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

A Prayer for Unity

Awaken us to the Oneness of all things, to the beauty and truth of Unity. May we become aware of the interdependence of all living things, and come to know You in everything, and all things in You. For as we attune to your Presence within us, we know not separation, and joy becomes our dwelling place.

Excerpted from Psalm 106, Nan Merrill, Psalms for Praying

Try This: Secret Kindness

This week, do some random acts of kindness in secret. Here’s some ideas:

  • Do someone else’s chore at home.
  • Pick up trash.
  • Make an anonymous donation to a good cause.
  • Leave a positive review for a podcast or small business you like.
  • Leave change in a vending machine.
  • Pay for the coffee or fast food meal of the person behind you in line.
  • Let someone go ahead of you in a store line.
  • Pay a stranger a compliment.

Resource: Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World

Joanna Weaver published “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: Finding God in the Busyness of Life” in 2000, which seems long ago. Yet, her quiet voice on the page is timeless … one of the most influential I’ve heard in my Christian mindfulness walk.

“Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World” remains one of the most re-readable books for women on releasing anxiety and slowing down to sit at Jesus’ feet. She writes:

Jesus’ words to Martha are the words he wants to speak to your heart and mine: “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” That “one thing” is not found in doing more. It’s found in sitting by his feet.

Throughout the book, Joanna shows that Jesus wants us to choose the one thing: “a joyful life of intimacy with him that flows naturally into loving service.” For women who feel that they are not enough, it is a soothing balm.

On Goodreads, the book has a rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars with nearly 16,000 reviews. The copy of the book I have includes a study guide for individual or group use. To taste the tone of the book, here’s another gift: a version of Psalm 23 from Japan.

The Lord is my pace setter … I shall not rush.

He makes me stop for quiet intervals.

He provides me with images of stillness which restore my serenity.

He leads me in the way of efficiency through calmness of mind and his guidance is peace.

Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day, I will not fret, for his presence is here.

His timelessness, his all importance will keep me in balance.

He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity by anointing my mind with his oils of tranquility.

My cup of joyous energy overflows.

Truly harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours for I shall walk in the Pace of the Lord and dwell in his house forever.

Additional resources for Christian mindfulness are listed here.

Living With Sorrow

Today is the day devoted to remembering how difficult the life of the Virgin Mary was. She is Our Lady of Sorrows.

Many mothers and fathers can relate. Although she was quick to accept God’s will for her life, that doesn’t mean it was easy to live.

She gave birth in a place meant for livestock. She was a refugee fleeing to save her baby’s life. She dealt with gossip, poverty, life in an occupied country, and the death of her husband. She watched her son be tortured and executed. And there’s all the everyday trouble that we don’t know about.

Finally, in the last glimpse of her in the Bible, Mary is praying to prepare the infant church to live without a visible Jesus.

Today I consider my life as a mother, which has had an abundance of sorrow. That can be seen as a blessing because it has led to two things: an abundance of prayer and an appreciation of the good times. Today is a good day to do something hard … thank God for all of it, even the awful parts.

hand on grateful heart

Begin With a Thankful Spirit

Begin each day with a thankful spirit until it becomes a way of life. Start by focusing on the simple, the mundane … the air we breathe, the ability to serve others, the privilege of thinking about God. It is this spirit that raises us to live on a level above our circumstances rather than under them.

Darien Cooper, “The Beauty of Beholding God”
woman wearing grey long sleeved top photography

Try This: How Are You Like Those You Dislike?

This is a time when many Christians are appalled at others … including other Christians. Politics has overcome many of us. This Christian mindfulness exercise can help us to regain love and compassion for others.

Think of a person who you don’t like. If you are up for it, make it someone whose opinions you find obnoxious or worse. Put this person in your mind while you open with prayer and then meditate on these things:

  • This person is a human with a mind, heart and body, just as I am.
  • God loves this person, like He loves me.
  • Jesus died for this person, just like me.
  • This person has a history that I do not completely know.
  • This person has thoughts and feelings like me.
  • This person has gone through difficulties and hurts, just as I have.
  • This person is not always wrong, just as I am not always right.

Then pray for this person: for their relationship with God, for their health, for their happiness.

I developed this idea based on the Just Like Me exercise in “The Mindful Day” by Laurie J. Cameron. She considers thinking well of others as one of the central practices of mindfulness. If that is true of secular mindfulness, think how much more true it is of Christian mindfulness.

Resource: Jesus Calling

“Jesus Calling” and the other works of Sarah Young are among the most useful resources I have.

We use readings from these books as devotionals for our support groups, where we serve individuals diagnosed with severe mental illness and their families.

I also use the books as part of my daily prayer round in lectio divina. I read the passage, pause to ponder it, pray parts of it out loud and then meditate on it. I rotate using Jesus Calling, Dear Jesus, Jesus Always, Jesus Today and Jesus Lives. The Jesus Calling app is one of the most used items on my phone.

Sarah Young began to write her books of devotions based on her own daily quiet time, which includes journaling. The retired Presbyterian missionary has an extraordinary ability to help people connect to the Biblical truths in a warm and loving manner.

More than 30 million of her books have been sold. Although she is biblically conservative in her faith and reformed in her doctrine, I’ve never met a Christian … liberal or conservative … who objects to her work. It is so Bible-based as to be universal.

Please enjoy some time with the Lord under her guidance.

Other resources that are useful to me are located here.

virgin mary and jesus christ photo

Happy 2030th Birthday, Mary

At least that’s the best guess. Today is traditionally celebrated as the birthday of the Virgin Mary. So guessing that Jesus was born on 4 AD, and Mary was 14 at the time … I got my guess at her age today.

Celebrating mindfully today, I do a reading about Mary’s life and put flowers in front of her statue. I also talk to her.

“Praying” to Mary is controversial to say the least at my church. But I feel strongly that the Lord suggested I do so when I was a young teenager.

My parents didn’t support my deep interest in faith, and my mother forbid my request to go see what a Catholic church was like. That’s when I got the feeling that Mary was going to be a lifelong friend, as she has turned out to be.

On this birthday, I try to think of a good gift for Mary. Being kind to everyone I meet today is that choice. Of course, she’d like this to become a permanent habit. I see her point.

Gifts of the Pandemic

My Christian mindfulness practice for Labor Day includes thinking back on the summer past. We make a list of things that we didn’t get to do. Then we file it away to review the next Memorial Day, so we can make sure we get it on our next summer schedule. And we thank God for the fun we had.

This year, the list of what we missed …. let’s just say it would be way too long to file!!!

So instead, let’s make a list about the blessings of the pandemic summer of 2020. Gratitude is always a part of the Christian mindfulness journey. What can we be thankful for? Here’s some of my blessings:

  • The whole family is still healthy.
  • I got to take several interesting classes online for minimal money.
  • I went to conferences and events online that would have been too expensive to attend in normal times.
  • We didn’t have to go out in the heat to drive to meetings. It was just an air-conditioned walk to the den for Zoom.
  • I saved all my travel money, which I can use as a backup for even better vacations.
  • I spent even more time in contemplative prayer and spiritual reading, which brought me closer to the Lord.
  • We watched several acclaimed TV shows from the 90s and early 00s that we were once too busy to view.
  • My husband learned to bake! And he likes it.

And so on. Feel welcome to tell me about the things on your pandemic gift list.

A September Filled With Mindfulness

A photo of grilled food and picnic sides appeared on a magazine cover under the headline: Homegating. Tailgating at home? Welcome to the fall of 2020.

The cancellation of some favorite outdoor activities … hayrides, bonfires and tailgating to name a few … offers opportunity to enjoy this autumn mindfully … without rushing.

The apple orchard, the pumpkin patch and the fall leaves still beckon. But we can choose not to pack up the family and rush out every weekend.

This fall, let’s make a commitment to be mindful of God’s beauty around us. We can do things in the neighborhood that bring joy without additional pressure and stress.

Here’s some of them:

  • Meditate and pray outdoors.
  • Walk when you can
  • Read outdoors.
  • Picnic at the park or eat outdoors on your porch or deck.
  • Go to a nearby park to look at the leaves changing.
  • Take the kids on a Stop, Look and Listen walk.
  • Encourage traditional outdoor games: hopscotch, jump rope and four square.

The fall of 2020 could be the best autumn we’ve ever had.

The Antidote to Worry? Celebration

In “Celebration of Discipline,” Richard Foster points out that Jesus was all about joy. From the beginning … “I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). To the end … “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you.” (John 15:11).

I went back to his book after I heard Foster on the Renovare podcast, hosted by his son Nathan Foster, talk about the discipline of celebration as an antidote to worry. Because celebration comes from a release of any anxiety, intentionally celebrating can fight off worry.

As we enter the seventh month of the pandemic, worry grows. Lost jobs. Health fears. Kids schooling at home. Isolation from friends and loved ones. When will it end?

Although Foster’s podcast was recorded well before the pandemic, I think his idea of focusing on celebration is sound. After all, as David wrote, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

One way to increase your joy is to pray for it. Specifically, I pray on Monday for the Holy Spirit to give me the fruit of joy. It’s part of the GIFT list mindfulness practice.

Other ways to add celebration to our lives include:

  • Play and sing praise songs. Many feel sad, missing the music in church. Break through by adding praise music to your daily prayer routine.
  • Celebrate everything. Dozens of fun days are on the calendar. Make the most of them. Enjoy the coming autumn with caramel apples, pumpkins, apple cider, etc.
  • See the Lord in the nature around you. Did you know that the reds, yellows and oranges of autumn tree leaves are their actual colors without chlorophyll? Only our ultimate Creative Director could think of that.
  • If you haven’t laughed hard at least once by 7 p.m., watch or read something funny.

Update: What’s on Your Mind?

A frequent Christian mindfulness practice involves monitoring your thinking. Now and again, you stop to see what you are concentrating on. Or you realize that you are thinking about how the Sopranos ended. And you know that God prefers for you to think about something better.

I previously covered this in the post What to Think. Let’s do an update. Are we using Philippians 4:8 as a yardstick to measure our thought life. The verse says:

This week, let’s return to this verse when we are in a bad mood, when we want to complain and when we are waiting. These are trigger times for negative or unproductive thinking. Let me know how it’s going for you.

Try This: A 10-Minute Silent Retreat

Silent retreats are the bomb. I took a four-night silent retreat at the Abbey at Gethsemani in Kentucky last year. Afterwards, I promised myself I would do it twice a year.

Well … then came COVID-19. For many of us who have been spending an exceptional amount of time with family for months, a silent retreat sounds like the impossible dream.

So try silence in small bits. Go to a room or outdoor space where you can be alone. No kids, no spouses, no pets. Sit in silence and check in for 10 minutes. Are you anxious? Tired? Feeling pushed or rushed?

Let the silence flow over you. Feel the presence of Jesus in that silence. He loves you. He understands.

This can be a regular practice to restart the day whenever you need it. See how it feels today.

Try It: Notice Your Need for Control

The COVID pandemic has been a great teacher. I’ve learned a lot about the size of my need for control. How many times have you thought about doing something … only to realize, “No, I can’t do that.”

I can’t see my granddaughter. I can’t see my mother-in-law who is in Memory Care. I can’t go to New York. I can’t take that vacation to San Diego I’ve planned for months. Dozens of projects and wishes are all gone in a sea of “can’ts.”

This actually can be good conditioning for spiritual formation, the process in which God forms us into our best selves. The process also can be, in the words of Billy Joel, “a constant battle for the ultimate state of control.”

In “Invitation to a Journey,” M. Robert Mulholland Jr. wrote that the United States is “a do-it-yourself culture.” We are trained to use the world’s objects and people to shape the world for our own purposes.

This week, let’s mindfully watch ourselves in the area of control. As Mulholland puts it: “If you do not believe that control is a major issue in your life, study the ways you respond when something or someone disrupts your plans for the day.”

The only way to transform ourselves is to let God take the helm. Let’s take note of how hard we fight it.

Update: COVID Media Fast

So … is the pandemic over???? I wouldn’t know. I have been fasting from news about COVID-19 for a week.

I am surprised at how much better I feel. I’m lighter somehow. Of course, I’ve been continuing to take all my precautions. Masks, hand sanitizer, hand washing, isolation unless necessary.

The pandemic has been invading my dreams and creating a pervasive dis-ease for months. Once I found out that my state’s people were no longer unwelcome in New York … where my daughter’s family lives … I thought the media fast would help.

I highly recommend it to you. A week without distressing news feels like a vacation.

Try This: COVID Media Fast

We’ve had five months or more of COVID-19 pandemic news. Let’s try to step away from it for one week. The pandemic has increased anxiety and disturbed our sleep for too long. We can take a break from the onslaught, while continuing to be safe and thoughtful of others.

This Christian mindfulness exercise has us deliberately reduce our media intake about COVID-19 and its impact. Here’s how:

  1. Consider where you are getting your COVID information. This includes: news media (online and offline), email alerts, social media, podcasts, television and magazines.
  2. Think about where you feel bombarded by information or opinion about the pandemic. What upsets you the most?
  3. Fast from it for a week. You can entirely cut off the source or use it only for specific times, days or amounts of time. You also could refuse to read or listen to COVID information and opinion.
  4. During times when you would ordinarily be consuming the media, pray instead. See if we can discover more about how God wants us to behave during this time.

Give your mind protection from the panic. I pray this will take the weight of the world off our shoulders. How do you think you will feel if you can take an information vacation from the pandemic?

Anchored by Priorities

One piece of wise advice I’ve received came from a home management book: “Desperate Households” by Kathy Peel. She wrote:

Part of responding to the unexpected is learning to see situations for what they are, not what we imagine them to be.

You could stop and ask God for patience, wisdom and the ability to remain calm and not say anything you’ll regret later. We do ourselves and our families a favor when we’re anchored by our priorities and are able to wisely and calmly meet the inevitable crises we face day in and out.

Kathy Peel

Try This: Visualize Dying With Jesus

An excellent description of Christian mindfulness is found in Acts 17:28: “for in him we live and move and have our being.” Step by step, hour by hour, we walk with Jesus intentionally, paying single-minded attention to every moment.

An exercise suggested in the Life Without Lack course I’m taking helps us move into this way of being.

Visualize being crucified with Jesus. Sound weird? Yes, but it’s Biblical.

  • Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
  • Colossians 3:3: For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
  • Romans 6:6-7: For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

So let’s take a quiet moment to visualize ourselves crucified with Jesus. This is a good start to dying to self and waking to walk in Christian mindfulness.

Remember Nagasaki

Today is the 75th anniversary of the United States dropping an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan.

The event took place a few days after we dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. So it’s probable that the U.S. government knew at least a little about the death and devastation it would cause.

Mahatma Gandhi said at the time that these bombs would make peace a necessity. Peace has not come.

And, as the World War II generation around the world dies off, actual memories about the two actual uses of atomic bombs die, too. It’s more important than ever to learn about these events so we do not duplicate them.

Christian mindfulness calls for prayer and fasting today as a way to express sorrow over the deaths of these two cities and a combined 226,000 civilians. We as Americans in particular have an obligation to be responsible for making a more peaceful world.

Here is a prayer of lament and repentance for Nagasaki:

Above the clamor of our violence, your word of truth resounds, O God of majesty and power. Over nations enshrouded in despair, your justice dawns.

Grant your household a discerning spirit and a watchful eye to perceive the hour in which we live. Hasten the advent of that Day when the weapons of war shall be banished, our deeds of darkness cast off, and all your scattered children gathered into one.

We ask this through him whose coming is certain, whose day draws near: your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

“Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers”

Look for Divine Appointments

Today’s Christian mindfulness practice calls for 24 hours of attention. We are looking for “divine appointments,” things that God is calling us to do even though they are not on our calendars.

It’s true. The most important thing that Jesus wants you to do today may come entirely out of the blue. An unexpected phone call. A nudge to reach out about something. A whisper to pray for someone. An opportunity to be loving, especially if no one else is looking.

It’s hard to look for divine appointments when we are relentlessly charging through our to-do lists. Make time today to quiet yourself and ask God what He has planned. You may get a very nice surprise!

pencil erasing item on calendar

When Our Calendars Are Cancelled

My sister bought me a perpetual calendar called “Meditations for the Busy Woman” by Jan Silvious in 1994. I still use it, although 2020 is the least busy year I’ve had ever.

Deletions, erasure marks and black scratches are all over many of our calendars these days. Today’s message on the perpetual calendar seems very timely.

Unrest in the Nest

Our God is honor-bound to make even the tearing up of our nests, the unraveling of our homes and dreams, the canceling of our plans and appointments, to work together for our good. Remember that today as you struggle with a nest that feels shaky beneath your feet.

Jan Silvious

Waiting on the Lord

Is it easy to practice Christian mindfulness while standing in a line? No. Yet it may be harder to practice waiting on the Lord.

The contemplative practice asks us to remain prayerful in God’s presence while we wait patiently for direction or answered prayer. This practice is all over the Psalms, especially in Psalm 27 written by David.

13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

David

Today let us quiet our minds. Let us listen for the Lord’s direction via Scripture and prayer. I always find that synchronicity is a sign. If I hear, read and see the same verse or holy thought again and again, I know the Lord is knocking on the door.

Wait! Wait! Just Be There

Today’s version of waiting in line usually requires standing six feet away from the people in front of you. This makes lines seem longer, although we know they are just spaced out. This Christian mindfulness exercise helps us bring some space and calmness to our wait. We might even enjoy it.

Whenever we are waiting — in a line, in a car, in front of a computer screen — practice Christian mindfulness. Speak to the Lord and seek His presence. The Holy Spirit is standing in line with you, after all.

Notice what is around you. Who is there? Can you offer up a prayer from them? What do you hear and smell? Is there a cashier or service person who needs a word of encouragement when you get to the front of the line? wai

journal and coffee cup during journaling exercise

Reflect on These Questions

This Christian mindfulness practice came from someone else, but I have no idea who. That person created a list of profound questions for daily reflection or examen. Although I neglected to note the author back then, I’ve found answering these questions bring lots of insight.

  • Where in this day did I feel the presence of God working in my life and in the world?
  • What in this day seemed like it was a part of my leading?
  • What made me believe that?
  • How does that leading fit into my personal and spiritual life?
  • What did I do today to feed my spirit or move me ahead on my spiritual journey?

Let’s try using these questions for discernment in quiet time. They are also great for journaling.

Other good morning exercises are here.

praise god for the sun

Thank God for the Sun

This Christian mindfulness practice brings attention to something we take for granted. Yet it is essential for our life on Earth. The Sun.

Today, when you see the sun (which can be iffy where I live), thank God for this special star for all these reasons and more:

  • It creates the wind.
  • It causes evaporation, which become rain and snow.
  • It creates tides with the moon’s help.
  • It allows for the seasons.
  • It is responsible for colors.
  • Its light and heat allow life on Earth.

The sun may be just a middling-size star out of 200 million in our galaxy. But God created it just for us. Let’s be thankful.

Jesus, Mary and Martha

Advice to Martha

Today is the memorial for Martha of Bethany. She’s the woman best known for asking Jesus to tell her sister to get up off her rear end and help her. I think Martha is the patron saint for today’s busy working women.

Brother Lawrence is the patron saint of Christian mindfulness. Here’s some advice from him on getting things done that could have helped Martha:

We must carry out all of our actions with care and with wisdom, without the impetuosity and precipitancy (haste) of a distraught mind. It is necessary to work peacefully, tranquilly and lovingly with God, begging him to accept our work. And by this continual mindfulness of God, we shall crush the head of the devil and cause his weapons to fall from his hands.

Brother Lawrence

Jesus told Martha, as you know, that “only one thing was necessary” and her sister was already doing it. Thousands of stories have been told about this conversation. But we also need to remember that Martha understood the truth.

As she said to Jesus when he arrived after her brother Lazarus’ death, “I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

Notice When You’re Surprised You’re Wrong

This Christian mindfulness exercise simply requires listening to our own thoughts. We’ll find out much about ourselves when we listen. But we are looking for one thought in particular: surprise when we discover that we have made a mistake, failed or done something wrong.

We each are often the only ones who are surprised. God isn’t surprised. The angels aren’t surprised. They know who we are and what we are capable of doing.

When we are surprised, we need to think about it. The situation shows an issue with humility. In reading about humility online, I found one secular article titled “How Humility Will Make You the Greatest Person Ever.” Funny. But humility is not a low opinion of ourselves. It is an accurate opinion of ourselves.

It comes when we know God is beyond understanding. And we trust Him. It seems to grow as we increase our abilities to be grateful. As Proverbs 22:4 says, “Humility is the fear of the Lord. Its wages are riches and honor and life.”

Let’s watch our thoughts and see what we really think about ourselves!

silhouette photo of man leaning on heart shaped tree

Resource: Life of the Beloved

This beautiful book — “Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World” — began when a non-religious friend asked one of the late 20th century’s most renowned religious men to explain spiritual life.

Henri J.M. Nouwen responded with the manuscript for “Life of the Beloved.” Nouwen avoided spiritual “Christian-ese” and theology. He told his friend about how much God loved him and what knowledge of that love does to a person.

Nouwen’s friend still didn’t get it. At first, Nouwen thought he had failed. But the response among others who read the manuscript was overwhelming positive.

Considered one of the greatest spiritual writers of the 20th century, Nouwen was a Catholic religious who taught at Harvard, Yale and Notre Dame. He spent 10 years living and serving in a community of the developmentally disabled called L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto.

Just flipping through the book gives you gems of wisdom:

“The world is only evil when you are its slave.”

“The problem of modern living is that we are too busy to notice that we are being blessed.”

“The real question is not ‘What can we offer each other?’ but ‘What can we be for each other?’ “

“Life of the Beloved” is a masterwork, well worth your time.