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.

Create Your Own Childhood Summer

The happiness expert Gretchen Rubin has a great idea to “design your summer” by planning to add enjoyable activities to your schedule. While you are planning, be sure to re-create activities from your own childhood summers.

In elementary school, summers were wonderful and endless. I would create a tent out of a old blanket hanging off the backyard fence and use another old blanket for a floor. There I would spend hours outside (yet inside the tent) reading books from the library.

Mother, who was a housewife, carted us to the pool when she could get the car from Dad. Otherwise we had a baby pool to roll in when we got hot, sprinklers to jump through and a garden hose to drink from when we were thirsty. We played school and other games in neighborhood basements.

Box fans tried to cool the hot house. No one in the neighborhood had air conditioning. So we often sat outside and watched the lightning bugs. Or we’d pack up snacks to go to a drive-in movie.

In junior high, my sister and I rode our bikes uptown to the bakery for doughnuts and then to the library. The pool was a constant, and we enjoyed heading there on hot days from our non-air conditioned house.

Fast forward a number of decades. The community pool is down the street, and I haven’t been in years.

This summer join me by making sure you add at least one activity to your summer routine that reminds you of childhood.  I’m going to read outdoors. I’ll be on a comfortable outdoor sofa instead of a tent. But that’s okay.

When we’re enjoying that activity, let’s praise God for our good memories of summer.

No Complaints for 24 Hours

The best way I’ve found to monitor my own ungrateful heart is to have a complaint-free day. I’ve put a rubber band or an easy-to-remove bracelet on my arm. Then, when I do get ready to complain, I move it from arm to arm.

This points out the problem. Gratitude is the solution. Whenever we are ready to complain or grumble, we need to follow the suggestion/command in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Gratitude is also the answer when we are prepared to be proud or boastful about ourselves. It’s not us, after all. God has given us the gifts we have, and He has provided graces to make things possible for us to do.

So try a complaint-free day. Change the band on your arm when you feel you want to complaint and consciously move to gratitude. You may find that it feels so good that you can stretch it into a complaint-free week or more.

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After a Year of Missing Communion

Today is Corpus Christi, the traditional celebration of the Body and Blood of Jesus. During the pandemic year, I missed communion so much. And I know I was not alone.

We bought matzohs and concord grape juice to have communion with our online church. But it just wasn’t the same, was it? It felt wonderful when we were able to join a congregration again to sing worship songs and take communion.

Many people celebrate Corpus Christi by taking a prayer book to the woods and communing with Jesus there. It’s rainy here, so we are inside. But we still can say a prayer to let the Lord know how much we appreciate his sacrifice to save us.

Here’s a prayer from the “People’s Prayer Book” that I appreciate today:

Lord Jesus Christ, we worship you living among us in the sacrament of your body and blood. May we offer to our Father in heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love. May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of the kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

What Do You Want?

This Christian mindfulness exercise allows us to monitor our wants and desires during a calendar day. It’s a self-awareness tool that can help to see just what we cling to, what we “have to have.”

Set up an hourly timer and make a list of the hours when you are usually awake. Start in the morning if you can. Then when the timer rings or buzzes, write down what you want.

It could be coffee, more sleep, a chocolate bar, a nap, a hug or something else. Looking at the patterns may help you spot things that you cling to when stressed. Are you running to the Lord or to the refrigerator first?

Try the exercise to see what it is you want. Then you can decide if that’s OK with you.

Celebrate Pentecost

Jesus told us that we would encounter plenty of false teachers in this world. How to detect them? It’s simple. You will know them by their fruit.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit is an excellent measuring stick to determine if someone (even ourselves) is a true witness of God. They are:

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-control

The American Christian church is going through a lot of tumult and soul searching these days. Measuring the tone and content of these various voices against the fruits of the Holy Spirit provides insight into who is speaking best on God’s behalf.

I am so grateful for the Holy Spirit’s appearance in my life. Indeed, Jesus predicted just how incredibly important the Spirit would be to his disciples.

Prayers for Pentecost

Today, let’s celebrate Pentecost by meditating on these prayers:

Prayer for Pentecost in the Pandemic (from America Magazine)

Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Spirit of God, come with your peace, your power, your light. Come with forgiveness, courage and hope. Come, Spirit of God, unite us with the risen Jesus. Turn us again to the Father of Jesus.
Together they pour You daily into our hearts. Come now to our suffering world, sick with a killing virus
and everywhere threatened with silent death, but most cruelly among your poorest children.

Prayer for Life-Changing Power (from connectusfund.org)

Breath of Life, on this Pentecost Sunday, we ask that You breathe on us once again. Make our consciences tender to Your touch. We hunger for the life-changing power that Your Holy Spirit brings. May our lives exemplify the fruit of Your Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. May we use the gifts of the Spirit that You have distributed to bless the church and build Your Kingdom on earth. Amen.

Prayer to Walk as Children of the Light

Joy of Heaven, we are so blessed that You came to dwell in each of us on Pentecost, when Your church was born. Surely, through Your Spirit, we have died to sin and are alive to holiness. May we serve You faithfully, in praise, prayer, and loving service to others, as we are changed from glory to glory. May we walk as children of the light, in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. Amen.

Do You Want to be Holy?

As we prepare for Pentecost, we are meditating on holiness, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Do we even want to be holy?

Ironically, holiness, or piety as it’s called in some lists, has a bad reputation in our times. It’s seen as false, self-righteous, judgmental, rigid, unhappy and even mean.

But there’s a big difference between being holy and being holier-than-thou. True holiness is all about love. That’s not a surprise. Because God is all about love, too. Yet so many people have the impression that the Christian God is about hate speech and condemnation. Not true. Although it is true about some of His followers.

The gift of holiness inspires us to love people, not just certain people. It’s OK to be saddened about sin, but never to turn against the person who is involved in it. After all, that would mean turning against everyone, including ourselves. No matter how much of the gift of holiness we receive, we are going to be sinners as long as we are on this Earth.

The concept of seeking holiness first impressed me when I heard a statement about marriage. The pastor asked, “What if marriage is meant to make you holy, not just happy?” That statement is also true about life.

We can take each event … good, bad and very bad … in our lives as an opportunity to grow, to become more of a light in this world. When we look back, we might see how that has worked in previous situations/disasters in our lives.

Today let’s meditate on the gift of holiness. Perhaps we will find that we want it after all.

the word know

Meditate on Knowledge

The Holy Spirit’s gift of knowledge is interesting because it allows us to see things as they are in this world. This reveals that all that glitters is not gold.

As we prepare for Pentecost, we are meditating on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Nearly everyone needs a greater awareness of this Presence that is with us 24/7, yet does not intrude unless invited.

The gift of knowledge is used in tandem with the gifts of wisdom and understanding. Yet it is different because it allows us to see our lives … in all their chaos and circumstances … the way that God seems them, at least partially.

Using this gift, we can better determine God’s purpose for our lives. Then we can proceed to live out that purpose.

The gift of knowledge is often associated with people who are gifted teachers. That’s because it helps us understand our faith’s principles more fully. This can inspire us to lead a life that is full of God’s light and love. And this knowledge continues to expand throughout our lives as we seek the Holy Spirit’s presence.

I do that through Christian mindfulness: living in the present moment in the presence of God.

Ask for the gift of knowledge as we prepare for Pentecost. It could open the door to a better life for you and those around you.