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