“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:
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.