to have prayer and devotions outdoors.

Take a moment today to stop and connect with God amidst the spring rebirth. God is here. God is now. He is found in the flowers. He is found in the rebirth of activity as the pandemic winter ebbs away.

Thank you Lord for all that is beautiful in nature and in our lives. Please be with us every moment today.

Three Questions for Tweets

This Christian mindfulness exercise is good for any communications, especially for posts on social media.

The exercise involves stopping to think (always good for Twitter!) and asking yourself three questions:

  1. Is this true?
  2. Is this kind?
  3. Is this necessary?

The first two questions are pretty easy. The last is difficult. After all, is any social media post necessary?

But in today’s world, it’s good to shine a light in the darkness you can find on social media. We just need to be intentional and even prayerful about it.

It’s good to have a purpose for your social media accounts. The purposes for mine are:

  • Facebook: I use Facebook to connect with family, friends and former colleagues. The pictures from the account feed into a Chatbook series that I use as a family photo album. I also use Facebook to talk about caregiving, helping people with mental illness, being a long distance grandma and practicing Christian mindfulness. Finally, I use it to make people laugh.
  • Twitter and LinkedIn: I use both to promote mental health advocacy, Christian mindfulness and laughter.
  • Instagram: I post my best photographs on Instagram.

So for me, asking if a post is necessary means it must meet these criteria. There’s no room for unsubstantiated or iffy information, political fights, vulgarity or hate speech on my social media. That is, when I do it right.

Try creating your own purposes for social media. It’s what the pros … which I used to be … do. I would love to know how it works for you.

close up of hand holding text over black background

See Yourself As God Sees You

I want you to learn to look at yourself — and others — through the lens of My unfailing Love. As you persevere in this you will gradually find it easier to love yourself and others.

Jesus speaking in “Jesus Always: Embracing Joy in His Presence” by Sarah Young

Meditating on your true identity is a beneficial Christian mindfulness exercise. In Jesus Always, Sarah Young tells us that Jesus says: “You are troubled by fear of failure, but My Love for you will never fail. Let Me describe what I see as I gaze at you, beloved. You look regal, for I have crowned you in My righteousness and crowned you with glory and honor. You are radiant, especially when you are looking at Me. You are beautiful as you reflect My Glory back to Me.”

Seeing ourselves as God sees us brings peace. It also opens up a wave of compassion for others.

“A Guide to Practicing the God’s Presence” by Kenneth Boa and Jenny Abel recommends this exercise. It also provides a long list of identity scriptures for meditation. You can download the 211-page book for free here.

To do the Christian mindfulness exercise:

Choose one or two of the Scriptures below (or in any list of identity Bible verses). Pick one that you truly believe reflects how God sees you.

Write down the Scripture and place it on your bedside. Before you go to sleep, read the Scripture and meditate on it.

Some appropriate Scriptures include:

“But as many received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

“I call you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father, I have made known to you.” (John 15:15b)

“Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)

“But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (1 Corinthians 6:17)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. The old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“There is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither slave nor free man. There is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

the planet Earth

Meditate on Earth Day

These beautiful prayers are fitting for meditation on Earth Day.

Canticle of the Creatures

All praise be yours, My Lord
through all that you have made.

And first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day…
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them, bright and precious and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air…

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious and pure.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten up the night…

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us…and produces various fruits
With colored flowers and herbs…

Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks,
And serve him with great humility.

– Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

Wisdom to Care for the Earth

Lord, grant us the wisdom to care for the earth and till it.
Help us to act now for the good of future generations and all your creatures.
Help us to become instruments of a new creation,
Founded on the covenant of your love.

– The Cry of the Earth

Franciscan Prayer for the Earth

Lord, help us to maintain a reverent attitude towards nature, threatened from all sides today, in such a way that we may restore it completely to the condition of brother/sister and to its role of usefulness to all humankind for the glory of God the Creator.

Laughter and Mindfulness

Laughter is one of the best ways to feel mindful. It has so many benefits that the Mayo Clinic has a whole article on them, found here. The most surprising benefits are the positive impacts on your body!

My general rule is: If you haven’t laughed hard by 8 p.m., watch or read something funny. Deliberately try to laugh.

After you laugh, bring awareness to the way your body .. your chest especially … feels. Do you feel less stress? How about your mood? Did laughter lighten it?

Bring the Lord into your laughter with a prayer of gratitude.

If you would like more, laughing meditation is actually a thing. Here’s a video showing you how:

Let me know if you try this. And how it works for you!

emotionally healthy woman

Resource: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

My first five-star book on spirituality of the year is “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero. Pastors in my church have long recommended this book. Yet it ended up in a pile of books I meant to read for a long time. What a mistake! (Although … I do think the Lord had me read the book when it could help me the most.)

Scazzero, pastor of a large, multiracial church in Queens, New York, teaches how to biblically integrate emotional maturity, the practice of the presence of Jesus, and contemplative spirituality. That’s what Christian mindfulness is all about!

He bases his examination of unhealthy spirituality on the Bowen theory of family dynamics. I spent several years studying this theory and working through the ramifications in my family of origin. Scazzero does a great year explaining it in several chapters.

Breaking old patterns of unhealthy behavior allows us to embrace the presence of God. Scazzero explains how to follow a schedule of prayer, keep Sabbath and write a rule of life. All of this is so helpful to walking in the presence of God in the present moment.

This book helped me to understand why the Lord led me along several paths that I previously thought were wastes of time. Just knowing that makes the book worth it. I think it can help nearly everyone. And I’m not alone. Amazon, with 478 ratings, has the book at 4.5 stars. And Goodreads, with 8,881 ratings, has the book at 4.25 stars.

Other resources for the mindful Christian life are here.

Bringing God to the Table

The practice of mindful eating as a Christian gives us the opportunity to experience the presence of God in the present moment two or three times a day. A beautiful essay about the spiritual aspects of mindful eating came from Thich Nhat Hahn, a Buddhist monk and mindfulness teacher, “Mindfulness Survival Kit.”

I am adapting his thoughts to include the presence of God at the meal.

When we eat a meal, we should be mindful of our Lord present with us at the table, the food and the people with us. We can contemplate five things:

  1. The food is a gift from God, the Earth, the sky and much hard work.
  2. May we eat in mindfulness and with gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
  3. We ask God to give us the grace to overcome our sins and weaknesses, especially greed, vanity and gluttony.
  4. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of beings, preserve our planet and reverse the process of global warming.
  5. We accept this food in order to nourish our family, build our community and do God’s will.

Keeping these thoughts in mind is a useful way as we slowly eat and enjoy our meals. Other ideas about mindful Christian eating are here.

Try a Little Tolerance

Be tolerant with one another and forgiving, if any of you has cause for complaint: you must forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Colossians 3:13

“Tolerance is being able to accept things that you wish were different.” So says Linda Kavelin Popov in “The Family Virtues Guide: Simple Ways to Bring Out the Best in Our Children and Ourselves.”

“When you practice tolerance, you don’t expect others to think, look or act just like you. You accept differences,” she wrote.

Political division continues. Christian churches like mine are in strife over what Jesus would do today. Families also have taken the heat in this time. Cousins and siblings, parents and children disagree, often forcefully. We have been kept apart due to the pandemic. Can we practice tolerance as we come back together? Or are we willing to remove people from our lives because we disagree with them?

As a contemplative, empowered (charismatic) evangelical practicing Christian mindfulness, I often struggle with the mighty gap between what I consider evangelical and how others define it. I’ve sat in the evangelical soup long enough to know how it looks and tastes. Many evangelicals are harsh and judgmental. Some white evangelicals have no idea that they benefit from systemic racism. Others actually are racist. They think people like me tolerate sin and are not loyal to God.

I think we’ve been told in no uncertain terms to “Judge not, lest you be judged.” And to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

People who lack tolerance have trouble loving, period. They tend to be angry and unhappy a lot. I’m writing this, aware that I also am being judgmental. God loves even the most intolerant people, and I must follow his lead. That’s actually what tolerance is all about.

How can Christian mindfulness help us to develop tolerance? It makes us aware in the present moment and in the presence of God. It helps us to see that groups of people are persons who God loves. It helps us to be humble enough to understand that we may not be the ultimate authority on what God wants. It allows us, first and foremost, to have respect for the free choice of our family members and to love them without prejudice.

Today let’s try to be aware of our own intolerance. Let’s hold it up to God, asking for forgiveness and for the Holy Spirit to lead us to loving behavior.

family having dinner and celebrating

Try Mindful Eating

This Christian mindfulness exercise helps us eat with mindfulness and gratitude. Practicing mindful eating is a big leap for me.

Growing up, I ate as quickly as possible at the dinner table so I could be excused. My parents were undergoing a tense period when I was young. And I didn’t want to be around the sarcasm and disagreements. My husband is still amazed at how fast I can scarf down a plate of food.

Christian mindfulness calls for us to appreciate our food as a gift from God and to enjoy every bite. This technique is also used in weight loss, for it allows us to understand when we have had enough food.

Here’s the exercise:

  • Begin each meal with a prayer of thanksgiving. Some ideas for prayer at the table are here.
  • Then put down your fork or spoon between each bite.
  • Concentrate on the taste.
  • Only pick up your fork again when you have finished eating the bite.
  • If you are eating something with your hands, put it down on the plate between bites.

A meal together is also a good time to talk about how you experience God in your day. Sharing the best things that happened to you that day also creates opportunities for deep conversation and understanding.

Other thoughts on mindful eating are here.

Living Moment by Moment

If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient, but I only look at the present. I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future.

May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.

St. Therese of Liseux

Questions About Your Stuff

“Treasury of Celebrations,” a collection of essays from the 1970s voluntary simplicity movement, contains much material relevant to life nearly 50 years later. One prompt I like comes from a group of Quakers. It seems they were struggling to set parameters for the simple life.

Here are the questions they asked:

  • Does what I own or buy promote activity, self-reliance and involvement, or does it induce passivity and dependence?
  • Are my consumption patterns basically satisfying, or do I buy much that serves no real need?
  • How tied is my present job and lifestyle to installment payments, maintenance and repair costs, and the expectations of others?
  • Do I consider the impact of my consumption patterns on other people and on Earth?

Alternatives, the organization that collected these essays, no long exists. But the concerns of the 1970s, including an early alert about the climate, that prompted the movement are still around. It will be interesting to see if an increased awareness of the impact of each life will be an outcome of the global pandemic. I know I feel it.

Make a Joy List

As we begin to peek outside our homes during this I-hope-this-is-the-end-of-the-pandemic period, let’s enjoy this Christian mindfulness exercise. We want to make a list of activities that bring us joy. Then we will place one of those activities into our schedules on a regular basis.

Time at home has given us an appreciation for those things we do there that bring peace . And an even greater appreciation — even, a longing — for the things we do outside the home that bring joy. Use what you’ve learned from the pandemic to build this list.

Take 10 minutes to make a list of what you love to do, people you love to see and places that bring you peace. Then get those activities into your own scheduling system. Make sure you are doing several of them a week.

We’ve all discovered that life can change at any minute. Keep joy in your life intentionally. It will give you more grace and strength to do good works.

His Face Shines on You

Mary Magdalene had lost everything. Adrift and in deep grief, she went to the tomb of her beloved leader. And, for a long moment, she found out things were even worse than she thought.

That emotion is familiar to me. And I relate to Mary in tears and deep trauma, begging a gardener for answers. The gardener turned out to be God. That morning, Mary Magdalene was chosen to be the first person to see the risen Jesus.

“Look at me,” Jesus says. “My face is shining on you.” As Paul says:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

Ephesians 3: 16-18
man with online schedule filled with appointments

Time for Divine Appointments?

As we enter Holy Week, it’s a good time to ask: Can you fit God into your schedule? This Christian mindfulness practice asks for reflection on how much margin you are leaving in your to-do list. Is there enough space for God to schedule divine appointments for you?

Take a look at your calendar for the last month. I’m seeing more activity as spring arrives and people are vaccinated. Reflect on these questions:

  • Have you taken on too many appointments and projects?
  • Do you feel that you have no choice in the matter … that you are assigned too much or “volun-told” to do things too often?
  • Do you go directly from one task to the next without stopping?
  • Do you care more about your kids’ activities than they do?
  • Are you double-booked at times?
  • Do you say “yes” to activities that seem “high-profile” or flattering, but drain you?

Answering “yes” to these questions mean that you need to work on adding margin to your life and perhaps learning the skill of saying “no” to requests, even when they are framed as orders. (When I got overwhelmed with work, I used to bring my boss a list of my deliverables and ask her to prioritize them. The boss who was TERRIBLE at prioritization responded, “I want you to do them all.” Looking closely at her work style … working 7 to 9, being triple-booked and forgetting to put in time to drive to meetings … caused me to look for a new job.)

After analyzing this, ask God to help you develop a criteria for accepting new requests or invitations. Then run every request through the criteria.

Everyone’s list will be different. But for ideas, here are some of the statements on my list:

  • Biblically sound and seems to be God’s will as far as prayer indicates.
  • Glorifies God.
  • Brings me closer to God.
  • Will be loving to my neighbor, advance the kingdom and/or be a force for good.
  • Is good for my family.
  • Fits with my life calling.
  • Can best be done by me. (Cannot be delegated.)
  • Should not be eliminated or delayed.

If the proposed activity will take big blocks of your time, consider going to your spouse for input.

Even if your schedule is relatively open, having this criteria is helpful. This idea is from “A Guide to Practicing God’s Presence” by Kenneth Boa and Jenny Abel. A free pdf of this book is available here.

Forgive the Obnoxious

This Christian mindfulness exercise at the end of the workweek to clear your head and your heart. Working, either in a paid or unpaid role, puts most of us on the front line for dealing with people. Unfortunately, we meet our fair share of people who are rude, hypercritical, negative or toxic in any of a dozen other ways. Sometimes, the drip, drip, drip of this kind of behavior can get to us.

This exercise gives us the opportunity to bring those emotions to the Lord and to forgive. Here’s how:

  1. Shut your office door or find another place where you can have privacy for 10 minutes or so.
  2. Take some deep breaths.
  3. Allow your feelings … anger, disgust, sadness … to come into focus. Go before the Lord with these feelings. God already knows how you feel. So bring them to Him.
  4. Ask God to help you to forgive all the actions that have upset you.
  5. Quietly see the faces of each person who has troubled you this week. Ask God to help you see each one as wounded. Think about how their behavior has to do with their own issues, rather than with you.
  6. Ask God to show you how you may be helping that person to heal. Or just pray for their healing.
  7. Ponder whether you contributed to any of these problems. Do you need to apologize to someone? Do you need to change the way you relate to someone?
  8. Thank God for the opportunity to do your work. Ask Him to be with you for the rest of the day.

And Justice for All

The first days of spring allow us to look back at “a long, cold, lonely winter,” as George Harrison wrote. Those days were the worst of the pandemic for me. They also showed cracks and weaknesses in the United States that I never suspected.

Even at its worst, the pandemic year has offered us opportunities. We’ve had a chance to clearly see systemic issues in our system of justice and in our American hearts.

As children, we turned to face the flag each school day to pledge allegiance to a nation that offered liberty and justice for all. We were taught that this meant standing up for our rights and the rights of others. Even during Jim Crow days, this is what we were taught.

One of the greatest opportunities coming out of the pandemic is to address systemic issues. It’s horrifying that people are attacking elderly Asian-Americans in the streets. It’s clear that African-Americans do not always have the same encounters with the police that whites do.

As we seek ways to improve our promise of justice, we start with ourselves. Let’s take time to meditate on our own actions. Do we treat every person as a unique individual, or do we put them in categories in our minds?

Practicing justice means real freedom of thought. It is as Merriam Webster’s dictionary says, “the quality of being just, impartial and fair.” It’s not about everyone being the same. It’s about access, rights and opportunity. It’s about freedom from being abused because someone who doesn’t know you doesn’t like your looks.

Today as we meet others, let’s listen to our inner voices. Are we detecting any snap judgments based on categories? We can’t change our patterns unless we know they are there.

See the Space

This Christian mindfulness exercise helps you to see the space around you. Not just the furniture, the trees, the clutter … but the space surrounding those things.

Empty space is most of the actual space in the room you are in right now. Perhaps taking time to notice that will help you have the ability to sense the stillness in your inner space, as well as the presence of Lord within and without. Here’s the exercise:

  1. Begin by closing your eyes for a few minutes.
  2. Pray that you can begin to sense the presence of God in your environment.
  3. Open your eyes and look at an object in front of you.
  4. Notice the space around that object and focus on it.
  5. Shift to other objects and do the same thing, looking at the empty space in front of, behind, on top of and at the bottom of the object.
  6. Take a look at a full room or an outdoor space. Shift from observing the objects there to observing the space.
  7. Quiet your heart. Ask again for an infilling of God’s presence around you.
  8. Listen to your thoughts and look for the spaces between them.

young female friends having conversation sitting in armchairs in room

Practice Compassionate Listening





When you practice compassionate listening, it’s important to remember that you listen with only one purpose, and that is to help the other person to suffer less. You give the other person a chance to say what is in his heart. Even if the other person says something hard, provocative or incorrect, you still listen with compassion.

During the whole time of listening, you practice mindful breathing and remind yourself, “I am listening with one purpose: to relieve suffering by giving the person a chance to empty his heart. If I were to interrupt him or correct him, that would transform the session into a debate. In a few days, I may offer him some information to help him correct his perceptions, but not now.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Mindfulness Survival Kit”

What You Are Doing Right

Today’s Christian mindfulness practice is about taking a deep look at what we are doing right. We all know we are not doing alone. God’s grace and presence accompanies us as we do our work.

Notice the good you are doing. What roles are you playing in creating a force for good? Raising children? Being a loving partner? Serving a good cause and/or a good church? Bringing a godly perspective to a business? Think about all the places where you contribute.

Be mindful about how those roles unfold today. Stay in the present moment and notice the things you do that support these goals. Look for the good.

Praise God for his grace and support. Each time you find yourself doing a good work, no matter how small, praise God for his presence in that act.

This Christian mindfulness practice can build optimism and awareness of God’s work in your life. He is good, and you are doing good with Him. Celebrate that today.

crop man with hands under transparent water

Three Vows for Ordinary People

Ready to get your hands dirty? Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) had an idea for everyday folks who are drawn to Christian mindfulness and contemplative living. It’s in Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton: Lent and Holy Week. Schmemann suggested a way of monasticism for laypeople living a typical American life in cul-de-sacs, apartments and offices.

We would not not take vows of celibacy and poverty. But he suggested that we could take these three vows:

A rule of prayer: Keeping a well-defined spiritual discipline of prayer and reflection maintains personal contact with God through the day. We would maintain specific times of prayer and study that aligned with our work and family schedules.

Obedience: This vow fights not our tempers, but our individualism. This is a practical obedience to small things from traffic laws to chores. We do what is legal and right even if we don’t feel like it.

Acceptance: Schmemann wrote that people want to do anything for God, except what God wants them to do. Instead of continually searching for a better place and a better people to serve, we would understand that God has put us here and now … in this cul-de-sac, this church, this job and this family. Just as many monks take a vow of stability, meaning that they do not leave their monasteries for “better” monasteries, we look around where we are and we serve.

What vows would you consider taking this Lent?

Jesus Is at Your House

The church is not a building. It is people.

Many of our churches have reminded us of this during the pandemic. Lots of us have been going to church online … trying to stay holy (and awake) from the couch. And many have found the circle of people that we interact with daily drawing down to a literally precious few.

My Lenten devotional “Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton” notes: “Every family of us is a little church. The tasks of service in front of our noses are God’s will for us; they are our part in building up the family of humankind.”

The editors of this devotional, Jonathan Montaldo and Robert G. Toth, got me thinking with these ideas. They wrote: “Christ is most intimate to us when we recognize Christ in those we live most intimately every day, in those with whom every day we share the sacrament of time.”

I’ve been asking the Lord to help me see more of Christ in the homeless and the poor. I’ve never asked to see more of him in my housemates and colleagues before. Yet this presents so many opportunities as we cook the 5,000th dinner at home and stay on endless Zoom calls with colleagues.

Our intercessory prayers for these everyday people — family, friends, co-workers, customers — help “weave the web of the Church into deeper communion — a unity the early Church called koinonia — until the Lord comes,” Montaldo and Toth write.

We are billboards for God. Or even handwritten notes for God stuck on the refrigerator with a magnet. Let us empty ourselves to allow the presence of God to permeate our homes. For now more than ever, our homes are churches.

Thomas Merton: Stay Empty

It is the Holy Ghost that will transform me, sanctify me ...
My own natural powers are helpless. I can do nothing about it. ...
If I wait upon the Holy Ghost with desire, this great gift Who is God will be given to me. And it is like a kind of awakening,
a sort of intimation of all that may happen the day after tomorrow -- 
what tremendous possibilities!
Meanwhile I will do everything I can to remain empty.
My only desire is to give myself completely to the action of this infinite love
Who is God, Who demands to transform me into Himself secretly, darkly,
in simplicity, in a way that has no drama about it and is infinitely
beyond everything spectacular and astonishing, 
so is its significance and its power.
We have got to let God do His Will in us.
His Spirit must work in us and not our own.
But since original sin, we always tend to work against Him when we work under our own direction. 

Thomas Merton, "Entering the Silence," pp. 48, 52 quoted in "Come into the Silence" with Thomas Merton, 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher series

Practice Loving-Kindness First Thing

Starting the day with a loving-kindness mindfulness exercise infuses peace into your schedule. Especially when you focus on the day just ahead.

Here’s how:

  1. Quiet your mind and invite God’s presence.
  2. Think about yourself. Say: May I be healthy. May I know God’s comfort. May I feel God’s love. May I live in God’s peace.
  3. Look at your schedule for the day.
  4. One by one, bring up the people you will meet or talk with today.
  5. For each person, repeat the phrases: May they be healthy. May they know God’s comfort. May they feel God’s love. May they live in God’s peace.
  6. If you are meeting a particular group of people, such as a class or a team, you can repeat the phrases for that group.
  7. Do this for at least five minutes … more if you want to spend that time.

By bringing each person into loving-kindness for the day, especially those you dislike, you can better step out in love and peace.

yellow and green led light

Don’t Be So Negative

Negativity bias, also called the negativity effect, is hard-wired in our brains. But that doesn’t mean we have to live with it! What is negativity bias? When things are of equal intensity, people tend to focus on the negative (thoughts, emotions, events etc.) more than neutral or positive.

Scientists believe this brain attitude stems from times when flight-or-fight literally meant run before the animal eats you. Having negative thoughts is not a pleasant mindset, nor is it something that the Lord wants for us. Luckily, we can fight negativity bias deliberately.

Neuropsychologist Rick Hansen has written extensively on this subject. He says: Use your mind to change your brain to change your mind. As Christians, we also can turn to God in this process. Mindfully and actively looking for the good can change your brain through the process known as neuroplasticity.

Dr, Hansen teaches that when we focus on the good, sets of neurons fire together. Neurons that fire together wire together, he says. So the tendency to look for the positive and feel serenity gets embedded into the brain. More information from Dr. Hansen are on his blog here and here. Another detailed explanation of the negativity bias is here.

This Christian mindfulness exercise will help:

  • After morning prayer, ask the Lord to help you to notice the good and the beautiful today.
  • Keep a gratitude list for the today going on a sticky note or piece of paper in the kitchen or at your desk.
  • Check in with your thoughts regularly during the day. You can use an alarm on your phone if needed to help you stay mindful about what you are thinking. Are you seeing the negative? Can you see a moment of joy to focus on instead?
  • Intentionally look for little things that bring you joy, connection and serenity.
  • Thank God for each moment of joy as it occurs.

Other ways to counterbalance our proclivity towards negativity? Grant Brenner, MD, Adjunct Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center (New York), advises:

  • Be mindful and recognize when negative patterns begin. Do something each and every time—even something very small—to break the pattern. (A brief prayer would work well here.)
  • Notice when you talk to yourself in a negative way. Replace “Well, that was stupid” with “I wish I hadn’t done that, but I will learn from it.”
  • Talk to your inner critic with compassion: “Are you ok? What’s wrong?  Why are you so angry? Are you feeling hurt?” Dr. Brenner said this will seem strange at first, but interrupting yourself when you are being mean to yourself is actually following the Golden Rule.

Other Christian mindfulness exercises that can help are the loving-kindness exercise and gratitude.

Caring in the Present Tense

Mindfulness helped me learn that effective caring begins with paying attention to what’s happening now and letting the results emerge as byproducts of caring in the present tense. When caring veers into controlling, that’s when a dose of carefree ease can make all the difference. A smile of appreciation at whatever happens goes much further than a grimace of withering judgment and disappointment.

Founding Editor Barry Boyce, Mindful magazine, Spring 2021 issue

Christian mindfulness is about living in the presence of God in the present moment. Barry Boyce, who has written many wise things as the founding editor of Mindful magazine, reminds us that mindfulness requires staying in the now. As Christians, we add an additional piece of armor: prayer.

When we stay in the present and pray for God’s guidance, we can release all our guesses about what “should” happen.

“Should” is a toxic word. Thinking that events “shouldn’t be happening” keeps us stuck in frustration, anger and worry. Among the myriad thoughts of Jesus, the phrase “this shouldn’t be” does not exist.

Acceptance of what is and willingness to do the next right thing are the best steps toward peace of mind. This happens in the present moment.

Boyce also writes about caring becoming controlling. Or more accurately, attempts at controlling. The only thing any of us can control is ourselves. But boy, how we try to prove that wrong! In Christian mindfulness, our caring is attached to God’s will. We cannot always understand how things are going to work. If we do what we think God wants us to do, following the Scriptures and prayer, bringing our concerns to God with thanksgiving, He will keep us in His peace.

black woman surfing internet on smartphone in park

Put It to Music

Let music minister to your soul today. This Christian mindfulness practice brings joy and calm. Just pick Christian music that you like and let it serve you.

Putting Christian mindfulness to music can happen at least two ways: You can sit and listen … really listen … to the music. You also can add the music as a background to your routine activities, allowing it to elevate your spirit.

Holy music comes in many forms: classical, gospel, classic hymns, urban, jazz, contemplative, contemporary, country and more. No matter your taste, you can enjoy it.

How Christian Music Helps Us

  • Music teaches us about God. Hymns and contemporary Christian music actually instruct us about faith and God’s goodness. Some of my favorite pieces are Psalms or other Bible passages (such as “Revelation Song”) set to music.
  • Singing and playing instruments allow us to speak to God directly. Vineyard founders John and Carol Wimber said the church’s songs were sung to God, not about God. (More about that is found here.) We can express our love to God and worship of God through the music we create.
  • Music inspires us. The lyrics of Christian music talk about faith, love and hope. If you are having a difficult time, the music can lift your spirits to Heaven again.
  • Music puts us in community. Even listening to a CD or streaming a song opens a sense of community with the artists performing. Of course, the most wonderful forms is community singing, which many of us have missed during this pandemic year.
  • Music can improve our mental health. Research reported in the April 19, 2014, issue of the The Gerontologist found that older Christians who listened to religious music had decreased anxiety about death and increases in life satisfaction, self-esteem and a sense of control over their own lives. The association was constant for Blacks and whites, women and men, and individuals of lower and higher socioeconomic status.

So enjoy some Christian music today. You may feel the Spirit moving at your house!

A Mindful End to the Work Day

Working from home has blurred the lines between work and home even further. This Christian mindfulness exercise can help us end our paid or volunteer work, moving into a relaxing time.

  1. Go to a place where you can be alone for five to 10 minutes.
  2. Pay attention to your breathing for three to five breaths. Breathe as deeply as you can.
  3. Thank God for your job and your day. Ask God to be with you as you transition from the work day.
  4. Check in with your mind. Are you having racing thoughts or anxious feelings?
  5. Do a quick body scan. Are you tense in certain spots? Can you breathe and consciously try to relax those spots?
  6. Stand up and move your body. Move your arms at the speed you are feeling inside. Then deliberately slow down those movements.
  7. As you are slowing down, think of three things to be grateful for about the work day you just finished.
  8. Breathe deeply and ask for the presence of God as you go into the rest of your day.

Resource: IMAGINE YouTube Channel

IMAGINE is a YouTube channel offering guided Christian meditation sessions. Each week, on alternate Wednesdays, a group meets on Zoom for a time of scripture, images and prayer. Then the recorded meeting is placed on the YouTube channel here.

A link to the live Zoom is in the About section of the YouTube channel. It’s 8 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time. The schedule for March 2021 is March 3, March 17 and March 31. There’s also a link on pathwaystogod.org. It’s just as good to watch the session on YouTube when you can.

screenshot of Imagine YouTube channel

Pathways to God from the United Kingdom runs the IMAGINE sessions. It’s affiliated with Jesuits in Britain, which also is connected to the great app Pray as You Go. I’ve added the YouTube channel to my times with Jesus. I hope you will find it useful as well.

You can find information about Pray as You Go and other resources for Christian mindfulness here.

close up photography of hands and feet

Thank God for Feet

This Christian mindfulness exercise comes from the tradition of walking meditation. I’m only walking around the house to avoid walking in snow. Walking very slowly, step by step, would attract some attention from the family, probably including the cats. Instead, I’ll thank God for feet.

During this exercise, recall your attention to the bottoms of your feet at various points during the day. If your feet are functioning well, praise God for that. (I spent four months in a wheelchair recovering from a shattered ankle. So I know how much being able to walk means to me.)

Mindfully focus on the sensations on the soles of your feet. Do you feel warmth? Cold? Tingling? Do you feel the sturdiness of the floor beneath you?

Some in the mindfulness community believe that focusing on the bottoms of your feet makes you feel more grounded and protects you from anxious feelings. I’m not sure that works for me. But it is helpful to recall how God made us and to thank Him for our feet.

Questions to Ponder in Early Lent

No sin is private, hurting no one but ourselves.

“Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton,” edited by Jonathan Montaldo and Robert G. Toth

I’m using “Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton: Lent and Holy Week as a devotional this Lent. The section regarding the week of Ash Wednesday, which ends today, invokes some deep thought.

The concept that “No sin only hurts us” struck me as I read it. I tend to think that I keep the shiny side up around other people. Life at home is a looser interpretation of the Gospel commands. So I am pondering that quote today.

The Ash Wednesday section asks some good questions about our faith journey that I also wanted to share:

  • How has your personal understanding of Lent, sin and conversion changed as you have matured in your spiritual life?
  • What hoped-for change in your mind and heart do you pray for this Lent?
  • In what ways have you, by grace and your own inner work, grown beyond your former way of life?

The nice thing about growing is there’s always more to do. These questions make good prompts for meditating and journaling. We can go before the Lord in contemplation to ask what His answers for us would be.

Bridges to Contemplative Living is a series from the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living, which closed in 2012. Ave Maria Press still publishes the books.

Make a Friendship Resolution

The pandemic slugs on, giving us a time to think about how we will do things differently once it’s over. Lent is a wonderful time to prayerfully consider resolutions about friendship. Of course, we know full well that the only person we can control, with God’s grace, is ourselves.

I can across two friendship resolutions that I made a couple of years ago. They still feel fresh to me. So I’m going to bring them top-of-mind as things open us.

No. 1: I will begin looking for the persons of peace in activities and groups. I will cultivate a deeper, ongoing relationship with these individuals.

No. 2: In all relationships, I will treat the other as someone to be known and loved rather than someone to try to fix or change.

It will be interesting to see how a year of online conversations and physical separateness will change our relationships. I know I’m going to have to overcome what I call “introvert inertia.” I’d rather stay home and deal with folks online. I will have to push myself to be “in person” again.

How weird this all is came home when I walked up to a pastor that I’ve chatted with regularly online. I had my mask on, as did he. I said something to him and hurried off. It was only then that I realized that he had no idea who I was. We had never met in person before. I look a lot taller on Zoom.

I think these resolutions … building relationships with persons of peace, treating each person as someone to be known and loved … will serve me well online as well as off. They will only happen if I stay open to God’s grace and support.

Ash Wednesday at Home

If you can’t attend church due to the pandemic, here’s an Ash Wednesday service you can do at home.

Write down a list of your sins. Burn the paper in a bowl or ashtray. Then pray:

Let us ask our Heavenly Father to bless these ashes, which we will use as a mark of our repentance. Lord, bless these ashes. Wearing them reminds us that we are from the dust of the earth. Pardon our sins and keep us faithful to the resolutions that we have made for Lent. Help us to prepare well for the celebration of your Son's glorious resurrection.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Mark each person’s forehead in the sign of the cross saying, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.”

Close with this prayer:

Loving Father, today we start Lent. From today, we make a new start to be more loving and kind. Help us to show more concern for the less fortunate, the hungry and the poor. Help us to love you more and speak to you more often. Through Christ our Lord, Amen. 

Take It Seriously

Lent begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. Today is Fat Tuesday, the day to party and indulge before the great Lenten fast. Except most people keep indulging and few fast.

This pandemic Lent is an opportunity to renew our faith. Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter with Sundays off, began as a period for converts to prepare themselves for baptism on Easter Vigil (the night before Easter). The church modeled the period on Jesus’ 40 days and nights in the wilderness preparing to start his ministry.

When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its state religion in fourth century, new Christians who knew little about the faith overwhelmed the church. Many were Christians in name only and continued to practice their pagan religion.

As a result, the church made fasting and renunciation a part of Lent for everyone. The church invited its members to commit or re-commit more deeply to the faith. This also was a strategy to keep the church separate from the pagan culture around it.

Some cultural separation is a good idea for the American church today. Start by participating in a Lenten lifestyle assessment. Here are a few questions to ponder on this Fat Tuesday:

  • How can you make your daily Scripture reading and prayer more meaningful?
  • Can you find an online course or retreat to deepen your practice or your knowledge?
  • What Christian books and biographies have you been meaning to read?
  • What are the places in your life where you routinely exclude the presence of God?
  • What does God want you to give up in your daily life? (Look at use of food, social media, drinking, etc.)

Start preparing today for a Lent that deepens your experience of Christian mindfulness.

man tattooed praying

Pray for Your Leaders

Let’s pray for our leaders here in the United States on President’s Day. The Bible tells us that this is one of the responsibilities we have. And it doesn’t matter who the president is.

The Christian blog Connectusfund.org developed these prayers based on Philippians 2:

Philippians 2:3
Dear Father, I pray that as leaders, lead Your people, I pray that they will not do it selfishly, for personal ambition or vain conceit. I pray that You help leaders to realize that leading is really a task that requires them to serve. So, Father, raise up servant leaders, in Jesus’ name. Help them to work in humility. Make them selfless vessel of You, in Your image. Remove any selfish desires. Amen.

Philippians 2:4
Heavenly Father, thank You for our leaders. Right now, we pray for leadership guidance. Let every leader not seek to pursue their own interests, but to look at the interests of others. I pray that You help our leaders to identify the needs of Your people through divine wisdom and understanding. Lord, help them to not be ineffective leaders, but to act for the betterment of Your Kingdom. Amen.

This prayer for the American president come from a prayer book I received when I was confirmed on June 2, 1968.

Almighty God, Rules of the nations, regard with favor your servant, the President of the United States. Grant him health of body and mind. Make him strong to bear the burdens of his high office. Give him wisdom and understanding, that under his leadership our nation may be directed in the ways of righteousness and peace.
Teach me and all Christian citizens to realize that rule and authority in our country are under you and that our president is your minister in the administration of his office. Keep us mindful of our obligation to support our president with fervent prayers and with ready obedience to the laws of the country.
Bless our president, I pray, and make him a blessing to our people, to the glory of your holy name. For Jesus' sake. Amen. 

Take Ten

One of the essential of Christian mindfulness is meditation. If you are not sitting in silence before the Lord every day already. let’s try at least ten minutes a day. If you spend your time in a house filled with people, it’s even more imperative for you to have some silent time alone with God.

Christian mindfulness meditation can take several forms, including silent contemplative prayer and meditating on Scripture. You want to be open to God, loving Him and listening to Him.

Find a place where you are unlikely to be disturbed. I’ve heard of parents meditating in children’s rooms after they have gone to sleep. People meditate in cars and in bed. I do my meditation two places: in my bedroom and in our great room, which has prayer candles to light on the fireplace mantle. My cat Bert attends my meditation at times because he loves it and inevitably finds me when I am doing it. He just sits quietly.

Set a timer. I use the Insight Timer app on my phone. That way you don’t have to keep looking at a clock.

I also start my meditation, particularly in the morning, with a short reading from the 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher series. Others start by following their breathing. You can say the Jesus prayer or another short prayer like “Come Holy Spirit” to center down. Some I know slowly recite Scripture from memory. Just stay in the moment with God.

It’s just 10 minutes, but it can change your day and eventually your life.

World Day of the Sick 2021

Today is World Day of the Sick, a time to lift up those who are ill in prayer. And to think about our own legacies within the coronavirus era.

If we cannot go to help those who are sick, are we calling? Are we sending cards? Are we praying?

Are we doing our parts to stop the spread of the virus? Are we masked up? Are we working to protect our families by social distancing?

Let’s also lift up the doctors, nurses and caregivers we know, so many of them exhausted by nearly a year of emergency service. What can each of us do to make things easier?

Today’s prayer for World Day of the Sick reads:

Illness lays bare our human vulnerabilities, which is the exact place God meets us.  Let us pray for God's healing presence in all the world's ailments.
For the sick and those impacted by coronavirus,
For those who share in the sufferings of the sick,
For those bound by injustice,
For our fragile environment,
For our own hardheartedness,
God of wholeness and hope, heal your people.
Amen. 

Resource: On Christian Contemplation

“On Christian Contemplation” by Thomas Merton is a small, gift-size book filled with big thoughts about God. Paul M. Pearson edited the edition, which collects some of Merton’s poems and selections from his books.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk and theologian generally regarded as one of the foremost Christian writers of the 20th century. He was also well-known for his participation in interfaith dialogue and advocacy for non-violent activism. His work is still fresh 50-plus years later.

Indeed, without using the term, Merton wrote about Christian mindfulness. “Strictly speaking, I have a very simple way of prayer. It is centered entirely on attention to the presence of God and to His will and His love,” Merton wrote. This prayer he called contemplation. And he wrote, “Contemplation is the highest expression of a man’s intellectual and spiritual life.”

In his works, Merton talks about liturgical prayer, lectio divina, work, meditation and contemplation. He saw meditation and contemplation as essential for us to obtain union with God … to want what God wants, to love as God loves, even if it is a weak imitation.

The short collection (81 pages long) includes sections on “A Call to Contemplation,” “Tools for Contemplation” and “Meditations.” The book is easy to carry in a purse or briefcase.

For other resources on Christian mindfulness, click here.

Mindfully Consider Trees

In my part of the world, snow and ice cover our trees. Since all but the evergreens have dropped their leaves, we can see their beautiful architecture. From the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the Trees of Life in Revelation, trees play an important role in our spiritual story.

This Christian mindfulness exercise helps us to become more aware of how important trees are to our daily lives. If you have little ones, they can easily participate in this exercise.

First, let’s pray in gratitude for our trees … those in the yard, those seen through the windows and those you’ve loved. Thank you, Lord, for creating trees.

Next, be mindful of the things in your home. Which started out as part of a tree? Is there wood in your house frame, your floors, your furniture?

Pull out kitchen drawers to find wooden spoons. Look in the refrigerator for the fruit of trees. Try the spice cabinet, which you can see the ground up bark of the cinnamon tree. Or open the drawer where you keep the maple syrup. Then, of course, there’s paper, and nuts, and materials from resins or gums.

There’s lots to be grateful for! Thank you, Lord, for trees and all the ways they serve us.

turned on black samsung smartphone between headphones

Mindfulness With Music

In my part of the world, the coldest days of winter have arrived. This is a wonderful time to cozy up with a blanket and a hot drink to listen — really listen — to music.

Take at least 30 minutes to listen to music that allows you to feel God’s presence in the present moment. Of course, adding music to chores elevates the experience. But many of us have music in the background so much that we fail to enjoy the experience.

You can create your own playlist. Or just search “Contemplative Prayer” on Spotify to find good playlists.

“A Guide to Practicing God’s Presence” by Kenneth Boa and Jenny Abel (which you can download for free here) also lists music to consider.

Hymns and Choruses

  • Be Still, My Soul
  • Be Thou My Vision
  • Before the Throne of God Above
  • Blessed Assurance
  • Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
  • Give Me Jesus
  • Great Is Thy Faithfulness
  • How Great Thou Art
  • In Christ Alone
  • It Is Well With My Soul

Instrumental

  • Canon in D – Pachelbel
  • Adagio in G Minor for Strings and Organ – Albinoni
  • The Four Seasons – Vivaldi
  • Messiah – Handel
  • Water Music – Handel
  • Mass in B Minor – Bach
  • Brandenburg Concertos – Bach
  • Double Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins – Bach
  • Requiem – Mozart
  • Symphony No. 40 – Mozart
  • Piano Concerto No. 21 – Mozart
  • Symphonies 5, 7 and 9 – Beethoven
  • Piano Concerto No. 2 – Rachmaninoff

young worker who feels blah

Breathe Away the Blahs

Are you feeling blah? Not quite depressed. Not quite anxious. But not joyful and content either.

A research study conducted at Duke found that about 30% of adults have “the COVID blues.” The main symptom: We just don’t feel like ourselves. We are sluggish and not happy.

This Christian mindfulness exercise may help.

  1. Go to a place where you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes.
  3. Ask God to come anew into your life. To give you the wisdom to improve your relationship with Him.
  4. As you continue to concentrate on your breathing, imagine that the out-breath removes your discontent and the in-breath brings you ease.
  5. Be mindful of thoughts that come up. You don’t have to fight them. Just recognize that they are there.
  6. Pray about any thoughts that bother you.
  7. Ask yourself if you are feeling better. I hope you are.

Learning to Be Content No Matter What

Learning to be content in a pandemic is both a God-given grace and something we can learn. So is learning to be content in any time of suffering and injustice. Contentment is an inner condition cultivated in humility. We can have a teachable spirit prepared to bend to God’s will.

Rich Nathan, founding pastor at Vineyard Columbus, taught a sermon years ago that offered a three-part plan to develop contentment that I can’t improve on at all.  Here are his three points.

No. 1:  Acknowledge God’s sovereignty over your life. Practice surrender.

The Bible teaches that everything, even our loved one’s illnesses, has to pass through God’s hands before it happens.  As Elisabeth Elliott put it:  “Whatever happens is assigned.” God’s power is unlimited, and he rules all our lives.

Matthew 10:29-30:  Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  The very hairs on your head are all numbered.”

Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who live him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  We will never suffer trials unless God allows them and watches over them.

The most important example of a person who trusted God under terrible circumstances was Jesus himself.  Have we ever been in so much agony that we sweat blood over it?  Yes, Jesus understands how we feel.

We learn things from suffering that we probably couldn’t learn anywhere else: reliance on grace, humility, perseverance, quality prayer, faith, trust, and a real relationship with God.

If we can’t accept this for a lifetime, Rich suggested that we accept it “just for today.”

No. 2:  Practice thanksgiving.

Start being grateful for the littlest things:  grass, sky, trees.  Spend a day looking for things to be grateful for.

No. 3: Practice abiding.

This means that you connect with God’s person.  This is the essence of Christian mindfulness. You focus on the present in the felt presence of God. You can do all things through God who strengthens you, but you have to abide in God to do so.

Rich encourages us to welcome the Holy Spirit into areas where we’ve grumbled, where we are discontented, where we are frustrated. Invite the person of the Holy Spirit to come into that part of your life. Contentment will grow where we abide in God.

Korean art

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

“The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to Be Calm and Mindful in a Fast-Paced World” is a best-seller, particularly in South Korea. Haemin Sumin, the author, has sold more than 3 million copies of the book there.

Haemin is a Zen monk and a former professor born in Korea and educated in the United States. Several of his lectures can be found on YouTube, including this talk at Google. He has translated the book into English, along with Chi Young-Kim. It contains his teaching and advice in eight areas:

  • Rest
  • Mindfulness
  • Passion
  • Relationships
  • Love
  • Life
  • The Future
  • Spirituality

I felt the best part of the book was its section on spirituality. This quote, in particular, is my favorite:

In the beginning, our prayer takes the shape of “please grant me this, please grant me that” and then develops into “thank you for everything” and then matures into “I want to resemble you.” Eventually it transcends language, and we pray with our whole being in sacred silence.”

Haemin notes that people of various faiths can learn from other. Those who lose their faith reading about another religion didn’t have much faith to begin with, he adds. I agree with that. Other resources that can help you with your practice of Christian mindfulness are found here.

Light Tomorrow With Today

The season of Lent is nearly two weeks away. Hopefully it’s the last Lent we’ll spend in a pandemic, so let’s make the most of our difficult situations.

As we plan for the Lenten season, let’s keep our resolutions positive. It’s not just about giving things up. It’s about moving forward in our faith. My theme for Lent 2021 is “Light Tomorrow With Today.” I’m looking at what I can do to increase the light of God in my life.

For example, let’s think about the content we consume. I pick out some books to read or re-read every Lent. I know many people abstain from social media. Since that’s how I see photos and videos of my grandchild these days, I will look at ways to stop “doom-scrolling.” I will see only family/friend/faith content during this time.

My pastor gave a sermon this weekend about what we are taking in. Is it, as Paul would like, “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.” The wonderful sermon is below.

Other places to look for positive resolutions include prayer, fasting and giving. If you are in the two-thirds of Americans who are OK financially in the pandemic, you might consider how you can help the one-third who are struggling.

Pray over these Lenten resolutions. Then when Ash Wednesday comes, your Lent can become a light for tomorrow.

Color Yourself Mindful

Perk up your Christian mindfulness by paying attention to one particular color for a day. The steps are easy and often improve your mood.

  1. Pick a primary color.
  2. Consciously look for the color as you move intentionally through the day.
  3. Enjoy all the shades and variations of the color.
  4. Note how it appears in nature.
  5. Praise God for color and for that color in particular.

This exercise also could be part of a nature walk, forest bathing (silent walking through a wooded area with mindfulness and deep breathing) or a gratitude walk (in which you thank God for every thing you see that you feel gratitude for). It’s a nice exercise for kids as well.

My color today is blue. What’s yours?

It’s Back … Once ‘Deadly Sin’ Returns in Pandemic

Before there were Seven Deadly Sins, there were Eight. The one that got eliminated, acedia, has made a return to life via the pandemic. Or at least to mine.

The eighth Deadly Sin was indeed acedia, which means “a lack of care.” It was laziness and more. Acedia, according to the Atlas Obscura website, was a kind of boredom. It makes it difficult to practice the presence of God. Mindful magazine’s Spring 2021 issue notes: “It has resurged, thanks to a certain pandemic, as (acedia) describes a thoroughly modern condition: listlessness, ambient anxiety and an inability to concentrate.”

The Desert Fathers, particularly Evagrius of Pontius, thought acedia was the vice that could most tempt monks and hermits to leave the faith. (His other deadly sins were gluttony, fornication, avarice, sadness, anger, vainglory and pride.) He called it “the demon of noontide” and felt very strongly about monks taking naps as the gateway to sin galore. (!!!)

Pandemic naps or not, Christian mindfulness is a way out of this listlessness. If your practice is feeling a little anxious or you are having difficulty concentrating, the magazine suggests you start by bringing mindfulness to a daily activity or a daily routine. This becomes Christian mindfulness when you pray before and after the activity and practice the presence of God during it. Give it a try.

When You Wake Up at Night

It’s 2 a.m. Do you know where your mindfulness practice is? Yes, waking up in the middle of the night is unpleasant. But it can be an opportunity to grow as a Christian who practices mindfulness.

Mindful, an excellent magazine, published an article in its Spring 2021 issue titled “Beginner’s Mind” by Michelle Maldonado. In answering a question about preparing for sleep, Michelle also gave wonderful advice about what to do when you wake up in the night.

She suggested activating your parasympathetic nervous system with an easy breathing practice:

  • Inhale to the count of four.
  • Exhale slowly to the count of eight.
  • Repeat.

This practice activates the vagus nerve that is the major nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body.

You also could add more elements to this: doing a gratitude list or saying the Jesus prayer. Either bring the presence of God into your night.

Michelle and many others also suggest that, if you can’t go back to sleep, get up and read. Many of my friends read the Psalms to calm in the middle of the night. I tend to meditate over scripture or elements in the Thirty Days With a Great Spiritual Teacher series.

In any case, you won’t be in bed feeling frustrated. Perhaps, as one of my friends used to say, God has woken you up to spend time with you. It’s good to be ready to listen.

Four Guidelines for Right Speech

Many of us are watching our words these days. These four guidelines for right speech from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in “The Art of Communicating” are good for people of all faiths to consider.

  1. Tell the truth. Don’t lie or turn the truth upside down.
  2. Don’t exaggerate.
  3. Be consistent. This means no double-talk: speaking about something in one way to one person and in an opposite way to another for selfish or manipulative reasons.
  4. Use peaceful language. Don’t use insulting or violent words, cruel speech, verbal abuse or condemnation.

pink petals on pink surface

The Simple Demands of God

Yesterday I had a good morning. Once again when I recollect myself, I find the same simple demands of God: gentleness, humility, charity, interior simplicity. Nothing else is asked me. And suddenly I see clearly why these virtues are demanded. Because through them the soul becomes habitable for God and for one’s neighbor in an intimate and permanent way. They make a pleasant cell of it. Hardness and pride repel. Complexity disquiets. But humility and gentleness welcome, and simplicity reassures. These “passive” virtues have an eminently social character.

Raissa Maritain

A Mindful Response to Difficult People

Difficult, even toxic, people are a fact of life. We can … and sometimes must … avoid the most abusive. But we may still find that we have to deal with difficult coworkers, bosses, family members or neighbors.

Reviewing an old journal, I found my younger self listing the self-destructive ways that I was dealing with difficult people. I was:

  • Draining my own energy by being upset.
  • Thinking about how people were not behaving as they “should” be.
  • Trying to appease people in ways contrary to God’s will.
  • Saying half-truths and lies to keep the people off my back.
  • Rehearsing and re-rehearsing upcoming conversations.
  • Later, thinking about what nasty things I could have said to them.
  • Spending time and energy trying to stabilize myself after I was shaken by an encounter.

Christian mindfulness does call on us to handle toxic people differently. We need to look at ourselves in prayer to see if we are the cause of any of the unpleasantness. After we have dealt with anything that’s our fault, we can alter our behavior to make dealings with the person easier. Here are five ways that I have changed my approach.

  1. Accept that this is a difficult relationship with a person who has emotional problems. Accepting this frees us from hoping the person will behave in a different way next time.
  2. Tell the truth. Instead of trying to appease by lying, tell the person the truth. That doesn’t mean attacking them. It means using “I statements” about how they make you feel. “I don’t want to go to lunch with you because I tend to get nervous and anxious around you.”
  3. Do not respond to them … in words, writing or online comments … until you are calm and centered.
  4. Pray for them every day. Jesus asked us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
  5. Ask for the gift of mercy for yourself. Eventually you may be able to see this person as Jesus does. That will give you compassion.

Six Steps to Mindful Buying Online

During this pandemic, Amazon and other online retailers have become my close friends. And I’m not alone.

J.P. Morgan Chase reported in October 2020 that e-commerce sales were up 60% during the first half of 2020. Salesforce found that global digital orders peaked at 71% year-over-year on Dec. 5-6, 2020. The panicked buying of cleaning supplies, toilet paper and baby formula has calmed down. But we are still at the keyboard shopping.

So how can we bring Christian mindfulness to our urge to buy stuff? Isolation is making it tougher. I know I get really excited to see the Amazon Prime truck and the mailperson.

But I also know that more people are struggling these days. My money is God’s money. If I spend it on items that cheer me up for 30 minutes, I won’t have it to contribute to help others. These six tips can help:

  • Ask the right questions. Is this necessary? Do I have to buy it from Amazon, or can I get it delivered from the local shop that is struggling? How can this purchase do the most good?
  • Make a list. Put the things you need on a list. If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it.
  • One in, one out. When you bring one item in, remove another worn item. This works for just about every type of purchase.
  • Consider the packaging. I’ve had a few items arrive crushed and broken, so I know that packaging is necessary. Recycle what you can, and urge sellers to use only what packaging is necessary.
  • Pray before you click. Are you doing this just because you’re bored, lonely or needy? Turn to the Lord to see.
  • Find other ways to lift your spirits. When you are down, try worship music. Many are missing the opportunity to gather together and sing. Or go for a walk in nature. Do what you need to do to lift your spirits with spending a lot of money.

The pandemic will not last forever. Let’s try to get through it without building up clutter and depleting our accounts.

A Prayer for the Nation

I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have the United States in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.  Amen

President George Washington

Free Ebook: The Practice of the Presence of God

The most beloved book in Christian mindfulness isn’t a composed book at all. “The Practice of the Presence of God” is a collection of letters and thoughts from a cook in a Paris monastery in 17th century named Brother Lawrence.

He began life as Nicolas Herman around 1614 in the Lorraine duchy of France. As a soldier in the 30 Years War, he received a nearly fatal injury that left him maimed and in chronic pain for the rest of his life. In midlife, Nicolas joined a new monastery in Paris. He took the name Brother Lawrence after his parish priest and was the cook for 100 monastery members. Later he worked in the sandal repair shop. In all he spent 40 years in monastery.

At some point, Brother Lawrence began Christian mindfulness, living the present moment in the presence of God. He walked through his days constantly conversing with God and aware of His presence.

After Brother Lawrence’s death in 1691, Joseph de Beaufort, representing the local archbishop, published Lawrence’s letters and spiritual maxims. In 1694, de Beaufort expanded the manuscript to add conversations that he had had with Brother Lawrence, titling the new volume “The Practice of the Presence of God.”

More than 400 years later, this book is a treasured Christian classic. Brother Lawrence inspires us to “establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence by continually conversing with Him. It was a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries. We should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God, which would yield us great joy in being devoted to Him.”

You can download a free copy of “The Practice of the Presence of God” from Project Gutenberg here.

Other resources for Christian mindfulness are found here.

Pray for Christian Unity

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Today is both Martin Luther King Day and the first day of a traditional time to pray for Christian unity. This is a perfect match for 2021.

The American Christian church is in sad shape as it deals with the issues swirling within it. Christian nationalism and systemic racism are the two most important.

So let’s meditate on this prayer:

Gracious Father,
we pray to you for your church.
Fill it with your truth.
Keep it in your peace.
Where it is corrupt, reform it.
Where it is in error, correct it.
Where it is right, defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, reunite it. 
We pray, oh God, for the oppression and violence that are our sad inheritance as Americans.
We give you thanks for the work of Christian preachers and witnesses, particularly for Martin Luther King Jr., to alleviate these burdens. 
Fill us with your spirit, where our community is divided by racism, torn by repression, saddened by fear and ignorance. 
May we give ourselves to your work of healing.
May we forgive each other and walk together in your light. 

A prayer by the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud (1573-1645) and a traditional prayer for Martin Luther King Day were adapted to become the prayer above. 

different flowers shaped in word peace

Use Your Words

Please do not indulge in unkind words, in negative comments. Criticism, as you know, can only be useful when it is constructive. Comments can only be useful when they are friendly. So even from the point of view of effectiveness, I would suggest that unkind comments add to the problem. Unloving criticism makes the situation worse. It does not mean that we do not have to comment and suggest. Very often we have to. But it is the mental attitude with which you make the suggestion and the loving concern with which you put forward ideas, sometimes opposed to others, that make for effectiveness.

Eknath Easwaran

Try Lectio Divina

“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

Psalm 119:105

Lectio divina is Latin for sacred reading. This ancient Christian practice brings mindfulness to reading the Bible by enveloping it with meditation and prayer. It gives us an opportunity to listen to God, to allow Him to speak to us as individuals.

Even with its Latin name and affiliation with monastic life, lectio divina is not difficult. It’s a four-step process … five if you count preparation.

We should try not to make this a checklist. It’s more like basking in the Bible than studying the Bible. You are reading Scripture to form your development as a child of God, not just to gather information.

So preparation is pretty easy. You need to have a calm mind. You need to be in a place that’s quiet where you can be alone. Then invite the Holy Spirit to be present with you. The Holy Spirit has a significant role in delivering the Word of God’s meaning to you.

Then begin the four steps:

  • Read (lectio): Slowly read the Bible verses. Do it several times if you can. Reading out loud may help as well. You also can personalize the verse by inserting your name where the Bible uses “you.”
  • Meditate (meditatio): Reflect on the words and phrases in the Scripture. Does anything jump out at you? Or, if it’s more subtle, does a word or phrase draw your attention?
  • Respond (oratio): St. Ambrose said, “Let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture, so that God and people may talk together.” So ask God why a particular phrase or word has caught your attention. Talk with God about what you are hearing or feeling. How does this apply to your life today? Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you, to help you understand.
  • Rest (contemplatio): Then sit quietly and listen for God’s response. Rest in His presence with mindfulness. Be quiet. (This is contemplative prayer.) Don’t worry if nothing happens. Sometimes God just wants us to sit with Him. If you feel your mind wandering, quietly repeat the word or phrase that attracted you in the reading.

Try to keep a consistent time and place for practicing. Recommended scriptures to start include:

  • Numbers 6:24-26
  • Joshua 1:8
  • 2 Samuel 22: 31-32
  • Psalm 42:1-2
  • Psalm 62
  • Psalm 73: 25-28
  • Psalm 119: 105
  • Matthew 16: 24-26
  • John 14: 27
  • Ephesians 1:15-22

What Does God Want You to Do?

Today I need to understand God’s will for a particularly long list of items. It does seem to be that kind of January here in the United States.

Today’s Jesus Always reading said: “Seek to align your will with Mine and to see things from My perspective.” We always want to do this. But we all know that far too many Christians have been complicit with evil throughout the centuries. It’s no different today.

So what do we do to align our will with God and to see things from His perspective? Bible study is essential. I have studied the Bible since I learned to read 61 years ago. I know what it says and what it does not say.

I want to avoid the problem presented in Romans 1:21-23: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image of corruptible man.”

With Romans 1:25, I pray: “O, merciful God, help us not exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen.”

The prayer is a good start. God will not leave us alone when we genuinely seek His will with plans to do it. Once we have done this, the Holy Spirit within us will help us. He is our Counselor who will teach us, walk with us and lead us into the path of doing God’s will.

Instead of striving so hard, we can rest in God’s spirit. The fruit of God’s spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Anything that is the opposite of this is not God’s will.

Resource: 30 Days With a Great Spiritual Teacher

Easily among the most significant of my devotional aids is the 30 Days With a Great Spiritual Teacher series, published by Ave Maria Press. I have every volume in the series, and I’ve used them as the first step in morning prayer since 1998.

I rotate the series of the 17 volumes I have. (I’m not sure all of them are still in print.) Each presents 30 days of devotions based on the work of a significant person of faith. You get a morning prayer, a thought to revisit during the day, and an evening prayer.

Two volumes contain work from Francis of Assisi, and another specifically for Lent contains work from several people. My favorites include:

  • “You Shall Not Want,” King David and others who wrote Psalms
  • “Living in the Presence of God,” Brother Lawrence
  • “Set Your Heart Free,” Francis de Sales
  • “Simply Surrender,” Theresa of Lisieux
  • “Let Nothing Disturb You,” Teresa of Avila
  • “Draw Ever Closer,” Henri J.M. Nouwen

Two new volumes, based of the works of Thomas Merton and Augustine of Hippo, are scheduled to come out this year. The books come from a Catholic publishing house, but they are very useful for any Christian. I fully recommend these books for contemplative prayer of any kind. Other resources can be found here.

computer monitor with words be kind

Practice Kind Attention

How’s your mood? Whether we feel angry or bored, the practice of kind attention can bring us back in touch with our gentle Jesus.

In Christian mindfulness, the practice brings prayer, centering and intentional observation together as one. Here’s one way to accomplish this:

  • Quiet yourself. Breathe in and out, paying attention to the sensations, around 10 times.
  • Lift your heart to the Lord. Call out, if necessary. The Lord knows how you feel. But you may not be aware of all of it. Pay attention to your emotions as you pour them out. Neither fight them nor feed them. Again, the Lord already know how you feel. Begin to bring kind attention to it.
  • After you pour out your emotions, especially if they are tumultuous, pray the Serenity Prayer. The complete version of the Serenity Prayer is here.
  • Once you have shifted to inner calm, start to pay kind attention to the things around you. Where do you see the hand of God? In a pet, a rock, a tree, a piece of art? Can you see “that of God” in the people around you?
  • As you begin to move back into your daily activities, stay in the present moment and continue to observe it … and your feelings … with kindness.

The Day Jesus Obeyed

Today is the church’s commemoration of the baptism of Jesus. Our Lord, who had no sin, went to the Jordan River for a ceremony typically used to mark repenting from sin and starting a new life.

His baptism was unusual. One eyewitness was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. As John the Baptist saw his relative Jesus approach the river, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God.” John told the crowd that Jesus was the man had had been talking about when he said someone greater than himself was coming. Indeed, John told them, this was the whole reason that he had started baptizing people … “that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Matthew the tax collector reported that John didn’t want to baptize Jesus. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John said. Jesus responded, “Let it be so now. It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was obedient, and so was John.

Dr. Luke, who conducted many interviews to put together his account, said Jesus was baptised among many others. As Jesus came up from the river water, a dove flew down from Heaven and landed on Him. A voice said, “You are my son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.”

John the Baptist later told his followers, including Andrew, that God had promised to point out the Messiah. God told John the Baptist to look for the man who had a dove fly down and rest on him after baptism.