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:
Silence and Solitude
Play and Recreation
Work and Activity
Service and Mission
Care for the Physical Body
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:
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.
Sabbath on Sunday: nature walk, spiritual reading
3rd Sunday: spend an hour reading a book about faith
Spiritual direction appointment (now is quarterly)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
Loving God, your son Jesus said
your Kingdom is like a banquet;
a festive gathering for all people
of every race and color --
a table at which the lonely find company,
the hungry savor rich foods and fine wine,
and strangers enjoy warm family ties.
Jesus calls us to build this kingdom here on earth.
Teach us, Lord, the ways of hospitality.
Give us the spirit of joyful welcome and
the sensitivity to help people on the move
to feel they belong.
Grant that our tables at home may draw
our new neighbors from other lands
into a loving community
and that the eucharistic tables
in our churches may prefigure
that banquet in heaven where all are one in you,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
Prayer for Hospitality from "Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers"
We are emerging from the pandemic into a world even more conflicted than when quarantine began. Splits in groups and churches, largely along political lines, have damaged the American church. The gift of hospitality could serve the church even more than ever, as it includes civility, mutual respect and kindness in its components.
The practice of Christian mindfulness aids the re-emergence of hospitality, as the shelter-in-place/ Zoom nation practices are now habit. To be hospitable in person, we must be more intentional in our behavior and attitudes.
This is no surprise. Some Christians have hospitality as a spiritual gift. But many others do not. They would rather stay in and watch a movie alone. Yet all are called to be hospitable.
In 1 Peter 4: 9-10, Peter writes: "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to share others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms."
In fact, the word for hospitality in the Bible's original Greek is "philoxenia," which means "love of strangers." I think we are called today to be hospitable to some "strangers" that we thought we knew, until their political choices involving votes, masks and vaccines made them seem different from us.
In Romans 12:13, Paul encourages everyone to practice hospitality. And St. Benedict asked his followers to see each person they encountered as a gift from Jesus.
If God abides in us, as we who practice Christian mindfulness believe, we have the opportunity to show Him to all those we meet. Dealing with each other with civility, grace and love is a great step back toward unity in the church.
This beautiful prayer for unity from Jane Deren of Education for Justice (published in July 2021's issue of "Give Us This Day") sums up our personal challenges within this period of time.
God of all, you challenge us
to be a unified national community.
You call us to move beyond
so we may create
a vision of common good
so sorely needs for our country.
In this time of confusion,
you call us to see clearly
with the lens of justice for all.
In this time of disrespect for so many,
you call on us to practice respect
for all voices around the table,
and for all voices not heard in the discussions.
In this time of personal insecurity,
you call on us to be grounded
in compassion for others
and secure in the knowledge
we are called to community.
In this time of despair for so many,
you call us to practice hope.
God of all, bless our nation at this time
and open the way to unity
so we may follow your call.
Yesterday’s Christian mindfulness exercise focused on noticing the suffering in our lives and all around us. We looked at everything from minor irritation to deep grief. This is life.
Today, while doing a spiritual exercise in “Emotionally Health Spirituality Day by Day” by Peter Scazzero, I heard an important concept. I confess I’ve never thought of this before.
Scazzero writes about how we want to follow Jesus, but not necessarily to Gethsemene. I’ve been struggling with decades-long unanswered prayers and the accompanying suffering lately. So I can relate to that. He says:
It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one can see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps this meant that no one can see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor.
Peter Scazzero, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day: A 40-Day Journey”
This is a good thought to meditate on after we have observed the suffering around us. We can ask for the courage to walk our path, no matter how crowded with thorns.
I am mid-way through Scazzero’s Day by Day book, which can function as a daily office and prayer book. It is a companion to his widely-respected “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” which we discussed here.
Jan Chozen Bays, MD, suggests a practice that sounds grim at first glance. In her book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness,” the Zen teacher says:
As you go about your day, pay attention to the phenomenon of suffering. How do you detect it in yourself or others?
We shouldn’t just look for obvious suffering such as death or starving children. (Those things are good to meditate on with the intention of determining if we can do more to help.) Dr. Bays wants us to be mindful of the spectrum of suffering, from minor irritation to full-fledged grief.
Gaining awareness of the suffering in our hearts and the hearts of those around us is good. But it is most helpful if it unlocks compassion. As Robin Williams once said:
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.
Observing our own suffering also gives us motivation to change. How can we stop it? How can we think about it differently? I’ve always believed that your greatest suffering can become your most effective ministry. Could that be true for you?
I expect to pass through life but once. If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.