Questions About Your Stuff

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

Here are the questions they asked:

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

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

Make a Joy List

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

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

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

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

His Face Shines on You

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

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

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

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

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

Time for Divine Appointments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgive the Obnoxious

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

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

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

And Justice for All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the Space

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

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

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

young female friends having conversation sitting in armchairs in room

Practice Compassionate Listening





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

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

Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Mindfulness Survival Kit”

What You Are Doing Right

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

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

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

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

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

crop man with hands under transparent water

Three Vows for Ordinary People

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

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

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

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

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

What vows would you consider taking this Lent?

Jesus Is at Your House

The church is not a building. It is people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Merton: Stay Empty

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

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

Practice Loving-Kindness First Thing

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

Here’s how:

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

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

yellow and green led light

Don’t Be So Negative

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

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

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

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

This Christian mindfulness exercise will help:

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

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

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

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

Caring in the Present Tense

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

Founding Editor Barry Boyce, Mindful magazine, Spring 2021 issue

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

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

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

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

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

black woman surfing internet on smartphone in park

Put It to Music

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

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

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

How Christian Music Helps Us

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

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

A Mindful End to the Work Day

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

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

Resource: IMAGINE YouTube Channel

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

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

screenshot of Imagine YouTube channel

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

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

close up photography of hands and feet

Thank God for Feet

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

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

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

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

Questions to Ponder in Early Lent

No sin is private, hurting no one but ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make a Friendship Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ash Wednesday at Home

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

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

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

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

Close with this prayer:

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

Take It Seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

man tattooed praying

Pray for Your Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Ten

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Day of the Sick 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resource: On Christian Contemplation

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

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

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

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

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

For other resources on Christian mindfulness, click here.

Mindfully Consider Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

turned on black samsung smartphone between headphones

Mindfulness With Music

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

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

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

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

Hymns and Choruses

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

Instrumental

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

young worker who feels blah

Breathe Away the Blahs

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

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

This Christian mindfulness exercise may help.

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

Learning to Be Content No Matter What

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. 2:  Practice thanksgiving.

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

No. 3: Practice abiding.

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

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

Korean art

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light Tomorrow With Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

Color Yourself Mindful

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

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

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

My color today is blue. What’s yours?

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

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

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

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

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

When You Wake Up at Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Guidelines for Right Speech

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

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

pink petals on pink surface

The Simple Demands of God

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

Raissa Maritain

A Mindful Response to Difficult People

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

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

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

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

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

Six Steps to Mindful Buying Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Prayer for the Nation

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

President George Washington

Free Ebook: The Practice of the Presence of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other resources for Christian mindfulness are found here.

Pray for Christian Unity

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

Martin Luther King Jr.

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

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

So let’s meditate on this prayer:

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

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

different flowers shaped in word peace

Use Your Words

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

Eknath Easwaran

Try Lectio Divina

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

Psalm 119:105

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

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

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

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

Then begin the four steps:

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

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

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

What Does God Want You to Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resource: 30 Days With a Great Spiritual Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

computer monitor with words be kind

Practice Kind Attention

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

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

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

The Day Jesus Obeyed

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

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

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

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

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

What Kind of Christian Are You?

Every Christian walks a unique and particular path. I’m finding that 50+ years of (as Eugene Peterson famously said) “a long obedience in the same direction” takes us into various streams of Christianity. In the end, our experience can become sturdy and enriched because we have experienced the faith from multiple perspectives … sometimes all at once.

Two people who would agree with this are Richard Foster and the late Dallas Willard. They founded an organization called Renovare, an excellent source for information, inspiration and community. Foster also wrote Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith. It’s a good book on the various types of Christian experience. A free resource guide for the book is here. And a short article from Renovare summarizing its view of the six streams is here.

Streams that Foster identified include:

  • Contemplative, the prayer-filled life.
  • Holiness, a life of holy habits and integrity.
  • Charismatic, the Spirit-empowered life.
  • Social Justice, a life of compassion to others.
  • Evangelical, Bible-centered living.
  • Sacramental, encountering God in visible things.

Similar to sacramental, but different, is Liturgical, which follows a calendar of living and growing as a Christian with an emphasis on sacred texts.

I consider Christian mindfulness very much across in multiple streams. Its foundation is Contemplative. But I also experience it in my walk as Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, real Evangelical (not to be confused with American nationalist idolatry, which is not of Jesus), Sacramental and Liturgical. This can make you feel as if you don’t belong anywhere. But the Lord has corrected that for me by reminding me that a strand of multiple cords is not easily broken.

During a time when some Christians have damaged the church’s integrity and reputation, it’s good to look at where you are and what you believe. Jesus never fails us. If we think He has, maybe we have failed Him.

architecture art cathedral chapel

Bless Your Home on Epiphany

Today is the traditional date of Epiphany, although some churches marked it last Sunday. The celebration commemorates the visit of the wise men to Joseph, Mary and Jesus where they were staying in Bethlehem. (It’s assumed that, by then, they found a place to stay other than the stable.) So many Christians take the opportunity to bless their homes on this day.

Here’s a simple blessing, adapted from “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers.” (By the way, I’m not Catholic. But this book is very helpful for those wishing to expand their household’s prayer life.) Here’s the prayer:

Peace be with this house and with all who live here. Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever.
During these days of the Christmas season, we keep this feast of Epiphany, celebrating the manifestation of Christ to the Magi, to John at the River Jordan, and to the disciples at the wedding in Cana. Today Christ is manifest to us! Today this home is a holy place.
Listen to the words of the holy gospel according to John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pray: Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only-begotten Son to every nation with the guidance of a star.
Bless this house and all who inhabit it.
May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness, and the keeping of your law. 
We give thanks to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit now and forever.
Amen 

Try It: Quiet Your Hands

Feeling nervous? Gee, I wonder why. This Christian mindfulness exercise will help you to quiet your spirit by resting your hands.

Several times a day, stop and put your hands in your lap. Keep them still. Then offer up a prayer of praise to God for all you have done with your hands … and all you are going to do with them in the future.

As you keep still, focus on the sensation of your hands. Do you feel a little twinge of pain? Or the feeling of muscles releasing? Focusing on one aspect of your body … like a mini-body scan … can help your entire body to feel more relaxed.

Feel God’s Peace

The Holy Spirit lives in every Christian, so it is possible to feel God’s peace, joy and love every day. But it doesn’t just happen.

The easiest way to begin is to spend time in quiet. Silence often leads to an expanded sense of God’s presence. Just sit quietly and pray, “Holy Spirit, fill me with your peace.” Let it happen.

As you feel the peace fill your mind, give thanks. An experience like this seems to lead naturally to gratitude. We can reinforce this gratitude with a simple “thank you” walk or a worship song when the world invades and disturbs our peace.

Once we walk in the present moment in God’s presence, feeling his peace, we can move step-by-step through the day and display love to everyone we meet. That goal would be much too much if we had to do it on our own.

Allowing God to flow through us … to abide in us … to be the vine support our branches … that is how we feel God’s peace and do the most good.

What’s Your Word of 2021?

Selecting a single word as guidance for the year is popular. I first heard the idea from Gretchen Rubin, whose podcast on it from last year is here. Many others also promote the idea, including the One Little Word project and Happiness is Homemade.

The process differs. For me, it’s about prayer and listening. Several words came to mind for 2021: Forward. Joy. And the one I am going with: Impart Grace. (Two words isn’t cheating, right?)

In her book “Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace,” Jan Johnson mentions that she strives to make every interaction about imparting grace to others. It’s a beautiful thought.

One needs to maintain a deep well of God’s presence to do this. So it’s a perfect marriage of Christian mindfulness, daily work and divine appointments (a meeting with another person that God has arranged).

The pandemic has made filling up with God’s presence easier, as I’m home and quiet more often than not. So as the vaccine makes it possible for the world to reopen again, I hope to go forward and impart grace.

What’s your word this year?

toilet paper roll with message

How to End 2020

I’ve just read my 2020 journal entries and composed my Good Riddance list. We’ll burn the list … our worst of 2020 events … this evening. But is this enough to say good-bye to such a year?

It’s a start. 2020 featured my mother’s funeral, the death of a pet (Clarence, the sweetest cat on Earth, RIP), COVID infecting four family members, and lots of time in the house. We cancelled four vacations, and we didn’t get back all the money. I didn’t get to see my granddaughter in New York nearly enough. Especially hard at Christmas.

Re-reading the journal, I found a lot of blessings. For one thing, I’m seemed to clean the house a lot. More important, I did follow through on my efforts to use the year as an extended retreat. I took plenty of on-line workshops and read useful books. I followed my own Liturgy of the Hours, and I felt more consistently in prayer with Jesus.

Someday we will all look back on this time and … what?? I hope I can be grateful for the good. Do spend some time today counting your blessings, burning your Good Riddance list, and practicing the presence of God.

woman listening

Give the Gift of Presence

Christian mindfulness allows us to give others a precious gift: our full, concentrated attention coming from a place of God’s grace.

As the year winds down and the pandemic continues, let’s show our loved ones, colleagues and acquaintances that we care about them. The way of Christian mindfulness calls for us to be fully in the present moment in the presence of God. We bring that approach to others by listening with full and concentrated attention. We have no agenda of things to fix about them. We judge not, lest we be judged.

Meeting people as they are … where they are … is a precious gift. We open up to become truly engaged in their words. We ask open-ended questions that begin with “what” or “how,” rather than “why.” We say, “Tell me more.”

At the same time, we shield ourselves from becoming enmeshed in other people’s problems. That requires detachment along with the compassion. In the past, we may have heard things that were fodder for gossip and judgment. In the presence of Christ, these same things become concerns to lift in prayer. Privately.

The only way this can happen is through God’s grace. Being willing to be a conduit opens ourselves to an outpouring of grace in our own lives.

Help Today’s Holy Innocents

A fear-crazed king orders the execution of all baby and toddler boys in a city. Today is the day that Christians traditionally remember these Holy Innocents. We also remember that Joseph, Mary and Jesus … warned to run … became refugees. So many little ones … some many refugees who need help are all around us.

Christian mindfulness calls for us to be present to this suffering. As we observe, we ask the Lord what he would like us to do. COVID-19 has only made the suffering worse. While it feels overwhelming, even a small offering can bring a bit of light into a dark place.

To honor the children slaughtered in Bethlehem and to help those struggling today, we made a contribution to International Rescue Committee, founded by Albert Einstein in the 1930s.

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises in more than 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities. It provides clean water, shelter, health care, education and empowerment support to refugees and displaced people. The board of advisors includes people I trust, not the least of whom is Jeffrey Garten, retired dean of the Yale Business School and Ina’s husband. A generous donor is tripling all contributions given today. You can learn more here.

Dozens of other ways exist to help children in honor of the Holy Innocents today. Giving a family the gift of livestock through World Vision. Sponsoring a child through Compassion International. Contributing to your own church’s relief fund.

Today we recognize the violence against children isn’t new. And that the pandemic will only make the suffering of the innocent worse. Let’s be a force for good.

wrapped gift

The Last Two Gifts

The feast of Stephen, known as Boxing Day in the United Kingdom, is about sacrifice. On this day. let’s give two more gifts.

First, pray to discern which not-for-profit organization has most touched your heart during the Advent season. My social media channels frequently feature a video asking for money to help people in refugee camps. The little girl shown looks a lot like my granddaughter. It’s so painful to watch that I click it off as soon as the internet allows. I will send them some money today.

Second, let’s make a sacrifice of thanksgiving. The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. I’m guessing that includes pandemic and political tumult.

Practicing Christian mindfulness opens us to the possibility of experiencing the presence of Jesus in the present moment at all times. Whether we felt Him or not, He is there. In all circumstances. So let us offer up thanks and gratitude. We will eventually see what this difficult year has taught us … how it has allowed us to grow. So have faith that the Lord has been with you and give thanks for your circumstances. It’s a gift to God.

Last year’s idea for the feast of Stephen is here.

Resource: Abundant Simplicity

The best book I read in this pandemic year is “Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace” by Jan Johnson. I took three excellent online classes from Jan this year, but even that didn’t prepare me for the impact of this book.

The way that Jan describes her life and her growth as a Christian … wow. It inspired me to pray: “I want to feel like she does about you, Lord.”

The book, published in 2011, is about living a “conversational life with God,” so we can be filled with a deeper, ongoing sense of God’s presence. It’s less about how and more about why to simplify our lives. Quite honestly, although she doesn’t say so, it is a profound argument for a life of Christian mindfulness.

She does note that one way to remove ourselves from life’s frenzy is to deliberately incorporate disciplines of simplicity, like:

  • simplicity of speech
  • frugality
  • spaciousness of time
  • holy leisure
  • simplicity of appearance and technology

This pandemic year has forced some simplicity on many of us, as well as great loss. Jan Johnson’s book can help you discover “the unhurried rhythms of grace.” What a wonderful gift.

You can find more about Jan’s work here. Additional books and online resources for Christian mindfulness are here

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Overcome Christmas 2020 Sadness

Like many people, we will be missing some faces at Christmas. Some of them, permanently.

Not being able to enjoy Christmas with grandchildren, adult children, and parents who have died or are isolated in a nursing home … that’s not a very nice present.

It’s OK to feel sad and lonely, especially this pandemic Christmas. The practice of Christian mindfulness … living in the present moment in the presence of God … can help to alleviate the suffering.

We are never alone. The baby whose birth we celebrate is present. Israel prophesied that this baby would be called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” And he is with us indeed.

This Christmas, remember to stop, breathe and invite God into your life … hour by hour, if not more often. Experiencing the presence of God makes this an extraordinary Christmas season. Opening ourselves to God’s grace and peace enables us to impart grace to our lonely and isolated loved ones during this season.

And Winter Solstice Comes

Today is winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. In one of the darkest (and longest) years in memory. And tonight the two largest planets in our solar system will appear as a double planet.

The last time Jupiter and Saturn looked this close together was March 4, 1226. Many are calling the event “the return of the Christmas star.” Hopefully some will be able to see it in the southwest sky at twilight. (Ohio white sky probably will make that impossible for us.)

We bring Christian mindfulness to winter solstice. We offer prayers of gratitude for our relative safety and security as the cold approaches. We prepare for winter. We fill the bird feeders. We generally make our favorite cocoa mix. (This year I went a little nuts on the hot chocolate K-cups, so we’ll skip that.)

Tomorrow the days start getting lighter. My friends in medicine are getting vaccines. My mother-in-law, who is in a memory care unit at a long-term care facility, gets hers next month. Hope is on the horizon.

sign that says joy

How to Find Lasting Joy

The nature of time makes even joyful moments feel transient. I have a PhD in “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” And I know lots of people just like me.

Yet I’ve changed. There is a way to find lasting joy. I have it in writing.

Since 2017, I’ve kept a five-year journal that asks a question each day. It’s so interesting to see how I’ve answered the same question over the years. The question for Dec. 19 is: If you could change one thing about today, what would it be? My answers:

  • 2017: My broken ankle would be healed, and I would be completely mobile.
  • 2018: I would be on track for Christmas. The house would be completely decorated, tree done, presents wrapped and stocking stuffers purchased.
  • 2019: Mother would not be in late stage dementia in a nursing home that is giving her questionable care.
  • 2020: We would be able to see our 3-year-old granddaughter at Christmas because the pandemic would be over.

The broken ankle healed. I am on track for Christmas. Mother’s agony at the nursing home ended with her passing. It all was resolved. Hopefully, next year we will be able to enjoy Christmas with our granddaughter because the pandemic is over.

In a few days, I will be asked to answer this question, “When was the last time you felt joy and peace?” The answers so far:

  • 2017: During morning prayer
  • 2018: During morning prayer
  • 2019: During morning prayer. Mother died this morning.

The 2020 answer will probably also be “during morning prayer.” (I am fortunate enough to have multiple prayer times each day, but I fill out the five-year journal directly after morning prayer.)

The nature of time makes it difficult to feel peace and joy. Unless you are spending time in the presence of Jesus. Christian mindfulness involves experiencing the present in the presence of God. That is how you find lasting joy.

Why Celebrate Advent

Advent is a time of waiting, but not sterile and empty waiting. It is a time of creative expectancy … we know that we must get ourselves ready for the coming of Christ. We know that Christ is with us, but we also know that the full presence of the Risen Lord is never totally a part of our consciousness and our actions. Advent brings that presence into our daily lives so that at Christmas we can say that God is more a reality to us than before we began our waiting.

Rembert Weakland, OSB
Santa with giant bag of presents

Meditate on Santa’s Gospel

The Gospel According to Santa Claus goes beyond commercialization. It impacts the heart and soul of the Christmas celebration. It took its shape as gospel in the 20th century. And it’s going strong today.

What does Santa preach? The late, great nonprofit organization, Alternatives, wrote about it in their compilation “Treasury of Celebrations: Create Celebrations that Reflect Your Values and Don’t Cost the Earth.”

"The good news of Santa Claus is for the affluent.
Santa's mission is mainly to the healthy and successful.
The heralds of Santa Claus proclaim self-satisfaction.
Pleasure is the dominant theme.
There is no room for self-denial and the cross.
To stimulate business: 'Let one who has a coat get another coat.' " 


"Treasury of Celebrations" is out of print.  Grab it if you can find it.  It's a five-star book for my household. Other good resources for Christian mindfulness are here. 

This Advent, consider how the gospel of Santa Claus contrasts with the gospel of Jesus.  The Jesus who  came to Earth to sacrifice himself, at great cost, so we can join him forever in Heaven. The Jesus who  cares about the poor, the homeless, the sick, the imprisoned. Meditate on this. 

girls putting ornaments on a christmas tree

Try It: Rejoice, Rejoice

Let’s open ourselves to the good and glorious for the rest of the Advent season. It’s all around us, even if we are staying inside our homes each day.

Stay in the present moment in the presence of God this Advent. And notice what is good around you. This is Christian mindfulness. It brings us relief from the suffering and fear of pandemic and politics.

Notice the blue sky outside, the Christmas decorations inside. Look deeply at those that have significant meaning … the ones from Grandma or the kids when they were small. Drink in the memories and thank God for your life.

Express your joy to those around you. Especially on social media. It’s catching. And you may share things about your family life that they don’t know.

Pray or journal in silence, asking the Lord to show you how you have grown this year. What are the true benefits of this time in your life as a Christian?

We can expand the good with prayers offering thanks and seeking similar peace, especially for those with whom we disagree.

Try It: Laugh on Purpose

The joy of the Lord is your strength.

Nehemiah 8:10b

The pandemic Advent is focusing us to look at things in a new way. In my house, we are moving toward the first Christmas without both our mothers and the presence of our grandchild. It could be sad. So let us intentionally bring joy and laughter to our homes instead.

This Advent, make laughter a daily intention. If you haven’t laughed hard by 7 p.m., watch a funny movie or TV show. Listen to a funny podcast, or read a humorous book. If you have friends who always make you laugh, reach out to one of them. You also could create an Instant Smile collection, described here.

Laughter is good for you. The Mayo Clinic lists these short-term and long-term benefits:

  • Stress relief
  • Enhanced intake of oxygen-rich air
  • Stimulation of heart, lungs and muscles
  • Increased endorphins
  • The ability to raise and then lower heart rate and blood pressure, causing relaxation
  • Reduction of the physical effects of tension
  • Improved immune system (releasing neuropeptides that fight stress and illness)
  • Pain relief
  • Improved coping abilities
  • Reduced depression and anxiety

So make laughter part of your Christian mindfulness practice this Advent. It’s no joke. You’ll feel better.

homeless man with "seeking human kindness" sign

Try It: Thank Essential Workers

Essential workers, we have learned in this pandemic, are not necessarily the best paid. They are delivery people, teachers, sanitation workers and grocery store clerks among others. Health care workers often take home modest paychecks and giant levels of stress. Aides in nursing homes may not make a living wage at all.

This Advent, try a Christian mindfulness practice of noticing these workers. Along with others who are the least, the last and the lost. Be present with the people you meet. Talk to your postal worker. Speak to the homeless man. Say “thank you” to the people who are serving your family during the pandemic. Pray about the people you see. You may be prompted to help someone.

Jesus spoke to beggars and lepers. He saw his society’s outcasts. And He thinks we are all essential. We imitate Him as we do the same.

Resource: The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life

He is our Father, and He loves us, and He knows just what is best, and therefore, of course, His will is the very most blessed thing that can come to us under any circumstances. I do not understand how it is that the eyes of so many Christians have been blinded to this fact. But it really would seem as if God’s own children were more afraid of His will than of anything else in life — his lovely, lovable will, which only means loving-kindnesses and tender mercies, and blessings unspeakable to their souls! I wish only I could show to everyone one the unfathomable sweetness of the will of God.

Hannah Whitall Smith, “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life”

Hannah Whitall Smith certainly tried to show everyone the sweetness of God. Her masterpiece, “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life,” is one of the most used in my library. I’ve underlined it in almost every color of pen in my many readings.

Smith published her book in 1875. Never out of print, it’s a classic of Christian literature.

Hannah Whitall Smith

Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) was a remarkable woman, especially considering the time in which she lived. Active in the women’s suffrage and temperance movements, Smith was a Quaker and a Christian mystic. (The back cover of my version of the book calls her a “Quaker, rebel, realist.”) In addition to writing books, she preached in the Holiness movement in the United States and the Higher Life movement in the United Kingdom.

She believed in Christian mindfulness, even if she didn’t have that phrase in her vocabulary. She rested in the presence of Jesus as she lived a remarkably active life. She listened for God’s will and she did it. This book tells you how.

My battered and beloved copy of the book. Christian cultural note: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were the Christian authors recommending it on the cover when I bought it in 1979.

The book remains a relatively easy read because Smith, as a Quaker, used plain speech as she wrote it. It has a 4.5 rating on Amazon with 358 readers ranking it and a 4.3 rating on Goodreads with 1,843 rating it. More recommended books and online resources can be found here.

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German and French soldiers in World War I

Watch “Joyeux Noel”

The 2005 film “Joyeux Noel” (“Merry Christmas”) has profound lessons to teach a divided United States in 2020.

It tells the story of the Christmas Truce of December 24-25, 1914, during World War I. Groups of Germans and Allies are waging war on each other from trenches in northern France. They are so close together that they can hear each other. A small strip of No Man’s Land, littered with the bodies of their dead, divides them.

The truce begins to take shape when German Crown Prince Wilheim sends a lot of Christmas trees and the lead singer of the Berlin Imperial Opera to the front line. After listening to the singing in the German trenches, the French soldiers rise up for a standing ovation from their trenches. Eventually the German singer moves to the middle of No Man’s Land to sing for everyone.

The officers from all troops meet to negotiate a truce. The soldiers come out from the trenches to share food, sing carols, attend a church service, bury their death and play soccer. Then it’s back to war. But the soldiers have met the enemy, and they are not the same.

When their commanders learn about the truce from reading the soldier’s letters home, the reaction is fury. The German soldiers are even sent to the Russian front in January on a suicide mission.

This story has much to say today when people … even Christians … of different political parties in the United States despise each other. We need to come out of the trenches and talk.

You can rent “Joyeux Noel” on YouTube. Actors in the movie speak English, French and German, with subtitles.

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God’s Extravagant Love

This holy season trumpets God’s extravagant love for us, a love beyond reckoning. Into our beautiful yet wounded world comes Emmanuel, God-with-us, carrying the promise of fresh hope to enliven our hearts. No matter how broken or seemingly hopeless our world may sometimes seem, the Advent messages are rich with joyous expectation and longing, insisting that God can and does bring forth life where none seems possible.

Pope Francis
secret santa

Be a Secret Santa

Celebrate the second Sunday of Advent by becoming St. Nick. This year, the second Sunday also falls on the feast of St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus.

The pandemic has left a lot of families in bad financial straits. And, as of this writing, the government is struggling with itself to provide more help. If you are one of those families, we lift you up in prayer for quick help.

If you are lucky enough to still be in good financial shape, it’s a great time to extend your sharing. We can become Secret Santas to help others this Christmas.

Your church may have a program that you can support. You also can give additional funds to trustworthy organizations like the Salvation Army. You may also have friends and family that you can help out.

Any way we do it, we can honor the spirits of St. Nicholas and Jesus by increasing our giving this year.

photo of angel figurine near christmas ball

What Do You Think?

This pandemic holiday season offers us an opportunity to be upset or at peace. It all depends on what we think. The Bible tells us this, and it is the essence of Christian mindfulness.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4: 4-8, NIV

Advent and Christmas in a pandemic give us plenty of opportunity to think anxious thoughts … as well as thoughts that are angry or sad. The Lord warns us against this. He has given us the incredible opportunity to abide in him. Our thoughts help to take us there.

As Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote in “Man’s Search for Meaning,” we can choose what we think about and what our attitude is, even in the worst suffering.

This choice is not automatic. If we find ourselves down in darkness, worrying about illness, the broken world, politics and so on, we can turn our attention to the Lord’s presence.

We can do that by rejoicing in his goodness. Lifting up our worries in a prayer with thanksgiving. And moving our attention to something that is true, lovely and admirable. More tips about doing this are here. Do your part, and God will do the rest.

Notice the Difference

Today’s exercise in Christian mindfulness involves paying attention. (As all these exercises do.) You’ll be paying attention to two things: something in nature and something in yourself.

Pick something in nature that you can see out your window: trees, bushes, the sky or the grass. For a few days, notice this handiwork of God. How are the trees in your view different? How do they change from day to day? Notice color, texture, shape and form. God is at work in them.

Then, think about yourself. You have survived nearly 10 months of a pandemic. How are you different? What new strengths have you discovered in yourself? What has surprised you about your reaction? How are your family relationships? Your connections to others outside the family? How can you be more of a force for good where you are?

The pandemic has changed us all. God is at work in nature. Like the trees and the sky, we, too, are changing and responding to God’s prompting. Take a look and see how the pandemic has shaped you.

senor ethnic woman reading fairy tale to cute grandchildren on bed

Peace 101 Starts With You

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Those words were the first lyrics of a song I learned in Girl Scouts in the 1960s.

The words are true. As the peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in “Being Peace”:

If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”

In Christian mindfulness, this peace comes from walking step by step in the present in the presence of Jesus. It is a peace that passes understanding. A peace that overcomes fear and worry. A peace that reflects the light of God into the darkness.

During this pandemic Advent, when many of us are at home with our immediate families all the time, doing this kind of peace work is essential. We create the mood in our homes. Even one person who is at peace and happy can make a huge difference to the family atmosphere.

In Zoom meetings with Christian friends, I often hear concern about important work for God that the quarantine has delayed. I contend that the quarantine gives us at least two wonderful opportunities: the chance to spend more time with God and to show more love to our nearest and dearest.

Let us enjoy this time. It won’t last forever.

As the song says: “Let peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now. With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow: To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally. Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

Try It: Light in the Darkness

This Christian mindfulness practice is ready-made for a pandemic Advent.

  • Sit quietly, breathing deeply, for a few minutes.
  • Think about the particular darkness you feel around yourself today. The impact of the pandemic in your life. Losses and illnesses. Financial concerns. Not being able to see people you love. Work overload. Fears for your country, your city, your favorite shops and restaurants. Emotional trauma.
  • How do you feel about this? Untangle the emotions. If you feel primarily feel scared, what else is there? Anger, disappointment, fear. Sit for a few moments and see what emotions you have.
  • Then visualize a great light shining into the darkness. Think of Isaiah 9:2: “The people who live in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”
  • Offer up your emotions. Feel the love of God in the light as He steps into your personal world to bring redemption, peace and joy. In the end, evil will be vanished. Including all the evil you see in your world.
  • Rest in this redemption, peace and joy. Make this exercise bring the presence of Jesus to you today.

Resource: An Unhurried Life

I come from a profession where speed is the norm. “An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest” is a strong restorative.

Alan Fadling opens this book with the words: “I am a recovering speed addict … and I don’t mean the drug.” This spiritual director’s mission is to inspire people to rest deeper, love fuller and lead better.

Living a frenetic life was a sign of success in my pre-retirement world. Even today the successful retired person is busy, even crazy busy. The pandemic has slowed down the pressure, but it’s still there.

Fadling details the rhythms of Jesus’ life … from the huge meetings with seekers, the miracles, the days of discipling the disciples and the nights of prayer alone. Jesus, who could sleep through a storm at sea, led a balanced life.

He applies that insight into our world’s issues, like productivity, suffering and rest. He also provides insightful questions to pray over at the end of each chapter and a list of spiritual practices that can help us to slow down.

Here is a short video of Fadling talking about what he means by an unhurried life and his book “An Unhurried Leader.”

Amazon has “An Unhurried Life” rated at five stars with 99 reviews. Goodreads has it at 4.11 stars with 602 reviews. It won the 2014 Christianity Today Award of Merit.

Other resources useful for a practice of Christian mindfulness are here.

Welcome Advent!

Advent, the season of waiting, is just the spiritual nudge we need in a pandemic year. We are waiting for the vaccine as we wait for the Christ child.

Many families got a big head start on Christmas this year. Even if your tree has been up for weeks, you can still enjoy Advent. Bringing the spirit of Christian mindfulness into the four weeks preceding Christmas opens us up to allow God to heal our weary hearts.

We begin the season by putting up the Advent wreath and putting out the empty creche. We will fill it week by week. We also begin to read our Advent devotionals. More about those are here.

This year we need silent contemplation just as much as Christmas cheer. Celebrate the quiet season intentionally, and you will find much peace in a pandemic year.

Let’s Build the City of God

Hildegard of Bingen … a woman so far ahead of her time … gives us good advice for today. As we stay in our homes, she urges us to build the City of God.

We can do it in Christian mindfulness. We can do it when we cling to Jesus and his vision of eternal peace on Earth.

Hildegard believed that God is generous toward those who, in good times and bad, faithfully work to build the City of God. These people avoid destructive quarrels, hatred and envy. They work with a calm attitude doing good for others.

Being kind of everyone at home. Being patient with pandemic restrictions. Spending free time in prayer and spiritual reading. All this can help us to build the City of God at home.

Think the World Needs Prayer?

To walk into Thanksgiving with Christian mindfulness, we need to remember two things:

  1. Our purpose on Earth is to glorify God.
  2. God says prayer is important.

Today, on the day before our pandemic Thanksgiving, take some time to go before God with your unanswered prayers. The nation, the world, the sick and the healthy all need our prayers today.

I feel we also need to pray for healing of our image of God. He is loving, never vulgar, never hateful. He wants to spend time with us. He wants us to give him time in gratitude and praise, so He can work on our minds and our ways.

The image of God and the church has been blackened for too many in recent years in the United States. We have linked political expediency to God’s will. God is not shy about telling us that He expects us to love our neighbors, not to view them with suspicion and hatred.

It’s time to see what God says to us about our role in resolving these unanswered prayers. We can only do that through time for prayer and thanksgiving. May peace come to our hearts and to our nation.

Thank Your Pandemic Mates

As Thanksgiving approaches … I just got the pumpkin pie out of the oven!!! … take a few minutes to thank the people you have spent the pandemic with.

Thank those living with you and any one else in your bubble. This year, I’m writing thank you notes in Thanksgiving cards for my husband and my son. We have been a bubble of three for many months.

We haven’t had fights or gotten into arguments. We have bitten our tongues when we get on each other’s nerves. This is mostly because everyone has been nice and witty instead.

Think about the character attributes that have made your pandemic mates nice to be around. Write it up on a place card, a thank you note or a Thanksgiving card. Then share it before Thanksgiving dinner.

If you can, continue to do this loving-kindness meditation as part of an effort to heal our own national pain as well.

woman reading a book

Be Grateful for Answered Prayers

Today, take 30 minutes to give thanks for all the answered prayers of 2020. And yes, there have been some.

When I did this today, I went down my prayer list … looking at the names of the people and the groups that I pray for everyday. There was an answered prayer for every one of them.

So, enjoy some fellowship with the Lord. He is with us this Thanksgiving.

Do Your Advent Prep

The first Sunday of Advent is seven days away. If you are still having issues with order delivery, as I am, be sure to get your supplies, books and ideas ready for the year.

Having a mindful Christian Advent is a time of joy and wonder, sorely needed this year. It’s a quiet time spent intentionally concentrating on the miracle of Jesus’ birth, rather than commercial Christmas. This kind of Advent is sure to chase pandemic fears away so we can feel at peace.

two books for Advent

Some ideas for Advent prep include:

  • Get or make Advent candles. (We are doing beeswax candles from a kit this year. You can find the kit here.)
  • Purchase an Advent calendar or stock up one if you have a reusable model.
  • Get the Advent wreath out of storage … or buy one.
  • Order a new Advent devotional or order new ones. This year I’m using two favorites: “Preparing for Christmas” by Richard Rohr and “Living in Joyful Hope” by Suzanne M. Lewis.
  • Get out your Christmas music.
  • Organize children’s Christmas books.
  • Pick the name of a saint or devout Christian. You can study their life during the season.

Make a Gratitude Pumpkin

This idea, originated by Tsh Oxenrider, brings specific gratitude to my Thanksgiving table every year.

Take the gratitude list that you developed this week. Then write it on a pumpkin that becomes part of your Thanksgiving table centerpiece.

When it’s time to go around the table expressing thanks, you’ll have something quite specific to mention. It’s a way to bring Christian mindfulness to the celebration.

thankful grateful blessed in script

Try This: List Your Blessings

The pandemic is hovering over all of us. We’ve had friends lose their parents to COVID. We won’t get to spend Thanksgiving with our granddaughter and her parents. We won’t get to see my husband’s mother who is in dementia care.

Nonetheless, the Lord has been so good to us. Today, let’s look with intention at what’s right and how God has blessed us. Listing our blessings helps us to stay focused on what is good in our lives.

For example, I am thankful to the Lord for:

  • Our continued health.
  • Our marriage that has remained solid despite quarantining together soon after we retired from jobs that involved a lot of travel and time apart.
  • Food, water and a warm house.
  • My granddaughter and the miracles of technology that allow us to have dessert together on Thanksgiving day.
  • My wonderful kids.
  • A ministry that has continued via Zoom through the pandemic.
  • My spiritual director and pastors.

And there’s lots more on my list. Please make one yourself and spend time thanking God for what you have. You will feel much better.

It might be fun to keep it, so you can compare it to next year’s list. Here’s hoping next year’s list has a lot of travel on it!

thank you signage

Use the Mail to Say Thanks

The U.S. Postal Service has been a great blessing in pandemic life. This Thanksgiving, use it to bless others.

Sit in prayer and contemplate the people who have made your life better during this year. Then send them a card or a hand-written note to tell them how much you appreciate them.

Remember to thank doctors, nurses and health care providers, as well as those who work in senior care facilities.

It’s special to get thanks through the mail, especially when you don’t expect it. Spreading love and gratitude is godly this season. So extend your Thanksgiving by reaching through quarantine to give your thanks.

Thanksgiving in a Pandemic

If you are alive to read this, you have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. But it may not feel like it.

Let’s turn this time into a deep harvest of gratitude toward God. He will be at your table on Thanksgiving, even if many loved ones are not.

Thanksgiving in a pandemic may need an extra dose of Christian mindfulness to be memorable. Let’s start with this step. Reflect and think: What do you appreciate the most about the people you’ve been in quarantine with? How have they made the time pleasant?

Today, thank them for the character qualities and personality quirks that have gotten you through 2020 so far. It’s a first step toward a real Thanksgiving.

clock and calendar

End the Work Day With Planning and Prayer

Back in the good old days of 2019, we worried about taking too much work home. How does that compute when work is at home?

Working at home has enormous advantages … no commute, fewer interruptions for office socializing, more time with the family, the ability to run laundry while you run a meeting … and so on.

But it lacks the closure that getting up and coming home causes. Transition time via commuting is also gone.

A 2019 survey by Airtasker, reported in Business News Daily this March, found remote workers actually work 1.4 more days per month than those based in offices. That’s more than three more weeks of work per year. Some of that overage happens in the time once known as “after hours.”

The same survey also found that 29% of remote workers struggle with work-life balance. That’s compared to 23% of office workers. My guess is the figure for remote workers is higher now, more than six months later.

Those who practice Christian mindfulness may find their approach to ending the day has disappeared. The easiest answer is to schedule a prayer or devotional reading time at day’s end. Put it on the calendar. If necessary, call it “planning” or P&P on your public calendar. You’re going to pray over plans during this time.

If you need transition time to quiet down before rejoining your home world, take it. Walk the dog. Change your clothes to music. Breathe deeply.

Having set work hours actually makes you more productive. The day-end prayer time allows you to bring your work of the day before the Lord. Ask His blessing and ask His opinion on what’s ahead.

Then shut down the computer. Sign off from Slack or any other work chat app. Other tips for setting boundaries are in this article from Skillcrush.

Each Time You Enter a Room

This Christian mindfulness exercise is a simple way to slow down a day. Just breathe and welcome God’s presence every time you enter a new room.

As we know, Christian mindfulness is enjoying the presence of God in the present. When we are approaching a new room, our minds are hurrying ahead to the future, thinking about what we are going to do in that room.

This exercise keeps us grounded in the very present moment, as we move toward the door toward the task. As you approach the door:

  • Feel the bottom of your feet on the floor. If you have to open a door, feel your hand on the doorknob.
  • Take a breath.
  • Invite God to go with you into the room.

One breath is fine. No one will even notice.

You can use the Jesus Prayer or any other short prayer that you use often in practice. You can just say “Jesus” or “Come Holy Spirit.”

Bring the presence of Jesus into the present. It’s the best way to feel the day.

Live Life from a Center

I would suggest that the complexity of our program is an inner one, not an outer one. The outer distractions of our interests reflect an inner lack of integration of our own lives.

Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center. Each one of us can live such a life of amazing power and peace and serenity on one condition — if we really want to.

There is a holy Infinite Center within us all. John Woolman resolved so to order his outward affairs as to be, at every moment, attentive to that voice. His outward life became simplified on the basis of an inner integration. He surrendered himself, keeping warm and close to the Center.

Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion

Love Your Enemies

America is very divided. Republicans gained seats in a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Control of the Senate has come down to two runoff elections. And, as of the time I write this, one presidential candidate is refusing to concede to the other.

The country seems to be center-right, although it has rejected a leader whose behavior has been unacceptable to most. At the same time, it’s clear that Native Americans and African-Americans face systemic racism in our culture.

We cannot move forward as a nation without ending the hatred felt against each other. It is God’s will that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Period.

It is time to heal. The demonization needs to end. We are all Americans. It’s time to expect a government focused on serving its people, not seeking political gain for one party.

Today, let’s try to do a traditional Christian mindfulness exercise … Loving-Kindness meditation … focused on those who voted for the other side in the presidential election. 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. Think about someone you love. Repeat phrases for them. May they be healthy. May they know God’s comfort. May they feel God’s love. May they live in God’s peace.
  4. Think about people you know who are in the opposite political party. Repeat for them: May they be healthy. May they know God’s comfort. May they feel God’s love. May they live in God’s peace.
  5. Think about the presidential ticket you did not vote for. Repeat: May they be healthy. May they know God’s comfort. May they feel God’s love. May they live in God’s peace.

Let’s do this often until the hatred for opponents has left our hearts.

three garlic bulbs

Learn from the Spring Bulbs

The weather is glorious this weekend in my Midwestern city. It’s a perfect time to plant spring bulbs. Plant mindfully, welcoming God’s presence. We just may learn two lessons that these bulbs provide.

  1. Christian life is all about delayed gratification. The bulbs will be working invisibly for a while. But the end game is beautiful.
  2. You will get signs of hope as a new season begins. The green tops of the bulbs peeking through the dirt … what can be more hopeful than that.

You can plant bulbs no matter where you live. Inside, if necessary. I do hyacinths indoors. The front garden is tulips and daffodils. Just enjoy the beautiful weather.

Hand holding a camera lens

Christian Mindfulness in Just Seven Words

Reading the devotional “Jesus Always” by Sarah Young this morning gave me the easiest way yet to explain Christian mindfulness.

It’s just seven words: Focus on God’s presence in the present.

Today is the fifth day of counting the 2020 election results. I am going weary of checking the AP news app and scrolling my Twitter list of news professionals.

So it was a great day for the Lord to remind us to focus on His presence in the present moment. The presence of God is how Christian mindfulness differs from other forms of mindfulness practice.

As Sarah notes in her subtitle, God brings us joy and purpose … even on days when we are playing a waiting game.

Try This: Vary Your Talks With God

Mindful Christianity is continual prayer. As we invite God to walk with us, we talk with the Trinity.

Today’s practice invites us to intentionally focus on an element of prayer in that ongoing conversation. The seven elements of prayer that Jesus taught are:

Adoration – Acknowledging who God and responding to that reality with praise and worship.

Confession – Talking about the times that you have sinned and fallen short of doing God’s will, as well as the areas in your life where that happens repeatedly and often.

Renewal – Asking for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and God’s power in your life.

Petition – Asking God for help in specific situations.

Intercession – Asking God for help with specific people.

Thanksgiving – Expressing your gratitude for all God has done for you and your family.

We can keep this list of conversation starters with God in our phones. Since there are seven elements, we could concentrate on expanding one of them each day. Or we can look at the list when we feel tapped out in continual prayer.

Let me know how this works for you.

Prayer from the Darkness

A wonderful prayer from Sister Eleanor Bernstein’s Praying Our Lives may be appropriate for today’s uncertainty and fear.

My God, I have no words to name the pain within me.
A deep darkness drenches my soul.
No light. No hope. No out.
From my mother's womb, O God, you know me.
Be with me; mend, make whole again my torn and broken spirit.
Lift me up, that this cross of suffering
may become for me the tree of life,
that sacred Tree whose outstretched arms embrace me
and draw me to your heart.
Even in this pain, may I find your blessing. Amen. 

Try This: An Instant Smile Collection

Now, more than ever NOW, we need an Instant Smile on our phones.

So record the laughter of a favorite child or adult. Or take a video of your pet purring or playing happily. Put pictures that you especially love of Jesus and/or spiritual mentors, living or dead, on your phone.

Make a Pinterest file of things that make you laugh. You can see my Instant Smiles collection here.

Having these tools ready helps us when we feel darkness coming on. The Instant Smile collection allows us to Stop, Take a Breath, Observe your collection, and Pray and Proceed. This way we center ourselves into Christian mindfulness.

Being Loving, Election Version

Today is an important day in the United States. And the voter turnout shows that most Americans know that.

Two presidential candidates we see so differently. An election that we all agree on: it’s critically important, and it will be a travesty if the other side wins.

Nevertheless, nothing is the end of the world except the end of the world. Our duty is to behave with Christian mindfulness, inviting the presence of Jesus into our personal walk, living one moment at a time in his love.

The Bible is quite specific about our behavior regarding government leadership. We pray for those people so we can be more likely to lead peaceful lives. Even Nero, who was the emperor of Rome when Paul wrote those words in 1 Timothy 2:1-3.

Being loving is not an option for Christians during this or any time. We need to be loving and respectful of everyone’s opinions. Whoever wins, we must, under the orders of God, pray for that person.

As we wait to see the results, we need to be loving as well. Tonight and in the uncertain period ahead, be loving toward yourself to be sure that you have the ability to convey God’s love to others.

The reputation of Jesus has been severely damaged in politics, now and in the past. We must pray for the graces necessary to embody the spirit of Jesus in the world … at home, with friends (Zoom or otherwise) and in our work.

burial cemetery countryside cross

Remember the Souls You Love

Today is All Soul’s Day. Along with yesterday, All Saint’s Day, this is the traditional time for Christians to visit the graves of family members and close friends.

The graves of my parents, my sister-in-law and my step-son are within a 10-minute walk from my front door. Is it creepy living next to a cemetery filled with loved ones? Since I will end up there, too, it’s actually comforting. (And we are blessed to have the city’s botanical garden on the other side.)

All Souls Day is a time especially for those who lost a loved one this year. Should that be you, this is a beautiful sermon about grieving from my pastor, Julia Pickerill:

Whether you can visit a cemetery or not, here’s a prayer for All Saints Day:

Lord God,
whose days are without end
and whose mercies beyond counting,
keep us mindful 
that life is short and the hour of death unknown.
Let your Spirit guide our days on earth
in the ways of holiness and justice,
that we may serve you
in union with the whole Church,
sure in faith, strong in hope, perfected in love.
And when our earthly journey is ended,
lead us rejoicing into your kingdom,
where you live for ever and ever.
Eternal rest grant unto our loved ones, oh Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.
Amen