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

You Have Forever. Literally.

A thought jumped up at me this week: I’m already living an eternal life.

What does that mean? Do I have to try to pack as much as possible into each day? Do I need to hurry through tasks and then worry that I did something wrong?

I think not. Jesus lived what is famously called a “three-mile-an-hour” life because he walked everywhere. Were he in the 21st century, would he be screaming around in a car at 70 miles-per-hour while texting to explain why he’s late?

Today we switch from Daylight Savings Time in the United States. We literally get another hour in the day. And it feels good.

We have more time than we believe. We are living an eternal life with a God of grace at the wheel. Let’s slow down.

Try This: A Prayer Over Coffee

Stream rising from our coffee or tea is a great opportunity to lift others in prayer.

The late Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, writing in Seasons of Your Heart, said she used the first 15 minutes of her day to sip a hot drink and pray for “all my favorite strangers.”

She named friends, associates and acquaintances. But she also allowed the Lord to take over the list. Sometime God would prompt her with names of strangers and others she knew. Even faces whose names she didn’t know, like someone from the grocery store, the airport or the streets.

Lifting these faces up in the morning was a great start to her day. Others have used the nighttime when the bedside lamp is off to review the day and lift up everyone they met. Both are lovely habits.

beach wave

Try This: Surf Your Anxiety

When anxiety and fear arise, try to surf them. Feel them, but also release them to God.

The best way to release is to do something simple that no one else can notice. Try taking three deep breathes and crying out (internally … not out loud) to God. Then settle into the present.

This is an exercise you can do as often as needed. Start to feel the swelling of fear or anxiety? Do it. Start to feel a growing wave of worry? Do it.

Breathing mindfully and calling on the Lord’s assistance helps us to surf those distressing emotions. As they swell up, we ride atop them. As they crash to the surf, we can release them.

We can ask the Lord to give us peace, love or joy. Or we can just ask for help. Give it a try!

Try This: Walk With Francis of Assisi

In his book “Renew Your Life,” pastor Kai Mark Nilsen suggests a wonderful Christian mindfulness exercise based on the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.

The prayer goes:

Make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love. 
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not seek
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.

For it is in giving that we receiving.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

Nilsen suggests taking a verse a day and using it to apply to your behavior in your relationships. How can you sow light in the darkness with the people you meet today? How can you sow hope?

Additional resources are recommended here.

For God So Loved the World

I saw the One who is sitting on the throne, holding to his breast what looked like a lump of black and filthy clay as big as a human heart, decorated with precious stones and pearls.

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen was a Renaissance woman in the 12th century. Such a thing was hardly possible. But she did it.

An aristocrat and an abbess. A composer and an author. She wrote “A Book of Simple Medicine” as well as four books on animals, three books on gems and metals, and two books on plants and trees.

She also saw visions that she wrote down. Centuries later, she was named a doctor of the church for her contributions to the understanding of theology.

This particular vision shows God the father clutching a filthy piece of clay that represents all of us. We all know what the filth is. It’s all our terrible decisions and selfishness. The pearls and gems are the souls that Jesus reclaimed.

When you are struggling over a loved one whose is lost, remember that God is clutching them tight to his chest.

A movie about Hildegard is available on Amazon Prime for free here.

stop sign

Try This: STOP

It’s easy to adapt a common practice in secular mindfulness — the STOP practice — for Christian mindfulness. You really only need to change one aspect … the P … adding a process that also starts with P.

Here we go:

S for Stop what you are doing, saying or thinking.

T for Take a deep breath. Or three.

O for Observe what is happening. Inside and out.

P for Pray for direction and Proceed with a kind heart.

The STOP practice is basic as it allows you to return mindfully to the present moment and seek the presence of God there. For you are a reactor by nature, STOP will help you to respond thoughtfully and in alignment with God’s will.

For more information about how Christian mindfulness exercises are different, click here.

Try This: A Mindful Fall Festival

The concept of a Halloween mask is a little different this year! But outdoor fall festivals are continuing with social distancing in many areas.

Explore a fall festival in your town in a mindful Christian manner. Praise God for the nature around you. The good ideas He had, like autumn leaves and weird gourds and spiders.

Enjoying a Christian mindfulness moment at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus

Pay attention to the sounds and the smells. Enjoy the little kids who are experiencing it all with a natural beginner’s mind.

Wherever we go, we can bring our Christian mindfulness. We can enjoy the presence of God even amid spooky lights.

Try This: An At-Home Retreat

It’s been more than a year since I took a retreat away from home. Lots of us miss the silence, the prayers and the feeling of being cocooned in God’s love.

The spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are the framework for many retreats. At least two books offer an “at-home” version that would allow you to enjoy a retreat in safety.

“Journey with Jesus: Discovering the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius” by Larry Warner is the newest, published in 2010. It comes from a Protestant perspective. No matter our stage of faith or age, this one helps us experience Jesus. Warner even includes a part in the beginning that asks “Is this book for you?” Some of those indicators include:

  • Do you have a strong desire to know Jesus more intimately, love him more fully and follow him more wholeheartedly?
  • Do you want to live with an internal awareness that God is in you as you live, move and have your being, and to find God in all things?
  • Are you willing to follow Jesus in good times and bad?
  • Are you open to having your theology and image of Jesus challenged and expanded?

Warner’s retreat includes daily exercises for at least four weeks. He also suggests that you have a spiritual director. Many are doing Zoom meetings in the pandemic. So you can find one by asking your church leaders or searching online by typing spiritual direction and your town. Be sure the director shares your faith.

The second choice is a classic: “A Do-It-at-Home Retreat: The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola” by Andre Ravier, S.J. First published in 1989, the book has been republished regularly, so the cover may look different. The four-week daily retreat comes from a Catholic perspective, containing background on prayer types.

At the time he wrote this, Fr. Ravier had been conducting retreats for more than 30 years. He designed the book for “those who want to sincerely place themselves face-to-face with God so as to order their lives along his loving designs.”

We can use the time at home as fall deepens to deepen our own spirituality. Try a retreat!

Five Ideas from Teresa of Avila

I’ve learned a great deal from Teresa of Avila, a woman of courage, wit and wisdom. She reformed the Carmelite order and became the first woman to be named a doctor of the church for her wisdom.

In her day, Teresa’s wisdom was doubted so much that she was called before the Inquisition. Her life was based on a intimate relationship with God walked out in mindfulness.

Here’s five things that Teresa has taught me. I’ve read her writings, but find much wisdom coming from “Let Nothing Disturb You: A Journey to the Center of the Soul with Teresa of Avila.” It’s from Ave Maria Press’ excellent 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher series.

  1. Let us not forget to whom and in whose presence we are praying. If we were to live a thousand years, we would never fully understand how we ought to behave toward God. In God’s presence even the angels tremble — they who can do all that God wills.
  2. Trials are heaviest for those my Father loves the most. Trials are a measure of God’s love.
  3. Nothing can be compared to the great beauty and capabilities of our soul. However keen our intellect may be, we are no more able to comprehend the depths of our soul than we are able to comprehend God, for our soul has been created in the image and likeness of God.
  4. If God is pleased with you, whoever resists you — whoever they may be — will be utterly disappointed.
  5. The whole foundation of prayer is humility. The more we humble ourselves in prayer, the most God will lift us up.
hispanic woman in prayer

Resource: Richard Foster’s Prayer

The best book I’ve ever read about prayer is “Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home” by Richard Foster.

Similar in structure to his “Celebration of Discipline,” Foster divides the types of prayers into three categories:

  • Moving inward: Seeking the transformation we need. This includes the prayer of the forsaken, examen, the prayer of tears and formation prayer.
  • Moving upward: Seeking the intimacy we need. It covers the prayer of adoration, prayer of rest, sacramental prayer, unceasing prayer and contemplative prayer.
  • Moving outward: Seeking the ministry we need. Prayers include intercession, petitions, healing prayer and the prayer of suffering.

I’m not alone in treasuring this book, which proves that our prayer lives can always grow. The book won Christianity Today’s Book of the Year and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Gold Medallion Book Award. It’s rated 4.6 stars on Amazon.

It’s a book to use as a resource, to ponder, to experiment with. More resources to help in your Christian mindfulness journey are found here.

Pray for Native Americans

As the United States considers the need for restitution for peoples who have been mistreated, I hope we provide support for the native Americans. I was actually on the Seneca reservation yesterday. I pray that the native Americans will not have to use our nation’s craving for cheap cigarettes and gambling to support themselves in America’s future.

I pray that we can help them with infrastructure to lift the nations out of poverty so they can live the lives they choose with dignity. I pray we will help with health care and education. We have a terrible track record for violating agreements and treating them as less than human. I pray for change.

I’d also like to offer a native American prayer for meditation today.

Great Spirit Prayer

Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind,
Whose breath gives life to all the world.
Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever
behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have
made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand
the things you have taught my people.

Help me to remain calm and strong in
the face of all that comes towards me.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden
in every leaf and rock.

Help me seek pure thoughts and act
with the intention of helping others.
Help me find compassion without
empathy overwhelming me.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy Myself.

Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.

So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my spirit may come to you without shame.

Resource: Celebration of Discipline

“Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth” by Richard Foster is an essential guidebook for expanding the practice of Christian mindfulness.

Christianity Today lists the book, first published in 1978, as one of the 10 best from the 20th century. Foster has regularly updated it. The book, which has a 4.7-star review on Amazon and 4.2 on Goodreads, has sold more than 1 million copies.

Foster explores the classic spiritual practices, or disciplines. He divides them into three groups: inward, outward and corporate. Disciplines covered are:

  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Fasting
  • Study
  • Simplicity
  • Solitude
  • Submission
  • Service
  • Confession
  • Worship
  • Guidance
  • Celebration

Each chapter provides many examples and Biblical references. It is a book to chew over, many times, as we decide what practice we would like to focus on this time in our growth.

As Eugene H. Peterson, author of “The Message,” writes: Spiritual disciplines “are, as he (Foster) shows us, the instruments of joy, the way into mature Christian spirituality and abundant life.”

Keep a copy in your Christian mindfulness reference library, and enjoy!

For reviews of other resources, click here.

Try This: Carry a Reminder

Christian mindfulness is a practice, not a perfect. One way to remind yourself to be mindful of the presence of Jesus is to literally have keepsakes displayed where we work most often or in our pockets.

The reminders can be simple and free, as Kenneth Boa and Jenny Abel remind us in their free pdf “A Guide to Practicing God’s Presence.”

Where are you most often during the day? In front of the computer? In your kitchen? Place a reminder there.

What coat or jacket are you starting to wear this fall? Put a reminder in the pocket.

Reminders can be small and easy to carry:

  • A stone to remind us that Jesus is the cornerstone of our lives.
  • A nail to remind us that Jesus died for us.
  • A feather to remind us of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

These same reminders can go in the space where we work. Or we can place larger items. I see a wooden cross from Jerusalem given to me 35 years ago when working in the kitchen. I’ve placed on my computer monitor a “pray continually” car visor clip.

Take a moment to pick out a reminder. We may need to change it seasonally if we get so used to it that we don’t notice them any more.

More information on how Christian mindfulness exercises are different is here.

How to Bless Your Pets

Blessing pets is part of October 4’s usual celebration of St. Francis of Assisi. You can do it at home wherever you can bring the pets together. Here is the Blessing of the Animals:

Leader: Wonderful are all God’s works. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

All: Now and forever.

Leader: The animals of God’s creation inhabit the skies, the earth and the sea. They share in the ways of human beings. They are part of our lives. Francis of Assist recognized this when he called the animals, wild and tame, his brothers and sisters. Remembering Francis’ love for these brothers and sisters of ours, we invoke God’s blessing on these animals, and we thank God for letting us share the earth with all creatures.

All: Have a time of silence, and then offer specific prayers for the pets and for all creatures. Then all say the Lord’s Prayer.

All: Place hands on the animals in blessing.

Leader: O God, you have done all things wisely. In your goodness you have made us in your image and given us care over other living things. In the prayer of Albert Schweitzer, O Heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath. Guard them for all evil, and let them sleep in peace. Amen

Try This: Find Your Prayer Closet

Pre-pandemic, many of us worked in offices. Even if you had an office with a door, you had little privacy. The “open door” policy, thin walls, cubicle hell, email, texts and phone calls result in frequent interruptions.

If you are working from home, the interruptions continue. They even get more complicated … if your new officemates are animals and/or small children.

Today, take the time to find yourself a prayer closet in your work space. Find a place where you can be alone for just five minutes of prayer. I have used a bathroom on the deserted floor below my office, a walkway outside the building, and a rarely visited storage area. Prayer closets at home could be a bathroom or the basement.

Then when you need five minutes with the Lord, you know where to go.

Resource: Lectio 365 app

I’m loving Lectio 365, a devotional app from the 24-7 Prayer movement that helps you pray the Bible daily. I’m so impressed that I’ve revised my daily prayer schedule, using Lectio 365 in place of another loved resource.

The 24-7 Prayer movement started in the United Kingdom in 1999. Now it is an international, interdenominational movement for prayer, mission and justice. More than 2 million people in 10,000 prayer groups in more than half the Earth’s countries work together to offer continual prayer.

This app is based on Lectio Divina. The video below is a good overview of that practice.

The devotions also incorporate the six core values of the 24-7 Prayer movement: prayer, mission, justice, creativity, hospitality and learning. It also takes the church’s seasons, such as Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter into account.

The app offers your choice of text and audio for the daily prayer. It follows the group’s P.R.A.Y. process:

  • Pause to be still
  • Rejoice with a Psalm and Reflect on Scripture.
  • Ask for God’s help.
  • Yield to His will in your life.

The app is available in the Apple and Android app stores. I found it after listening to the Renovare podcast interview with 24-7 Prayer founder Pete Greig and US Director Lisa Koons. It’s worth a listen as well.

For other recommended apps, websites and books, click here.

Thank Your Archangels

September 29 is the traditional day to celebrate the work of the archangels, especially the ones we know by name. Raphael, Michael and Gabriel were heavenly beings sent to do important tasks on Earth, as reported in the Bible and the Book of Tobit, an apocryphal text from the Hebrew Bible.

Archangel means a high ranking angel. Only Michael, in Jude 9, is called an archangel. Yet the tasks assigned to Raphael and Gabriel have caused Christians to classify them as archangels as well.

Today, let’s take some time to thank them for all they have done for us, known and unknown. Some of the known acts are:

  • Michael is the great guardian angel of the Jewish people and Israel. (Daniel 10: 13, Daniel 12:1) He does battle against the spiritual forces fighting against Israel. Michael fought with Satan over the body of Moses. (Jude 9) The Book of Revelation also tells the story of how Michael and his angels fought Satan and his forces in Heaven and cast them out. Michael’s name means “Who is like God?”
  • Gabriel delivers important messages to those who God favors. He was sent twice to see Daniel to help him understand a vision and to give him a prophecy (Daniel 18:16, Daniel 19). But he best known for his role in the coming of Jesus. He was God’s messenger to tell Zechariah about the upcoming birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1: 13-19). And he asked Mary for her agreement to become the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-33). Gabriel’s name means “God is my defender.”
  • Raphael has a central role in the apocryphal Book of Tobit. He was sent to accompany Tobias in his effort to find a way to cure his father’s blindness. In this book, Raphael says, “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.” Raphael’s name means “God heals.”

In Grief for the World

Today let’s meditate on quotes from two Georgians, both Christians who have truly lived their faith, about the state of the world.

We must be really grieved that things are as they are. Those people are not real mourners who say, “Sure, the world’s in a mess, and I guess maybe I’m a bit guilty like everybody else, but what can I do about it?” What they’re really saying is that they are not concerned enough about themselves or the world to look for anything to do. The kingdom citizen is different. He’s sick, and he knows it, but he wants to get well.

Clarence Jordan

My faith demands — this is not optional — my faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I can, for as long as I can, with whatever I have, to try to make a difference.

Jimmy Carter