Stop Struggling

Are you trying too hard to be at peace? Fighting hard to practice mindfulness?

Stop struggling.

Calm down.

I feel I am striving too hard to abide in Jesus. Instead of opening the door for Him to enter, I am pounding on the other side of the door … straining to keep pure thoughts and to practice my daily round of spiritual practices. That isn’t necessary, productive or even helpful.

God is already here. Yet I behave as if it all depends on me. Yes, I need to quiet down and let God be present. I am grasping for someone who is all around me, yet my grasp comes up empty. It is only when I relax and submit that I feel God doing the work to allow me to abide in Him.

Is it just me? When I mentioned this in a gathering of Christian friends, I got a lot of blank looks.

Yet, one Christian friend responded with a new phrase I love: Try softer.

That’s the title of a book by therapist Aundi Kolber. She believes we don’t have to white-knuckle our way to God or to life, in general. Her book is a corrective for overfunctioning (one of my greatest issues) and anxiety.

Perhaps I have reached the “let God and let God” phase of my spiritual development. Yet again.

I found some tips on the Woman of Noble Character website that can make this effort to stop the struggle more concrete.

It’s not what I need to stop doing as much as it’s what I need to let God do. Stop struggling to achieve grace and:

  1. Look for a show of God’s power.
  2. Accept God’s comfort.
  3. Let God work things out for the good of those who love Him, including me.

Yes, I need to practice my daily round of spiritual practices. But I need to move forward in a more gentle, open manner, trusting God to do his part. Without God, I can do nothing.

Get Ready for a Calm Christmas

As we hide away from heat advisories in sweltering August, preparing for Christmas is a fun item on the to-do list. I picked up “Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year: A Little Book of Festive Joy” by Beth Kempton for this purpose.

I already consider myself a mindful Christmas practitioner. Yet Kempton took an approach that I found fascinating. She proposes that Christmas has five storylines:

  1. Faith: The celebration of the birth of Jesus and the Christmas story involving church-based traditions and rituals like Advent candles, the creche and traditional Christmas carols.
  2. Magic: The story of Santa Claus, his reindeer and the elves, plus magical Christmas movies and songs.
  3. Connection: Things that connect us to Christmases past, such as “The Christmas Carol,” Christmas trees and treasured ornaments, Christmas dinners, holiday events and Christmas movie traditions.
  4. Abundance: The joy of getting and giving presents.
  5. Heritage: The Christmas practices of your family of origin and your background.

As a Christian, my Christmas celebrations focus on faith. But I was surprised to realize that my family also finds Connection as very important. For one family member, doing the same things that we have done, as in Heritage, is deeply important.

Talk to your family to see what about your Christmas celebration is most important to them. You can create an intentional approach to the season that meets everyone’s needs and desires.

“Calm Christmas” also offers a variety of ideas for a mindful approach to the whole season. I especially liked the author’s idea of spending the time between Christmas Day and New Years Day’s as a “hush” season. This is, she writes: “A time of long walks, hot coffees, languid lounging with leftover chocolates, adding birthday dates to the new diary, telephone catch-ups … and everything on pause.”

Wow! Can I have that in August, too?

Christian Mindfulness in Exercise

Research shows that people who focus on the sensations of exercise and on their surroundings enjoy the experience more. Christian mindfulness can support our exercise program, and the exercise program can build our Christian mindfulness.

How can we do it?

  1. Pray before your exercise, offering thanks for the body you have been given.
  2. Unplug. Exercise without music or other input so you can focus on the experience.
  3. Pay attention to the changes you feel as you exercise: changes and strains in your muscles, your mood and emotions, your breathing and all else you experience.
  4. Notice pain and decide what to do about it. Be nice to yourself.
  5. Observe the surroundings, whether they are nature or the walls of a room.
  6. Listen to your thoughts. Are you in dread? Watching the clock? Feeling competitive with others around you?
  7. As you cool down, offer gratitude for your body, inside and out.

Exercise can be many things, ranging from an addiction to an experience to avoid as much as possible. Bringing Christian mindfulness into the activity can add some calm and clarity to it.

a passageway in a beautiful stone monastery

Prayerfulness as Christian Mindfulness

Christian mindfulness is a relatively new term for an ancient practice. One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, writes about it in “The Breath of the Soul.” She calls the practice “prayerfulness.”

Prayerfulness, on the other hand, is the capacity to walk in touch with God through everything in life. It is the internal awareness that God is with me — now, here, in this, always. It is an awareness of the continuing presence of God.

Sr. Joan Chittister, “The Breath of the Soul”

That definition absolutely aligns with mine for Christian mindfulness: living in the present moment with the presence of God.

Sr. Joan has been a huge influence on me since 1990, when I read “Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today.” At the time she wrote that book, she was prioress at the Benedictine Sisters of Erie in Erie, Pennsylvania. Now she is known internationally as an important spiritual writer, with dozens of books to her credit.

So I am not surprised that we arrived on the same path with different terminology.

Sr. Joan writes that prayerfulness is her inner dialogue with the living God who inhabits her spirit and mind. Not only does prayerfulness allow us to see and talk with God everywhere, it lets us to submit the present moment, with all its uncertainty and anxiety, to God.

As Sr. Joan puts it, “It trusts that no matter how malevolent the situation may be, I can walk through it unharmed because God is with me.”

Sr. Joan shares her spiritual practices through her website here. You can subscribe to her monthly newsletter, “The Monastic Way,” on the site. You also get free webinars and Zoom calls with Sr. Joan and her group, an online movement called Monasteries of the Heart.

Insects: A Mindfulness Exercise

Insects in the summer used to just bug people. Now, concern about reduced number of bees and other insects give us all a chance to practice mindfulness. And to be thankful for their place in God’s plan for Earth.

This idea first developed when I learned about a study in the journal Biological Conservation in April 2019. It said about 40% of insect species are threatened with extinction. Wow! It turns out that scientists have been concerned about the reduced number of insects for several years.

In its January 2021 issue, the science journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) put together a series of 12 separate studies from 56 scientists in several countries about insect populations. University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum equated the issue to the first studies on climate change 30 years ago. She said insects are critical to the natural food chain and pollinate human crops. On the other hand, many humans hate them.

These studies were released about the same time that I developed skeeter syndrome. Yes, that’s a real thing. It means that I am allergic to the saliva of mosquitos. Each bite swells up into a small mountain on my skin that itches and hurts for weeks.

Searching for prayers about insects also was informative. Almost all of them were prayers to make insects go away, rather than be fruitful and multiply. While I may want the mosquitos to stay away from me, I also want them to exist. Even if they are sometimes identified as the deadliest life form on Earth, God has a purpose for them.

Be thankful for insects

So how can we bring Christian mindfulness to insects? The easiest way is to notice them and pray for them. I have adapted two prayers that I found online. The first one, which I changed into modern English, is about bees:

Lord God, Almighty, you created heaven and earth, and all the animals that live in the air and on the earth for the use of man. You have directed that the ministers of Your holy Church should light candles made of beeswax when the holy sacrifice is offered in which the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Your Son, becomes present and is consumed. Send down Your blessing on these bees, that they may multiply, be fruitful and be preserved from all harm so that the product of their labor may be used to Your honor, and to the honor of Your Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the most blessed Virgin Mary. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

catholic.org

Another prayer I found online begins like this:

May compassion and love reign over all the earth for all the tiny beings who live in the soil, the trees, the water, and the air, creating harmony and balance with your songs, your pollinating of flowers, your graceful flight, your mysterious transformations, and your miraculous ability to literally create soil in which new plants can take root.

allcreatures.org blog

Five ways to help insects survive

A mindful approach to insects also could include helping them survive. Here are five ideas I found:

  1. Reduce the number of times you mow your grass.
  2. Plant native plants. Many insects need these to survive.
  3. Avoid pesticides and go organic in your yard and garden.
  4. Leave old trees, stumps and dead leaves alone. They are home to countless species.
  5. Support and volunteer in conservation organizations.

The Lord made insects as part of His plan for planet Earth. Let’s help Him keep them alive.

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.

a yellow bird in a tree

Play First Bird of My Day

“First Bird of My Day” is a worldwide game that began when an English woman decided to be mindful about which bird she saw first each day.

In the May 2022 issue of The Simple Things magazine, Hannah Bourne-Taylor told her story. It began when she and her husband moved to a remote village in Ghana for his work. She felt depressed and disconnected at first. Then she noticed that the birds around her were unfamiliar and beautiful.

As she began to learn about them, she began a mindfulness practice of looking outside each morning to note what bird she saw first. When the family returned to England, Hannah began sharing her game on Twitter using the hashtag #firstbirdofmyday. (Her Twitter handle is @WriterHannahBT)

Over time, people around the world have started playing the game. On the day I wrote this, one man was sharing a map of everyone’s first birds on the Twitter hashtag. She even gets posts from Antarctica, which the bird mentioned is often a penguin.

Creating mindful routines and rituals like this can build mindfulness and add joy to life. Those of us practicing Christian mindfulness also can pray over the first bird and its winged brethren. Due to the global climate change, many species are experiencing declines. We can thank God for the birds, which Jesus loved to observe, and pray for their future.

boy listening to sea shell

Go Outside and Listen

Listen. One of the pandemic’s benefits has been an increase in the amount of time spent in nature. In fact, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development used the pandemic to study the benefits of time in the fresh air.

The results were even better than expected. Not only did spending time outdoors improve general well-being, but it also altered and improved brain structure. The areas of the brain impacted affect mood, concentration and working memory. Spending time in nature could not be a better idea.

Christian mindfulness practices are all easy to adapt to the outdoors. One of simplest is mindful listening to the quiet around you. Is silence ever really silent? Tuning into the sounds around you is a great way to stay in the present moment. And hearing those sounds offers opportunities for prayers of gratitude and worship for the world God made.

The practice is simple.

  • Go to a place outside where you can feel safe and relaxed.
  • Close your eyes, if you’d like, and listen to the sounds of your own breathing first.
  • Thank God for this opportunity to be in His creation.
  • Listen to the sounds as they occur. Hear them come and go.
  • If you identify a sound of something you love (a robin, for example), praise God for it.
  • Notice how this impacts your mood and your body.
  • Close with a time of worship by thinking about the creation around you.

It’s like your mother said: Go outside and play. It’s good for you.

Pray for Your Pastors

But I do more than thank. I ask – ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is He is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life He has for Christians. Oh, the utter extravagance of His work in us who trust Him – endless energy, boundless strength!

Ephesians 1: 17-19, The Message translation

Praying the same prayer for nine consecutive days is an old practice called a novena. We all need to do a good old-fashioned novena for our Christian leaders and pastors.

Dealing with all the issues surrounding pastoring in a pandemic has worn them out. Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 1 is a good one. (I’m going to pray it for myself and others working in lay positions at our church as well.)

A novena is not … and never has been … a “magic” formula. But concentrating on the same prayers … slowly and deliberately …. for nine days in a row can reveal the voice of God to us as well as send blessings to our pastors.

Never Forget the Holocaust

I remember watching filmstrips about the liberation of the concentration camps in Europe in elementary school in the early and mid-1960s. I thought that the Holocaust happened very long ago among heathen peoples. Looking back, I know what I saw had happened only a decade or so in the past. The heathens thought they were civilized, even superior, people.

Today is Yom HaShoah, the time to remember the Holocaust. It’s time for me to remember how many people who thought they were good Christians participated … actively or passively … in it. As the eyewitnesses leave this Earth, we must all remember and fight those who want to deny reality.

O God, we are conscious that many centuries of blindness have blinded our eyes so that we no longer see the beauty of your chosen people, nor recognize in their faces the features of our privileged brothers and sisters.

We realize that the mark of Cain stands upon our foreheads.

Across the centuries our brother Abel has lain in blood which we drew or which we caused to be shed by forgetting your love.

Forgive us for the curse we falsely attached to their name as Jews.

Forgive us for crucifying you a second time in their flesh.

God of Abraham and of Moses, we pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear your world.

As you have made them your own, so make them continue to grow in love of your name and in faithfulness to your covenant.

You are our God, living and reigning, for ever and ever. Amen

Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers

Try Radical Acceptance

Your mind is labeling everyone and everything, but you may not even notice. Yet those labels or judgments show up when you interact with people.

Have you ever noticed that you suspend disbelief when you listen to Person A but react with cynicism to what Person B says? Does walking down a particular hallway make you feel stressed?

You can become more aware of this with this Christian mindfulness exercise. It helps us to not behave on automatic pilot, but to become more aware. That way we can walk through our day with Jesus, not our half-buried emotions, leading the way.

  1. Pray to ask God to give you the ability to listen, really listen, to your automatic thoughts. Ask for blessing for this exercise, which you can do all day or just for a few hours.
  2. Be open to surprises and new insights. You may know how much you dread seeing one supervisor. (I used to have a boss with the company nickname “Attila the Hen.”) But you may not know how you automatically feel toward people who cause you less auto-stress.
  3. On a “typical” day, listen to what jumps into your mind when you see individuals, attend groups or go places. For example, walk through the halls of your office space, and notice what you are quietly saying to yourself. How does it feel when you see This Person or pass That Person’s office door? Does a certain room or sight make you feel uneasy automatically?
  4. Acknowledge these emotions. We don’t want to run away from our feelings. We want to be aware of them so we will not behave on automatic pilot.
  5. Realize that you can’t control your emotions, other people or situations. But you can accept that you have some emotional reactions to people and places. And you can control your actions. asking for the grace to walk with Jesus through our daily activities.

This is part of “radical acceptance.” Introduced into American culture by Tara Brach, the concept is used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It is a close relative of mindfulness. We pay attention to only what is happening in the present moment (mindfulness) in the presence of God (Christian mindfulness), and we accept that we cannot control reality (radical acceptance).

By realizing the reality of the emotions that we have attached to people and places, we can bring those feelings to Jesus and make a more sound decision about what to do. It’s a good idea to conduct this exercise quarterly or whenever you experience a significant change in your surroundings.

Resource: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

“The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” by John Mark Comer speaks of Christian mindfulness without uttering the phrase. Comer, a pastor and podcaster from Portland, Oregon, is clearly writing to a congregation much younger than my Baby Boomer self. But his concepts are eternal.

In the book, Comer gives an excellent overview about how we all got so speeded up. Then he presents principles for winding ourselves down to human speed. His view is that we need to do three things in life:

  1. Be with Jesus.
  2. Be like Jesus.
  3. Do what Jesus did in his life in our own surroundings and circumstances.
This 30-minute video outlines his thoughts.

I first heard his ideas on “John Mark Comer Teachings Podcast,” a listen-worthy collection of his sermons. It can be found on most podcast apps. There’s real wisdom in his words, even if the language seems very Portland-ese.

He encourages us to “unhurry” our lives through four practices: silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity and slowing. He also encourages us to develop a rule of life, sharing 20 ideas from his own.

“The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” is really about living a modern contemplative life in family and church. I highly recommend it.

Other resources for Christian mindfulness can be found here on the Resource page.

Beat Burnout

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, burnout is everywhere. The American Psychological Association, in its 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey, found a frightening level of burnout that’s no surprise to most people.

The survey found that 79 percent of employees surveyed had work-related stress in the previous 30 days. The occupations reporting the highest levels of burnout were (again, no surprise here) health care and education. But the symptoms of burnout spread across most occupations. The level of negative impacts reported include:

  • 44% had physical fatigue (a 38% increase since 2019)
  • 36% had cognitive weariness
  • 32% reported emotional exhaustion
  • 26% felt lack of interest, motivation or energy
  • 19% reported lack of effort at work

So what is exactly is burnout? Back in 2019, the World Health Organization defined it as a syndrome resulting from workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It has three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Is this you?

Three Christian mindfulness practices to fight burnout

Just One Thing: Pick one task a day to perform with Christian mindfulness. Pray before and after. Ask God to be present with you as you do the task. Focus your full attention on the work in the presence of God. You could change tasks each day.

Ask for Change: Starting a new job is generally exciting, if somewhat stressful, because there is so much to learn. Use prayer and reflection to think about what new thing you’d like to learn. Or what new responsibility you’d like to take on. Come up with a proposal about how to learn to do those things. Take it to your boss, who may be happy to help if just to get you to stay.

Add a Prayer Break: Adding a five or 10-minute prayer break to your day is fairly easy. Mark it on the schedule, using a code word if necessary. Then stop to pray for your work, upcoming meetings, your co-workers and your organization’s mission. You may feel more purpose and insight when you get back to your work.

Be sure to bring your burnout into the healing power of Christian mindfulness. It will help you decide if it’s time to join the Great Resignation or if you just need to make a change in your current job.

cloud's with light streaming through like the voice of God

Develop a Conversational Relationship With God

“Developing a conversational relationship with God” is the subtitle of Dallas Willard’s book “Hearing God.” Some believe that God stopped speaking when the Bible was organized. Willard (and I) think nothing could be further from the truth.

Hearing God’s voice fits into the larger context of walking in a close friendship with him. In fact, Willard believes that God speaks mostly to people who obey His teachings and want to do His will.

As Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Abiding in Jesus minute by minute through Christian mindfulness puts us in a position to hear God specifying His will. We become as Willard wrote “someone who leads the kind of life demonstrated in the Bible: a life of personal, intelligent interaction with God.”

Feasting on God’s word

The Bible fixes the boundaries of everything that God will say to humankind, Willard writes. Indeed, God speaks most often during Bible reading and study. Have you ever had a verse jump off the page to you, even though you’ve read it many times? That is God speaking.

But this can also happen while listening to another person, whether it be a sermon or a conversation. I also believe that synchronicity can point the way to a message. If you hear the same verse repeatedly … in Bible study, in a sermon and in a book you’re reading … it may be God emphasizing something to you.

God also speaks through dreams, visions and events. But most of the time he speaks through a small, still voice that can only be heard in quiet. God’s voice comes in a spirit of peace, joy and good will. So God’s voice sounds like Jesus. And we can only know what Jesus sounds like through Bible study.

Seven steps toward hearing God

This summary may help you as you seek to hear God’s voice.

  1. Begin with a prayer in Jesus’ name for protection from evil influences.
  2. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to listen well.
  3. Remain alert.
  4. Reject anything that is contrary to Biblical truth.
  5. Feel welcome to write down the thoughts that come for further study.
  6. Understand that real communications from God are:
    • Biblically sound
    • Glorify God
    • Advance the kingdom
    • Help people
    • Help you to grow spiritually
  7. Thank God for the time together.

Walking with God in Christian mindfulness is a sweet time of communion. We should expect that God will help us learn what we should know and what we should do.

Look Up

Look Up is an easy Christian mindfulness exercise. Yet it helps us to grow our perspective, gratitude and visual mindfulness.

How easy is it? Just two steps.

Step 1: Look up.

Step. 2: Give thanks for what you see.

When you deliberately look up, you notice many new things. I am short, so looking up sometimes lets me see things that taller people view everyday!

What’s up there? Roofs, treetops, interesting architecture, ceiling treatments, light fixtures, clouds of varying colors and shapes, birds and more.

This exercise improves our awareness of the world around us. And it builds our gratitude for our cozy inside spaces, our cities and neighborhoods and the glory of outdoors. It helps us to get outside of our interior worries.

Give it a try a few times a day, and see what happens!

Find the Silver Lining

“Inside every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud,” comedian George Carlin used to joke. Some days we all agree with him. Recently I discovered a secular practice called “Find the Silver Lining” that easily adapts to Christian mindfulness.

The practice was from the Greater Good Science Center website. The center is at the University of California Berkeley. It provides research-based tools and training to shift our culture toward a kinder, more compassionate society.

The site has a lot of positive psychology materials:

  • An online magazine featuring stories and tips for building social-emotional well-being.
  • Free e-newsletters.
  • Research-based practices for happiness, resilience, kindness and connection.
  • A cool monthly Happiness Calendar with daily tips.

One of the research-based practices is the Find the Silver Lining practice. It can bring new perspective and even some peace of mind to our most difficult experiences. Here’s how to do it as a mindful Christian:

  1. Go before the Lord to thank him for things you easily appreciate: your health, your church, trees, whatever comes to mind.
  2. Then write about something that has been negative in your life: an event, person or any life circumstance.
  3. Look for two or three things that are the silver livings to that negative experience.
  4. Pray a gratitude prayer for them, and ask the Lord to help you to see silver linings more easily.

The poet Maggie Smith tried the secular version of this practice. You can read about her experience on the center’s website here. More resources for leading your mindful Christian life are found on the Resource Page here.

a man feeling depressed

How to Suffer

If you know how to suffer, you suffer much, much less. And then you know how to make good use of suffering to create joy.

Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022)

Learning how to deal with suffering is both a God-given grace and something we can learn. It helps us to be content and even joyful in times 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 be content no matter what suffering we may endure. Here are his three points.

No. 1: 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.

Celebrate Winter Sunset

Sunset in January and February brings more dread than joy. But we can change that when we make the winter sunset hour a time to celebrate God’s presence and care.

In a Fast Company article about staying sane while living in 24-hour darkness, Julia Herbst provides five tips for dealing with winter light (or the lack of it). One of them is “Don’t fight the darkness.” It’s an encouragement to enjoy winter through hygge, which can include Christian mindfulness. (Another is to get a light box or Happy Light, which I totally endorse! Here’s the one I use.)

Britain’s “The Simple Things” magazine suggests stopping the day’s events to enjoy tea and dessert at sunset in the winter. (This could lead to a Backwards Meal, which my kids and I used to do on April Fools Day.)

For those who practice Christian mindfulness, watching the winter sunset while practicing the presence of God is a quiet revelation. God is still there in the cold and the dark earth around us. And He is still making things of beauty for those who take the time to watch. Adding a gratitude practice … giving thanks for five things from the day … can only bring God’s presence closer.

Some may want to enjoy the winter sunset with some beautiful music or a book that makes you feel alive. Reading some poetry also adds an element of celebration to sunset. Here’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Overcome Sunday Night Syndrome

As Sabbath closes on Sunday night, a sense of dread can set in. It’s even got a name: Sunday night syndrome. (Actually it has more than one name. The British call it Sunday night scaries. It’s also called the Sunday night blues.) A sense of anticipatory anxiety about the week ahead comes in and steals away the last remaining hours of the weekend.

It’s a common problem. LinkedIn’s survey in 2018 found 80 percent of respondents experienced it. 80 percent! The younger you are, the higher the figure: 90 percent among millennials and 93 percent among Gen Z. The No. 1 cause was worry, specifically about workload size, work-life balance and the things left undone last week.

Here’s how Christian mindfulness can help

Create a Sunday night practice. Do something different on Sunday night. It can be watching your favorite television show, watching a funny movie, reading a book, listening to a playlist, calling your best friend or otherwise doing something that makes the night fun. Keep your promises to yourself and do this every week. It reframes the evening so that it’s guaranteed to have pleasant moments.

Talk to God about your workload and your work-life balance. This is part of your Sunday night practice. As in all Christian mindfulness exercises, stay in the present moment in the presence of God. Share your worries and concerns about the week ahead. Ask for God’s guidance as you decide what to do.

Write every task down. It helps to keep it out of your head at night. Mark what can be delegated and what can be delayed (or not done at all). If your schedule allows, you can also do this last thing Friday afternoon so you don’t have to think about it at all Sunday.

Do a loving-kindness meditation. You’ll find out how here.

Put self-care on next week’s schedule. Block out times on your schedule for self-care during the week. If a micromanaging boss is reviewing your schedule too much, block out times with words that are acceptable in your workplace environment. Also, pray about looking for a different job. You don’t have to work for a difficult person these days.

Add a nature walk to your Sunday routine. Walking in nature, also called forest bathing, reduces stress. Just stay in the present and speak to God about what you see during the walk.

Keep your interior (and verbal) language positive. Whining and moaning make things worse. Try replacing “I have to” with “I get to.” Offer genuine prayers of gratitude for your work, your workplace and your co-workers.

Keep off your phone and emails. When the fun part of Sunday night begins, put your phone in another room. Stop looking at work emails. If it looks like you are fine with working on Sunday night, you’ll be working every Sunday night. There’s a worker shortage. Take advantage of it to take care of yourself.

Avoid drinking alcohol. You know, don’t you, that this makes it worse. Find something else to drink that makes it better.

Figure out how tired you are. If you still feel exhausted at the end of the weekend, go to bed early. Or plan to have an early night in bed on Monday evening.

Sunday night syndrome involves the opposite for Christian mindfulness. You are thinking about the future and you are not counting on the presence of God to help. Use these practices to move into the present moment with God and release those worries.

Pray for Christian Love

This week in January is the traditional time to pray for Christian unity. And boy do we need it! Remember the old song “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” Not so much anymore.

I know many, myself included, who have discovered to their shock that their Christian friends have entirely different political beliefs than they do. In the past, that was just a matter of opinion. Now it’s a source of division. Too many of us, on both sides, consider it almost an article of faith that “real Christians” support our own political beliefs.

I don’t think God is happy about that. He would prefer that we take up prayer during this time seeking Christian unity. Clearly, Jesus prayed on the last night of his life that Christians stay united in the Spirit and in love. He knew what was coming, and He prayed against it.

This prayer from “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers” puts it beautifully:

Almighty and eternal God,
you gather the scattered sheep
and watch over those you have gathered.
Look kindly on all who follow Jesus, your Son.
You have marked them with the seal of one baptism,
now make them one in the fullness of faith
and unite them in the bond of love.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

As we pray for unity, let's look at our intentions and our thoughts. Let us seek to be kind and open to those who disagree with us.  May people again come to know we are Christians by our love. 

keyboard with sign that says break time

Take a Mini-Break

Are you standing in line today? Take a mini-break. In the shower? Take a mini-break.

Why? Mini-breaks are rapidly joining the endangered species list of activities. When we can always pull out our phones, the opportunity to rest our minds and recenter our spirits diminishes.

Our brains are not designed to constantly take in data, wrote Jade Beecroft in an article in Breathe magazine, issue 44. We need pauses to reflect and, frankly, to think. Yet the transitional times for this are fading away. It’s a lot easier to scan email or Instagram during those odd moments.

Beecroft cites a University of Texas study that found even the presence of a face-down smartphone on a person’s desk reduced that person’s cognitive ability. Why? Because part of their brains were engaged in the effort of not picking up the phone. Yikes!

Beecroft’s article even includes some scary information: Constant use of the smartphone can create a condition called digital dementia. We underuse the frontal lobes of our brain, causing short-term memory issues, lack of concentration, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

In Christian mindfulness, we need mini-breaks regularly not only to think, but to reconnect with the presence of God. Saying the Jesus prayer is a good option while waiting for the microwave to reheat coffee, for example.

The way to take a mini-break is simple: Put your phone away in a consistent spot where you can’t see it. (So you don’t end up worrying about finding it.) Say the Jesus prayer. Be present in the moment.

The result can be a great idea. (There’s a reason that good ideas happen in the shower.) Or you can enjoy a deep moment of inner peace. Either way, it’s a better space than doom scrolling ever will be.

Let 2 Index Cards Guide Your 2022

This Christian mindfulness exercise is one of the best ways I’ve found to find out why you love (or dislike) your job and/or your life. It starts with two index cards. Ideally, you can find two different card colors: one green and one yellow, for example. Depending on the size, you may need more than one of each.

You are going to carry those cards with you for at least three days. Every time you do a task that drains or upsets you, write that task on the yellow card. On the green card, record every task that gives you joy, pleasure or energy.

In just a few days, you’ll be able to see visually if you do more tasks you like or more that you don’t like. If you are doing lots of things you don’t like, you need to pray about that. Are you actually doing God’s will, or does He want you to change something about your life?

This exercise can help you decide if you need a different job, if you should change up your spiritual disciplines, if you need to work on a relationship or if you need to go get counseling.

You also can incorporate more of the tasks on the green card into your days, so you can enjoy more happiness. You can delegate or stop doing some of the things on the yellow card.

When I tried this in my second-to-last job, I found that the green card was actually a job description that I looked for in my next job. And later, the green and yellow cards helped me to plan my retirement, which has been joyous even in a pandemic.

Just be sure to pray over the results, so you don’t just see what you want to see. It’s an easy way to make 2022 a better year.

Look Back … Do You See God?

New Year’s Eve is a traditional time for reviewing the past year. We create annual Good Riddance lists to burn during the evening. Those lists contain the things that we hated about the year.

This year, we also created two more lists: a gratitude list and a list of events where we saw God at work The gratitude list is self-explanatory. The list of God at work takes a little more thought.

I look back through the journals of the year to find days of unexpected blessing … when I can see God at work. Sometimes it’s obvious: a sermon that hit me over the head and changed the way I acted for the rest of the year. Or a family member who agrees to take medicine needed to improve his life.

Other times I can see God is little acts and coincidences: the time I accidentally knocked a treasured prayer candle I’ve had for decades off the mantle. The glass part separated from the candle and the metal, landing without injury in an empty basket. How did that happen? I think it was God, who demonstrated His presence in the tiny, but deeply important, aspects of my prayer life.

Looking for God in all the small places and the big events is an excellent way to begin 2022. Please join me in having a holy encounter on this New Year’s Eve.

Mindfulness Behind the Wheel

Driving during the Christmas season is a chance to start a new habit: practicing Christian mindfulness behind the wheel. It’s an exercise in awareness and kindness.

So often we drive in a semi-conscious state, not truly sure how we got there when we arrive. Have you ever “accidentally” started driving to work, when you were going somewhere else? I know I have.

So first, we respect the reality: We are operating driving a potentially deadly piece of heavy machinery. We don’t want to be distracted. Staying aware helps us stay alive.

Awareness allows us to be intentional about practicing kindness and courtesy to fellow drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclers. Allow people to merge, for heaven’s sake. (And I mean that literally.) Watch out for those walking and cycling around you. And calm yourself when someone is actually obeying the speed limit in front of you. How many times have drivers raced around your car to find themselves sitting next to you at the next light? Plenty, for me.

Author Judith Hurrell, in a recent article in either Breathe or Oh! magazine (I lost the reference), suggested that we remind ourselves that everyone who is driving experiences happiness and suffering. She uses words from the loving-kindness meditation to bless people as they go by.

Blessing our fellow drivers helps us to recall that Jesus loves all of us, even the motorcyclist roaring by you without a helmet.

Bringing words of peace and kindness into the car with you also helps, whether it be a helpful podcast or beautiful music. In my former job, my commute could range from 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on traffic. I truly enjoyed every moment because I was listening to calming (or funny) audio the whole time. I always arrived at work in a better mood than when I left the house.

The mindlessness of driving can be converted into a flow experience. When you bring intense focus to a task that involves skill and the ability to respond quickly, you can become deeply immersed in your driving. You can enjoy the shades of blue in the sky and the colors of the trees. This time of year, you can enjoy the lights and holiday displays, giving thanks to God for the joy that they create.

It’s a great time to communicate with God, who made all these things. Praising the Lord as you head to an appointment is a good way to be open and attentive during the day.

Starting now to be a holy driver can create a habit that brings joy all year.

Advent candles

Five Ways to Celebrate Advent

The four weeks of Advent are the beginning of the Christian year. Bringing mindfulness and intention to those four weeks helps you create a different holiday season from Christmas … one that prepares you for the commemoration of the birth of Jesus. Advent is quiet, not festive. Simple, not overstuffed. Focused on the spiritual, not the material.

The season is best known for Advent wreathes and Advent calendars. (You can get a Christ-centered calendar in addition to one with toys or chocolates.) Other ideas include:

  1. Use a creche that you can fill gradually to tell the Christmas story. Week 1: Put up the empty creche. Week 2: Add the animals. Week 3: Add the shepherds and their sheep. Week 4: Add the angel. Christmas Eve: Add Mary and Joseph. Christmas Day: Add baby Jesus. Epiphany: Add the wide men and their camels.
  2. Wrap 20ish books in Christmas paper, and put them in a basket. You pick out one book per night to read to your children.
  3. Put out a basket to collect money for a cause during Advent. Keep a list in the basket of all the good deeds that the kids (and you) have done. Discuss the good deeds at Christmas Eve dinner.
  4. Find Advent playlists on Spotify to find out the difference between Advent music and Christmas music.
  5. Make or buy consumable gifts, such as food, to reduce clutter and waste.

Once you are in the Advent frame of mind, you can create your own traditions. When my kids were little, we had a small manger and a baby Jesus. When the kids did something nice, they got to put hay in baby Jesus’ manger to make him more comfortable. One year this did result in a hay-throwing situation, but overall it was successful.

Advent is a joyous time of year that prepares you for the Christmas season. Do enjoy it!

Make Blessing Bags

Making blessing bags for homeless people is a nice addition to your Thanksgiving holiday. We all know Thanksgiving should be much more than turkey, football and family close-encounters. An approach based on Christian mindfulness turns the day into a celebration of gratitude and a chance to help others.

Blessing bags can be in your car or your bag (if you take a train or bus around town) all year. When you see a homeless person asking for money, you can ask them if they would like the bag.

A Blessing Bag

Use a see-through container – either a large ZipLock bag or a see-through plastic bag. Then fill it with items to feed and help the homeless, such as:

  • Warm socks
  • Gloves
  • Hat
  • Face masks
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Beef jerky
  • Trail mix
  • Granola bars
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Mints
  • Lip balm
  • A washcloth
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Single-dose packs of pain reliever
  • Band-Aids
  • Comb and brush
  • Bottled water
  • Hand warmers
  • Deodorant
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Tampons for women
  • Fast food restaurant gift cards
  • A few dollars
  • A note of blessing (You can buy a pack of blessing notes at Hobby Lobby.)

If you keep a place in your home for blessing bag materials, you can put packages you get at the dentist and other freebies in the bag. Assembling these bags can make a great Thanksgiving activity for kids and other family members.

Other aspects of a mindful Christian Thanksgiving can include:

  • Send thank you cards to people who have made your life better this year.
  • Create a gratitude pumpkin for your table.
  • Spend time writing down your blessings.
  • Thank God for answered prayers.

Christian Mindfulness and Implicit Bias

The last two years have taught some of us that we might be more racist than we think, at least unconsciously. A research-based article in Mindful Magazine’s December 2021 issue argues that mindfulness exercises may give us tools to reduce unconscious bias. And I see the point.

Neuroscientist Wendy Hansenkamp, who is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Virginia, wrote the article. I cannot find the article online. But discussions about it and other information on mindfulness and bias are on the magazine’s website here.

She writes that “society, culture, media and power structures” can instill prejudice in our subconscious without us realizing it. The big idea is that engaging repeatedly in practices that increase awareness, focus on our similarities as humans, and develop care and kindness can combat this implicit bias.

Hansenkamp goes into several studies that indicate that this works. I believe it on its face, and I think Christian mindfulness gives us an even better chance of rooting out stereotypes and subconscious fears.

She focuses most on the loving-kindness practice, which I have adapted for Christian mindfulness here. This practice retains enough distance from the subject to emphasize our common role as God’s beloved children. Hansenkamp also discusses a 2014 Yale study that showed that participants who had been practicing loving kindness reduced their implicit bias, while those who only learned and discussed the subject did not.

By seeing each individual around us as a creation of God and blessing those people in our words and actions, we can come closer to ending any unconscious prejudice we carry. Take a look at your practice and see if you can incorporate the faces of those different from you in your work on your own compassion.

exterior of decorated mood box

Create a Mood Box

Developing a mood box or book is a good exercise in contemplative Christian mindfulness, particularly when you are fighting against negative thinking. I’ve used this practice with people struggling against serious illness and/or depression. It is just as effective for the ups and downs of daily life.

The first step is to determine what mood you want to feel. You can create mood boxes or books to encourage hope, joy, optimism, trust in God, contentment and more.

Select an attractive box or blank book that, if possible, reflects this emphasis. This is a private exercise, so the box has to speak to you and no one else. You also can decorate the box or book to please yourself. I’ve also used decorated photo storage boxes to get a head start on the look I wanted.

Then fill the box or book with cues that encourage the mood you want. Try to appeal to many of your senses. You can add:

  • Scripture verses
  • Quotes from books
  • Song lyrics
  • Photographs
  • Images cut from magazines or books
  • CDs
  • Essential oils
  • Souvenirs
  • Fabrics
  • Items from nature

If you are creating a book rather than a box, you can put essential oils or perfume on the pages to get scent. Continue to add to the box over time, or to remove things if they lose their appeal.

One of my friends has a mood box based on hope, originally created as she served as caregiver for a sick loved one. When the person died, she made a ritual of emptying the box and starting to collect box contents again.

Put the mood box or book in a place where you can see it daily. When you feel far from your desired mood, use it for a few minutes to help yourself go on the right path.

Be Kind With Your Phone

Super Sad True Love Story, published in 2010, was set in the near future … also known as now. Author Gary Shteyngart wrote about Americans who were tied to their devices, rarely looking up and rarely putting them down. It was appalling at the time.

What was science fiction in 2010 is reality today. Research shows that Americans spend an average screen time of 5.4 hours on their mobile phones daily. About half of that is time spent on social media. We have 294.15 million smartphone users in the United States. The U.S. population is 329.5 million. That means almost everyone who isn’t a little kid has a cell phone.

Like every piece of technology, smart phones can be used for good.

Ten ways to use your phone as a force for good

  1. What apps would Jesus have? You can read the Bible, do a meditation, read a devotional and pray a piece of liturgy on your phone. Some recommendations about apps to download are in the resource section here.
  2. Be intentional about what you post on social media. Think it through and decide what you want to accomplish. You can only post things that cause people to smile (or laugh). You can spread thoughts of peace and kindness. You can be intentional about who follows you.
  3. Make rules for yourself about cell phone use. Such as, put the phone on recharge during meals to keep it off the table during a meal. Or, never read email until you’ve done morning prayer.
  4. Designate time to read emails and calm yourself first. Pray before you open your email. Ask for wisdom, discernment and calm. Scheduling time to read them keeps you from constantly scanning your phone for emails. If people need to contact you from work, you can let people know that you read your emails at these specific times. If anything is too urgent to wait until that time, they can text or call you.
  5. Express your appreciation to someone. Write a post giving someone (a friend, colleague or a person you admire but don’t know personally) a compliment. This is especially nice if you are sending it to a person who means a lot to you, but doesn’t have hundreds or thousands of followers.
  6. Write a recommendation about a colleague or vendor on LinkedIn. Taking the time to give positive reviews is very welcome.
  7. If Starbucks has a personnel shortage, don’t offer to pay for the person behind you. Counterintuitive, I know. But paying for the person behind you makes the cashier’s job more difficult. In a time of personnel shortages, that can be tough. Find another ways to pay it forward.
  8. Promote a small business. If you’ve had a good experience with a small business, say so in a nice review. You can also share their posts on your social media.
  9. Like a newsletter or blog, If you’ve been reading someone’s blog for a while and like what they doing, let them know. You also could pick a favorite, never-miss podcast to sponsor on Patreon.
  10. Compliment a parent on their kids. Be specific.

Having the intention of using your phone and your social media in kindness and caring can turn a big time-sucking problem into a blessing for others.

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.

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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.