Use Your Fork. Your Mind Will Follow.

Mindful eating can be an impactful element of Christian mindfulness. When we stay present and grateful to God’s presence, the experience of wolfing down a meal changes. Better health and a deeper understanding of God’s role in “our daily bread” can result.

Some new ideas for building the mindful eating practice were in a recent article in Good Housekeeping by Stefani Sassos, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. Her article suggests combining intuitive eating, which rejects prescribed diets and helps people come to peace about food, with mindful eating, which requires staying present during the meal.

Sassos’ tips start with a body scan to see how hungry you actually are. Then she suggests eating without distraction … no screens, phones on mute and off the table.

Her third tip centers on gratitude. This is where we can give thanks to God for the food and the circumstances in which you are eating. Bless all those involved in the creation of your food, from the fields to the plants to the kitchen. If you’re the cook, thank God for your arms and hands, for your ability to read or create a recipe, and for the ingredients you found.

Then you eat. Your fork can be your best friend in eating mindfully. Pick it up to give yourself a bite, and then put it down. Eat the bite completely, paying attention to the flavors and the textures. Praise God and the cook for creativity. Then pick up the fork again. If you concentrate on putting your fork down after every bite, staying present with your food is much easier. You can find more on my approach to mindful Christian eating here.

Sassos also has some wise words about practicing mindful eating when children are adding joy and chaos to the meal. Just pick one thing, such as one bite at a time, to do. The kitchen table is also a wonderful place to inspire the rest of the family by saying grace that thanks all involved in the food, including God. The prayers can lead to real conversations about food production that kids will remember for years.

closeup photo of brown and black dog face

How to Bless Your Pets

Blessing pets is part of October 4’s usual celebration of St. Francis of Assisi. You can do it at home wherever you can bring the pets together. Here is the Blessing of the Animals:

Leader: Wonderful are all God’s works. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

All: Now and forever.

Leader: The animals of God’s creation inhabit the skies, the earth and the sea. They share in the ways of human beings. They are part of our lives. Francis of Assist recognized this when he called the animals, wild and tame, his brothers and sisters. Remembering Francis’ love for these brothers and sisters of ours, we invoke God’s blessing on these animals, and we thank God for letting us share the earth with all creatures.

All: Have a time of silence, and then offer specific prayers for the pets and for all creatures. Then all say the Lord’s Prayer.

All: Place hands on the animals in blessing.

Leader: O God, you have done all things wisely. In your goodness you have made us in your image and given us care over other living things. In the prayer of Albert Schweitzer, O Heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath. Guard them for all evil, and let them sleep in peace. Amen

Autumn: It’s Nuts. And Holy.

Christian mindfulness practices are beautiful in the autumn. If we concentrate on our neighborhoods and local parks, we can all enjoy God’s majesty and creativity in the fall.

Here are some ideas:

  • Pick a tree in the neighborhood that changes color. Visit it every day to watch the subtle changes. I’ve always loved that the autumn hues are always present in the leaves. They are green only because they are full of chlorophyll.
  • Take your devotions outdoors. Bring a spiritual book to a park to read. Pray under the prettiest tree.
  • Go nutting. Find true nuts like acorns and hazelnuts. (Believe it or not, almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews aren’t true nuts, which are hard-shelled, one-seeded fruits of the tree.) You can use the nuts in decorating. Or go nuts and roast them. (Acorns are pretty bitter, but edible.)
  • Go for a gratitude walk to thank the Lord for all the natural beauty you see, one thing at a time.
  • Watch the squirrels getting ready for winter. Do you know the Lord has blessed them with the ability to remember where they stored their food?
  • Eat outdoors as often as possible. Even better, take Jesus on a picnic.

Autumn is a time when the beauty, creativity and wisdom of the Lord is visible throughout the landscape. Be sure to enjoy it.

Make a Morning Playlist

The British magazine “Oh!” had an excellent idea in its latest issue: Make a morning playlist.

In Pandemic Year Two, many of us are trying hard to get back into the swing of life. Yet life does not seem to cooperate. “I thought this would be over by now” is the national mood.

So why not start by picking 10 songs that always lift your spirits. Put them in a playlist on Spotify or any other method you have. And use them to combat gray mornings.

For example, I find that I can work myself into a giant funk while getting dressed for the day. So I started listening and singing alone to uplifting praise music. It helps.

You can find some other ideas for your own list from these Spotify playlists:

Have fun! Let me know what your favorite songs are.

No More Mean Mondays

You are not imagining it. People are meaner on Mondays.

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that people display less civility and kindness on Mondays than they do the rest of the week. But the study does contain some good news for those of us who practice any form of mindfulness.

Mindfulness stabilizes this situation. People who practice it are able to maintain a stable level of kindness and courteous behavior across the week.

This is no surprise to me. My form of mindfulness … Christian mindfulness … gives you a solid foundation and handrails to walk across difficult days. It’s a stabilizing force for the kind of inner peace that only comes through a relationship with Jesus.

Staying in the present moment in the presence of God brings a continual source of strength. You learn, as many do, that the only thing you can control is yourself. Christian mindfulness actually gives you the graces necessary to be able to do that in a kind way on a fairly consistent basis.

Determination and Fear: The Legacy of 9/11

It’s the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. I remember that day:

  • Sitting in my office at my computer when a colleague named Jeff LaRue poked his head in my office and said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
  • Realizing this was not a small plane crash.
  • Interrupting my CEO in a client meeting in the conference room to say that planes had crashed into both towers and the Pentagon. “Could we turn on the TV here?” The client was annoyed at my interruption.
  • Listening to the church bell, located across the street from our office tower, begin to toll. It continued to toll all day. The last time that happened was Pearl Harbor.
  • Watching the first tower collapse from the same viewpoint where I last saw the towers two weeks before.
  • Heading home to be with my high school student, calling my other child in a college dorm room, and contacting my husband who was on the road.
  • Working on a proposal while watching the television in my living room.
  • Finding out that my husband didn’t realize the extent of the situation until he got to a hotel and watching it on television.
  • Looking at the sky which now contained no airplanes.
  • Waking up the next morning to wonder what would happen that day.

The United States was probably at its best that week. We were determined in the face of fear. Many bad decisions later, we aren’t at our best. But we know that Christians can always be determined in the face of fear. Our side has already won.

The Sept. 11 reading of Sarah Young’s wonderful devotional “Jesus Always” points out that the world has always been at war. Yet we do not have to be afraid. Jesus has achieved the victory that allows us to have a hope and a future. But we are still not alone in the world. The dark side is still setting off explosions as it moves in defeat. So we are cautioned to have self-control and be alert.

Is it possible to be alert without feeling all-consuming fear? Yes. But we must be determined and ask for grace to achieve that state. Paul of Tarsus tells us that we are at our best when we recognize that we are weak and allow God to move through us.

So what does determination look like when we know that we are weak? Here are seven indicators:

  1. We expect God to help when we are doing His will.
  2. We believe in the importance of our role in the kingdom of God.
  3. We focus our attention on the work we are doing.
  4. We listen to God’s word and seek his will for next steps.
  5. We avoid distraction.
  6. We ask for help when we need it.
  7. We keep going even when things get difficult.

None of us alive on 9/11 predicted the next 20 years. But God did know what would happen. Walking with Him in Christian mindfulness may help us to make the next 20 more successful for the kingdom.

Observe Water

Praised be You, my Lord,
through Sister Water
who is so useful,
humble,
precious,
and pure. 
Francis of Assisi, "The Canticle of the Creatures"

It’s essential to keeping us alive. So today let’s pay specific attention to water.

Observe water all around you … in nature and in your home, in your body and in your life. Those of us with clean running water are lucky people, and we need to give thanks.

According to World Vision.org, 785 million people around the world don’t have access to basic drinking water. Many drink impure water out of necessity. This leads to disease. Dirty water and sanitation issues cause more than 800 children under age 5 per day (297,000 per year) to die from diarrhea.

We can focus on water as a Christian mindfulness exercise multiple ways.

First, we can pray for clean water for everyone. World Vision is among the organizations in the world working to end the lack of clean water by 2030. This issue has become more urgent, if that is possible, because of the need for hand washing in the pandemic.

We can support this effort financially and in prayer. This is one prayer for that:

Loving God, we ask for Your blessings on children, mothers, fathers, and communities who are thirsty. Purify, protect, and multiply their water sources. Strengthen their resolve so they may fully enjoy the benefits of clean water — essentials like education, gardens of fresh produce, and good health.

We also can pray for the global will to ensure everyone has safe drinking water. At the same time, we can pray for the women and children who walk long distances to carry water. This has been women’s work since Biblical times.

In fact, a Samaritan woman who came to get water from a well had a memorable encounter with Jesus. He told her:  “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water,” (John 4:10). While we pray for the gift of clean water for all, let us also ask for Living Water for ourselves and the rest of the world. Here’s another prayer from World Vision:

We are grateful to You, Lord, for being our Source of living water — the One who satisfies our soul’s deepest desire with the joy of salvation. Open people’s eyes to recognize You as the only Source of living water for their parched souls. Let them be refreshed in Your love when they enjoy clean water to drink.

Another Christian mindfulness exercise is to be deliberate in giving thanks for our own clean water for a day. Each time you drink, hold the glass in front of you, and spend 10 seconds looking at it. Understand all the work and effort … and think of all the people … involved in getting the water to you. Then thank God for your drink. Or your shower or bath or laundry water.

For an even more thought-provoking exercise, take the Matthew 25 challenge from World Vision. Here’s how.

Observing water can provide us with many lessons. One unit of water can easily change from liquid to solid to gas, reflecting the impermanence of life. Water can show us how to flow through changing circumstances. And water can show its power, just when you think that people have conquered it. “Respect the river” is a motto in my boating life.

I hope you can take time to observe water this week. Let me know what you see.

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.