When I was a child growing up in the Baptist church, one summer my mother insisted that my brother Bill and I memorize a Bible verse each day. We typically chose quick and easy ones like “Jesus wept” or “Judas hung himself” Or more humorous ones like “Balaam said to his ass, ‘Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!’” We also learned some more serious ones such as “For God so loved the world that he gave his only beloved son so that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” or “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
My mom believed that knowing certain key verses would get us through the challenges of life, and I have come to believe that she was right. What we focus on shapes how we view the world and interpret the events of our lives. The affirmations we emphasize become soul food that nurtures our spirits. Accordingly, Paul counsels the Philippians, “Think on these things – whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is just, whatever is worthy.”
Paul knew that our words and thoughts are like the food we eat – it can be either nutritious or harmful, full of life or full of useless calories. Paul knew that we can’t sustain our faith on spiritual fast food. We need slow cooked, honest, and challenging soul food.
Paul knew the psychology of what we today call affirmations or learned optimism. Repeating positive thoughts over and over changes our way of looking at the world. Regular repetition becomes the lens through which we see the world, as our affirmations move from the conscious to unconscious mind. We have a choice: even though we can’t determine the course of the pandemic or other challenges, we can shape how we respond.
Each Sunday I repeat in worship, “This is the day that God has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I say these words as soon as I awaken each morning – exuberantly though silently, so as not to wake up Kate at 4:30 a.m. “This is the day that God has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I say these words as I step out of the car on Craigville Beach for my sunrise walk, and I repeat them throughout the day as a reminder of the beauty and goodness of life.
Now, of course, I could begin the day otherwise. I could begin with, “Yesterday was lousy, and today will be worse.” Or “I hate my life and everyone in it.”
But I believe that attitude changes everything. As the King James translation of Proverbs 23:7 asserts: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The words ring true, “as a person thinks, so they are.” When we change our fundamental way of thinking, whether on race, economics, ecology, relationships, or God, our attitudes and behaviors eventually change as well.
To me, the anchor verse “this is the day that God has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it” means “I wake up today to a world of wonder and possibility, and I can choose to bring goodness and beauty to it.” It means “despite the Coronavirus, I can live joyfully, lovingly, and justly, blessing the world.” Each day, “I can begin again and help shape the world for the best.”
I start the day with Spirit and not dread or anxiety. I start the day with hope and not fear, believing I can make a difference.
These days many of us live like monks. We hardly go out. We spend most of the time cloistered in our houses or apartments, with few opportunities to greet the public. This can be a good time for spiritual growth. At most monasteries, residents pray the hours, and it is a good practice for us. They take a few moments upon rising, then midmorning, midday, late afternoon, evening, and before going to bed for a Psalm or Gospel or a brief prayer of gratitude and praise.
Prior to going to bed, many monastics practice what is called the Examen or Day Review, initiated by the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola. They take some time for silence, give thanks for God’s love, then take a few minutes to review the day, noting where they felt close to God and where they felt distant from God. Then, they ask for forgiveness for any sins they may have committed and conclude with a prayer for the day ahead.
Every night I do a version of this prayer and then as I consider the day ahead, I visualize my schedule and ask God guide me in my responsibilities as husband, pastor, grandparent, parent, and theologian. As a writer and teacher, I also spend a moment on what I will be working on the next day, committing it to God’s care while I am sleeping. I wake up every morning with insights and ready to write.
What I am trying to say is that each day is truly an opportunity for adventure. As Louis Armstrong says, we can say to ourselves what a wonderful world and then get out and do something beautiful for God. We can live lovingly, faithfully, mindfully, with a song in our heart – and hands and feet and lips to bring praise and bring joy and justice to our neighbor with each new day. “This is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”