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anxiety

A first aid kit for times of crisis

When you are in a time of intense suffering; grief, dread, or emotional overload, when you are walking around the house just staring at things, when getting through the day seems impossible, and you don’t know what to do with yourself, read this:

1. Do the next right thing. This might be eating a sandwich, sweeping the floor, going for a walk. Do one thing at a time. Do the task, and then do the next one. My mother used to say, “Wipe your table, sweep your kitchen floor, make your bed, and call me back.” It works.

2. Section off the day into manageable pieces.
You don’t have to suffer the way you feel, or the situation you are in forever, only for today. Divide the day up into sections. Think of something you are going to do at the end of each time period to mark its end and transition into the next one.

I have used:

  • calling a friend
  • reading a daily devotional or thought for the day
  • a novena prayed every hour instead of once a day
  • praying the Liturgy of the Hours through the day
  •  a short walk

These little things are anchors and dividers in the day to help re-center, reground, and chop a long, difficult day into chunks you can manage. This helps a lot.

My mom used to say, “Brush your teeth, wash your face, say your prayers, and start your day over again.”

“You can start your day over again,”  she would say, “any time,” and as many times as you need to.

3. Master your thoughts. In times of crisis the mind becomes crowded with speculative, negative, or questioning thoughts that are very unhelpful.

These thoughts might be about blaming yourself or others, trying to figure out how or why something happened, why or whether God allowed it, or going over and over possible outcomes to a frightening situation you may be in.

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These lines of thought, and others like them, are tricks of the well meaning brain, trying to problem solve, predict the future, or give us a sense of control or order.This not only wastes precious energy, it overloads us emotionally and mentally, and can block us from accessing real wisdom and strength which would help us to peace. As my dad says, “There’s no truth in those thoughts.”

When you find yourself spinning your wheels this way, try to catch yourself and dismiss unhelpful thoughts. Don’t be mad at yourself, don’t be mean about it, just say to the mind, “Nope. Not today.”

Routinely stopping and observing your surroundings, and saying a set, short prayer, might help you let go of the offending train of thought.

I like to imagine putting all my fears and problems into the hands of Jesus, or putting them in Mary’s lap to pray over for me.

If you dismiss unhelpful thinking over and over, it works surprisingly well to help you feel better, make room for grace, and give you a sense of true empowerment.

4. Be your own best friend. It’s hard enough feeling horrible, but you can make it so much harder by being disappointed in yourself, and by what psychologists call  “negative self -talk.” One day I was so mad at myself for not being further along in my grief (whatever that means,) for not getting anything done, for being a wimp.

I felt that the Lord asked me if I would treat my friend, Jocie, that way if she came over feeling like I felt right now. “No, I would never talk to her like this.” I would love her, encourage her, and take care of her. I understood that this was how Jesus wanted me to treat myself for His sake.

Please be kind and accept yourself. Be sensitive to yourself. Understand that some days you’re doing well just to make it through the day and let it be that kind of day, if it is that kind of day. Do for yourself what you would do for a best friend. Think of it as a way to practice surrender and humility. Because it is.

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5. Pray. You will feel like you can’t pray sometimes. The 11TH Step of Alcoholics Anonymous mentions prayer as “conscious contact” with God.  That is always possible. It’s OK if you don’t feel prayerful. Today, focus on what St. Therese called a “simple look toward Heaven.” Some things I have done in times of shock, fear, trauma, or grief, are: clutching my Bible to my chest simply holding a rosary making some physical gesture of prayer without forming any thoughts or words offering my pain to God in union with Jesus on the Cross visualizing putting my head against Jesus’ chest just being in the darkness, knowing, with “naked faith” (St. John  of the Cross) that God was with me.Holy music can really help. Try playing spiritual music that centers you, on these kinds of days. This is setting up and environment of prayer for yourself.Strangely, prayers of praise in the midst of suffering can be a powerful catalyst for peace of heart.

“Blessed be God.Blessed be His Holy Name.”~ The Divine Praises

May God’s transforming love be with you in your suffering, as we, the Church, are with you, and may the Holy Spirit comfort you and give you peace. Right now. Today.

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Stay calm, access peace; for your good and the good of all

With constant developments in the news about the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, and constantly breaking political news, these are extremely stressful times. How do we keep some equilibrium so we can be any use to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters in these dark, difficult and divisive days? Every day it seems like there are more bomb shells. How do we sustain them?

I messaged a friend the other day, “How ARE we going to keep calm these crazy days?” She wrote back:

“I’m going to be drinking! You don’t drink, so you shall have to pray, I suppose. :P”

I do plan to pray a lot, in whatever way I can, but most of all, I plan to pray in ways that simply keep me connected to God.

As a Carmelite, I have a strong belief that cultivating a constant, loving awareness of the presence of God within is a service to the world, and that it has a gracious effect on everything, and everybody.

I believe that when I am recollected, and in conscious contact with God, I have opened the fountain of living water in my soul. By doing so, I become a channel of grace for the world.

Unsealing the living fountain of the Holy Spirit in my own soul mysteriously helps others do the same, and somehow they are helping me as well. To me, this is part of the Communion of Saints.

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“Let us draw from the springs of salvation

for our selves, and for the entire parched world.”

~ St. Edith Stein

Also, staying connected to God helps me to keep closer to His perspective when things get a little crazy.

It also reminds me that whether there is the earthly appearance of what I think is justice or not, God is going to win in the end, win in His kind of way, and that His win lasts forever. My sister in Carmel, Pat Thompson says that God’s will is always love. Whatever happens, I can trust that will of love is still at work.

So, in these days of fear, anger and chaos, grief, division and anxiety, I hope to remain connected and recollected.

I know I will have to be focussed about this commitment to myself, to God, and to the world. Sometimes I might become overwhelmed with what’s going on. However, I hope to make a consistent effort to draw myself back to the center every time; that center of my soul, and the center of the whole of existence, where God is. Here are some tips about staying on track for inner peace during your day.

Make a plan for your day that cultivates peace.

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  • Plan, whether you are at work, or at home today, and the days ahead, to cultivate serenity. It’s not going to help anything or anybody for you to freak out, right?
  • It may be a good idea to limit your engagement with what’s going on during the day, and to limit your media consumption, to the minimum.
  • Visit the Blessed Sacrament. Even popping in for a few seconds helps. If you can’t get there, here is adoration live. 
  • Plan some stopping points at certain times to settle down and re-center, and make a simple plan for what you will do. Sometimes you just need a few minutes with some calm music, a view of nature, something nice to drink.
  • Go to mass if your schedule permits.
  • Plan to pray The Liturgy of the Hours; however many of the set hours you can pray. (Morning, Mid Morning, Midday, Mid- afternoon, Evening and Night Prayer.) Universalis is a good site to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for free. You may also like The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary on-line, a Marian version, so to speak, of the Liturgy of the Hours. Also free. Check in with the Liturgy of the Hours any time, and pray with others all over the world.
  • Plan to do acts of kindness and/or sneaky good deeds. You will feel great. Leave someone a flower. Pay it forward at a drive through. Give something to a homeless person or engage him or her in conversation. Do a chore for someone else in your household or at work, to lighten their load. Here is a list of acts of kindness if you can’t think of anything.
  • Make time in your day to interact with your pet. Even a quiet moment spent petting or brushing your dog or cat can raise your spirits and calm your heart.
  • Look at art that uplifts you. Plan ahead to do this, or check out I Require Art on Face Book. I love looking at that page. It is also on Twitter.
  • Have coffee with a friend and catch up. This does wonders.

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    Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Just for a Day

Pick one of these to do now and then. You can do something for a 24 hours period that would be overwhelming to do for a lifetime. But it is great training!

  • Hug people today, whenever possible. Seriously. This helps them and you.
  • Just for today, no fighting with anyone. Fight tomorrow. Not today. You can do it just for your waking hours in this next 24. Have a day like that now and then.
  • Have peaceful things to read that are helpful to you, comforting, or don’t get you emotionally stirred up. Don’t read anything else, just for today.
  • Plan to be extra caring with the people around you today. Remind yourself often that this is your intention today: to be kind. All day.
  • If you have a baby or a little kid in your family, read with him, cuddle with her. Spending time talking with a little kid can be healing. Plan on it. Make it part of your day today.
  • Eat comforting foods. It’s one day. Don’t worry about it. Plan comfort food meals for your family. Try to limit dinner talk to peaceful topics. Just for today.
  •      Make peace your highest priority just for one day.  
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“Let nothing steal your treasure.” ~ St. Teresa of Avila

 

If you become overwhelmed, here are some quick ways to calm down:

  • Push your palms together for a moment.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Shake out your limbs.
  • Breath in through your nose slowly (count five) and then out through your mouth (count five.) Keep going with this for a while if it helps you.
  • Stop what you are doing- especially stop interacting with whatever or whoever is upsetting you. Turn off the T.V. Get away from that person. Get off social media. Whatever it is, stop it.
  • Tune in to the moment: Feel the floor (of whatever you are standing on,) hear the sounds far away, the sounds near you, the feel of whatever you are touching. Be conscious of your breathing. Look out of the window, at the sun, at the sky, at the trees or whatever is around you. Notice what’s going on in this present moment.
  • Go for a brisk walk. Pray the rosary or inwardly repeat the Holy Name of Jesus, or the sweet name of Mary as you walk. Let your inner, prayerful repetition fall into rhythm with your steps and your breathing. Pray with your whole body, mind and eventually, heart.
    • If you can’t pray the rosary, just hold it.  Think of it as holding Our Lady’s hand.
    • Slow down your responses to anything agitating that people say. Think before you respond back. A good thing to remember before you speak is, “Is [what I am about to say] true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”
    • Intentionally tense different muscle groups, and then release them. It’s very calming.
    • Make a list of five things you are grateful for, of five people you love, and even what you love about them.
    • Do a simple task you do all the time, but do it mindfully. Sweep the floor patiently. Wipe the table. Brush your hair. Water plants.
    • Wash your face, or sprinkle cold water on your wrists and dab it behind your ears.
    • Call a sympathetic, or light hearted friend. Say you don’t want to talk about current events. You want to talk about turtles or something.
    • Watch something funny (as long as it is not snarky, sarcastic or mean spirited.)
    • Litanies are awesome. My mom swore by these. She kept a notebook of them. “When you’re crazy, walk the floor if you need to, and pray a litany. Litanies are great when you’re crazy.”
    • Listen to a guided prayerful meditation, like one of mine, or the Daily Disconnect podcast from the Carmelite Friars of Illinois.
    • Here is a body centered, calming recording, an app that helps me sometimes. calm.com
    • Have a cup of calming tea, like chamomile.
    • Have a cup of coffee. Just don’t drink too much coffee.
    • Try a calming essential oil, like lavender, chamomile, or any citrus essential oil. That can be really good. Rub it on your feet, or on the back of your neck. Put it in a diffuser. Splash it around.

In general

Stay safe, stay mentally cool, drive carefully, (and as little as possible if you are overwrought,) stay connected to God all through the day. It helps everybody.

As Fr. Adrian van Kaam said, “Lord, make me a smooth channel for the outflow of your divine will into this world.”

 

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Don’t Freak Out

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photo Maire Manning-Pauc

Putting up with things that irritate us builds character. I think that is because when we are in a situation we can’t change, the only option is changing ourselves. “This is a good life skill,” I tell my kids. It is also a good skill for developing the spiritual life because it’s good training for the mind, for self control and endurance. Besides it’s no fun to freak out all the time. What does it get us…. but a lot of freak-out? And there’s nothing you can’t make worse by more of THAT!

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Art by Bob Chapman

Here are some things I have tried to help me not freak out.

Paying bills can be stressful. You know how when you are paying bills your shoulders get really tense and sometimes your back too, and if anybody says anything to you, you say, “Leave me alone I’m paying BILLS!” I decided that attitude needed work.  I tried a change of venue. I picked a place that it seems silly to pay bills. Then I could be amused. I try to amuse myself as often as possible. It helps a lot with life. So I paid bills in the tree house. I kept smiling because it was a goofy thing to do.

I wrote,  ” thank you so much,” on each bill. Thank you for the electricity. Thank you for the car. Thank you, veterinarian,  for helping when my dog was sick.
Thank you, God, that I can pay these bills. Thank you. Gratitude is an even better tool than self -amusement.

I enjoyed puting rose petals in the envelopes of each payment. I imagined the various possible reactions to this. “Made my day? Is it anthrax? Who’s does that?” This also amused me.

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Loud neighbors can be annoying. I had neighbors last year who screamed at each other and honked car horns several times a day. One time when the screaming and car horns started, I thought. “I HATE THIS!” This is a red light for me mentally. I usually don’t allow my mind to think, “I hate this,” about anything since that thought never leads to anything good. I took a deep breath, and I remembered St. Therese the Little Flower and all she did to train her mind in the face of annoyance to leave it free and peaceful for God. What could I do?

I told my family that from now on that screaming and honking was code for, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” It worked. From then on whenever the yelling started, one of us would say, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” and we would start laughing. I’m glad we learned how to let that frustration go. When my husband was sick, those very people came over and helped me when I needed it. If I had stayed mad at them all the time and just thought of them as “the screamy neighbors,” I would never have gotten to know them. They had some wonderful qualities.

The young people who live next door now play very loud music at times. I was enjoying a quiet fall day on my front porch one time when they started that noise. First I amused my self with the thought that I can out blast them any time. I have some enormous speakers. What got me laughing and letting go was the funny thought of getting a recording of a nice, quiet fall day and blasting that. Suddenly the young people would be overcome with an unaccustomed sense of inner peace, and they would be stunned! That made me laugh. They turned it off after a while. I diffused my inner volatility with a series of funny images and thoughts. I win!

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Waiting in line or being stuck somewhere can be maddening.  One wild grocery store day, stuck in line, I tried looking at the covers of magazines by the register to entertain myself. These seemed not good for anyone to look at ; you know- magazine covers about who looked bad in her bathing suit this week, or with titles like “Potato Juice Keeps You Young and Sexy.”  My other choices seemed to be  lighters, candy and soda. I asked Jesus silently, “What would You look at if You were here?” The thought came to me that Jesus would look at the people. “Look at the people and love them.” So I started working on that. I looked at each person around me and noticed how they seemed to be doing. I mentally blessed each one or prayed for each one. I felt very peaceful and entertained.

During long, boring trips to Lowe’s with my husband, Bob, I always had a rosary in my pocket. I thought I may as well try and be useful to the world while I suffered. Another thing I tried was to ride in the cart and have him push me around. That helps too. He wanted to bring me, after all. It made us both laugh for me to do this. He enjoyed throwing his items into the cart on me too.

Being overstimulated makes it difficult to think.

If there is too much going on and I need to concentrate, I go within myself as I would for prayer. I close my eyes, and I go to that dark interior center of myself where God is. Staying there even for a second can restore me to sanity and renew my perspective. I might imagine resting my face on Jesus’ chest for a minute. I may go someplace calm in my mind momentarily. It helps.

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photo Shawn Chapman

We Catholics have a great array of “mantras” of our own; prayer words, short prayers, and litanies that are useful when we feel overwhelmed. I have a little note up that says, “Keep calm and say a Hail Mary.” Or I repeat the Jesus prayer or the Holy Name, or one of those one-liners like “May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised adored and loved.” Saying over some memorized Scripture is helpful too in times when I feel a sense of overload, frustration or impatience.

When somebody pulls out in front of me in traffic, my daughters know I will growl, “RAWR!” Then right away I will say, “God bless you have a nice day and I hope  there is a happy surprise for you when you get home, maybe cake, maybe puppies….,” and I’ll go on with this stupid list of things until either I’m laughing or my girls are.

Being interrupted is irritating. When I am interrupted, it helps if I interpret the interruption as the Holy Spirit’s action in my day. Sometimes I plan one kind of day but it works out totally differently. It can be jarring to be interrupted  when I am busy or to have my day go “out of control.” It helps if I let go and let God order my day. I ask Him to show me what He wants. I try to forget what I wanted to do and just be with who ever I am with, pay complete attention to what’s happening in the moment I am in. Often when I get to the end of a day that could have been exasperating, I will see the grace in the interruptions. It is usually the demands of love and relationship that interrupt us. At the end of the day that’s what matters most anyway… the love and the relationships.

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My daughter Maire, my grandbaby boy, Blaze, and my son-in-law, Jon

Philippians 4:8 tells us to fill our minds with beauty and we will know God’s peace. Jesus said peacemakers are children of God. Sometimes temple tables actually need to be over turned or some Pharisees stood up to. However most of the time, I think I should tend towards a more peaceful, elastic, accepting mind that God can work with. My brain believes what I tell it. Usually I tell it stuff is funny and that everything is in Divine Order. Sometimes I say to myself, “This will make a great story some day.” And it does.

By the way, as I wrote this article, I was interrupted twice by each of my kids and also had to listen to some music I didn’t really like and the kitten would not stop mewing. But I didn’t freak out. 😉

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photo Shawn Chapman

 

 

 

Christian Mantrams

January is the month we focus on the Holy Name of Jesus, celebrated January 3.  It’s also the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God January 1. As the eve of the New Year leads me to reflect on the past year and my resolutions for the year ahead, I feel that God is re-directing me to a new way to make use of a fruitful practice of mine. I understand that it will help me again to heal from trauma, to walk free from injustices, losses and grief that I can do nothing more about now that I have done all I can with God’s help.

I have wondered how I will ever heal, ever be able to forgive, ever be able to be whole again. I begin to see the way, and I have a powerful tool to start with.

I can take the reigns of my mind once again. I can draw it constantly back to the healing, freeing presence of God, turning painful memories, overwhelming thoughts and situations over to Jesus and to the prayers of His Blessed Mother and ours by repeating their holy names when that sense of helpless outrage rises, or bitter thoughts try to take over my life.

This will be my main resolution: to repeat the holy names of Jesus and Mary, as others have for centuries of Christian history, as a way to attaining the mind of Christ, and to cultivate in my battered soul the beautiful receptivity of Mary. May God give me the grace to follow through, and if I fall away from this constant prayer, to draw me back to it. I have already begun to experience mental freedom and soul healing in making a new beginning with this prayer.

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Should you be interested in joining me, but perhaps “Jesus Maria” doesn’t appeal to you, there are other choices that run deep in our faith tradition. They are oft repeated prayers that shine like paths well trodden by holy feet, blessed by the Communion of Saints, for you to choose from and make your standard in the battle of earthly life.

Eastern religions make use of mantrams (or “mantras,” as one hears more often.) We do too. We may not realize that we Catholics have some mantrams as well, and that we could put them to good use in our spiritual lives.

This is one way to pray without ceasing, one way to occupy the mind properly during a difficult temptation, or slow it down when it is racing or dwelling on something that makes it angry or destructive, a way to harness the power of anger, or to find guidance and inspiration, and to grow constantly in love of God.

As the author of The Cloud of Unknowing says, God is accessible only by the little spark of love, that impulse toward Him, even if for a moment we  lift our hearts toward Him, this is how to reach Him as well as any arrow hits the bull’s eye on the target. This impulse of love is the way to penetrate the overwhelming mystery of God and to possess, even apprehend Him by love in a way our intellects are not capable of. A mantram gives voice to that spark of love and helps us consciously place all of our lives in the presence of God throughout the day.

For those of you familiar with “Centering Prayer,” (a form of Christian meditation, or mental prayer using a prayer word or phrase ) you will already have an idea what I mean.

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This short prayer can be done all the time, even when we are busy, or bored in a lobby somewhere, or sweeping the floor. We can pray those moments  with a word or phrase that we repeat either vocally or mentally.

Don’t worry. Vain repetition means just that: vain. Are you being vain or mindless? Is it vain to repeat something that means all the world to you: the Name of Our Lord perhaps, or of Our Lady, or both? Of course not.

Some Christian mantrams:

In the Eastern Church the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”) is used in a mantram fashion. One is encouraged to repeat it constantly from the heart… until it begins to pray itself within us on it’s own and becomes as much a part of us as breathing or the heart’s beating.

St. Francis is known to have stayed up all night at times repeating, “My God and my all, my God and my all, My God and my all!”

St. Rose of Lima memorized the Names of God from Scripture during a period of terrible aridity for her. She would say them over as she did embroidery and this practice gave her light.

The prayer received by St. Faustina is a good one to base our lives on, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing recommends simply the word, “God.”

The angels sing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” It seems like they are always saying it. We join them   at every Sunday mass. Why not as often as we can?

There are a lot of very short, one line Catholic prayers that make good mantrams.

“Jesus, Mary, I love you, save souls,” is one I have heard people use. An elderly Carmelite told me it was her constant prayer.

“May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised, adored and loved,” is good.

Imagine how much good a constant spiritual communion would do. “Lord come spiritually into my heart.”

There is that great word from Revelation, too, “Maranatha” Our Lord come!

And then, there is the Holy Name itself, which, as St. Bernard says, brings to us Jesu dulcis memoria, “the sweet memory of Jesus.” Repeating it is a beautiful way to consciously live in His presence.

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My mother used to say during chemo, “Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy,” especially since she was afraid of needles. If she started saying other mantrams that were not so good for her I would laugh and remind her of “Divine Mercy.”

Each of my daughters has a personal mantram that they repeat in times of trouble or difficulty praying or temptation or stress. Maire’s is “Stella Maris” or (Star of the Sea), one of Our Lady’s titles. Roise’s is, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary,” or “Ave Maria, Ave Maria…”

My fiancee, Mark, is beginning to explore the use of a mantram prayer. His choice is “Baruch atah Adonai.” It is Hebrew for “Blessed be the Lord,” a phrase that has been sanctified by centuries of pray-ers.

Mine, I got from my beloved St. Joan of Arc, from the words on her banner, “Jesus Maria.” I hope I’m saying it when I die, to accompany me into the the arms of Jesus and Mary.

 

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Some ways to use a mantram and some practical advice:

When you’re mad or worried about something, a brisk walk repeating your mantra can really help put you in the right frame of mind. The mantram is a good way to pray when you are at a red light or a seriously dull meeting or doing something tedious. It is great during hard, physical work to keep you going and dedicate your work, says my fellow Carmelite, George. It’s not bad for when a mean dog is chasing you, either, according to my kids.

If you are not having to concentrate on anything like navigating  freeway traffic or doing a delicate repair that requires all your attention, the mantram can and should be said anytime.

One of my favorite ways to use mine is when I am falling asleep. If I’m good about staying on it, my heart will repeat it all night and if I wake up I notice I am still at it.

I try to pray it as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. Sometimes it helps me get out of bed.

Sometimes when I am too upset to pray the rosary I just hold it. Sometimes I am in need of the greatest simplicity; something for my mind and heart to hold onto. A mantram prayer is perfect for that.

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I would say don’t change it once you have chosen it. This way it will become part of you and sometimes your heart will start it on its own. It will grow with you and be with you all of your life. I have had mine for about twenty years. When I fall away from it, it is not too hard to get back to because of that. It has become a part of me, and my response to it is quicker and deeper now because it has grown over the years.

There’s nothing useless or vain about a mantram. Think of it as steps that lead you closer and closer to Heaven. Just choose it carefully so that it has the most meaning to you in your faith journey.

I have a little book I write the mantram in at times. I might dedicate a page to peace or to someone in trouble. There are several pages on which I have drawn pictures with the mantram in different colors and shapes. You will be amazed what a calming, peaceful activity this can be. It’s fun to do as a family too. We have made some mantram art together with all our different mantrams making a picture. Some of these hung on our refrigerator for years, serving as continuing prayers, and signs of family unity.

 

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Try a mantram prayer with me this year.  It couldn’t possibly hurt you. Most likely it will get you all straightened out when you need it and help you not waste time that you would ordinarily just use to worry when you are stuck somewhere or letting your mind go all over the place in unhelpful ways.

Perhaps it will help you regain focus on the present moment,

and to be present in the moment,

the **sacrament of the present moment,

where God always is.

It’s been very good for me.

I like to think of every repetition as a rose petal that drops into my heart as a gift of God, or that I let go into the wind to bless someone else, or the world in general.

 

The mantram “Jesus Maria” is my constant companion and has done me nothing but good. Have fun choosing yours, choose it carefully, make it part of your every day.

Maybe you will see what I mean.

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*I am much indebted to one of my favorite spiritual authors, Eknath Easwaran, for first teaching me about the mantram and finding it in my own faith tradition.

**Jean Pierre de Caussade

Related and also by me:

http://atxcatholic.com/index.php/2017/01/holy-name-jesus/#.WkmbTCMrI1I   

https://bethanyhangout.com/2016/09/12/holy-name-of-mary/

https://bethanyhangout.com/2017/09/23/this-is-how-jesus-says/

The day’s modest ornaments: simple routines that re-center

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I have a cup of coffee, and I am listening to jazz (Alice Coltrane today,) because it is 2 o’clock. That’s what I always do this time of day; jazz and coffee. Somehow this makes me feel more present in the day.

The loose, open-ended routine of stopping the day, at least a little bit, to remind myself I am in it, began when I was an overwhelmed young mother with my first new born. I looked forward to the afternoon jazz show on public radio every day. It helped me touch base, and for the day not to just slip away. It started at 2:06PM. It still does, actually.

My best friend, Andrea, lived on the other side of our duplex, and she liked to make a pot of coffee about 2, because she tended to get sleepy that time of day. So we had the afternoon solace of a cup of coffee, afternoon jazz, and an attempt at a moment of peace together each day, with our babies.

Later 2 o’clock jazz and coffee was a stopping place of peace and re-gathering before I picked the kids up from school. There were various incarnations of the same 2 o’clock routine as my life evolved.

Even through all the tragedy and trauma of these last few difficult years, I have continued to put on some jazz and make a cup of coffee around 2PM, if possible. The duration of time I spend on this, and what else I will do at that time, varies, but generally, I will do at least those two things, and make conscious contact with the day.

What does this do? It gives me a little island in the day to reclaim my peace and priorities.

On a busy, hectic day, it reminds me that I need to slow down.

On one of those difficult, timeless days when my ADD seems worse, or I have that PTSD inertia -anxiety I get, it helps me get a foot on the ground and start over.

For me time can be vague, and the day gets away from me. The simple act of turning on the music and putting on some coffee at that same time of day I always do, is a rung on the ladder back to earth.

As Dorothy Day said, “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and a reading of the Psalms.”

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When I am at work caring for Mac, I still make coffee and put on some jazz at 2 in the afternoon. He has developed a taste for jazz now, and if I put on any other type of music that time of day, he looks confused. “Hey, what are you doing?”

The rhythm of the day means a lot to Mac. I think it is how he understands his place in time and in the world in general.

I can learn from his way of keeping track of his life so that it means something to him. Without the predictable and repeated routines of each part of the day, life would feel like an unsure, confusing continuum to him. He feels safe when he understands, at least in a general way, where he is in his day.

We are the same way, though most of us have more physical senses and more personal choices available to us than Mac does.

Routines and traditions help us to be fully in the present moment, and, if they are appreciated, can help us live more deeply, more consciously, and therefore, more prayerfully.

Maybe that’s why God made time for us to live in, even though He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t have any problem being present everywhere at once, but we do. We need time to truly experience life and meaning.

We have to mark time to keep ourselves in the only part of time we can really live in; the present moment.

The present moment is where we are most able to encounter God, because that is where we ourselves really are. God is within us, so we need to be “home,” to be present to our Guest.

During the day, we can get caught up in the past, in the future, and other distractions, worries, and concerns. Our minds are a constant river of thoughts and feelings.

Sometimes the day is a frantic blur. Sometimes it is like a dream we can’t quite remember.

When we occupy time fully by being present in the day, there we will find meaning; we will find God.

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I have been thinking about that.

I am not much of a routine person. I tend to prefer a cadenza of a day, leaving plenty of room for inspiration, for people who show up, for the Holy Spirit to blow through, for random acts of goofiness, impulsive kindness, or happy, dreamy uselessness.

However, I understand that touch points in the day can be sacred. They give me a way to put the day back on track, put first things first, and remember what I’m trying to do with my life.

Besides making sure I get certain things done each day that have to be done, routines can be boxes to put presence in.

They can be conscious bridges into the next part of the day, helping me live intentionally for the next few hours.

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I am trying to aim for small and attainable things to do here and there like modest ornaments for the day I am crafting.

One of these little routines is to turn off any music or stop whatever noise or activity or device is on at noon and pray the Angelus prayer.

I try to get certain things done at work  by then so that I can sit down beside Mac and pray the Angelus at the traditional time of noon, or as close as I can get.

 

Mac likes this, too. He knows when all is tidied up and quiet, and he is made comfortable, that I will come sit and pray with him for a while. Sometimes he likes me to scratch his head while I pray the Angelus, and mid day prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.

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Mac and I hang out

Another thing I have been trying to do: When I get home from work, before I do anything else, is to make time for a mindful sweeping up before I let myself settle down or get obsessed with anything. It’s an easy thing to do, but it makes a big difference in how the rest of the evening goes.

The temptation, when I get home from work, is to  flop down and start reading or messing around on the Internet, or get caught up in listening to the news.

When I succumb to that temptation, it seems I only get more and more tired and unmotivated, and that time is wasted. There goes the evening, before I know it; myself and the world, none the better.

I am more likely to do other good things if I make the transition into the evening by doing a simple, silent routine like sweeping, paying attention to what I am doing, often accompanied by inwardly saying the names of Jesus and Mary prayerfully as I sweep.

Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria.

Sometimes I even think there is another pair of playful, encouraging feet dancing with mine as I move across the floor with the broom; sneaky, sandaled, dusty feet behind my bare ones, and a silent voice that playfully says, “1,2,3, 1,2,3,” as if we were waltzing together while I sweep.

It makes me chuckle.

Maybe I’m on the right track.

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painting by Bob Chapman

 

 

*If you would like to try praying the Liturgy of the Hours, you can try it for free on Universalis

For more on finding meaning and mindfulness in house work, you might like my post The holiness of house work

 

 

 

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