You're invited to join me for a reflective day apart offering space for God's wisdom through presence, intentional silence, and words from the Saints before us on All Saints Sunday, November 7th.
This women's soul care retreat is limited to 20 participants, please RSVP to save your spot. Your registration and $15 check must be received by 10/31/21 (or until the retreat is full). Our day retreat will be socially distanced with plenty of room outdoors (bring a lawn chair, yoga mat, blanket, pillow, or anything that makes you comfortable settling in for reflection). You'll receive a journal, guided prayer prompts, access to a hot beverage station, and a warm fire, as well as opening and closing time in community. In case of inclement weather, we may enjoy socially distanced reflection time in the sanctuary and/or chapel.
All Saints Sunday, November 7, 2021, from 12:30 - 4:30 PM at Lebanon First UMC in Lebanon, Tennessee. This event is open to the entire community and is hosted by Lebanon First UMC, facilitated by Deaconess Whitney R. Simpson.
Rest is one way we can love ourselves better. How do you find rest? Rest does not come accidentally to me and my personality. I do have to "find" it and make time to simply "be" with God. One reason I am so passionate about bolstering others in their own soul care is because I have had to work so hard at caring for my own soul over the years. It's not a natural inclination and yet God invites us to rest. Rest should not feel like work, it should feel like rest. Need some ideas to get started?
Here's a list of ways you may choose to explore rest this summer:
To find rest right now, try practicing one of my favorite ways to rest, Yoga Nidra. Listen below!
This week, a neighbor asked me to borrow an egg...and I was giddy. Sound ridiculous? Maybe so, but this simple act offered me an opportunity to respond to a question I've been pondering, how can I be a good neighbor?
As a kid, I grew up in a small town where our family knew lots of people. But, we moved homes within our zip code fairly often. So we didn't often develop relationships with those living next door. We rarely got asked to borrow an egg, or watch a neighbor's pet, or grab their mail.
To be a good neighbor, we don't have to become "best friends" with every person next door but we do need to have relationships that offer neighborly love. What is neighborly love and how do we show it? It starts with being kind.
Over and over again, scripture tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Bible gives us many tips on what it means to be a neighbor. It is a privilege to support and build up our neighbors, whether by dropping off an egg, offering a listening ear, or saying a purposeful prayer.
Romans 15:2 in the Common English Bible says this, "Each of us should please our neighbors for their good in order to build them up." If you're unsure how to do that, maybe you could ask? Pray this prayer simple prayer (or some form of your own prayer) today:
God, show me how to be a good neighbor. Give me an opportunity to respond with kindness to a need I can supply and help me build up those around me.
How do you build up your neighbors?
How has a neighbor supported you over the years with kindness?
It may not always be as easy as a dropping off an egg. God may stretch you to be a good neighbor and you may never know how your care and kindness impacts another. I sense the need to end this post with a Mr. Rogers quote. After all, Mr. Rogers is the ultimate neighbor!
“If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” Mr. Rogers
Be kind to a neighbor this week. If you'd like some companionship in praying for your neighbors with a walking meditation, listen to this episode of the podcast.
Oh, I love this image. LOVE & KINDNESS ARE NEVER WASTED!
They bless the one who receives them...
and they bless you, the GIVER.
They always make a difference.
Have you practiced Loving Kindness Meditation?
I enjoy practicing this meditation, most of the time. It's true, I want to offer loving kindness to myself, my loved ones, and the world. But when you get to that part about offering it to someone you're struggling with, that's really hard. Yes, really hard.
But God calls us to love and pray for our enemies, even forgive them. Right? And I find this type of meditation to be helpful when I'm struggling with a loved one (or stranger).
If you'd like a little support on your meditation journey with loving kindness (and love books as your guide) pick up my friend Dana's book, One Breath at a Time. Using five approaches (including loving-kindness meditation it's a practical, 40-day guide to beginning and sustaining a Christian meditation practice in our often chaotic world.
To be guided through an audio version of loving kindness meditation (where we specifically pray for our families), listen below.
It’s better to have a partner than go it alone.
Share the work, share the wealth.
And if one falls down, the other helps,
But if there’s no one to help, tough!
Two in a bed warm each other.
Alone, you shiver all night.
By yourself you’re unprotected.
With a friend you can face the worst.
Can you round up a third?
A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.
After more than a year of in person community being limited to screens and small gatherings, I've been craving more in person community connection. I'm so grateful for my soul friends - near and far - online and in person! And, I always long for more of those strands because I know I'm better together than alone. And I'm not alone in that. In listening during spiritual direction sessions, I have heard many prayers muttered for more authentic in person connection. Maybe you've missed your small group or worship. Maybe you've missed your in person yoga class or book club. Whatever it is you've been missing most, let that help you re-enter more purposefully into community connection. Let the longings help you find or sustain authentic connection!
This season of disconnection has helped many of us realize how important connection is in our lives (and to realize what relationships may not have been fruitful too)! We've found ways to connect or stay connected. But what will return to your schedule and what won't? What authentic relationships do you need to continue or what do you need to let go of? God created us for community, not to live life solo! Scripture reminds us, we're better together. Who are you doing life with?
I'm so grateful through our Peace Seekers Community I've been able to hold space for authentic connection near and far in this past year online! Many of us are now pondering how to authentically show up after such a long season of being tucked safely behind our screens. I've pondered this for myself and have created some journaling prompts for you below.
Consider these journaling prompts:
We pondered these questions in our online community this week and it made us more grateful for purposeful soul friends. If you're looking for authentic connection, consider joining us there.
Recently, I was asked to write an article for The United Methodist Church on embodiment and why connecting with the body matters for Christians. Here's a short excerpt of that piece and a link to the full story. Your clicking and sharing is always encouraging to writers like me.
If you've heard my story, you know that over 15 years ago, my body went through a health crisis (a stroke and brain surgery on my 31st birthday). At this time, I did not always feel like a whole person; I often felt disconnected and broken. While my body was in chronic pain, my spirit was also discouraged.
In that time of frustration, a physician prescribed yoga. I am unsure if it was the last resort on their part, but I was hurting and willing to try exercise and mindfulness. What did I have to lose? I did not know that yoga would be an invitation for embodiment and an opportunity for healing in my whole self—body and spirit.
Now, more than 15 years later, I not only practice living embodied, I am passionate about inviting others into caring for their bodies and spirits through embodied practices. If you are not interested in down dogs, I understand, but please know that yoga is not the only way to become more connected and present with yourself (although you may also be surprised).
Click here to read more and be encouraged with ideas for connecting with your own body today.
Latin for spiritual or holy reading, Lectio Divina is an ancient prayer practice that allows us to listen for God’s activity using scripture. This style of prayer lets us listen with an open heart for God’s activity in our life today as we connect to God through the written word. Lectio Divina focuses on the formational reading of scripture rather than the informational reading to gain knowledge about God’s word. While both are important processes, this art is seen as a more personal way to interact with the word of God.
Lectio Divina is an ancient monastic practice that has been modernized by academia with consecutive steps to the process that were likely not defined when it was practiced in the 6th century. For this reason, you'll find varying outlines for the practice in books and across the internet. For all practical purposes, the steps are the same and the process is simply an invitation to enter in to a time of conversation and contemplation.You'll read, reflect, respond and rest in God's word.
For those of us who enjoy Bible study, it can be challenging to set down your commentaries and highlighters and simply settle in with God's word with this style of prayer and listening. Yet the rewards have been evident for me as I experience both big and small glimpses of hope and encouragement for how God speaks today through the ancient text of the Bible. Don't come with expectations, just come and listen.
Here is a simple overview of Lectio Divina:
Read, Reflect, Respond, Rest
Need some companionship in formational listening with scripture? Use my devotional book, Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit. Or, listen to a guided Lectio Divina meditation on the Exploring Peace Meditations podcast.
The Lenten season is a time of fasting and releasing. I have gotten so comfortable here, Holy Week has slipped up on me.
Easter is almost here!
In that comfortable place of Lent, I've had some trouble thinking about celebrating Easter. Maybe you've felt overwhelmed by the troubles of the world too? It's easy to be distracted by the hard and heavy things of this life and miss out on the good things promised to us by our Creator.
But as a follower of Jesus, I do not want to miss out on celebrating the goodness of Easter! So, how do I move from Lent to Easter (and through an emotional Holy Week)?
My yoga knowledge reminds me how powerful presence is in the body using the senses. So this week, I am choosing to engage in tactile prayer experiences. And, I thought you too may enjoy this experience. I invite you to grab some crayons or markers and print the mandala resource below. It guides you with some thoughts to ponder as you pray and color.
No matter what you face today, may you...
Taste and see how good the Lord is!
The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy!
- Psalm 34:8 CEB
A Guest Post by Jessica L. Luzong
Why is Spiritual Formation, and specifically Spiritual Direction, important? This quote by Luci Shaw summarizes a deeper need for it in our lives:
"The pace of life and our preoccupation with unimportant things takes so much of our attention. The significant things, like taking time to develop friendship, to read and pray,... to listen to God- these all get sacrificed on the altar of good works and... busyness." - Luci Shaw
I don't know about you, but I would rather spend my life paying attention to what really matters!
Whenever I mention moments of revelation, growth and insight I receive from a Spiritual Direction session, I'm almost always met with the question: What is spiritual direction? Despite the consistent practice of accountability Whitney has offered me over the years of our meetings together, I usually hesitate to explain exactly what it is. I hope that in sharing some of these moments and experiences, you will be stirred to taste and see for yourself the goodness of God offered through Whitney and her ministry of Spiritual Direction through Exploring Peace.
I met Whitney at a Holy Yoga retreat in October of 2014. I had never heard of the ministry of Spiritual Direction, but I was stirred to meet with her and hungry to hear from God. The only briefing I was given prior to our first meeting was: "Even though it's called 'direction' a Spiritual Director doesn't really 'direct' you." But after our first, brief encounter, I knew I wanted her to continue walking with me on my journey with God as an accountability partner and a holy listener. The reason this was so important to me was because rather than giving me direction herself, what Whitney did was open up a space and hold moments for me to encounter God directly, to be directed by his Spirit.
Since that initial meeting in 2014, I can look back on the past 7 years and see very specific ways the Lord has used Whitney in my life to help me encounter, seek, and follow, which in turn, has encouraged me in making major life decisions. Some of these include moving across the country, serving overseas, quitting jobs and starting new ones, and letting go of fear! Less dramatic but extremely beneficial examples are: seeing and celebrating God in my every day life, pausing to savor good things with gratitude or actually feel the hard things in life, or naming my desires and surrendering them into the Lord's hands and perfect timing.
When I was first called to leave a dream job working in an art museum to move to California (unemployed), I thought it would be a temporary move, but the Lord had highlighted a one-way plane ticket for me to purchase. I felt a lot of trepidation at this and immediately thought to schedule a Spiritual Direction session. Whitney asked thoughtful questions, listened alongside me, and confirmed what we both heard as direction from Holy Spirit. After that session, with the affirmation I sensed Whitney shared that it really was a prompting from the Lord, I felt confident in my faith to buy that plane ticket! When I look back on that decision, it drastically impacted my future decisions and walk of faith with the Lord. What seemed a temporary place of travel became my home for the next 6 years!
Another example of the refreshment offered me by the ministry of Spiritual Direction happened when I was ministering overseas in India. I felt a bit burned out and very misunderstood by my team, especially the leaders. I met with Whitney, who graciously co-ordinated an 11.5 hour time zone difference! She listened- really listened- affirmed my feelings, gave me space to breathe (literally!), and invited me into a deeper freedom that I had somehow lost along the way of "doing" mission work. Caring for my soul in that season was more important than ever.
Because of my own yoga practice and investment as an instructor, as well as God's design of my body's flexibility and love of dancing and movement, I really appreciate how Whitney incorporates breath and posture (and movement if desired) into our sessions. "Embodiment" was never a terminology I consciously used, but began to understand more recently, through Whitney's usage, that I have always done this naturally. With her help, I am able to intentionally put into practice the embodiment of God's Spirit living in me and knowing God is there - Emmanuel - God with us! It's one thing to know some truth in your mind, another to know in it your heart, but it's absolutely transformational when we can know in our bodies, too. This practice solidifies our faith by making what is ethereal and unseen more tangible and alive.
There is such a powerful expression of faith that comes when we invite the Spirit of God and the Human-ness of Jesus into our lives. Whitney always reminds me in our sessions to slow down, become aware, and breathe. Even though I practice doing this on my own, I often still forget, speed up, or lose sight. Spiritual Direction grounds me back into the practices in which I know I can hear clearly from God. Having another Soul Friend on the journey with me is always such a great support and help.
Through Exploring Peace, Whitney has walked with me with God through major life decisions, not only in relocating several moves, but in listening to God's miraculous work in connecting me to my husband, getting married, and (most recently) having a baby! Experiencing Spiritual Direction while being pregnant offered me an incredible invitation to practice the embodiment of God's Spirit and his Creative Power within me during that precious time! Whitney invited me to include her as a prayer partner when I went into labor, and never neglected the wholeness of me as a woman, wife, new mom, and most importantly, child of God. She has lovingly remembered and reminded me of the call of God over my life, the dreams God has planted in me, while celebrating with me as they come to pass. When I've lost sight of these things, she offers subtle reminders, without any guilt or shame, for me to come back to the Loving Presence of God and simply be with my Creator, Savior, Friend of all friends. She is always and consistently "quick to listen" and shares in my walk of life in such a profound way, gently guiding me to recognize the Hand of God and his work within and around me.
With great honor I call Whitney my Spiritual Director, and can't imagine journeying through the spiritual life as a disciple of Jesus without such a precious witness and support from her!
If you're considering Spiritual Direction but have hesitation, my encouragement to you is to try it! There is nothing more valuable than the investment you make into your soul care. Scheduling time with Whitney is scheduling time with Whitney AND Jesus, with the accountability to meet with God, hear from God, let go of distractions, and have a safe listener there for support, confirmation and guidance into what you hear. God's love is always available for you! I have never, in 7 years, finished a Spiritual Direction session without feeling the love of God, having connected my body-soul-spirit with him, and being encouraged to continue walking closely with the Lord.
For this, I say a simple: thank you, Whitney. Thank you for offering your gifts to the world through Exploring Peace!
Silence: A Poem
by Whitney R. Simpson
She is my companion
yet I avoid her gaze
She is my teacher
yet I push back at her instruction
She is my guide
yet I veer from her course
She is my friend
yet I wonder why she comes near
She is my gift
and I long to savor her more fully
She is inviting me to a oneness with God,
listen...do you hear her?
I avoid her gaze
because at first she looks lonely
I push back at her instruction
because of my own agenda
I veer from her course
because I am easily distracted
I wonder why she comes near
because there is always another choice
Yet I long to savor her
like never before
And once I say yes to her
I receive an awareness I never knew
she could introduce to me
She is my companion,
She is God's gift
Whitney R. Simpson
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Content @ 2010-2021
Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC