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Forward Friday: Create your own spiritual practice

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.

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The Spiritual Practice of Breathing

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.

Forward Friday: Becoming Listeners

Peregrinatio est tacere: to be silent keeps us pilgrims.

I’ve been thinking about this quotation of Nouwen’s all week.  Why is it that silence is what moves us forward?  What is the value of silence to the spiritual life?

The answer hit me yesterday morning when I awoke before my alarm and lay listening to the gentle drops of rain on the window.  It rains so rarely here, and when it does, the rain is more like mist or drizzle.  You have to be really quiet, really still, to hear the rain against the window.

As I lay listening to the rain, I realized something very obvious and un-profound: we must be silent, we pilgrims on our spiritual walks toward God, because it is in the silence that we learn to be listeners.

The spiritual discipline of silence is about more than one individual act of listening.  It’s more than just creating space to hear from God in the moments we are seeking amidst the busy-ness of life.  In silence is where we learn humility, truth, grace, peace, conviction, compassion. Practicing silence is about changing our mode of operation, changing our orientation to the world, to life, to God.  Practicing silence is about cultivating a listening spirit, a listening heart.  It’s about becoming listeners.

Only then, in the silence we have cultivated, will we be able to hear the soft drops of rain glancing against the window, so easy to miss.  Only then, as listeners, will we be able to discern the way forward.  To be silent keeps us pilgrims.

This weekend, take some time to practice being both silent and in silence.  Try this exercise to get started:

  1. Find a quiet spot and a comfortable position. (Stillness is valuable, but you may find a steady activity like walking or swimming helpful as well.)
  2. Plan the amount of time you want to try to be in silence. If you’re new to it, try starting with one-three minutes.  For more experienced travelers, try working up to 15-30 minutes. If helpful, set a timer or alarm so you can relax into the silence without worrying about watching the clock.
  3. Be in silence.  If helpful, light a candle as a focal point or close your eyes.  If you’re walking, fix your eyes on a steady spot on the horizon.
  4. As you are in silence, acknowledge any thoughts, ideas, or feelings that surface.  Gently release them and return to your focal point.
  5. Notice what you hear around you or even perhaps within you, both inward and outward.  This is not a time for analysis or cognitive effort.  Just notice and pay attention to what happens in the silence.
  6. After your silence ends, take some time to reflect on your experience.  What was it like?  Were you distracted? Anxious? Bored? What did you notice during the silence, both about yourself and about what was around you?  Did you sense a message from God?  From your body?  Did you find yourself plagued by some doubt or pain you’ve been avoiding? What did you learn from your experience that might inform your practice of silence next time you try it?

Come back and share your experience in the comment box below.  Let’s talk together about what it’s like to learn to become listeners.

Forward Friday: Thanking the Pace-Keepers

This week we talked about hiking as a spiritual practice toward achieving balance and rhythm in our lives.  Today’s Forward Friday is short and sweet:

1) This weekend, take some time to identify people in your life who have helped you keep the pace in your spiritual journey.  Let them know how their presence and companionship have affected you.

2) How can you be a pace-keeper in the lives of those around you?

Come back and share your experience in the comment box below.

Forward Friday: Finding Your Spiritual Practice

This week we explored the spiritual practices of sleeping, eating, and exercising.  Sometimes we can experience spiritual significance through these simple, daily activities.  Other times, these activities in themselves can teach us about the value of maintaining spiritual practices as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

1) This weekend, identify one life-giving activity. 

It could be a daily walk, making dinner, reading a Psalm every morning, taking the scenic route to work, or anything else natural or intentional.

2) Notice what about that activity makes it life-giving for you. 

Is it a break from the hectic rush of your day?  Is it an activity to share with someone you love? Does it give you renewed energy? Does it affect your mood?

3) Consider ways to apply what you enjoy about this activity to other parts of your daily life. 

Should you share more activities with a loved one?  Do you need more alone time?  Would you prefer to increase the time spent in your life-giving activity?  Do you need to plan ahead to create space for more of the same or similar activities?

4) Come back and share your experience here. 

What life-giving activity did you choose?

The Spiritual Practice of Exercise

Now that we’ve thought together about the spiritual practices of sleeping and eating, let’s look at one more: exercise.

I am not an exercise kind of person.  I do not like going to the gym, walking on treadmills, lifting weights, or any other repetitive activity that takes place in a small, sweat-smelling room as a substitute for actual physical activity.  Give me a bicycle, and I’ll take a ride around the neighborhood, but what exactly is the purpose of a stationary bike?

If I’m going to get any exercise, I need to work it naturally into my normal routine.  Instead of finding the closest parking spot to the door, I’ll park in the back of the lot and walk a few extra steps.  Instead of rolling my groceries out to my car in the cart, I’ll carry them out. Instead of taking the elevator, I’ll take the stairs–two at a time.

At least, that’s what I did until I hurt my back last year, discovered I have scoliosis, and began a regimen of medication, ice packs, and chiropractic visits to manage the pain.  What I wasn’t very good about doing were my daily stretches and exercise-ball activities that my chiropractor recommended once the majority of the pain subsided.

I have the ball and the yoga mat, but they live under the stairs.  I have the Pilates videos, but they live in the DVD drawer.  I got out of the habit of exercising because of the pain, and I haven’t been able to get back into it.

My husband is forever encouraging me to go bike riding or hiking with him, but the pain in my back and leg win out over the benefit of exercise every time.  I know the pain would lessen if I exercised more, but I’m stubborn. I find excuses to stay in bed and watch TV.

Here’s what I’ve learned by refusing to exercise:

  1. Exercise is a choice. No one is going to make me do it.  It is for my benefit alone, and I am the only one missing out.
  2. Muscles atrophy with lack of use.
  3. Bad habits are hard to break.
  4. Excuses, rationales, and justifications are many and readily available.
  5. If I don’t make time for it, I won’t have time for it.
  6. Exercise is easier with a friend to keep you accountable (and company).
  7. I’m much more likely to take a walk on the beach in the evening to watch the sunset than I am to walk aimlessly around the block.
  8. Sometimes it’s worth paying for someone to train and guide me rather than trying to do it all on my own for free.
  9. If I don’t exercise, my body isn’t prepared for fun things like backpacking with the hubby or a day at the zoo.

Having a healthy body can go a long way toward adding to a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. But exercise isn’t just about the physical benefits.  It’s also a discipline we can learn and apply to our spiritual lives.

Some spiritual practices are easy and enjoyable. They fit with our personalities, natural giftedness, and interests.  Other spiritual practices are hard work. That’s why they’re called disciplines.

Not every spiritual discipline is necessary for vibrant spiritual growth and maturity, but sometimes we can benefit from learning a little self-discipline.  Who knows when that might come in handy?

How might your life benefit from a little more discipline?

The Spiritual Practice of Eating

Yesterday we talked about the spiritual practice of sleeping and what we can learn by listening to our bodies.  Today, I want to continue that topic with a new subject: eating.

It’s no secret that fasting is a spiritual discipline.  Especially as Lent has just passed us by, we are more acutely aware of the relationship between denying the body and preparing the soul.  But what about eating? How does indulging in the “desires of the flesh” promote spiritual pursuits?

I have never been a breakfast person.  Perhaps it has something to do with being a night owl and an insomniac, but I just can’t seem to digest anything right after I wake up in the morning (or the afternoon).  Say what you will about the “most important meal of the day,” but even the thought of consuming food in the morning is enough to turn my stomach.

In high school, I used to force myself to eat the lunch I brought with me every day because I was afraid I would be accused of having an eating disorder if I didn’t present at least an effort at eating.  I developed a habit of eating as fast as possible in order to finish my lunch before my body had time to realize what was happening and complain.

In college, I actually passed out once after going more than 48 hours without food while studying for midterms. I had been so busy holed up in my room that I didn’t even realize I hadn’t visited the dining hall in two days.

I’m still not a good eater.  I forget to eat all the time, and when I do remember, I am either too busy or too tired to eat well or even at all.  But along with my Lenten fast from being awake, I have been making a concerted effort toward listening to my body to find out when it’s hungry.  Here’s what I’ve been learning about the spiritual discipline of eating:

  1. Eating is a good and necessary aspect of human living. It is not something to be despised or beaten into submission but something to be cultivated.
  2. When I ignore my body’s messages about being hungry, it stops telling me what I need.
  3. I have to re-teach my body to experience hunger by providing consistent food. I am teaching my body to trust me again.
  4. Just eating isn’t enough. My body needs a healthy and varied diet.
  5. When I eat properly, I actually lose weight because my body is no longer in starvation mode.
  6. My body learns unhealthy habits like craving chips and chocolate just as quickly as it learns healthy habits like craving fresh salads and fruit.
  7. Not all my body’s messages are healthy.  I have to discern the difference between being hungry and just having a craving for junk food.
  8. When I listen to my body and give it healthy food on a consistent basis, my digestive issues magically disappear.  Imagine that.
  9. It’s also easier to go to sleep and stay asleep when I am eating well.
  10. Eating isn’t about gaining or losing weight; it’s about making healthy choices to help bring wholeness and balance to my body.
  11. Making the time to eat, and taking the care to choose the best food rather than whatever is easiest or quickest, is like making time for God.

When I am able to make healthy, balanced choices for my body and discern among the messages my body sends which ones are necessary and which are not, then I am better prepared to live my life in a healthy, balanced way. Learning to listen to my body is teaching me to be more discerning, more conscious, and more intentional about my daily living.

The spiritual practice of eating is hard work, and I’m not always very good at it.  I tire easily and fall back on ignoring my body or feeding it with whatever is easiest.  But I know that learning to make good choices and put more effort into what I put into my body is teaching me the value of intentional living.

How are you living your life on purpose? What are you intentional about?

The Spiritual Practice of Sleeping

Sleep and I have a love-hate relationship.

I battled insomnia for most of my childhood and adolescence.  In grad school I slowly began to settle into a routine of sleeping 5-6 hours each night.  When I graduated and found myself sleeping 6-7 hours on a regular basis, I thought I had arrived at a normal sleeping pattern.

Then I discovered I actually need more like 10 hours of sleep per night, which means every night I sleep 7 hours, I wake up sleep-deprived.  So over the course of the Lenten season, I put real effort into sleeping 10 hours every night.

Here’s what I learned about the spiritual practice of sleeping over the past 40 days:

  1. New habits do not form overnight.
  2. I am allowed to be imperfect, fail, and fall short of my goals.
  3. Sleep is good for my body.
  4. I’ve never actually slept enough in my whole life.
  5. Listening to my body is hard work, and I often miss the first two or three messages.
  6. When I listen to my body and do what it says, I actually feel better, healthier, and more awake.
  7. When I don’t listen to my body, we both suffer.
  8. I’m not as young as I used to be.  Wow. That makes me feel old.
  9. Getting enough sleep improves my mental and physical energy, my digestion, my attitude, and my motivation to enjoy daily activities.
  10. Not getting enough sleep makes me grouchy and lethargic.
  11. I am allowed to prioritize my need for a good night’s sleep above being available for work opportunities or hanging out with my hubby.
  12. I am still way more likely to prioritize being available for work or hanging out with my hubby above getting a full 10 hours of sleep every night.
  13. How I treat my body, and what I do with it, affects my spiritual life.
  14. This spiritual practice of listening to my body is hard work.

Now that Lent is over, I’m tempted to fall back into my old habits of forcing my body to live and do as I say without regard for what is healthy.  Learning to listen is an ongoing lesson.  I’m slowly realizing that when I disregard what my body says, I suffer. But when I do listen, I am able to achieve more health, wholeness, and balance in my life.

I can’t expect to find healthy balance in work or relationships if I am unwilling to first achieve balance within myself–body, mind, and spirit.  It is up to me to choose my priorities, to choose self-care, to choose to listen to my body and follow through on what is necessary to be a healthy, whole person.

In this season of life, how is God calling you to find health, wholeness, and balance?

Forward Friday: Where Physics Meets Metaphysics

If you’ve ever had a philosophy class, you probably know that we get the word “metaphysics” from the placement of books on Aristotle’s bookshelf.  Next to the book he titled Physics was another book without a title, so scholars came to refer to the book as meta-Physics or the-book-after-Physics-on-the-shelf.

As far back as Plato, there has been a conscious separation of the physical and spiritual, as though the two were not intimately intertwined.  One of the profound experiences of the Lenten season is the remarriage between the physical and the spiritual through the spiritual discipline of fasting.  We’ve been talking a lot this week about how fasting allows us to experience our spirituality in a physical way.

1) For this Forward Friday, reflect on how your chosen Lenten fast joins the physical and spiritual sides of your experience together.  Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

2) If you haven’t chosen to observe Lent this year, try choosing to fast for the weekend and come back to share what you noticed about the link between your spiritual and physical life.

 

Guest Post: 3 Must-haves for Lent: Part 2

My friend Jenn Cannon has graciously agreed to share her experience of fasting during this Lenten season and its impact on her body theology. If you missed it, check out Part 1. You can find more of her writing here.

Many people, in modern Christianity, have taken the idea of a fast during Lent and tried to turn it into a positive action.  Instead of simply abstaining from certain foods, people are opting to try another way to express the same idea without the physical side-effects.  As an example: my former pastor gives up his morning Starbucks and all fast food and then donates the funds that he has saved to his favorite charity.

Unhealthy Fasting

As I have journeyed to get healthier in the last 8 months, I have found that I cannot outright deny myself a certain food without the danger of a binge looming on the horizon.  If I tell myself I cannot have chocolate for 40 days (or 46 depending on how you count it), I will most certainly have a meltdown and gorge at the end when I finally allow myself the chocolate – or I will be frantically trying to find something else to fill that need.

Either way – I lose sight of the meaning of the fast, and also do myself more harm than good.  Many people who are journeying back to health will tell you the same horror stories – fasting from any certain thing is a recipe for a binge.

Healthy Fasting

So I have learned to eat things in moderation.  Great.  But then what am I supposed to do about Lent?  If I want to participate in the spiritual journey of preparing myself for the coming sacrifice of Christ, what then can I do instead of giving up meat (which I already eat very little of) or chocolate (again, a minor part of my diet and not really a sacrifice) or anything similar?

I am fasting from laziness.  Fasting from sitting on my butt.  My Lenten practice, this year, is to commit to some form of intentional exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.  I am choosing to observe Sundays as the mini-Easter that they are, and so are not part of the fast.

So – that is my physical piece.  But, as a Lenten practice, it is fruitless and self-serving unless I add in the other aspects of prayer and service.   So, my prayer (or God-focus) part of Lent is to read Scripture more regularly, pray while I’m on the treadmill, and change the music I listen to to help keep my thoughts centered on God while I’m walking.  As for service, I am always looking for the people who cross my path that I believe God sent to me.  Also, my discipline for service will take the form of writing.

Writing as Spiritual Discipline

I have a lot going on in my head as I journey back to health – and with nudging from good friends (like Laura) – am realizing I have much to say and share as I do.  So I will be writing – intentionally – during the full season of Lent.

My writing is intended to help others understand this journey of getting healthy, encourage those who are struggling with their own health, and – selfishly – to help me process some of the stuff I need to think about – specifically regarding my self-image.

Join the Conversation

So have you thought about what you’re giving up for Lent?  Do you have a reason for your choice?  And how does your personal choice (Self-focus) tie back in to the other two aspects of Fasting: God-focus and Others-focus? Leave a comment in the box below to share your journey this Lenten season.

I am a musician, a photographer, a theologian, a customer service rep.  I am a wife, a stepmom, a sister, a daughter, an aunt.  But mostly I am a child of God striving to live my crazy life the best way I know how.  These writings have been born from my journey back to health that I started in June 2011.  At that time, I weighed over 300 pounds and needed to lose at least half my weight to be considered in a healthy range.  Since then, I’ve lost almost 50 pounds through adjusting my diet and adding exercise.  The surprising side effect is the emotional changes that go along with getting healthy – and that is what has prompted me to begin to write.

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