What You Are Doing Right

Today’s Christian mindfulness practice is about taking a deep look at what we are doing right. We all know we are not doing alone. God’s grace and presence accompanies us as we do our work.

Notice the good you are doing. What roles are you playing in creating a force for good? Raising children? Being a loving partner? Serving a good cause and/or a good church? Bringing a godly perspective to a business? Think about all the places where you contribute.

Be mindful about how those roles unfold today. Stay in the present moment and notice the things you do that support these goals. Look for the good.

Praise God for his grace and support. Each time you find yourself doing a good work, no matter how small, praise God for his presence in that act.

This Christian mindfulness practice can build optimism and awareness of God’s work in your life. He is good, and you are doing good with Him. Celebrate that today.

crop man with hands under transparent water

Three Vows for Ordinary People

Ready to get your hands dirty? Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) had an idea for everyday folks who are drawn to Christian mindfulness and contemplative living. It’s in Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton: Lent and Holy Week. Schmemann suggested a way of monasticism for laypeople living a typical American life in cul-de-sacs, apartments and offices.

We would not not take vows of celibacy and poverty. But he suggested that we could take these three vows:

A rule of prayer: Keeping a well-defined spiritual discipline of prayer and reflection maintains personal contact with God through the day. We would maintain specific times of prayer and study that aligned with our work and family schedules.

Obedience: This vow fights not our tempers, but our individualism. This is a practical obedience to small things from traffic laws to chores. We do what is legal and right even if we don’t feel like it.

Acceptance: Schmemann wrote that people want to do anything for God, except what God wants them to do. Instead of continually searching for a better place and a better people to serve, we would understand that God has put us here and now … in this cul-de-sac, this church, this job and this family. Just as many monks take a vow of stability, meaning that they do not leave their monasteries for “better” monasteries, we look around where we are and we serve.

What vows would you consider taking this Lent?

Jesus Is at Your House

The church is not a building. It is people.

Many of our churches have reminded us of this during the pandemic. Lots of us have been going to church online … trying to stay holy (and awake) from the couch. And many have found the circle of people that we interact with daily drawing down to a literally precious few.

My Lenten devotional “Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton” notes: “Every family of us is a little church. The tasks of service in front of our noses are God’s will for us; they are our part in building up the family of humankind.”

The editors of this devotional, Jonathan Montaldo and Robert G. Toth, got me thinking with these ideas. They wrote: “Christ is most intimate to us when we recognize Christ in those we live most intimately every day, in those with whom every day we share the sacrament of time.”

I’ve been asking the Lord to help me see more of Christ in the homeless and the poor. I’ve never asked to see more of him in my housemates and colleagues before. Yet this presents so many opportunities as we cook the 5,000th dinner at home and stay on endless Zoom calls with colleagues.

Our intercessory prayers for these everyday people — family, friends, co-workers, customers — help “weave the web of the Church into deeper communion — a unity the early Church called koinonia — until the Lord comes,” Montaldo and Toth write.

We are billboards for God. Or even handwritten notes for God stuck on the refrigerator with a magnet. Let us empty ourselves to allow the presence of God to permeate our homes. For now more than ever, our homes are churches.

Thomas Merton: Stay Empty

It is the Holy Ghost that will transform me, sanctify me ...
My own natural powers are helpless. I can do nothing about it. ...
If I wait upon the Holy Ghost with desire, this great gift Who is God will be given to me. And it is like a kind of awakening,
a sort of intimation of all that may happen the day after tomorrow -- 
what tremendous possibilities!
Meanwhile I will do everything I can to remain empty.
My only desire is to give myself completely to the action of this infinite love
Who is God, Who demands to transform me into Himself secretly, darkly,
in simplicity, in a way that has no drama about it and is infinitely
beyond everything spectacular and astonishing, 
so is its significance and its power.
We have got to let God do His Will in us.
His Spirit must work in us and not our own.
But since original sin, we always tend to work against Him when we work under our own direction. 

Thomas Merton, "Entering the Silence," pp. 48, 52 quoted in "Come into the Silence" with Thomas Merton, 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher series

Practice Loving-Kindness First Thing

Starting the day with a loving-kindness mindfulness exercise infuses peace into your schedule. Especially when you focus on the day just ahead.

Here’s how:

  1. Quiet your mind and invite God’s presence.
  2. Think about yourself. Say: May I be healthy. May I know God’s comfort. May I feel God’s love. May I live in God’s peace.
  3. Look at your schedule for the day.
  4. One by one, bring up the people you will meet or talk with today.
  5. For each person, repeat the phrases: May they be healthy. May they know God’s comfort. May they feel God’s love. May they live in God’s peace.
  6. If you are meeting a particular group of people, such as a class or a team, you can repeat the phrases for that group.
  7. Do this for at least five minutes … more if you want to spend that time.

By bringing each person into loving-kindness for the day, especially those you dislike, you can better step out in love and peace.

yellow and green led light

Don’t Be So Negative

Negativity bias, also called the negativity effect, is hard-wired in our brains. But that doesn’t mean we have to live with it! What is negativity bias? When things are of equal intensity, people tend to focus on the negative (thoughts, emotions, events etc.) more than neutral or positive.

Scientists believe this brain attitude stems from times when flight-or-fight literally meant run before the animal eats you. Having negative thoughts is not a pleasant mindset, nor is it something that the Lord wants for us. Luckily, we can fight negativity bias deliberately.

Neuropsychologist Rick Hansen has written extensively on this subject. He says: Use your mind to change your brain to change your mind. As Christians, we also can turn to God in this process. Mindfully and actively looking for the good can change your brain through the process known as neuroplasticity.

Dr, Hansen teaches that when we focus on the good, sets of neurons fire together. Neurons that fire together wire together, he says. So the tendency to look for the positive and feel serenity gets embedded into the brain. More information from Dr. Hansen are on his blog here and here. Another detailed explanation of the negativity bias is here.

This Christian mindfulness exercise will help:

  • After morning prayer, ask the Lord to help you to notice the good and the beautiful today.
  • Keep a gratitude list for the today going on a sticky note or piece of paper in the kitchen or at your desk.
  • Check in with your thoughts regularly during the day. You can use an alarm on your phone if needed to help you stay mindful about what you are thinking. Are you seeing the negative? Can you see a moment of joy to focus on instead?
  • Intentionally look for little things that bring you joy, connection and serenity.
  • Thank God for each moment of joy as it occurs.

Other ways to counterbalance our proclivity towards negativity? Grant Brenner, MD, Adjunct Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center (New York), advises:

  • Be mindful and recognize when negative patterns begin. Do something each and every time—even something very small—to break the pattern. (A brief prayer would work well here.)
  • Notice when you talk to yourself in a negative way. Replace “Well, that was stupid” with “I wish I hadn’t done that, but I will learn from it.”
  • Talk to your inner critic with compassion: “Are you ok? What’s wrong?  Why are you so angry? Are you feeling hurt?” Dr. Brenner said this will seem strange at first, but interrupting yourself when you are being mean to yourself is actually following the Golden Rule.

Other Christian mindfulness exercises that can help are the loving-kindness exercise and gratitude.

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.