World Day of the Sick 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resource: On Christian Contemplation

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

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

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

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

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

For other resources on Christian mindfulness, click here.

Mindfully Consider Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

turned on black samsung smartphone between headphones

Mindfulness With Music

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

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

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

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

Hymns and Choruses

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

Instrumental

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

young worker who feels blah

Breathe Away the Blahs

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

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

This Christian mindfulness exercise may help.

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

Learning to Be Content No Matter What

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. 2:  Practice thanksgiving.

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

No. 3: Practice abiding.

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

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

Korean art

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light Tomorrow With Today

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

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

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

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

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

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