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.

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.

Resource: “The Cloister Walk”

“The Cloister Walk” by Kathleen Norris is one of the most significant books about contemplative Christianity in recent decades. Published in May 1996, the book is a series of essays about Norris’ explorations of the monastic life. She helps us see the cloistered world of nuns and monks from her own distinct viewpoint.

Norris approaches this world as a married Protestant who can struggle over her faith. Her previous life experiences were varied, from growing up in Hawaii to hanging out with the Warhol folks in New York City. She also has received the Guggenheim “genius” grant.

Kathleen Norris

After she and her husband (both poets) moved to her grandmother’s home in rural South Dakota, she began to be drawn to the contemplative monastic world. She became a Benedictine oblate (or associate) of the Assumption Abbey in North Dakota in 1986.

“The Cloister Walk” functions as a unique record of her experiences and observations, especially when she was in residence twice at the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. The book has poems, short essays and stories of saints.

The cover blurb from the Boston Globe called “The Cloister Walk” a “strange and beautiful book. … If read with humility and attention, Kathleen Norris’ book becomes lectio divina or holy reading.”

I took this literally, reading one essay a day. It took months to finish the book. This may not have been the best reading strategy, as I did not enjoy the book as much as I expected. But many others have.

The book spent 23 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was a Time notable book of the year. On Goodreads, the book has a 4 out of 5 rating from 9,031 readers.