Mantras by Any Other Name

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. …

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.  Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

–          2 Peter 3:10, 14-18



I have been having an ever-increasing problem with sciatica for the past few months.  I did not want to say much about it, because my wife is recovering from open-heart surgery.  My wife will admit to anyone that I did not suffer in silence, but she was the only one who knew.


My wife, after her surgery, went to a skilled care facility for 10 days of in-house rehab.  She was supposed to stay two weeks, but her progress allowed her to get out early.  One of the key rehab goals was to walk up and down stairs.  The therapist would remind her to use a mantra while going up and down the stairs. “Up with the good, down with the bad.”  For her triple by-pass, they had harvested veins from her right leg.  (Her new aortic valve is made of bovine tissue.)  Her scars were healing, but the therapist did not want her putting any undue strain on the harvest site, near the knee.  So, while going up the stairs, she climbed with her good leg, one step at a time.  Each time bringing the bad (right) leg up while doing all the lifting with the good (left) leg.  In going down the stairs, the bad (right) leg went first.  That way the bad leg never has to hold the body weight while the knee is bent.  In both cases, the bad leg went from one step to the next without bending the knee.


I laughed when I heard the mantra.  I already knew what it meant due to past sciatic flare ups.  My bad leg is the left.  If I step up with my left leg and then try to lift my body with my bad leg, I get pain from the ankle to the lower back, like lightning bolts everywhere.  In going down the stairs, the knees will let me know that I led with the good leg first.  In fact, going down stairs without a handrail can result in running or falling down the stairs if I use the wrong leg first.  The bad one buckles due to the pain.


My wife asked the therapist why this stupid mantra.  I suggested she do it once the wrong way and she would not make that mistake again.  The therapist gave me a “be quiet or die” look.


Each time I have a bout of sciatic pain, I take the steps one at a time and I use the mantra.  Recently as the sciatic nerve got everything in my left leg to hurt, sometimes in unison, sometimes one at a time.  I found myself trying to lift my body up flights of stairs with my right arm.  Only one problem – I got tennis elbow in my right arm about twenty years ago, lifting something at work that should have been done by younger men.  While trying to lift my body with one arm, I strained the tendon again.  Now I could not lift with anything except the good leg – back to the mantra.  As a result, I finally went to the doctor.  If the inflammation can come down, and it seems to be moving in that direction slowly, I will be back to normal soon.  (For me, normal is exceedingly weird, but I will be moving better.)


But that got me thinking about mantras in general.  We have mantras from breathing exercises, “Out with the bad air, in with the good” whatever that means.  We have mantras in Christian worship.  One of my favorites is on Easter.  The pastor says, “He is risen.”  The congregation replies, “He is risen, indeed.”  Of course, there is the popular “God is good – all the time.  All the time – God is good.”


Christian mantras can be useful, if taken with the understanding that they are short and do not contain all the Gospel.


Lectio Divina can lead to a daily mantra.  In Lectio Divina, you read a small passage of Scripture several times.  Then you find a key verse or a phrase within a verse to be your daily mantra.  In intense prayer, you commit yourself to that mantra for the day.  For example, you might be reading Psalm 23.  In one time of reading this psalm, you may find lying down in green pastures to be comforting words.  Three months later, you may read the same psalm again and being led to still waters is more important.  (By the way, sheep do not like moving water – scared to death may be more appropriate.  In a flowing stream, the shepherd will float something near the shore to create a pool of still water, at least at the surface, so that the sheep will be able to drink.)  On the third time reading Psalm 23, we may be fearing a crisis, seeing evil face-to-face.  Knowing that we need not fear for God is with us in the valley of darkness might be the only way to face a day like that.


What might be a great idea is to memorize verses and make a topical prompt for reciting the verse.  Some reference and study Bibles group suggested verse based off concepts:  Sin, Forgiveness, Grace, etc.  Each Bible verse can then become a ‘mantra of the moment’ when needed.  You have the verse memorized before needing it.  You have a mental tag that associates that verse to the situation that you face.  Instant mantra, and instant comfort and strength from God.


But then again, some of us have fading memories while others never seem to develop a good memory.  My wife was a wonderful den leader for many years.  She worked with the boys the first month after they joined.  She wanted every boy to get his Bobcat badge at the first Pack meeting.  One of those things that says you are now officially a Cub Scout.  To do this, they had to memorize a few simple things.  One year, all the boys got it within two weeks except for one boy who was cute as a button, nearly a head shorter than the other boys, and a blonde.  She was disappointed with him, telling him that he would feel left out if he was the only one not getting the badge.  He looked my wife square in the eyes and said, “Mrs. Rackley, I don’t know if I am cut out to be a Bobcat.  I don’t have a very good memory brain.”  My wife had two reactions:  She feared she might laugh at his comment, and her heart began to melt.  My wife worked with him one-on-one during the meeting that day.  When I got home from work, she turned the list of badges over to me.  (I was cubmaster at the time, the emcee of Pack meetings.  I was the master of silly songs and getting 7-10 year old boys wound up tight – right before bedtime, but only once a month.)  My wife warned me that I was not to ask the little cute blonde anything directly at the Pack meeting.  He legitimately recited everything, but who knew when his ‘not-so-good’ memory brain would start leaking.


Like the little cute blonde, we all have our moments of stress and anxiety.  Our brain seems to freeze, but never entirely.  In those moments, having words from God’s Holy Word may be what helps us through the troubles in our lives.  After all, there is the bully in the alley or the boss complaining about impending deadlines.  These people are not going to sit and wait while you turn to the Concordance in the back of your study Bible.  You will need to be prepared.


Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


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