Last weekend I traveled free with points (thanks, Southwest) to Jacksonville, Florida and then drove to the most beautiful of places, St. Simons Island. I had visited there as a child but it was my first adult visit at Epworth by the Sea and I LOVED it. I rode a bike in the mornings, walked a lot, and sat at the pier before the Southern Lights Conference began. Pro tip: if you're traveling solo (especially to an island) and have the space, always arrive early or leave late to offer yourself a little extra soul care and/or processing time.
As a writer, anytime I get to hang out with or meet the people whose books I've read and who impacted my journey, it's a treat. I did not ask for selfies, but I did soak up their every word. Then to meet new-to-me authors and Speakers as I did this past weekend - wow, wow, wow. I'm so glad I made time for this conference. And I took book money to spend - hooray!
Idilia Delio absolutely blew my mind (I realize 'absolutely' is an unnecessary word in this sentence but trust me, it is not). Literally, I think my brain is still processing what I heard, and will be for a long time. She is a Franciscan Sister and American theologian writing and teaching about science, religion, evolution, physics, and neuroscience. You would think she was boring - NOPE. Instead, she was an absolute delight and has tickled my brain in ways I didn't know possible. I cannot wait to read my first of her now 24 books!
The brilliant and healing poetry of Pádraig Ó Tuama, read by Pádraig, made poems come alive for me again, or maybe for the first time. His poetry readings invited us to think without telling us what to think. So I'll be listening to more poems this year and anchor my life with poetry.
I met the very kind and wise Christian ethicist Reggie Williams, and fantastic authors Diana Butler Bass and Brian McLaren (superb people). I heard from some brilliant podcasting theologians Tripp Fuller and Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Unfortunately, there's not enough space here to share all I learned from their sharing. Oh and I connected with delightful attendees, there were a LOT of Methodists at Epworth by the Sea, so I likely would have found some church cousins if I looked long enough.
It was noted to me more than once that I was one of the youngest attendees (even at 48). It hit me during communion as we closed, I was so grateful to be surrounded by older adults. Then an 83-year old retired pastor tapped me on the arm as I waited in that line and said, "God bless you, Whitney." Honestly, I was right at home. I need all these wiser, older people in my life. If you're not flocking to those with at least a couple of decades on you, do it. I'm counting on the exceptional longevity of my grandmothers to trickle into my genes, so I can be one of them one day. There is so much life yet to live!
Nudged by an older wiser mentor, I came to this conference after a full season, on purpose. Stewarding a devotional into the world may not seem like much, but it is. I was nearly empty. As a creator sharing your creation, putting it in front of others can be overwhelming. I knew I was tired and doubted myself as I was packing to leave. But I am thankful I found a way to fill back up. We even meditated as a group, I indeed found my people.
I left that beautiful island with a LOT more knowledge than when I entered it and plenty of soul care too. But I realized a few (okay, four) things in particular that feel important to share:
Thanks to Pádraig, I found this poem, and I've been sitting with it since I left the island. It's not really about leaving an island. Whyte wrote these words about his own poem (below), "There are certain vivid days that live on in the memory, carrying not only the extraordinary images of what occurred but a still growing revelation that is an equally growing introduction to our own future. Such was the day last year on Inishbofin when the silence and the beauty of the place, the singing of good Irish friends in a ruined chapel and a perfect company of people brought a sense of perfection, privilege and forgiveness. I left the island half a shade braver than when I arrived, which is, after all is said and done, all that we need."
"Leaving the Island" by David Whyte
It must have been
the slant of the light,
the sheer cross-grain of rain
against the summer sun,
the way the island appeared
gifted, out of the gleam
and the depth of distance,
so that when you turned
to look again,
the scend of the sea
had carried you on,
under the headland
and into the waiting harbour.
And after the pilgrim lanes,
and the ruined chapel,
the lads singing beneath the window,
and the Corn-Crake calling from
a corner of a field,
after the gull cries and the sea-hush
at the back of the island,
it was the way, standing still
or looking out,
walking or even talking
with others in the evening bar,
holding your drink
and laughing with the rest,
that you realized–part of you
had already dropped to its knees,
to pray, to sing, to look–
to fall in love with everything
and everyone again, that someone
from deep inside you had come out
into the sea-light to raise its hands
and forgive everyone in your short life
you thought you hadn't, and that all along
you had been singing your quiet way
through the rosary of silence
that held their names.
Above all, the way afterwards,
you thought you had left the island
but hadn't, the way you knew
you had gone somewhere
into the shimmering light
and come out again on the tide
as you knew you had to,
as someone who would return
and live in the world again,
a man granted just a glimpse,
a woman granted just a glimpse,
some one half a shade braver,
a standing silhouette in the stern,
holding the rail,
riding the long waves back,
ready for the exile we call a home.
So, now for a few questions:
There's no sale here. No Black Friday ad. No click funnel. Nope. I'm not that great at sales.
I am great at sharing with you what I'm passionate about - and making sure you pay attention to and take care of your body and spirit. That's why I'm so excited about this Advent season and journeying with you through my new book, Fully Human, Fully Divine: An Advent Devotional for the Whole Self.
My friends, I LOVE the seasons of Advent and Christmas. But it's not always easy. Not all my Christmas memories are joy-filled and positive, and neither are yours. I had a stroke nearly 17 years ago - on my December birthday - that left me in a hospital room for Advent 2005. You could say that this shift in my journey invited me into more presence and embodiment. That crisis changed my life and asked me to be present in my body in entirely different and new ways with God. It actually helped me discover more hope.
But guess what? You do not need a crisis to journey closer to God this Advent season. You just need a little bit of hope and the time set aside time to do it. A reader emailed me this week that she couldn't get the book in time for Advent. I told her that was just fine, to practice presence until it arrived! Your journey is not confined to the calendar. But if you're like me and need a little accountability that does include a calendar, I have a free one for you. I'll be coloring in my days with words or images and some markers noting when I feel close to God.
Also, here's an early invitation from the book to get you started. I hope you'll use it amidst the scrolling of sales to kindle some hope in a world that truly needs it.
Close your eyes and ask yourself: Where do you feel hope in your body? Many of us connect to hope with our heart or our gut. Maybe hope to you is more about reason and thought, and you feel it in your head. Maybe for you hope is about doing something, and you feel it in your hands and your feet. Think about where you feel hope. Take a few breaths and try to connect with where you feel it inside yourself. Then, place a hand on that part of your body and breathe. If you are struggling to connect hope with a physical part of yourself, simply place a hand over your heart and ask God for hope as you breathe.
When you are ready to move on, ask yourself if there is a part of you that is holding back from feeling hope, perhaps even to protect you. It's not uncommon for us to put up walls to avoid disappointment. This is a normal response. However, I invite you to think about what it would look like to hope with your entire being. What would it mean this season? What could it look like?
As a Christian, you already know the end of the Advent story. Christ is coming! Not "Christ might come," or "Christ will get around to coming eventually," but "Christ is coming." The gift of Christ is the physical symbol of our hope in human form. Christ is God with us, let that fill you with hope for the days to come!
Guess what? If you will help me share the gift of an embodied Advent, you may win some art. I'm giving away a gorgeous print from Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman. It's a WIN-WIN (for you and for my Fully Human, Fully Divine Advent book)!
You can participate in any or all of these:
You're helping share an embodied Advent with others and supporting this creative work with your posts. You'll get 1 entry for any of the above with a max of 5 entries per person. I will draw one winner randomly on Monday, November 28th! Remember these must be public reviews/posts for me to see them and be added to the drawing. Then the winner picks the print (from the four in the book) you want and I'll send it to you!
The deadline to post/share/upload for the drawing is Sunday, November 27th - the first Sunday of Advent by midnight.
People think that because I often appear calm or peaceful, that is my natural inclination. But that is not true (ask my family)! Finding peace takes a lot of practice.
I began exploring Christian Meditation after my health crisis in my early 30s (17 years ago). My meditation practice today does not typically look like sitting on a pillow in the corner of a candle-lit room (although that is fun too). I often meditate in my bed, in my car (see my Instagram post this week), on my couch, on my yoga mat, or outside under a tree.
A lot of people find meditation to be an intimidating practice. For Christians, it can even be scary. But it does not need to be intimidating or scary. If prayer is talking to God then meditation is simply quieting our minds and listening to God. And, I long to listen to God whenever possible!
The practice of listening to God through meditation helps us find inner stillness. We are not striving for anything at all, we are simply sitting in God's presence and giving ourselves a break from thinking. Meditation quiets our minds, even if getting there feels loud and noisy.
Meditation is beneficial at any time of day but I find a morning meditation sets the tone for my entire day. Before the "doing" of the day begins, I simply get to "be" with God. It's a great way to cultivate peace of mind, better relationships, self-esteem, clarity, and presence in all that is ahead. There are so many scientifically proven benefits to meditation, I cannot list them all in this post.
Let's just say the benefits of meditation are worth the 10-20 minutes it costs me in the morning. The world moves at a fast pace, and most of us face stress and pressure daily. While we cannot avoid life's circumstances, we can face them with the best version of ourselves - with calm minds and peace in our hearts. Meditation helps cultivate these.
Ready to get started or re-started? Here are 7 tips for finding inner stillness through meditation:
I hope these tips help you find inner stillness. And if you're seeking further companionship in meditation, remember the Exploring Peace Meditations podcast is a great tool when you're feeling stuck or need some companionship.
What's your favorite place to meditate?
This is a photo of me facing fear. I am smiling because fear didn't win this round.
My best friend, spouse of 23+ years, and the person I trust most with my life loves his motorcycle. I have had a genuine aversion to the idea of riding with him. He has been patient and never forced me to love what he loves. But I have been working on my fear for quite a while now. And the day finally came for me to face it. And guess what? It wasn't awful. It was great.
Note: Please don't give me a lecture on motorcycle safety. I was already overflowing with fear for not just me but also him, which tends to resurface with lectures. And whether or not I keep riding, I don't know yet. But I did it, and now I am no longer paralyzed by the fear of simply discussing it. End of note, thanks.
In my spiritual direction practice and my friendships, I have heard more and more sharing about fear these past few years. I don't think it's coincidental that we have been living with a heightened sense of fear surrounding our health of ourselves and our loved ones. Fear has been a driving force behind many decisions for a long, long time.
I don't think God wants us to live in fear. I am sure of that (see Isaiah 4:10, Joshua 1:9, Deuteronomy 31:6). But I do believe fear can help us grow!
How do we move from a place of fear to a place of security, even when the stakes are high? How do we shift our hearts and minds (and whole bodies!) to be present and grounded, even when we are afraid?
I was afraid. But I invited my body to stop fighting with me to face my fear.
How do I face fears? First, I name them. I am grateful I have supported listeners through both counseling and spiritual direction. But if you don't have access to either, you can always name your fears with a trusted listener and get their wisdom with your next steps.
For me, there was a lot of work in advance but that day I tapped into some tools. I practiced breath work the entire ride. I got grounded in my body and envisioned a shield of protective energy from God around us as we rode. It may seem silly, but visualization and guided imagery are powerful ways to connect with God and to feel seen and cared for. I love how energy work helps my body feel grounded and balanced. I asked God what I needed to hear and let that be whispered to me the entire time we rode. I heard, "you're safe, I've got you, just be here."
Guess what? It worked. I didn't have expectations for how the ride would go, but instead, I leaned into the courage it gave me to face my fear. Want to try it?
5 Tips for Facing Your Fears
Fear can be a gift to us if we stop fighting it and embrace it wisely - in body and spirit. Fear can help us get out of our comfort zones and lean on something bigger than our own understanding. So, that's why I wanted to ride a motorcycle. Yep. What fear do you want to face?
Help us open our eyes and our hearts this day to notice you.
We long to sense your goodness amidst the ashes and the despair of this world.
It isn't easy to slow down long enough to hear your whisper in the wind, notice your goodness in the buds on the trees, or glimpse your face in the smile of another.
Allow us to move away from what is easy through the noise, distraction, and overwhelm of this world.
Instead, remind us to lean into your presence around us through praise, quiet prayer, and contemplation this Lenten season.
The ashes remain but we can find your beauty amidst them, if we look.
The Lenten season is upon us and I don't know about you but I am admittedly tired of giving up!
The past two years have been filled with "giving up" things, not by choice, that drew me closer to my Creator (like travel, for example). Oops, see number 5 below.
But this invitation of "giving up" for Lent need not be about letting go for the sake of letting go or letting go with remorse. We are invited to let go of things that get in our way of connecting with God and make room for more time with our God in these 40 days leading up to Easter.
So I am pondering things beyond the standard list I've chosen to give up in the past (like chocolate and wine). I'm pondering things (actions/habits) that will give me a more peace-filled, embodied, and connected journey to God if I let them go - once and for all! Below is a list of a dozen things I am "giving up" this year.
12 Things I Am Giving Up
Ouch, huh?! Does one jump out to you more than another? Once you have found your place to start, take a deep breath and let it soak in a bit. Will you choose to practice letting it go and give it up - for Lent and even beyond!?
Without this (or these) in your life, there's more room to listen and draw nearer to God. There's space to be a world changer and a difference maker. Practice letting go and you'll walk into Easter better knowing a Christ who lived without these 12!
Giving up also gives us room to lean in a bit more. Do you need help along the way to stay connected with your whole self and listen to your Creator (not that other stuff)? If you have your copy of Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit on your shelf, it's the perfect 40 day companion to make room for more trust, community, peace, healing, love, joy, wisdom, connection, and hope in your life with Christ. Consider picking it up and begin again your time of holy listening with God.
How will you choose to journey through these 40 days towards Easter? What will you give up this year (or maybe even for good)? What will you pick up?
I've been working on something exciting while patiently waiting to share it with you. Finally, the title of my Advent devotional for 2022 is available to share!
Fully Human, Fully Divine: An Advent Devotional for the Whole Self
Ah, this captures the invitation of an embodied journey with the embodied Christ! Each week of this devotional provides prompts for using your whole self to meet God as you prepare to receive the hope, peace, joy, and love the Advent season offers you.
This book, published by Upper Room Books, will be available in plenty of time for Christmas 2022. Most exciting, an e-course option from the publisher will be available. That means they are recording bonus content for me to share with you, and you (or your small group) can journey through the book with ME. But if you want the behind-the-scenes scoop all along the way next year, be sure to join our new online community. I'll share the details there first as we prepare to release this new content and experience for Christmas next year.
Thanks for celebrating this new release with me and make plans now to journey with me toward Christmas 2022!
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 soul care retreat is limited to 20 participants, please RSVP below to save your spot. Your registration must be received by 10/31/21 (or until the retreat is full). Our quiet 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) and indoor space is also available. You'll receive a journal, guided prayer prompts, coloring pages, 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 our 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.
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!
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC