Take Jesus on a Picnic

As summer starts to wind down, let’s go on a picnic packed with Christian mindfulness. It’s easy. Pack a lunch filled with the healthy food that the Lord wants you to eat. Include the Bible or a devotional, either in the basket or on your phone. Then go out into nature to intentionally spend time with the Lord and His creation.

Creating space with silence and beauty allows us all to open up to hear the Lord’s still, small voice. I do these picnics alone, but you can invite companions if they agree to the concept.

We spend so much time indoors, particularly if the weather is difficult. The concept of weather can help us to see the totality of God’s creation. Yes, God made the perfect sunny, breezy day. But He also made the rain, the wind, the searing heat and the gray skies. A daily walk in creation is always a good idea.

For the picnic, pick some time when you can devote at least an hour. Stay in the present moment, thanking God for the sky, the insects, the trees, the grass and everything else around you. Pray to God to bless the other people that you see. Quietly read your devotional or Bible, asking Him to speak to you. Bring a journal if you’d like to think through questions or concerns.

You can also add some fun. Bring some bubbles. Watch some birds. Borrow a child’s magnifying glass to look at insects. Revel in the wonder of nature. Doing this mindfully can help us all to feel God’s presence in the present moment.

Like many of us, I have missed having the opportunity to go on a retreat in the last two years or so. This is a retreat that you can take any time, and you don’t even have to wear a mask outside these days.

Jesus often went off by himself to commune with His father. I’ll bet he would love to go on a picnic with you.

Check out the menu to find other summer mindfulness exercises.

Create Your Rule of Life

The first back-to-school pictures arrived in my texts today. Pumpkins and autumn foliage line the shelves of craft stores. The pandemic has taken a turn for the worse. At least I held onto my masks made with “fall leaves” fabric. So it’s a good time to create or update your rule of life.

Schedules change. Every year we discover new resources that help us to grow closer to God. So updating a rule of life is an annual practice for me.

For those of you who have not created one, it’s a schedule, more or less, of things you will do on a regular basis to practice the presence of God in the present moment. “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero contains a chapter on creating a rule. His categories are:

  • Prayer
    • Scripture
    • Silence and Solitude
    • Daily Office
    • Study
  • Rest
    • Sabbath
    • Simplicity
    • Play and Recreation
  • Work and Activity
    • Service and Mission
    • Care for the Physical Body
  • Relationships
    • Emotional Health
    • Family
    • Community

Under this format, you go through each category to make rules about what you will and will not do.

Sample Rule of Life (It’s Mine)

My rule of life is more of a schedule. Each year, I do go through it to evaluate the helpfulness of each element and update the materials I am using. Here’s a peek:

Daily

  • Early morning: 20-30 minutes of centering prayer, read through New Testament annually, read a chapter of the Old Testament in chronological order, pray over to-do list, journal
  • 10 a.m.: Read one of Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling book series
  • Noon: Work listening to Pray as You Go OR do Liturgy of the Hours Office of the Readings OR read morning prayer in “Give Us This Day” magazine
  • 3 p.m.: Lectio 365 app
  • 5:30 p.m.: Evening prayer in “Give Us This Day” magazine.
  • Nighttime: Gratitude list, examen or night prayer in one of these apps: Pray as You Go, Lectio 365, Hallow, Pause or Abide.

Weekly

Sabbath on Sunday: nature walk, spiritual reading

Monthly

3rd Sunday: spend an hour reading a book about faith

Spiritual direction appointment (now is quarterly)

Yearly

Retreat

Celebrate the Christian calendar

Some feel my rule is excessive, but it has worked, even when I worked full-time. I describe it as handrails that keep me on the path. What would you like in your rule? Let me know.

You can listen to this episode on my podcast Mindful Christian Year by clicking here.

How to Be a Blessing

When more than one source tells me to try something, I think God is on the move. That’s why I am blessing everything around me.

This starts when Mindful Christian Year got some comments ridiculing Christianity. What should I do? As Jesus said in Luke 6:28: “Bless those who curse you.”

In Christian mindfulness, we practice the presence of God as we focus on the here and now. The act of blessing those who hated our faith strengthened my practice. It kept me even more focused on both God’s presence and the present moment.

So what happens when you ask God to bless everyone? It elevates our relationships with those around us while keeping us in continual communication with God.

In his book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” Peter Scazzero said the healthiest relationship between two human beings is an “I/Thou” relationship. Drawing on the work of Martin Buber, Scazzero writes that I/Thou relationships are those in which we recognize that the other person is created in God’s image. We know that God loves this person.

Most of the time we are in “I/it” relationships, he says. We do not connect the people we meet with God. We see them as objects, usually objects getting in our way. To routinely and continually bless people can change that.

As Pierre Pradervand writes in “The Gentle Art of Blessing,” the simple practice of praying for blessing for all those around you is a worthy goal. While Pradervand does not write from a purely Christian perspective, he does make a good argument that the Bible would embrace this practice.

Pradervand also does not distinguish “our blessing” from “asking God for His blessing” on others. I think that’s very important as we practice Christian mindfulness.

Ways to Practice Blessing

Nonetheless, Pradervand has some good suggestions. Here are some of them as well as those I’ve received from other Christians:

  • When praying for a person who is in the dark place, pray for blessings for the person’s body, mind and soul.
  • Ask for God’s blessing on your to-do list or schedule every day. Especially ask Him to bless the people that you are going to meet.
  • When passing people on the street, in the office, in public transportation and everywhere else, ask God to bless them.
  • When talking to people, ask God to bless them, including their relationship with God, their health, their relationships with others and their work.
  • When walking in an area, pray for God’s blessing on its government, teachers, health care workers, children, spiritual leaders, patients, prisoners, etc.
  • Ask for God’s blessing when something unexpected or unpleasant happens.

Let me know if using this practice helps you to practice the presence of God in the present moment.

Enjoy Calmtainment

What’s “calmtainment?” It’s on Wunderman Thompson Agency’s list of trends that will define 2021. Calmtainment is entertainment that helps people to relax and feel calm.

Life is returning to some kind of normal this summer. Many of my friends are going back to their offices, and social calendars are filling up quickly. Yet I also see that many people enjoyed aspects of the sheltering-in-place days: family dinners, reduced social demands, no business travel and so on. The question of “What am I going to keep doing from the pandemic days?” is on many minds.

Likewise, because of the stress of those days, the business of mindfulness expanded dramatically during the 2020 pandemic year. For example, the app “Calm,” which I recommend, was valued at $2 billion in December 2020.

A demand for calmtainment is in the air. It’s perhaps also a reaction to doom scrolling and ultraviolent and/or fast-paced video games, movies and television. To meet that demand, the entertainment industry is creating “unique, immersive experiences,” as Wunderman Thompson says.

This includes Netflix’s “Headspace Guide to Meditation” and the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos. ASMR videos feature someone whispering or tapping to give the viewer a sensation of brain tingling. This promotes relaxation and has attracted millions of followers on social networks.

Calmtainment doesn’t have to come in video or audio formats. Mindful Magazine’s August 2021 issue notes that LEGO has released an adult line described as “therapeutic, immersive and relaxing.” Other ideas include playing with Play-Doh, jigsaw puzzles and adult coloring books. You can turn nearly any play experience into Calmtainment if you slow it down, bring in Christian mindfulness and keep it quiet.

What kind of calmtainment do you enjoy?

Three Steps to Mindful Worship

My journey has taken me from liturgical music to contemporary Christian worship music. It took me a while to learn how to worship intentionally and mindfully while the band plays loudly. Here are three steps that will help you to practice Christian mindfulness as you participate in worship music.

  1. Sing to God, not about God. This is a similarity between liturgical music and contemporary Christian worship songs. But it’s different from some from mainline Protestant denominations. John Wimber, a musician who founded the Vineyard movement, and his wife, Carol, noticed that they experienced God deeply when they sang songs that personally addressed Jesus. Carol Wimber wrote, “Those types of songs both stirred and fed the hunger for God within me.”
  2. Worship with your body. During the pandemic, many of us have watched our services online, singing while we slouched in an armchair. Now we are back in church, standing and lifting our hands. The songs feel much more like worship. The Wimbers saw this, too. “Because the word worship means literally to bow down, it is important that our bodies are involved in what our spirits are saying. In Scripture, this is accomplished through bowing heads, lifting our hands, kneeling and even lying prostate before God.”
  3. Worship throughout the day. Worshipping can lift you up when you are doing something that normally brings you down. I realized that I was thinking very negatively when I was getting ready to go to work. So I started bringing worship music into the bathroom with me. Now I sing to God while I dress. It helps so much. Think about times of the day when you are feeling the worst and see if you can add worship music to the routine!

Do you have any suggestions of how to bring Christian mindfulness to your worship times? I’d love to hear them.

Cheer Up the Lonely!

As a retired public relations person, I have a special relationship with National Days. We kept calendars of them to link with events and social media posts. So I can’t believe I missed National Cheer-Up-the-Lonely Day on July 11.

Thus, I’m declaring this National Cheer-Up-the-Lonely Week. As the pandemic eases, it’s much easier to cheer up those who have spent too much time alone for the last 15 months or so. Think mindfully about who needs some attention and offer it.

The website, nationaldaycalendar.com, makes these suggestions for cheering folks up. The most obvious is to visit someone. Here are others:

  • Deliver a few spare magazines to an ailing friend.
  • Watch a movie with them and share some freshly popped popcorn.
  • Read a book out loud to your friend.
  • Set up a playlist with inspirational music.
  • Offer to go for a walk with them.
  • Mail a sweet or funny card.
  • Bake one of their favorite foods.
  • Call and visit on the phone.
  • Email funny jokes every day to remind them to laugh.
  • Play a board game.
  • Take someone on a drive.
  • Play 20 questions.
  • Watch funny YouTube videos together.
  • Make a prayer list of those who are isolated, and pray for them.

You Don’t Have to Be Strong

Getting through the pandemic has left many of us exhausted. Staying strong during the crisis … and falling apart afterwards … is a common pattern.

If you are struggling or pushing yourself just to keep the normal routine in place, it’s okay. You don’t have to be strong. Because God is. And He’s there for you.

Today, let’s try walking in Christian mindfulness step by step through the day. Let’s allow ourselves to rest in God as we face our daily routine. Remember: The Holy Spirit is our strength.

My sister gave me a perpetual calendar in 1994 that I’ve used ever since. Based on the work of Jan Silvous, its reading for June 23 is:

When our own strength is exhausted and we feel we can’t make it through another day, the Holy Spirit provides strength to go on. He will give us an extra measure of energy to do His will today.

Jan Silvious, “Meditations for the Busy Woman”

The best moments of Christian mindfulness come, not from our own strength and determination, but from God’s. Let God do His work for us today.

See the Suffering God

Yesterday’s Christian mindfulness exercise focused on noticing the suffering in our lives and all around us. We looked at everything from minor irritation to deep grief. This is life.

Today, while doing a spiritual exercise in “Emotionally Health Spirituality Day by Day” by Peter Scazzero, I heard an important concept. I confess I’ve never thought of this before.

Scazzero writes about how we want to follow Jesus, but not necessarily to Gethsemene. I’ve been struggling with decades-long unanswered prayers and the accompanying suffering lately. So I can relate to that. He says:

It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one can see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps this meant that no one can see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor.

Peter Scazzero, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day: A 40-Day Journey”

This is a good thought to meditate on after we have observed the suffering around us. We can ask for the courage to walk our path, no matter how crowded with thorns.

I am mid-way through Scazzero’s Day by Day book, which can function as a daily office and prayer book. It is a companion to his widely-respected “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” which we discussed here.

A Sword Through Your Soul Also

I admire the Virgin Mary for myriad reasons. But I relate to her for one that’s specific.

During the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the ancient Simeon recognized her baby as the promised Messiah. In talking with his parents, he looked at Mary and said: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35) As the Contemporary English version says, “Mary, you will suffer as if you had been stabbed by a dagger.”

The suffering of motherhood — particularly after giving birth to an unusual child — is where I relate.

Pope John Paul II wrote about the verse this way:

While this announcement on one hand confirms (Mary’s) faith in the accomplishment of the divine promises of salvation, on the other hand it also reveals to her that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Savior, and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.”

“Redemptoris Mater,” John Paul II

I attend a Vineyard church. There and in other Protestant traditions, I’ve seen many downplay Mary’s holiness and suffering in reaction to what they see as “Mary worship” in Catholic and Orthodox traditions. This is a mistake. There is no 100% human in the Bible to admire more than Mary.

Mary has been a mother to me when my soul is stabbed with pain over my own children. She understands how it feels. This is a place of comfort offered to all of us in parenting. It’s a good idea to grasp it. Trust me, she wants to help.

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Read Old Journals

A great Christian mindfulness exercise is to visit own past … and really look around. Reading old journals allows you to see yourself with some mindfulness and perspective.

If you are not journaling, I encourage you to start. Five or 10 minutes filling a blank page every day allows you to document your own condition. Link journal writing to another habit, such as doing it before breakfast or after a meditation practice. I prefer to handwrite my entries, using prompts to help. This can be as easy as starting a sentence with the words “Yesterday, I.”

Your journal can also become the home of answers to reflection questions in retreats or readings.

Those who have old journals can read them with an eye to seeing patterns. Do you complaint constantly? When are you joyful? When are you angry? Are you experiencing God’s peace on a regular basis? Can you see connections between events and your emotions, between people and your reactions? Do you think you want this to continue?

When you write, you can express yourself freely and truthfully. When you read it, approach your journal with prayer and curiosity. Ask God to show you something that you need to know about yourself: What do you need to start? What do you need to stop?

Proceed through it calmly and mindfully, giving yourself lots of grace. In the end, you may see some changes that you need to make.