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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
God is not out to get us. Is that sometimes hard to believe?
When one thing after another goes “wrong.” When the workload ahead looks overwhelming. When there are dozens of questions and very few answers, it can be hard to hope.
The goal is to make a choice to believe, a choice to decide to hope against hope. It is not easy. The first step is to focus on this moment, just as it is. Mindfulness also narrows our perspective and makes it easier to hope.
Today, as much of the church celebrates Epiphany, it is wonderful day to consider what gifts we want to offer to God in the coming year.
I did a meditation in the book “A Quiet Place Apart: Guided Meditations for Advent, Christmas, New Year and Epiphany” by Jane E. Ayer. Here are Ms. Ayer’s books on Amazon. Most seem out of print and quite expensive.
However, I do find her work just wonderful to do in a group or by yourself. Her meditation for New Year is a very effective way to go before the Lord to consider this year’s goals. Since it’s so hard to find, I’ll summarize it so you can try it yourself.
She places the meditation in the context of Joseph and Mary going to present the baby Jesus at the Temple. You do a Lectio Divina in the words of Luke:2:21-40. As you savor these words, you visualize yourself standing with Joseph, Mary and Jesus as the baby is redeemed and then visited by Simeon and Anna. Then you find yourself before the altar in Jerusalem offering your gifts. This requires a period of quiet prayer, listening to God and your innermost self.
Ms. Ayer asks you to give God the gift of yourself, your authentic self. She asks you to think about how you want to focus your efforts in 2020 in these life areas:
- Spirituality and prayer
- Family, friends, community and church
- Work or career
- Recreation and relaxation
- Stress reduction
- Relationships: the unhealthy, new ones, past ones
- Habit, character flaws and attitudes
IF you haven’t thought about the coming year and what you would like to change, this is an excellent spiritual exercise.
We have many rituals on New Year’s Eve, and none involve partying.
During the day, I re-read my journals, which include prayers, to get a full scope of the year. As I read, I keep two lists: things to praise and things to which I say “good riddance.”
The “good riddance” list goes into one of our few remaining ashtrays to be burned. Illness and hurt and my husband’s career: Goodbye to all that.
I open a Bible where I keep the prayer that I wrote to God on New Year’s Eve last year. After reading it and reviewing my praises, I write another letter to God to be sealed away for 365 days.
Then, when we are home, we go to our church’s Watch Night service. Our church is diverse, and this service is a great gift from the African-American tradition. We sing, listen and pray for the return of Christ until midnight. Then everyone enjoys a dessert potluck. (We usually book it home, as midnight is an aspirational time in our calendars these days.)
My mother died on Dec. 27, slipping away in the sleep that had become a huge percentage of her days. She had dementia, and living in a skilled nursing home brought out the worst in her anxiety, depression and anger.
The day before she died, I had a brief visual of Jesus holding Mother and carrying her away. My impression was that he was talking to her. I ignored it as a figment of my imagination. Now I wonder if it was a kindness from the Lord, who knows that I have been concerned about the state of my mother’s relationship with God.
I think He had a long talk with her. I think she listened. I hope she agreed that she would forgive a list of folks and let Jesus’ death apply to her sins. That would be the gentleness of God.