Category Archives: Spiritual Practices
I’ve been doing these “Spiritual Practice of…” posts for so long now that practically anything I do seems like a potential spiritual practice. Since I’ve already written about how everything is spiritual, I won’t belabor the point here but it does amaze me to consider what an effect this series (and HBTB in general) has had on my spiritual and daily life. I find myself somehow more integrated, more holistic. And isn’t that the point?
So, dear lovely readers, let’s get down to business with the
Spiritual Practice of Drinking Wine (or how wine tasting taught me mindfulness)
Since moving to the Santa Barbara area more than two years ago and living so close to wine country, my husband and I have enjoyed the luxury of trying a variety of higher quality wines at a relatively lower price point than other parts of the country. And being surrounded by wineries and wine drinkers has made the wine culture more accessible.
Here are some things wine tasting can teach us.
1) Prepare. Since I am nothing close to a wine connoisseur, I always like to read the descriptions that usually accompany a wine tasting and ask questions of the server about what the winery is known for, the process of making the wine, and what experience they want me to have. I pay attention to key words like “earthy” or “finish” and try to prepare my palate to experience fully the wine I am about to taste.
2) Breathe. Experienced wine tasters will tell you the first thing you do when you receive a glass of wine is swirl the wine around a little in the glass to aerate it and then stick your nose in and breathe deeply to experience the wine first with your sense of smell.
3) Taste. Wine tasting is not really about drinking wine at all. It’s about tasting. When you taste wine, you don’t just drink it. For one thing, you usually get at the most about an 1/8 of a glass of any wine on the tasting list. That’s not even enough for one gulp. Tasting wine is about really, really tasting it, taking a small sip of wine in through your lips, rolling it around in your mouth so that it touches all parts of your tongue, and even sometimes slurping or gargling a little before finally swallowing. The point is to engage your sense of taste fully with every sip. Some dedicated wine tasters will even spit out the wine after tasting it so the alcoholic effects don’t hinder the next tasting.
4) Notice. Here is where mindfulness really comes in for me. At every point in the process of tasting a particular bottle of wine, my attention is fully claimed. From the moment the wine enters my glass, I am observing the color, feeling the weight of the glass in my hand as I swirl, breathing deeply to smell as much as I can from what the description tells me to expect, and then finally taking a small sip onto my tongue to contemplate the flavor as it slowly makes its way to the back and down my throat. I savor. All my senses are engaged. With this sip of wine in my mouth, I am fully present in this moment in an embodied way. Then, before I take another sip, I consider the finish and the aftertaste. I compare it to the other wines I’ve had and to my expectations from the description.
5) Repeat. And then, slowly, I go through the process again. Do I pick up any nuances I missed on the first sip? Is my palate more discerning on this trip than last time? Can I appreciate the wine more fully than I did last time?
6) Share. Wine tastings, like many activities, are more fun with friends. Since my husband and I often go together, I like to ask him about his experience of the wine we are tasting. What did he notice? How did it compare to other wines we have tasted? I find that sharing in his experience and sharing mine with him creates a greater depth. My wine tasting experience would be incomplete without this opportunity to share with and learn from each other.
7) Change. I have found that since I started wine tasting, I accidentally apply this method to other beverages I try. New blend of lemonade on the menu? Let me swirl it around in my glass and breathe it in first. It’s led to some odd looks from dinner companions, I’ll admit. But that has only further impressed upon me the benefits of drinking wine as spiritual practice. Slowing down and allowing our activities and experiences to fully engage us in the present moment—fully engaging our bodies, minds, and spirits—helps us cultivate a valuable and lifelong habit reminiscent of Brother Laurence’s practicing the presence of God.
What do you think? Let your voice be heard in the comment box below!
Hello, lovely readers! I’m back to blogging after an unofficial month-ish off. Did you miss me?
After some much needed rest and a break from productivity, I’m excited to get back to HBTB and share what has been coming up for me this summer.
Learning to rest and to allow myself to feel unproductive has been an ongoing challenge. There is always that lingering guilt and pressure to perform and to do so that I’m not wasting my time or being lazy.
But I have found that if I can get to a place of allowing myself to become restful and to be, then I am able to experience so much needed restoration and rejuvenation that I could never access otherwise. It is a constant choice toward balance, a journey to the middle. I’m getting there.
In my own spiritual life, I have found such peace and life in pursuing contemplative forms of prayer. One way that I am moving toward balance in my life is seeking out forms of meditative movement that provide the opportunity to release my mind from the rigors of left-brained living as well as engage my body in the overall spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of my whole self.
There are a number of forms of meditative movement around. Some, like body prayer, can be very overtly Christian while others, like Yoga, are more accessible to a variety of faith traditions including those who claim none. In my search for a gentle, meditative exercise that would be kind to my currently limited physical condition, I came across Qi Gong. Similar to Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, and other movements, Qi Gong is the practice of visualizing the healing flow of energy throughout the body using a series of stretches and motions designed to promote healing and health.
Here’s a description of Qi Gong that I really like:
If the language of “energy” is uncomfortable to you, you might like this meditation on The Lord’s Prayer using Qi Gong movements:
For me, talking about the healing flow of energy always makes me think of the active movement of the Holy Spirit, which is the presence of God within and around us. I often visualize the Holy Spirit as a wisp of smoke like from an extinguished candle or a living ball of gentle light. Sometimes the light becomes a bright fireball in my mind’s eye!
What about you?
Do you have an image that represents the presence of God in your life? Maybe you like the scriptural images of wind, water, or a white dove. Share your image in the comment box below. I always love hearing from you!
I’m not a cook. I don’t make food; I just heat it up. Or order it. I’m really good at ordering. My husband, on the other hand, is a very talented cook. He enjoys creating something delicious and wonderful out of a whole bunch of unassuming ingredients.
So what can we learn from cooking about the spiritual life?
Cooks are patient. They don’t rush through the process but take their time to make sure everything comes out as it should.
Cooks are creative. They look at seemingly incompatible ingredients and see delicious possibilities.
Cooks are collaborative. Ever watch the Food Network, or do a web search for a certain recipe or cooking method, or walk down the cooking isle in a bookstore? Cooks love to share and learn and *ahem* brag.
Cooks practice self-care. My mother always used to say while cooking, “Don’t muzzle the ox!” That was her blanket permission to eat whatever you want while you’re cooking in the name of taste-testing.
Cooks are diligent. They do what they do over and over and over again. They do it day after day, meal after meal. They are dedicated to their craft.
Cooks are intuitive. They test out new recipes, experiment with new ingredients, and use measurement systems like “dash” and “pinch.”
Cooks are brave. They share what they create, usually quite proudly. They enter contests, go on competitive reality TV shows, apply to work in restaurants, produce blogs or books or movies that chronicle their craft.
Cooks are caring. They provide daily sustenance for those they love the most, for themselves, and for the hungry around them. They bring cookies and cupcakes to the school bake sale. They serve in soup kitchens. They share their casseroles and pot roasts and pies at pot lucks.
If you’ve ever wanted to be patient or creative or collaborative or practicing self care or diligent or intuitive or brave or caring — well then, you should take your cue from cooks and practice spiritual cooking.
* HBTB does not promote or condone smoking. It is general knowledge that breathing nicotine into your lungs is toxic to your body. This post is designed to focus on what smokers can teach us about the spiritual life.
The Spiritual Practice of Smoking (while not really smoking)
- Smokers listen to their bodies well.
- Smokers know the importance of taking regular breaks from the daily grind.
- Smokers appreciate the calming effect of deep breathing, in and out, in and out.
- Smokers understand the camaraderie of taking breaks with other smokers, sharing the experience of smoking together.
- Smokers enjoy getting away from it all, going outside, and having a moment apart just to tend to their body’s needs.
Next time you find yourself rushing through yet another busy day with your head spinning and time flying by, take your cue from smokers:
take a moment to step outside
experience the community of shared interest and activity
tend to your body, your mind, and your spirit every day
This week we’ve been talking about finding spiritual practices within daily life, in everything from flossing to breathing. In the words of Rob Bell, everything is spiritual.
This weekend, take some time to create your own spiritual practice.
It doesn’t have to be hard work. We breathe without any intentional effort and only stop breathing with concerted effort and for an extremely limited time. So, too, spiritual practice can be just as natural and even just as involuntary.
All it takes is desire and decision.
Find a practice that feels natural to you. Maybe it’s taking a daily walk, reading a morning Psalm, making dinner, driving to work, or breathing. Make it something that is already part of your natural routine, something that you can use to call your attention to the holy and sacred in the normal pace of life.
Whatever it is, decide to make that activity — however innocuous or normal it may seem — your invitation to the Holy Spirit.
Try it and see what happens.
Then come back and share your spiritual practice in the comment box below.
Spiritual rhythms are like bodily rhythms: respiration requires both inhaling and exhaling, taking in and letting go. – Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction
Breathing is perhaps the oldest and most widely accepted spiritual practice that involves the whole mind-body-spirit being. Aside from Buddhist and Zen uses of focused breathing to enhance mediation, Christians have long used breathing as prayer practice, perhaps the most well known of which is the Jesus Prayer.
The Jesus Prayer is a simple, repetitive prayer to be used as you breathe in and out:
Inhale: Lord Jesus, Son of God,
Exhale: have mercy on me, a poor sinner.
A simple Google search of “Jesus Prayer” pulls up a number of very helpful descriptions and guides for breath prayer, so I won’t reinvent the wheel. What I want to point out is this:
We have been created for rhythm and ritual, repetition and regularity. Just as our bodies depend on the pattern of heartbeat and inspiration/expiration to function and remain alive, so our spiritual selves depend on patterns of spiritual practice to function and remain alive to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
This is who we are. We are mind-body-spirit beings. We are creatures of habit. We are soothed by the rhythmic sound of rain or waves. We reduce stress with slow, steady breathing and periodic times of quiet.
We meet God in the most ordinary, uninspired moments. We come alive with the breath of God. God comes to walk with us in the garden, to enjoy our company in the cool of the evening. All we have to do is be available and attentive, recognize the presence of God in our daily experience, and open ourselves to the tingly rinse of the Holy Spirit within us.
It’s as easy and natural as breathing in and out and in. It’s who we are. It’s who we’ve been created to be.
Next time the world feels like it’s crashing in on you, next time you’re stressed out and rushing, next time it all feels like too much — take a moment, and breathe.
I was never a fan of flossing growing up. Although I had the good fortune to have nearly perfect teeth (thanks, mom and dad), my gums have always been on the sensitive side, so flossing is an unpleasant task. When we moved to Santa Barbara, I switched dentists and have been enduring regular lectures at my cleanings about improving my flossing habits ever since.
Here’s what I’ve learned about flossing over the past year:
- It’s not just for after you eat popcorn or celery.
- It hurts, and it will make you bleed.
- If you don’t keep doing it, it keeps hurting.
- Not flossing can result in cavities in the impossible-to-reach-with-a-toothbrush places between your teeth, no matter how good you are about brushing.
- No matter how good your teeth are, if your gums are unhealthy, your teeth will eventually loosen and fall out.
- You have to floss regularly or you lose most of the benefits of doing it at all.
- You have to get way down into the crevices or it’s not really worth doing.
- Be gentle but also vigorous.
- Use antiseptic mouthwash after to kill off the newly-exposed bacteria.
I just went to the dentist last week and got the lecture all over again. True, I’ve flossed more in the last year than I had in my whole life. I’ve made progress, but I still have room for improvement. I can be more diligent, more vigorous, more intentional. I can pay more attention to the task at hand and properly prepare my gums for that final tingly rinse.
And I got to thinking, as I dutifully wound thread through my teeth every night this week, that God sure has a sense of humor.
Ever since I first heard of body theology back in seminary, I have been learning to be more attentive to the connection between mind, body, and spirit that makes up who we are as human beings, made in the image of God. But that first day, when my world opened up to a more holistic way of being and relating, I never would have imagined that several years later I’d be blogging about the spiritual lessons in ordinary bodily experiences like bathing, eating, sleeping, sneezing, menstruating, hiking, farting, or flossing.
God is having a little fun with me. Well, two can play at that game. So here we go.
What’s spiritual about flossing? It’s a lot like confession.
In confession, whether we reveal ourselves to another trusted person or only to the God who knows all and loves us anyway, we learn to do the routine work of clearing away the debris from our hearts and minds. But if we want to stay healthy and experience God’s healing in the deepest places, we’ve got to do more than brush the easy-to-reach surfaces. We’ve got to do some flossing.
We’ve got to get way down into those crevices where our sin, shame, guilt and baggage like to set up residence. Even if the big, outward parts of ourselves are pretty healthy, letting that stuff fester will eat away at our roots until the healthy stuff loosens and starts to fall away. We’ve got to be diligent and consistent, even though it hurts and there may be blood in the sink for a while. But then, once we’ve gotten way down deep and exposed that debilitating bacteria, we find we’ve made room in those crevices for the healing power of God, that tingly rinse we call the Holy Spirit.
Our gums won’t heal overnight. Some of the damage might already have life-long consequences or require intervention from a professional. But if we keep at it, night after night, we will find ourselves slowly being restored to full health, maybe a health we didn’t even know was possible.
God is big like that.
God does the work of healing and transformation in our lives. Without salvation, grace, and the powerful, active work of the Holy Spirit, we would all be toothless. But when we join in and take an active role in our healing, we find we are on the road to being fully restored as the mind-body-spirit beings we were created to be — the good and unique handiwork of God.
What healing and restoration is God calling you to in your own life? Think about that next time you floss.
When Borders was closing and offering 75%-off-all-products-and-fixtures-everything-must-go, my husband and I happened to walk by a branch in the Arcadia Mall on date night after we had treated ourselves to a luxurious meal at Cheesecake Factory. We were splurging because Matt had just received a promotion at work, and we were preparing to move to a place with NO Cheesecake Factory (gasp! where will we eat?).
We wandered around the store — a mess of piles and clearance bins and empty, dusty fixtures — and ended up in the health section. Although I have never been one for arbitrary exercise routines and workouts (I hate being told what to do, how to do it, and for how long.), I took a Pilates class in college that I really enjoyed. Out of curiosity, I picked up a Pilates video, and 10 minutes later I was walking out with five different DVDs and a complementary resistance band. After all, they were 75% off.
And they sat on a shelf gathering dust, along with my Yoga mat (Do they actually MAKE Pilates mats? I’ve never seen one for sale, but Yoga mats are everywhere.) and Pilates circle — leftovers from my college days when I thought I might actually have the discipline to exercise on my own.
Until this weekend.
You may have noticed I haven’t been around the blog much lately. If I were a better blogger, I would have had extra posts already written and saved for a rainy day, but I am not a better blogger. I am just me. So when I reinjured my neck and shoulder (a gift from an old car accident that just keeps on giving) and couldn’t move an inch for five days without screaming and sobbing, blogging was the last thing on my mind.
The first thing on my mind was how I couldn’t believe it had only been four months since the last time I reinjured myself. The rest of the time I spent alternating between despair that this will be my life forever (What happens when we have kids one day and I CAN’T stay in bed for five days?) and hope that there is something I can possibly do to spare my body further reinjury (Maybe there’s a magic surgery all the physical therapists and chiropractors I’ve seen have forgotten to mention). And I slept a lot.
And I thought about the cathartic post I would write for you lovely readers when I could bear to type again.
I was all set to write one of my lament posts so I could vent about how sucky it is to have a recurring injury and chronic pain. I was going to list all the ways my body has failed me and why I think I deserve better. I was going to complain about how limited I feel (I don’t even know HOW I reinjured myself this time around.), how depressing it is to feel 80 when I’m still in my twenties (technically, anyway), and how negatively the pain affects my spiritual life and walk with God (there’s a lot of anger, for one, and a sense of injustice).
I’m sure that post will get written one day, probably sooner than I’d like. It is recurring and chronic after all. But today is not the day for complaining and venting. Today is the day for solutions, for looking forward and taking charge of what I can do to aid my recovery. Today is the day I stop blaming my body for failing me and accept responsibility for the state I’m in. Today is the day I move on with my life.
At least, in theory.
Once I could bear computer work again, I did some internet research on my condition and how to treat (and hopefully cure) it. After a few hours, I came to the conclusion that the trained professionals in my life were not, after all, lying to me or hiding from me the magic cure I was hoping for. I was doing all the things the internet (and the doctors) told me to do.
All except one thing. I didn’t have a daily exercise routine targeting and accommodating for my injury.
In truth, I have been terrified of reinjuring myself through exercise and weight training. My rule of thumb has always been to baby the injured muscle as much as possible and hope that works. (Evidently hoping does not have the magical properties I was counting on.)
So this weekend I opened all those Pilates DVDs that have been gathering dust for almost two years. I pulled off all the wrapping and sticky stuff (How do people ever steal these things? They’re impossible to open!) and stuck them, one after another, into the DVD slot on my laptop. I fast forwarded through every routine on every disc and found the ones that would target my injury and best benefit my overall health without taking too much of my day or requiring me to sweat.
On Sunday morning, I woke up naturally (no alarm), made myself a cup of tea (Earl Grey, loose leaf, with a touch of sugar and a drop of almond milk), and followed along with the first routine: a five-minute segment on concentrated breathing while sitting on the edge of a chair.
And then I went about my day.
The hardest part of being all-or-nothing is taking baby steps. I’m terrible at moving incrementally. But what I am good at is planning ahead, and with the help of my husband (who always helps me keep the pace), I planned out my increments in advance. I couldn’t do all the shoulder stretching (I still can’t turn my neck all the way to the left, and putting my right arm behind my back is impossible if I expect to breathe at the same time.), but once my muscle recovers enough, I will be able to add in the “Pilates for Stretching” segment I picked out. Then once the pain subsides to its usual dull ache and tightness, I will be ready to add in the segment targeting arms and shoulders (though I’ll modify the exercises by doing the motions only without the weights).
That will make a total 25 minute exercise routine. Can I do this every day? Yes, of course I am capable. Will I? If I ever want to stop reinjuring myself at every odd moment, then yes, I will have to figure out how to motivate myself to be disciplined.
And here at the very end we get to the point of it all. Our physical activity is limited to — and inspired by — our mental and spiritual activity.
What has been blocking my ability to get into an exercise routine? My fear that exercise will hurt, and that it will make my body worse instead of better. It is also blocked by my distaste for being told what to do, which touches on a deeper fear of not being in control — in other words, the fear of being forced to submit to something that may cause me harm.
So, ultimately, my inability to experience healing in my body is a result of fear. As I try the morning concentrated breathing routine (which incorporates a brief moment of visualizing energy moving throughout the body), it will be important for me to allow the Holy Spirit to enter into my experience and cast out that deeply ro0ted fear with God’s perfect love. I have also decided to use a breath prayer spiritual exercise as I make my tea to prepare me for the breathing routine in which I will recite that verse.
In this way, I will incorporate my spiritual self (the breath prayer), my mental self (visualizing the Holy Spirit as the energy moving through my body and letting go of the fear that is holding me back), and my physical self (following the Pilates plan I have prepared). This spiritual practice, like all spiritual practices, requires intentionality, focus, and discipline.
This connection between the tangible and the intangible is what Holistic Body Theology is all about. Practicing the Spiritual Practice of Exercise (intentionally incorporating elements of the spiritual and the mental into the experience of the physical) is a perfect representation of holistic living into the complete and full life in Christ that we have been promised.
Go forth, my lovely readers, and do likewise.
How do we define what physical experiences are also spiritual experiences? It depends on our perspective, motivation, orientation, and intention.
So, likewise, in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to doing everything there for the love of God, and with prayer upon all occasions, for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy, during fifteen years that he had been employed there. (14)
Further, he talks about the denial of the flesh for the support of spiritual pursuit as having little positive effect in itself. Rather, it was his orientation toward God that had positive spiritual effect:
That all bodily mortifications and other exercises are useless, except as they serve to arrive at the union with God by love; that he had well considered this, and found it the shortest way to go straight to Him by a continual exercise of love, and doing all things for His sake. (15)
Not everything that happens in our physical bodies has spiritual benefit– and likewise, not everything that we attempt in our minds has spiritual benefit. What makes our actions and efforts spiritual is not whether they take place in the physical or mental world but whether they are oriented toward God.
In this way, eating lunch can be spiritual — or not.
Reading scripture can be spiritual — or not.
Washing dishes can be spiritual — or not.
Going to church can be spiritual — or not.
Taking a walk can be spiritual — or not.
Praying can be spiritual — or not.
Having sex can be spiritual — or not.
Singing a hymn can be spiritual — or not.
Even farting can be spiritual — or not.
I don’t know about you, but I have had some of my most profound experiences of God while sitting on the toilet or lounging in the bathtub. It may not be the most “appropriate” setting for meeting the Creator, but our God is not as disturbed by our basic bodily functions as we might have been trained to expect.
When we engage our bodies and minds together in an orientation, a mindset, a focus toward opening ourselves to the counter-cultural and unexpected work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we might just be surprised at the avenues God uses to reach us with words of grace, mercy, conviction, and kindness.
Just like Brother Lawrence, we can learn to experience God while we are performing our least preferred tasks — like washing dishes. God is ready and willing to meet us in whatever moment we are available and listening — whether we are sitting in the church pew or passing gas in the privacy of our boudoirs. There is no situation in which God is not capable of entering and showing us more of who God is and who we are because of God’s presence in our lives.
So next time you let one go, take the opportunity to let God speak into and through the basic, bodily experience of being alive in Christ.
You might be surprised what God can do with a little breaking wind!
Experienced mountaineers have a quiet, regular, short step — on the level it looks petty; but then this step they keep up, on and on as they ascend, whilst the inexperienced townsman hurries along, and soon has to stop, dead beat with the climb….Such an expert mountaineer, when the thick mists come, halts and camps out under some slight cover brought with him, quietly smoking his pipe, and moving on only when the mist has cleared away….You want to grow in virtue, to serve God, to love Christ? Well, you will grow in and attain to these things if you will make them a slow and sure, an utterly real, a mountain stepplod and ascent, willing to have to camp for weeks or months in spiritual desolation, darkness and emptiness at different stages in your march and growth. All demand for constant light, for ever the best — the best to your own feeling, all attempt at eliminating or minimizing the cross and trial, is so much soft folly and puerile trifling. — Baron Friedrich von Hugel (as quoted in Run with the Horses, Eugene Peterson, p. 109-10)
My husband and I just spent the day in Kings Canyon National Park. Because of my back pain and fatigue issues, this was our first real outside adventure since we moved to Santa Barbara (unless you count snowboarding near Las Vegas in January, during which I stood up a grand total of three times on the bunny slope and quit after the first hour). We want to go backpacking in August, so I need to start getting back into shape after spending the last few months mostly in, on, or near the bed.
All day today, I couldn’t get this quotation (above) out of my head. I am learning to use the “quiet, regular, short step” of the experienced mountaineer.
My husband is constantly reminding me to slow down, pace myself, and enjoy the surroundings, but my destination-oriented brain is solely focused on getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. I want to be finished, to go back to the car feeling successful. I want to hurryupandgetthere!
I’m the same way in my spiritual life. I want the “fun stuff” of God’s revelation without putting in the time being quiet, being regular, and being well-paced.
But I’m easily distracted, rushed, irregular. I fill up my days with television and music and talking and all the loudness of life. And when I do set aside time to be still and quiet and experience the presence of God — I want to hurryupandgetthere, too!
But today, in Kings Canyon, we didn’t really have much of a destination at all. The park itself was our destination, and so I was able to enjoy being at the place we wanted to get to, wandering among the meandering paths — paved and unpaved.
For the first time, I was aware of more than just my feet plodding, rushing to the next shaded spot, the crux of the next hill. I was aware of more than just my labored breathing, my annoying allergies, my sciatic nerve.
For the first time, I was able to really look at the mountains and the trees, enjoy the grassy meadows and rivers, feel the mist on my face from the waterfall, notice the smell of pine and cedar on the breeze, look back at my husband and smile.
– Isn’t this great?
For the first time, I was able to appreciate the journey, pace myself appropriately, and experience the healing and renewal that come with just being outside among the sun and shade and surprising beauty.
There’s something about being outdoors that opens us up to natural revelation, to the friendly camaraderie of strangers enjoying a common activity, and to the slow and steady pace and rhythm of a lifelong pursuit of Jesus.
Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.