Caring in the Present Tense

Mindfulness helped me learn that effective caring begins with paying attention to what’s happening now and letting the results emerge as byproducts of caring in the present tense. When caring veers into controlling, that’s when a dose of carefree ease can make all the difference. A smile of appreciation at whatever happens goes much further than a grimace of withering judgment and disappointment.

Founding Editor Barry Boyce, Mindful magazine, Spring 2021 issue

Christian mindfulness is about living in the presence of God in the present moment. Barry Boyce, who has written many wise things as the founding editor of Mindful magazine, reminds us that mindfulness requires staying in the now. As Christians, we add an additional piece of armor: prayer.

When we stay in the present and pray for God’s guidance, we can release all our guesses about what “should” happen.

“Should” is a toxic word. Thinking that events “shouldn’t be happening” keeps us stuck in frustration, anger and worry. Among the myriad thoughts of Jesus, the phrase “this shouldn’t be” does not exist.

Acceptance of what is and willingness to do the next right thing are the best steps toward peace of mind. This happens in the present moment.

Boyce also writes about caring becoming controlling. Or more accurately, attempts at controlling. The only thing any of us can control is ourselves. But boy, how we try to prove that wrong! In Christian mindfulness, our caring is attached to God’s will. We cannot always understand how things are going to work. If we do what we think God wants us to do, following the Scriptures and prayer, bringing our concerns to God with thanksgiving, He will keep us in His peace.

black woman surfing internet on smartphone in park

Put It to Music

Let music minister to your soul today. This Christian mindfulness practice brings joy and calm. Just pick Christian music that you like and let it serve you.

Putting Christian mindfulness to music can happen at least two ways: You can sit and listen … really listen … to the music. You also can add the music as a background to your routine activities, allowing it to elevate your spirit.

Holy music comes in many forms: classical, gospel, classic hymns, urban, jazz, contemplative, contemporary, country and more. No matter your taste, you can enjoy it.

How Christian Music Helps Us

  • Music teaches us about God. Hymns and contemporary Christian music actually instruct us about faith and God’s goodness. Some of my favorite pieces are Psalms or other Bible passages (such as “Revelation Song”) set to music.
  • Singing and playing instruments allow us to speak to God directly. Vineyard founders John and Carol Wimber said the church’s songs were sung to God, not about God. (More about that is found here.) We can express our love to God and worship of God through the music we create.
  • Music inspires us. The lyrics of Christian music talk about faith, love and hope. If you are having a difficult time, the music can lift your spirits to Heaven again.
  • Music puts us in community. Even listening to a CD or streaming a song opens a sense of community with the artists performing. Of course, the most wonderful forms is community singing, which many of us have missed during this pandemic year.
  • Music can improve our mental health. Research reported in the April 19, 2014, issue of the The Gerontologist found that older Christians who listened to religious music had decreased anxiety about death and increases in life satisfaction, self-esteem and a sense of control over their own lives. The association was constant for Blacks and whites, women and men, and individuals of lower and higher socioeconomic status.

So enjoy some Christian music today. You may feel the Spirit moving at your house!

A Mindful End to the Work Day

Working from home has blurred the lines between work and home even further. This Christian mindfulness exercise can help us end our paid or volunteer work, moving into a relaxing time.

  1. Go to a place where you can be alone for five to 10 minutes.
  2. Pay attention to your breathing for three to five breaths. Breathe as deeply as you can.
  3. Thank God for your job and your day. Ask God to be with you as you transition from the work day.
  4. Check in with your mind. Are you having racing thoughts or anxious feelings?
  5. Do a quick body scan. Are you tense in certain spots? Can you breathe and consciously try to relax those spots?
  6. Stand up and move your body. Move your arms at the speed you are feeling inside. Then deliberately slow down those movements.
  7. As you are slowing down, think of three things to be grateful for about the work day you just finished.
  8. Breathe deeply and ask for the presence of God as you go into the rest of your day.

Resource: IMAGINE YouTube Channel

IMAGINE is a YouTube channel offering guided Christian meditation sessions. Each week, on alternate Wednesdays, a group meets on Zoom for a time of scripture, images and prayer. Then the recorded meeting is placed on the YouTube channel here.

A link to the live Zoom is in the About section of the YouTube channel. It’s 8 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time. The schedule for March 2021 is March 3, March 17 and March 31. There’s also a link on pathwaystogod.org. It’s just as good to watch the session on YouTube when you can.

screenshot of Imagine YouTube channel

Pathways to God from the United Kingdom runs the IMAGINE sessions. It’s affiliated with Jesuits in Britain, which also is connected to the great app Pray as You Go. I’ve added the YouTube channel to my times with Jesus. I hope you will find it useful as well.

You can find information about Pray as You Go and other resources for Christian mindfulness here.

close up photography of hands and feet

Thank God for Feet

This Christian mindfulness exercise comes from the tradition of walking meditation. I’m only walking around the house to avoid walking in snow. Walking very slowly, step by step, would attract some attention from the family, probably including the cats. Instead, I’ll thank God for feet.

During this exercise, recall your attention to the bottoms of your feet at various points during the day. If your feet are functioning well, praise God for that. (I spent four months in a wheelchair recovering from a shattered ankle. So I know how much being able to walk means to me.)

Mindfully focus on the sensations on the soles of your feet. Do you feel warmth? Cold? Tingling? Do you feel the sturdiness of the floor beneath you?

Some in the mindfulness community believe that focusing on the bottoms of your feet makes you feel more grounded and protects you from anxious feelings. I’m not sure that works for me. But it is helpful to recall how God made us and to thank Him for our feet.

Questions to Ponder in Early Lent

No sin is private, hurting no one but ourselves.

“Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton,” edited by Jonathan Montaldo and Robert G. Toth

I’m using “Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton: Lent and Holy Week as a devotional this Lent. The section regarding the week of Ash Wednesday, which ends today, invokes some deep thought.

The concept that “No sin only hurts us” struck me as I read it. I tend to think that I keep the shiny side up around other people. Life at home is a looser interpretation of the Gospel commands. So I am pondering that quote today.

The Ash Wednesday section asks some good questions about our faith journey that I also wanted to share:

  • How has your personal understanding of Lent, sin and conversion changed as you have matured in your spiritual life?
  • What hoped-for change in your mind and heart do you pray for this Lent?
  • In what ways have you, by grace and your own inner work, grown beyond your former way of life?

The nice thing about growing is there’s always more to do. These questions make good prompts for meditating and journaling. We can go before the Lord in contemplation to ask what His answers for us would be.

Bridges to Contemplative Living is a series from the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living, which closed in 2012. Ave Maria Press still publishes the books.

Make a Friendship Resolution

The pandemic slugs on, giving us a time to think about how we will do things differently once it’s over. Lent is a wonderful time to prayerfully consider resolutions about friendship. Of course, we know full well that the only person we can control, with God’s grace, is ourselves.

I can across two friendship resolutions that I made a couple of years ago. They still feel fresh to me. So I’m going to bring them top-of-mind as things open us.

No. 1: I will begin looking for the persons of peace in activities and groups. I will cultivate a deeper, ongoing relationship with these individuals.

No. 2: In all relationships, I will treat the other as someone to be known and loved rather than someone to try to fix or change.

It will be interesting to see how a year of online conversations and physical separateness will change our relationships. I know I’m going to have to overcome what I call “introvert inertia.” I’d rather stay home and deal with folks online. I will have to push myself to be “in person” again.

How weird this all is came home when I walked up to a pastor that I’ve chatted with regularly online. I had my mask on, as did he. I said something to him and hurried off. It was only then that I realized that he had no idea who I was. We had never met in person before. I look a lot taller on Zoom.

I think these resolutions … building relationships with persons of peace, treating each person as someone to be known and loved … will serve me well online as well as off. They will only happen if I stay open to God’s grace and support.

Take It Seriously

Lent begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. Today is Fat Tuesday, the day to party and indulge before the great Lenten fast. Except most people keep indulging and few fast.

This pandemic Lent is an opportunity to renew our faith. Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter with Sundays off, began as a period for converts to prepare themselves for baptism on Easter Vigil (the night before Easter). The church modeled the period on Jesus’ 40 days and nights in the wilderness preparing to start his ministry.

When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its state religion in fourth century, new Christians who knew little about the faith overwhelmed the church. Many were Christians in name only and continued to practice their pagan religion.

As a result, the church made fasting and renunciation a part of Lent for everyone. The church invited its members to commit or re-commit more deeply to the faith. This also was a strategy to keep the church separate from the pagan culture around it.

Some cultural separation is a good idea for the American church today. Start by participating in a Lenten lifestyle assessment. Here are a few questions to ponder on this Fat Tuesday:

  • How can you make your daily Scripture reading and prayer more meaningful?
  • Can you find an online course or retreat to deepen your practice or your knowledge?
  • What Christian books and biographies have you been meaning to read?
  • What are the places in your life where you routinely exclude the presence of God?
  • What does God want you to give up in your daily life? (Look at use of food, social media, drinking, etc.)

Start preparing today for a Lent that deepens your experience of Christian mindfulness.

Take Ten

One of the essential of Christian mindfulness is meditation. If you are not sitting in silence before the Lord every day already. let’s try at least ten minutes a day. If you spend your time in a house filled with people, it’s even more imperative for you to have some silent time alone with God.

Christian mindfulness meditation can take several forms, including silent contemplative prayer and meditating on Scripture. You want to be open to God, loving Him and listening to Him.

Find a place where you are unlikely to be disturbed. I’ve heard of parents meditating in children’s rooms after they have gone to sleep. People meditate in cars and in bed. I do my meditation two places: in my bedroom and in our great room, which has prayer candles to light on the fireplace mantle. My cat Bert attends my meditation at times because he loves it and inevitably finds me when I am doing it. He just sits quietly.

Set a timer. I use the Insight Timer app on my phone. That way you don’t have to keep looking at a clock.

I also start my meditation, particularly in the morning, with a short reading from the 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher series. Others start by following their breathing. You can say the Jesus prayer or another short prayer like “Come Holy Spirit” to center down. Some I know slowly recite Scripture from memory. Just stay in the moment with God.

It’s just 10 minutes, but it can change your day and eventually your life.

World Day of the Sick 2021

Today is World Day of the Sick, a time to lift up those who are ill in prayer. And to think about our own legacies within the coronavirus era.

If we cannot go to help those who are sick, are we calling? Are we sending cards? Are we praying?

Are we doing our parts to stop the spread of the virus? Are we masked up? Are we working to protect our families by social distancing?

Let’s also lift up the doctors, nurses and caregivers we know, so many of them exhausted by nearly a year of emergency service. What can each of us do to make things easier?

Today’s prayer for World Day of the Sick reads:

Illness lays bare our human vulnerabilities, which is the exact place God meets us.  Let us pray for God's healing presence in all the world's ailments.
For the sick and those impacted by coronavirus,
For those who share in the sufferings of the sick,
For those bound by injustice,
For our fragile environment,
For our own hardheartedness,
God of wholeness and hope, heal your people.
Amen.