Oh, coronavirus, you've taken too much from us this year, retreats included. However, I am so very excited to share with you each that online retreats are here.
YES! We're finally ready to begin our journey of online retreats at Exploring Peace Ministries. It's been a challenging season for all of us to find new ways to interact and connect in our businesses, churches, communities, and relationships. After pausing all in-person retreats for 2020 due to COVID-19, I wasn't sure what was next. Yet after much discernment and lots of prayer and help, I've discovered and created a safe online space that I think you're going to love. Yes, it's possible to connect in safe space amidst a pandemic and I can't wait for us to begin. I'm more than thrilled to be hosting my online retreat book experience for you in a new space, our Peace Seekers Community. You'll find me there now along with our community moderator, Lauren, and a handful of Beta Testers. If you register for the Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit book retreat, you'll gain access to our community and see exactly what's in it for you (encouragement, connection, community with other Peace Seekers just to name a few)! The retreat and our new community is open as of TODAY!
Retreat materials will be available for pre-work beginning August 17th. Our 40 Days together and live teachings begin September 1st! Don't miss out on this chance to offer your body and spirit a reboot in community. I am so excited to journey through the book with you!
glimpses of his face
upon leaving the parade
wisps of confetti and hurrahs floating in our brains
palm branches remain scattered in our minds
and one on a donkey passes by, looking, intently – as if into our very souls
seven days our watching, from afar or close by
perfume scents the air before a feast of delicacies spread
she has broken open her heart and the vial of treasure
for sharing silent tearful words of holy drops, his feet touched
tainted tables in the Temple crash to the floor
his voice echoing off the marble walls in defiance
of mistreatment upon those come to worship,
who is there in this company, over-priced dove in hand?
friend/companion arranges the ill-fated movement of betrayal
we ponder motive - angst, skepticism … despair or truth
loft dinner for a chosen few; ‘tis good to be included
what will he have new – in song or word – for us this night?
night that never ended and never will
garden dew, strangers’ grip, off and away
we watch him disappear into the courts
early morning and far too many people in the streets
choices offered between the two
but we have no part do we, as he appears
tattered and torn, enduring, suffering
interrogation and courage
only the weight of that devilish cross spans
our perception of the moment, his breath in our face
his eyes once again in our gaze
to the deafening silence of death
a holy week.
by Rev. Mary Anne Akin, April 2020
Below is a glimpse into my habits and what I long to prioritize. Does every day check off every habit? No, it doesn't and that's okay. My heart's desire is to prioritize these areas of my life so that I can live into the life God has created for me. You may also look at this list and wonder, when does she do anything for anyone else? The point of these habits are to live as my best self so I can live and serve God in my home, my community, and this world. Self care may seem or feel selfish to you but it is true that if you pour into you, you can more easily pour out into others.
Have you heard of a Rule or Rhythm of Life? I don't love rules but I do love rhythms and that's what my habits have become, a rhythm. Some "play" more loudly than others in certain seasons but they all matter to the overall music of life.
My current healthy habits include:
Silence & Meditation (breath prayer, centering prayer, reiki)
Prayer & Scripture (this often looks like journaling or lectio divina right now)
Movement (walking, yoga & swimming are my favorite - I am so ready for summer!)
Herbs (herbal tea and St. John's Wort have saved me this winter, check out this blog post)
Clean Living (real food, less toxins)
Reading for growth (spirituality, business, personal growth - I often listen to audio books while doing laundry, etc.)
Reading for pleasure (historical fiction all the way)
Focused Time (writing, creating, dreaming)
Relationship Growth (friendships, dating my spouse, family time, active listening with my teen, peer group accountability)
Financial Stewardship (budgeting, banking, administrative tasks)
Rest/Sabbath/Sleep (blocking off days of my week without social media is a new and helpful habit)
Gratitude (prayer of examen)
Some of these habits are MUCH easier than others are for me. I started clean living after my stroke and brain surgery in 2005 out of necessity. Today it's a fairly natural habit until food temptations arise and I find myself off course. Because it's a long standing habit, it's fairly easy to pick back up and find the rhythm, like a musician who hops in mid song. Others of these habits are truly challenging. Silence may be the hardest on this list in this full season but I long for it and desire it so much. That's why I'll be choosing silence & meditation as the area to focus my heart and mind during the season of Lent.
Do you have a healthy habit you want to focus on during the Lenten season? While this time is often known for giving up, it may be a time to add to for you. Either approach could be taken with healthy habits - give up something (that is not great for you) or consider adding something (that will help you find your healthiest and best rhythm).
What healthy habits are vital for your body and spirit?
We often get tips for our bodies or our business at the start of each new year. But, what about tips for your soul? We're not talking goals, we're talking soul care. What makes your soul sing?
Below is a transformational tip that if you embrace this one habit this year, I believe your soul will indeed sing. I use the practice of a morning ritual in my own life and encourage you to as well.
Already have a morning ritual? Share it with me on social media! Tag me at @WhitRSimpson and show us how you're #ExploringPeace in your daily life.
How to create a morning ritual:
Set aside a few minutes to ponder, what draws you nearer to God? Then make a list (journaling, savoring silence, reading, watching the sunrise, meditating on scripture, a healthy breakfast, practicing centering prayer, movement, etc.) and place that list in your planner, journal, beside your bed, or on your bathroom mirror (somewhere you will see it!).
Enjoy your morning ritual:
Once you have your inspiration, take action for your soul and enjoy it! Here's the tip: each morning dedicate the time you have set aside to one (or more than one) thing on your list. Whether you have 5 focused minutes (not every morning is slowly savored, I get it and remember the toddler days) or a slow and savory 75 minutes (on the best day ever of you being the only one to care for), enjoy YOUR morning ritual. Consistency is my key to a soul-filled morning ritual. Contrary to popular belief, there is no time limit required for drawing near to God and you do not need to do everything on your list at once (it may actually be better that you don't). For the benefit of your soul, choose to BE with your ritual rather than DO your ritual and start with just a few minutes at a time.
So what's my morning ritual look like?
My morning ritual:
It feels important to share I'm not what some would call a "morning person" which is why I believe my morning ritual is so valuable to my soul. This time set apart helps ground me and enter in to a day with a heart and a body that is set on God and not how little I love mornings.
Before my feet hit the floor, I explore a few simple yoga stretches and place my hands on my body for prayer. The normal morning hygiene routine takes place (Ayurvedic medicine has taught me about tongue scraping and I include this most days too, ever tried it?), then I cuddle into my prayer/meditation chair for either a few minutes of breath prayer, centering prayer, or a time of journaling (as an Enneagram 4, I like variety in my quiet time but I don't do all of these - I pick one). If it's a slow and savory morning, I include devotional and/or scripture reading. Note: while I prefer to draw out my mornings, many mornings are more hurried than others so this may take as few as 5 minutes, it's the intention of being present with God that is the focus of my morning ritual. Commit to pick one thing from your list and practice it daily, that's it.
Once I've enjoyed the quiet, I move from contemplation into some self-care action with prioritizing care of my physical body. Before bed, I try to prep my favorite green lemonade so I can sip on something good for my body first thing in the morning (my green lemonade recipe is lemon water with spearmint chlorophyll and green juice powder - it's an acquired taste and I love it now). A brisk walk does me good but it's true for me that my soul must be awake first. So while exercise is part of my day, it comes after my soul is awakened! Once I'm dressed and ready for the day, I visit the kitchen for two more important hydration elements. First, I brew my herbal tea then I blend my favorite smoothie (hemp protein, spinach, banana, frozen blueberries, frozen butternut squash, raw cacao, collagen, flax, chia, or whatever else I may have on hand). So yes, caring for my body is a vital part of my morning ritual. With practice, these habits have become a soulful experience to start my day for spirit rather than chores I must check off my list.
What do you do for your soul in the mornings?
Create a ritual of caring for your soul a few minutes at a time and you'll find encouragement to care for your self and grow in your spiritual practices in 2020.
A decade has passed since I stumbled into this space and told the world (maybe one person actually clicked through from my link to that first post) that God was inviting me on a journey of exploring the gift of peace on January 18, 2010.
What began as a blog post written at my kitchen table, with a 5 year old under my feet, is now ministry. And, I'm mom to a teenager with a first job and a driver's permit. A lot has happened in ten years.
Ten years later, I'm learning and teaching and sharing all that God has shown me along the way and I'm more passionate than ever about evolving as a peace seeker (one seeking God's peace) and as a peace maker (one leading others to also seek God's peace) on this journey.
Do I have it figured out and live a peace-filled existence all the time? Let's get this straight, my friends: absolutely not. I'm knee-deep living into my sandwich generation (caring for both offspring and parents), learning how to run a brick and mortar yoga studio with my business partner, pondering politics, the future of the church, and inequality in our world. I'm feeling guilty over the plastic I toss and the water I waste. I wonder if I'm doing too much or not enough and where the fine line is in the middle that I can actually walk.
And I have discovered there is a false understanding that those of us who prioritize our soul care are living perfectly peace-filled lives. We aren't. The truth is that prioritizing soul care gives us peace, even when we cannot shift or change the circumstances. We begin to notice and ask, "where is God in this?" and draw nearer to the one who longs for us to pay attention. We get better at practicing presence and grow in every situation but we are not masters of the life or void of troubles.
As I reflect on drawing nearer amidst the reality and struggles in this world, I celebrate what I have learned in this past ten years of exploring peace. I've learned about my fears, my hopes, and what drives me (thanks, Enneagram!), about the world around me and creation care, how to slow down and savor time with God, how to meditate (or not), and what my Rule of Life entails (thanks, St. Benedict). I've learned what brings me joy and what makes my heart break. I've learned about essential oils and crystals and real food (thank you, Hildegard of Bingen) and how connecting with elements God created give me life and bring me peace when I need it most. I have learned how challenging it is to write down some innermost parts of myself and share those in the form of a book (thank you, Upper Room Books). I have learned how to be brave and say yes and how to say no (even when I don't want to). I have learned to walk away from places God had me for both long and short seasons and walk into new ones (even when I don't understand). I have learned what it means to meet God in consolation and desolation (thanks Prayer of Examen and St. Ignatius). I have learned about energy work and the amazing connection we have with our bodies and the way God made us. I have learned to explore grief, sadness, and disappointment. I have learned to feel joy and pleasure. Each of these has helped me to live present and embodied. I have learned that experiencing all this for myself deepens my relationships to others and my purpose in this world. I have learned that mastery is not the goal and exploring the gift of God's peace will forever be an invitation, not a destination.
You know those self help gurus who tell you they have it all figured out? The ones that say the answers are all inside their latest release or class or program? Don't believe them. Your answers are inside of you, not them. We cannot look to anyone beyond our Creator and ourselves to explore what God offers each of us. We are each on our own exploration with God.
And while we are unique, we need each other! Because I long for companionship on this journey and suspect you do too, in the coming months, more resources are coming for your journey (I've been working on these for months and 2020 is the time to invite you to join me in each of these - I am so excited about what is coming and have been bursting to give you more details!). Keep reading for a little preview of what is to come!
This year, after ten years of purposeful exploration, three new things are on the horizon for this ministry space:
1. The Exploring Peace website will be getting a fresh new look and growing to include more resources for you (look below for a hint of what is to come).
2. We'll be launching online discernment groups (where we meet virtually to dive into some of these tools I've learned and explored over the past decade). Peace Seekers and Peace Makers will be equipped with resources each month and we will meet and learn together from our own experiences. If you stumbled here from your email in-box, you'll be the first to know when the groups are open for registration (later this year). If you've landed here from social media, be sure to click here and hop on my monthly email list (I promise, I don't email you all the time, that gets old quickly).
3. And finally, Exploring Peace Meditations will be launching soon as a podcast (no more clunky downloads from this site, I'll be right in your pocket as of early 2020). Yipppeeee!
I hope you will continue to follow along as we explore this gift of God's peace in our lives together. I'm grateful for your companionship and look forward to what the next decade offers us together. Oh! I have one BIG favor. If you read this entire update and you're still here, you're part of this growth and we need your voice here. Would you be willing to offer a few words about your own journey of exploring peace (how spiritual direction, yoga and meditation, retreats, my devotional book, or some other resource has impacted you)? These short testimonials will be offered to new peace seekers to encourage their spiritual formation journey.
Thank you for being here and entrusting me on your faith journey. May 2020 be a year of discovering God in deeper ways and learning about the one God created (YOU) along the way.
You need a pause.
That may sound presumptuous but the reason I write it is because well... it is especially true for me this time of year.
How about you?
You are entering the busiest time of the year, on top of your already busy life. There are meals to host, parties to attend, gifts to find, memories to share, and more. THESE ARE GOOD THINGS so please don't hear these words in the spirit of guilt or condemnation. What this means is... you're going to need a pause soon amidst the celebrations. It's okay to rest. You can not continue pouring into the world without also filling yourself up with rest and space for contemplation. Your soul needs pause. Your body needs pause. Your mind needs pause. And sometimes we need to be reminded, it's okay to rest.
Need some ideas to help make space for a pause in your daily life?
- Turn off social media alerts on your phone to ease distraction and be more present in the days to come.
- Pick one day a week where you choose to log off and avoid screen time completely, savor some silence.
- Plan time in the new year to get away (want to join me on retreat in January in Nashville? - click here) for sabbath time apart from daily life.
- Practice some quiet and slow meditative and purposeful body movement (especially after a day of turkey or ham!) by going for a mindful walk or unrolling your yoga mat for meditative movement.
- Quiet your mind and start with 5 minutes a day of Centering Prayer, let that time grow with practice.
Pauses do not happen on accident. Even Jesus took naps! I hope you will make time to pause this season - your body and your spirit will thank you!
seismic shift, noun: a great change
Gracious, friends. The last time I posted anything at the blog was April. It's now...October. I had no idea it had been so long since I sat down here to write. What happened? I'm "supposed to be" a writer!
Well, I think it's a combination of quite a few things. The first component is grace. YAY for grace! I am discovering the grace to let go of my "perfect plan" and realize if you don't get a blog post from me, it is quite likely...you do not even miss it. After all, you're bombarded with words from every direction on a moment by moment basis. A dormant blog does not cause a seismic shift.
But life surely does! And, sometimes you get stuck before you can shift. Who is with me?
What has led me to my recent shift? A perfect combination of season of life challenges like parenting (being a mom to a teen is so very different than being a mom to a toddler, I'm learning) and healthcare needs (I haven't had a thyroid since I was 18 years old and my body is experiencing a shift in hormones too, anybody relate?). Nothing huge on its own, but definitely plenty of change. And I got stuck amidst the change. Stuck in my head. Stuck in my body. Stuck.
My stuck spirit needed a shift. My soul needed some TLC. Pardon me for not taking the time to share much of this shift. So, since I get asked a lot for resources, I thought popping in to share some of my recent shifting tools may be helpful.
My soul care toolbox currently includes:
NOTE: I feel like this is really important to say because people assume since soul care is my passion that I experience bliss-filled consistent meditations and hear from God every time I sit down to pray or practice. Ummmm, no. It's a practice to embrace any of these and to care for yourself, my friends. Don't think it has to be perfect or ideal. Simply start where you are and practice. It's in the practice that we find the shift.
How do you care for your body and your soul when you need to shift? Sometimes it takes getting stuck to realize we can indeed create great change in our lives and shift toward God's peace with purposeful practices and habits. If you're stuck, I pray you find a seismic shift! Let me know if you explore some of these tools and how they offer you peace on your journey. What's in your soul care toolbox these days?
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.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Content @ 2010-2020
Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC