During my spiritual direction practicum work almost ten years ago (I still can’t believe how quickly time passes as we age, can you?), I was introduced to St. Ignation (1491-1556) and the Prayer of Examen as a daily spiritual exercise. I first learned of this practice in a Companions for Christ study series but had not embraced the practice as my own discipline.
Now a decade later, I find my day is almost incomplete without this daily ritual. Why, you ask? Like no other spiritual practice, it invites me to notice God’s activity - in all aspects of my life. By pausing and taking a few moments at the end of each day to reflect and notice those moments I’ve either felt near or far from God, some patterns begin to emerge. Ignition spirituality invites us to notice both consolation (when we feel drawn toward God, inspired, connected, fulfilled) and desolation (when we feel far away from God, drained, disconnected, turned inward).
As I look back in my planner (where I log in just a few words my daily reflections), I begin to notice themes. I notice those “close to God” moments often become repetitive. For instance, “I felt close to God today while leading yoga & meditation class” or “in nature walking with my spouse” or “during a soul talk with a friend” that day. I may have felt far away from God when I “failed to be present with a friend” or was “juggling too many hats” or “overwhelmed by caregiving” that day.
This ancient practice is one that St. Ignatius encouraged the Jesuits to practice twice daily (both at noon and at the end of the day). While I have found that once a day (at the end of the day) works best for my life, you may wish to explore it more often as done historically or even simply once a week. Below, I’ll share my own “once a day” method for examining my life with God and an additional step I've added to the ancient practice.
This example is how the Prayer of Examen has manifested in my own life. I’ve made it a simple practice by using symbols in my planner and write only words or phrases. I find that if I have expectations for myself of journaling long paragraphs, I do not follow through with this practice on a regular basis. Some people reflect with these questions in silent prayer only without writing it down. However, I find that reflecting on paper allows me to notice patterns and themes in my life with God. The concept is simple, no matter how it’s structured. Ignatius invites us to become aware of God’s presence, review our day with gratitude, and commune with God as we look ahead to each new day of noticing our near and far away moments. I’ve added a step to this prayer practice to remind me that spirituality is an embodied journey. So, I also name one way in which I’ve cared for my body and soul to draw nearer to God that day - on purpose. The last step has become a vital one to help me move beyond spirituality as a concept in my mind and embody it with my whole self.
My practice looks like this:
Embodied Examen Prayer
Up Arrow: When did I feel close to God today (a moment of consolation)?
Down Arrow: When did I feel far away from God today (a moment of desolation)?
Smiley Face: What moment am I most grateful for today?
Heart: What is the prayer of my heart, for what would I like to pray to God about from today? (Note: this may be something already named from the day, or something entirely different)
Stick Person: What did I do to care for my body and soul to draw nearer to God on purpose today?
As I write this to share with you during Holy Week, I’m reminded of the emotional highs and lows of journeying with Christ. Ignation spirituality invites us into an ancient practice of noticing - the highs and the lows. This practice is as powerful today as it was hundreds of years ago for the Jesuits. If you’re intrigued with this ancient practice, why not explore this prayer during Holy Week? If you want to read more on Ignitian Spirituality, I’ve linked a couple of books from some of my favorite teachers. The second book offers wonderful insight on sharing this practice with others - including the children in your life. This practice is easily adaptable to be shared with small groups or around the dinner table with your family. How will you practice the Examen?
Inner Compass by Margaret Silf
Sleeping with Bread by the Linns
May you discover God in the consolation and desolation and be reminded of God's nearness this Holy Week!
Short version: I'm going back to school.
Long version: As my journey in ministry unfolds, I'm grateful to be living into my work as a spiritual director, writer, retreat leader & yoga instructor. And, I've been accepted as an official candidate for the Order of Deaconess and Home Missioner in the United Methodist Church. This is a lay role for a person who makes a lifetime commitment to full-time cutting edge work (which I am doing now!) in ministries of LOVE, JUSTICE & SERVICE. As I move toward joining this movement, I connect with others all over the world who are part of this covenant community.
Entering into this relationship as a Deaconess candidate has not been an easy or quick discernment process (which began almost a decade ago) yet I'm grateful for God's clarity and this community who support my work and my calling! And with that, I will be continuing my education!
So what? I'm sharing this update with you as you may notice a few things shifting as I return to seminary coursework. For those who have supported my online community page on Patreon (where I offered guided prayers, audio scripture passages, and live sessions in 2018) that space will close at the end of this year as I focus my efforts on my coursework, yoga & spiritual direction at the studio and writing (here at my blog and elsewhere as time allows). My hopes are that as the community page on Patreon closes, I can begin adding more downloads and other resources here at my blog for you to explore! Also with the closing of the community page on Patreon, I am opening three additional spaces for monthly spiritual direction for supporters who may wish to go deeper with God on their journey. You can find out more about spiritual direction by clicking here.
So, that's the longer version of what is next on my journey of living this "with God" life. I pray 2019 continues to offer you clarity in life as well and that you feel God's companionship along the way.
What's shifting or new in your life? Drop me a message or comment here, I commit to offering a prayer for you as we begin new journeys together in 2019.
Listening for God can sound like an intimidating concept. Listening for God with your body sounds even more intimidating to some. Yet pausing to listen for God does not have to be hard or overwhelming. This little sentence of truth washes over me now after years of expectations. Expectations of how I should approach quiet time with God. Expectations of what it should or should not look like to worship my Creator. Expectations of the outcome after having spent time with God. Maybe those were expectations I placed on myself, maybe they were expectations others placed on me, I’m not certain. However, I am certain that today I celebrate in releasing all expectations and simply find joy in pausing to listen for God with the gift of my whole self in new and creative ways.
On my spiritual formation journey, author (and now friend) Kristen Vincent’s work with prayer beads has shaped me and my listening. Over the years, I have offered workshops and retreats inviting others to create their own prayer beads to draw nearer to God using her book, A Bead and a Prayer. There is something special about this anchor of sorts in my hand. A set of beads which I enjoyed crafting with the intention of drawing me nearer to God. Prayer beads help me slow down in my own body when I hold them or wear them. They also invite me to pause and pray when I see them with my eyes on my nightstand. The simple act of seeing or holding a set of beads encourages me to breathe in the presence of God. Our bodies are remarkable and a simple reminder to be present in our own selves, drawing us nearer to our Creator.
My work invites others to use their very own body to draw nearer to God and listen. After attending one of Kristen’s workshops, I was so inspired by Kristen’s journey and her invitation to pray with beads that I created this prayer for me and for you. Allow this prayer to invite you to pray not only with your beads, but also with your body on the journey of listening to God.
Holy Listening with Prayer Beads
by Whitney R. Simpson
Cross: Creator God,
Invitatory Bead: give me ears
Resurrection Bead: to listen for you with the gift of my whole self – breath, body, and spirit.
1st Cruciform Bead: With each breath I am reminded you give me life.
Week Beads, Set 1: (Praise God for each breath and how it allows you to…)
2nd Cruciform Bead: Forgive me when I do not love my body as you intend.
Week Beads, Set 2: (Confess to God the ways in which you do not love your physical self as God intends…)
3rd Cruciform Bead: Holy Spirit, you are within me, for this I give thanks.
Week Beads, Set 3: (Give thanks for the Spirit within and the ways in which you recognize this…)
4th Cruciform Bead: Maker, I give thanks for the gift of the whole self and your dwelling within.
Week Beads, Set 4: (Praise God for noticing the connection of ways in which your breath, body, and spirit allow you to listen for God…)
Resurrection Bead: Giving thanks to the Creator,
Invitatory Bead: I receive the holy in what you may have me hear today.
Meditation: Thank you for the gift of listening for you God with my breath, body, and spirit.
Are you interested in creating your own prayer beads using Kristen's model to practice this prayer? Join me on Saturday, November 17th from 10 AM until Noon for a time of mindful crafting and prayer at Bloom Yoga Studio in Lebanon, TN. Click here to register.
This prayer and post originally appeared on Kristen's blog in March of 2017.
In the past week I have had multiple conversations about prayer labyrinths and how prayerfully walking these over the years (some indoors, some outdoors) has shaped my faith journey. One conversation arose in a spiritual direction session, another after a yoga class with a student, and another at a meeting with a colleague. I find it interesting how God nudges me to return to the ways I best listen and hear when life feels distracted or I begin to feel distant. Labyrinth walk soon anyone? I am grateful for the reminder that this ancient prayer practice helps draw me nearer. So, I thought I would share this overview for those of you who aren't familiar with labyrinths and invite you to discover one near you (keep reading).
What is a Labyrinth?
For Millenia, pilgrimages to holy sites have been part of the Christian tradition. However, when a pilgrimage was not possible, the discipline of this spiritual journey was found on the labyrinth as a symbolic prayer walk. By walking the labyrinth today, we are rediscovering a long-forgotten tradition found in various traditions and forms around the world. While labyrinths have a history that can be traced back thousands of years and to a variety of religions, their beginning origin is unknown. No matter the style of the labyrinth, structurally, it has only one path so there are no tricks and no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives, each on a journey. Walk it with an open heart and mind as you allow God to touch your sorrows and release your joy, allowing your soul to sing.
What a Labyrinth is Not?
It is important to keep in mind that a labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is designed to confuse you, a cognitive puzzle (mazes only entered our world’s culture about 600 years ago). A labyrinth has only one path that leads to the center, designed to easily find your way making space for prayer and meditation.
Why Walk the Labyrinth?
The labyrinth offers a sacred and stable space to focus your attention and listen to your soul. It is a wonderful place to pray. However, the experience is different for everyone because each of us brings different raw material to the labyrinth. As with any spiritual discipline or prayer practice, we bring our unique beliefs, hopes, dreams, history, and longing of the soul. Leave behind what may not serve you as you journey toward union with God in quiet reflection.
How Do I Walk the Labyrinth?
Try to not have expectations, simply enter into the journey and use your senses to move your body forward in prayer. Before you walk, quiet your mind and become aware of your breath. Ground your feet and let go of any expectations. Simply have an open mind and do what feels natural. You may wish to choose a prayer, centering word, or phrase to avoid a wandering mind. Some find simply focusing on their breath helps them remain in the present. Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to move forward (skip, dance, or walk very slowly). Those going in on the path will meet those coming out. You may "pass" people or step to your right and let others step around you. Do what feels natural. Afterward, you may wish to sit quietly and reflect, journal, create, or simply give thanks. You may find the following three stages helpful for your walk:
Find a Labyrinth Near You:
Click here to visit the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator. Note, not all labyrinths are posted at this website. You may also wish to do a simple search on the internet for locations in your area.
The above information was created and compiled by Whitney R. Simpson from the research of Lauren Artress using her guides, "Walking A Sacred Path” and “The Sacred Path Companion” as well as the Grace Cathedral Website. If using this information as a guide for others, please note these resources and also cite this post at www.ExploringPeace.com/blog.
If you know me well, you know I love collecting Bibles. Insightful commentary as well as scripture in fresh translations are encouraging to my soul. So, when I discovered the Common English Bible had created a Women's Bible, I was excited to spend time with this one in my lap. It is indeed fresh and what really makes this one unique is that the commentary was written by women - for women. The CEB Women’s Bible is intended for all women. It was designed for women in church leadership, women in the pews, and especially for women who value spiritual practice in their lives. It is ideal for those who value equality and discussions related to issues of gender and justice and how those ideas are lived out through their faith (YES, please!).
Once I discovered this gem, I wanted to share it with you too. Good news! My wonderful friends at Abingdon Press gifted me a new hard cover edition to be given away here at my blog - TO YOU! So, if you're feeling like you may need a fresh new translation with insightful commentary, I would love to share this Bible with you! It will be mailed via Media Mail in October to one blog reader (US Residents Only). You have during the month of September to enter the giveaway (the winner's name will be drawn and announced in the October newsletter)!
Simply enter your name and email address below (you'll be subscribed to my monthly soul care newsletter). For an additional entry, comment on this post with an encouraging scripture passage you would like to share with the women in your life. AND...you gain another bonus entry in the giveaway if your passage is from the CEB translation (my favorite)!
Feel free to share this post with someone who may also love to discover the new CEB Women's Bible. Let's encourage and bolster one another on the spiritual journey and reconnect with God's word.
Summer is winding down but the taste of summer doesn't have to leave you. One of my favorite drinks is a healthy, fizzy, flavorful treat called kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented tea and...I love it! It's good for my body and therefore, it's good for my soul. You can find kombucha in your local grocer (typically in the refrigerated produce section). My favorite store- bought flavor is GT's Trilogy Synergy.
However, my kombucha "habit" quickly became too expensive for our family's grocery budget. So about a year and a half ago, I began brewing my own kombucha at home. It's really not as intimidating as I imagined (I am working through my limiting beliefs about my abilities in the kitchen) and it is VERY inexpensive once you gather your supplies! I researched and read lots on kombucha before starting the process. One of my favorite online resources for all things food and health related is Wellness Mama. You can read how to brew your own tea and read more of those benefits at her blog.
After my research, I traveled to my favorite tea shop in Nashville to pick up my first SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). I know, it sounds gross. But, it's magical! Your SCOBY is the key factor in the fermentation process. You want it to come from a reputable source to keep your brew safe! If you're near Nashville, High Garden Tea is a perfect place to grab your SCOBY and ask questions as they have master brewers on staff. They will even taste test your brew!
If you've read this much about my favorite tea, you're either already brewing your own or maybe you're interested in getting started with home brewing. So, I'm sharing my favorite flavor thus far on my brewing adventures...keep reading.
Once your first fermentation is complete (after about 7-10 days), you can flavor your tea and bottle it to create a soda style drink with a second ferment (this increases the fizziness and adding the flavor is amazing!).
So, here's my favorite summer flavor for my home brew.... Cherry-Limeade!
When ready for your second ferment (follow Wellness Mama's instructions to get to this point), remove your SCOBY and save one cup of liquid to store it until next use (I store my SCOBY in the fridge between brews).
Pour 1/4 cup fresh or bottled organic lime juice (I like Santa Cruz brand) and 3/4 cup fresh unsweetened tart cherry juice (I like R.W. Knudson) into your tea.
Use a ladle and a funnel to pour your flavored tea into your sealable bottles.
Seal and leave on the counter for 2-3 days at room temperature then refrigerate.
CAUTION: Do not shake. It will explode! You may even want to open your bottles and test your second fermentation readiness over the sink or outside with a towel (spoken from experience).
ENJOY and savor summer with your homemade deliciously flavored cherry-limeade kombucha!
Guest post by Lisa Huddleston
Lying on the space of rubber mat
Feet to the left and to the right
Both hands open at my sides
I breathe in His name
Keeper of my soul
Hold and absorb
He is the keeper of my soul
He does not need my help
Breathing out in prayer
Help me to let go
Filling the the mercy seat between my cherubim hands and feet
Keeper of my soul
Help me to let go
Keeper of my soul
Help me to let go
Breathing in the physics of his name
Exhaling the disease of my lies
Treatments given by the Great Physician
Clear pneuma, no monia
Healthy breath, spirit, and soul
Did you know that nearly eight years ago the ministry of Exploring Peace began? It's always been an invitation for your breath, body, and spirit - long before my devotional book was released last year.
In 2010, I thought Exploring Peace was simply a blog name. Yet it is so much more than a blog. It is an invitation to journey with God. It is an invitation that reaches beyond myself and touches many, many more than I ever fathomed. What a humbling journey to invite others to explore the gift of God's peace with their whole self. This is one journey I truly ENJOY. And one that sometimes I forget to pause and savor for myself.
You may remember, my word for the year is ENJOY. Can you believe 2018 is now more than halfway over? Our family was surprised in a big way this summer. We moved to a "new" home (it's 100-years old) in a location where God had fantastic neighbors already surrounding us. I've now packed and moved BOTH a home and a yoga studio this summer. And, I'm tired. My body and my spirit are in need of dedicated time for ENJOYing some REST.
Me: How can I rest? There is no time to rest. There are still boxes to unpack..and...and...and.
God: Ummmm. Well, I am fairly certain we have talked about this at length, Whitney. Remember that theme on Rest you penned (see page 94-95 in the devotional book I inspired and please directly note Psalm 127:2).
Me: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Ressssttttttt.
As of this month, Exploring Peace Ministries is now an LLC. This means as an official ministry, it's definitely more than a blog. It means I have worked hard behind the scenes investing time and energy to be a good steward of the work God has called me to do. I'm so grateful for your continued support and encouragement! With this nudge and your grace, I won't be posting in the Exploring Peace online community for the remainder of the month and while I'll be sharing some photos on social media, it will only be once per week. This means, I need your presence, your support, and your prayers here online more than ever because this ministry is in such the early stages (keep reading on how you can offer support in July, please?).
You CAN find me in the studio teaching my regularly scheduled classes. And after Wild Goose Festival, you may find me on my porch reading a good book or two (or three or four!) or studying for my current yoga teacher training as I grow as both a student and teacher, or writing (because I have some ideas brewing). However, you won't find me much online again until August (okay, I will post a few pictures along the way, but then I'm signing off!). That's the main space I've clearly been invited to rest from for now.
Wild Goose Festival is the perfect place to practice my daily unplugging (because there is not much cell service in Hot Springs, NC). I'm committing publicly to log off to REST and ENJOY July because accountability is key and community is important. And, otherwise, I probably would not log off at all. Whew, admitting the truth hurts. I love social media and the connection and community I find with you online, so I will definitely be back soon.
I'm committing to log on only once per week to offer REST for my #BreathBodySpirit in July.
Your challenge is to post any image with the #BreathBodySpirit hashtag that connects with one of the 40 themes from the devotional book (click here to download the book's appendix and find a theme that inspires YOU this month).
When I return to regular postings on social media in August, I hope to see lots of #BreathBodySpirit hashtags because one of you will be receiving a Breath Body Spirit shirt as well as a handmade aromatherapy bracelet to say thanks for supporting this ministry and offering me a bit of encouragement as I find some sabbath REST on this journey with God.
Will you join me?
It is pointless that you get up early and stay up late,
This past month has been turned upside down, full of surprises! Our family is moving back to the town where we built our first home (in the same county, not that far down the road). Everyone keeps saying, "I didn't know you were moving!" Guess what? We didn't know we were moving either! We weren't expecting it. We weren't planning it. Yet we are leaning in and very excited to settle in our new-to-us (100 year-old) home.
Since last month's blog post (which quite a few of you told me you've been using, yay!), I have had so many opportunities to practice mindfulness and not only while packing up our current home. Recently, my body has experienced some new health challenges which have pushed me to a place of discomfort and pain in my abdomen and pelvis. Mindfulness, breath work, my physical therapist, yoga, and naps have been my friend this past month. And amidst my self-discovery, I realized I have been mad at my body and my digestive system. I have been mad at myself for things over which I have no control (and some of which I do have control). It saddens me, I have not been kind and loving to myself.
In my teaching, I share lots of love. Love for those tight hamstrings, love for that achy back, love for wandering minds in meditation, love for yourself. In class today, one of my students from Rest Stop Ministries, repeated my words back to me when I could not model for her the full expression of a posture (due to my physical limitations). She looked right at me and reminded to send some of that love I teach to myself. Note to self: love yourself, all of yourself!
Is it hard for you to receive love sometimes? What about in certain parts of your body or with your body image? Do you throw love around like confetti to the rest of the world? Are you kinder to your neighbor or even that stranger than you are to yourself? Do you overlook the imperfections in someone else and then analyze your own imperfections? Do you see yourself as God sees you?
Friends, I am not perfect. You are not perfect. The one who loves us and created us, loves us like crazy. Yet our Creator did not create us to be flawless. We are perfectly imperfect, even when life is upside down and we forget to love ourselves!
Thank goodness God's love never lets go. Thank goodness when I spot the imperfections and the failings and the pain, God sees love and light and hope, upside down or not.
God sees creation.
God sees me.
God sees you.
God sees love.
Do you? How will you love yourself today?
Your faithful love lasts forever, Lord!
By the way, yes that is me upside down in front of some local Lebanon Love! This amazing mural is on the side of one of my favorite boutiques in Lebanon, TN (around the corner from Bloom Yoga Studio). Iddy & Oscar's is a "Give Back Boutique" educating Kenyan orphans. If you have not yet strolled and shopped the Historic Lebanon Square, come visit us soon!
Need a mindset shift? Believe it or not, you don't have to be amidst the perfect place to recenter and refocus. Interested in an exercise to practice presence in just a minute or two, anywhere? You just have to notice.
Recently, I've had quite a few opportunities to share mindfulness tools with others. One of my favorite tools for sharing is an exercise some call 5 Senses. I like to think of it as 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
This exercise, whatever you call it, is an opportunity to use your five senses to practice mindfulness quickly and in most any situation! From kids to adults, it really is an easy way to for all of us to practice presence.
Notice five things you can see.
Look around you and bring your attention to five things that you can see around you. Try to notice the less obvious things or 5 things in detail (i.e. the green couch cushion rather than the couch).
Notice four things you can feel.
With your own touch, notice things you can feel. It may be your hair, your shirt or pants, the wind, your own skin, the chair you're seated in, or anything else you can feel.
Notice three things you can hear.
Quiet yourself and listen then notice three things you can hear. You may notice your own breath, the chirping of a bird, the sounds of an appliance, or cars passing by.
Notice two things you can smell.
Breathe in and notice what you smell - pleasant or unpleasant. This may be your own scent or a scent nearby.
Notice one thing you can taste.
Is there a taste in your mouth right now? If so, notice it. If not, consider savoring a taste, just one taste.
To recap, notice....
5 things you can see
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
This mindfulness exercise is quick and a fairly easy way to shift your presence and state of mind. Then notice what you feel, sense, experience after this exercise. What do you think? Have you tried this one? Will you notice? What might it offer you to take just a moment and notice right now?
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, unless otherwise indicated.
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