Notice the Difference

Today’s exercise in Christian mindfulness involves paying attention. (As all these exercises do.) You’ll be paying attention to two things: something in nature and something in yourself.

Pick something in nature that you can see out your window: trees, bushes, the sky or the grass. For a few days, notice this handiwork of God. How are the trees in your view different? How do they change from day to day? Notice color, texture, shape and form. God is at work in them.

Then, think about yourself. You have survived nearly 10 months of a pandemic. How are you different? What new strengths have you discovered in yourself? What has surprised you about your reaction? How are your family relationships? Your connections to others outside the family? How can you be more of a force for good where you are?

The pandemic has changed us all. God is at work in nature. Like the trees and the sky, we, too, are changing and responding to God’s prompting. Take a look and see how the pandemic has shaped you.

senor ethnic woman reading fairy tale to cute grandchildren on bed

Peace 101 Starts With You

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Those words were the first lyrics of a song I learned in Girl Scouts in the 1960s.

The words are true. As the peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in “Being Peace”:

If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”

In Christian mindfulness, this peace comes from walking step by step in the present in the presence of Jesus. It is a peace that passes understanding. A peace that overcomes fear and worry. A peace that reflects the light of God into the darkness.

During this pandemic Advent, when many of us are at home with our immediate families all the time, doing this kind of peace work is essential. We create the mood in our homes. Even one person who is at peace and happy can make a huge difference to the family atmosphere.

In Zoom meetings with Christian friends, I often hear concern about important work for God that the quarantine has delayed. I contend that the quarantine gives us at least two wonderful opportunities: the chance to spend more time with God and to show more love to our nearest and dearest.

Let us enjoy this time. It won’t last forever.

As the song says: “Let peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now. With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow: To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally. Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

Try It: Light in the Darkness

This Christian mindfulness practice is ready-made for a pandemic Advent.

  • Sit quietly, breathing deeply, for a few minutes.
  • Think about the particular darkness you feel around yourself today. The impact of the pandemic in your life. Losses and illnesses. Financial concerns. Not being able to see people you love. Work overload. Fears for your country, your city, your favorite shops and restaurants. Emotional trauma.
  • How do you feel about this? Untangle the emotions. If you feel primarily feel scared, what else is there? Anger, disappointment, fear. Sit for a few moments and see what emotions you have.
  • Then visualize a great light shining into the darkness. Think of Isaiah 9:2: “The people who live in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”
  • Offer up your emotions. Feel the love of God in the light as He steps into your personal world to bring redemption, peace and joy. In the end, evil will be vanished. Including all the evil you see in your world.
  • Rest in this redemption, peace and joy. Make this exercise bring the presence of Jesus to you today.

Welcome Advent!

Advent, the season of waiting, is just the spiritual nudge we need in a pandemic year. We are waiting for the vaccine as we wait for the Christ child.

Many families got a big head start on Christmas this year. Even if your tree has been up for weeks, you can still enjoy Advent. Bringing the spirit of Christian mindfulness into the four weeks preceding Christmas opens us up to allow God to heal our weary hearts.

We begin the season by putting up the Advent wreath and putting out the empty creche. We will fill it week by week. We also begin to read our Advent devotionals. More about those are here.

This year we need silent contemplation just as much as Christmas cheer. Celebrate the quiet season intentionally, and you will find much peace in a pandemic year.

Do Your Advent Prep

The first Sunday of Advent is seven days away. If you are still having issues with order delivery, as I am, be sure to get your supplies, books and ideas ready for the year.

Having a mindful Christian Advent is a time of joy and wonder, sorely needed this year. It’s a quiet time spent intentionally concentrating on the miracle of Jesus’ birth, rather than commercial Christmas. This kind of Advent is sure to chase pandemic fears away so we can feel at peace.

two books for Advent

Some ideas for Advent prep include:

  • Get or make Advent candles. (We are doing beeswax candles from a kit this year. You can find the kit here.)
  • Purchase an Advent calendar or stock up one if you have a reusable model.
  • Get the Advent wreath out of storage … or buy one.
  • Order a new Advent devotional or order new ones. This year I’m using two favorites: “Preparing for Christmas” by Richard Rohr and “Living in Joyful Hope” by Suzanne M. Lewis.
  • Get out your Christmas music.
  • Organize children’s Christmas books.
  • Pick the name of a saint or devout Christian. You can study their life during the season.

An Advent Wilderness Experience

My Advent has not been easy. My mother has severe dementia. I’m unexpectedly estranged from a beloved family member. Far too many of those I know dealing with a mental illness have had an episode. And my husband and I are ending an era as his retirement is just two workdays away.

My Advent has been deep. I’ve spent time in a silent retreat house and hours praying through Advent meditation programs. I have the time now to do what I wished: celebrating Advent as a time of waiting for the Lord.

I have had a common Christian experience: the wilderness experience. I didn’t recognize it for a while … so common is catastrophe in my life. But the Lord does allow wilderness experiences. And he even put Jesus through one. The wilderness, we are told, is the best place to help people learn faith and endurance. It is one way to move to the next level.

I see the next level approaching even as the Advent candles are burning down. It is to spend more time listening and following God. And less time charging ahead and begging for God’s help in the aftermath. God may keep me in the wilderness until this lesson is learned. But I know I will not be tested more than I can bear. Whatever happens, it is for the best for those who love the Lord. And I am one of them.

Emmanuel: God With Us in Our Broken World

This holy season trumpets God’s extravagant love for us, a love beyond reckoning. Into our beautiful yet wounded world comes Emmanuel, God-with-us, carrying the promise of fresh hope to enliven our hearts. No matter how broken or seemingly hopeless our world may sometimes seem, the Advent messages are rich with joyous expectation and longing, insisting that God can and does bring forth life where none seems possible.

Pope Francis

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we add the angel to the creche, watching for Joseph and Mary to arrive. Staying out of the stores, listening to meditations, and taking winter walks, it’s amazing how quiet the world becomes.

Listen to Your Words

Today’s Christian mindfulness practice is to listen to your own words. An easy first step is to listen for verbal tics, like “ummm” or “you know.” You can also listen for the number of times that you routinely misuse God’s name. I know I still do. This is a great step toward true intentionality around the words we speak.

As Ruth Haley Barton says, “Growing self-awareness enables us to choose more truly the words we say. Rather than speech that issues from subconscious needs to impress, to put others in their places, to compete, to control and manipulate, we now notice our inner dynamics and choose to speak from a different place, a place of love, trust and true wisdom that God is cultivating within us.”

As we listen to ourselves, we may be able to slow down the auto-talk process to have enough time to ask before we speak:

  • Is it kind?
  • Is it true?
  • Is it necessary?

Staying Centered on Frantic Days

Some wise counsel from Henri J.M. Nouwen in Here and Now:

One simple answer is to move from the mind to the heart by slowly saying a prayer with as much attentiveness as possible. A prayer, prayed from the heart, heals.

As you lie in bed, drive your car, wait for the bus, or walk your dog, you can slowly let the words of one of these prayers go through your mind simply trying to listen with your whole being to what they are saying.

You will be constantly distracted by your worries, but if you keep going back to the words of the prayer, you will gradually discover that your worries will become less obsessive and that you really start to enjoy praying.

He’s Depending on Us

By His own will, Christ was dependent on Mary during Advent. He was absolutely helpless. He could go nowhere but where she chose to take Him. He could not speak. Her breathing was His breath. His heart beat in the beating of her her.

Today Christ is dependent on us. This dependence of Christ lays a great trust upon us. During this tender time of Advent, we must carry Him in our hearts to wherever He wants to go, and there are many places to which He may never go unless we take Him.

Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God