Oh, Those Southern Lights
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:
What is a Good Neighbor?
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.
Community is Connection
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.
Why Do We Resist?
My spiritual director mentioned Martin Laird's book, Into The Silent Land, multiple times before I took the hint to read it for myself. I devour books, they are nourishment for my soul. So why did this one get put off for so long? Oh, I think we all know. This book was not a book to use as a "get away" as many of my historical fiction reads, this book was to take me inward and do some deep soul work. I was faced with the reality once again, I struggle with and often purposely avoid silence.
Silence is hard. And I'm not simply talking about being quiet. We can cease to speak and our minds still be quite noisy! Can you relate? When I finally read this gem of a book, Laird gave me encouragement in the first few pages. I realized, he understood. Laird explains the focus of the book is on the struggles we face when we enter silence and "the inner chaos going on in our heads, like some wild cocktail party of which we find ourselves the embarrassed host...we are not even aware of how utterly dominating this inner noise is until we try to enter through the doorway of silence."
Oh, wow. Yes, I indeed find myself not at all present but listening loudly to all the inner noise. That's why we practice silence. It doesn't happen on accident.
Why does the inner noise get so much attention? For one, I often think we don't realize we have the power to calm that noise. For another, the world has become so noisy that we allow ourselves to follow the crowd. So why not give into the noise?
Silence is fruitful. St. Isaac the Syrian wrote, "Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you and you will see the things that are in heaven."
Why wouldn't we choose to enter the treasure house within? If we believe God created us and is within, why wouldn't we choose to draw nearer in the quiet?
Silence can feel lonely. Silence is not the same as being alone. And yet, it's true that when we enter into the quiet, calming those often loud inner voices, we may realize that there is less distraction to keep us company. So at first, silence can indeed feel lonely. But, my oh my, are the treasures worth it. The connection with our Creator is cultivated in the silence, that's not lonely.
God is here, you aren't actually alone in the silence. So, why do we resist? Sometimes we simply need support. I find a regular contemplative prayer practice with quiet in the morning, time on my yoga mat, being in community with other seekers, and spending time with my spiritual director and soul friends to be the greatest support. These people and practices help me find the strength and courage to quiet the inner chaos and draw closer to God.
How are you embracing silence in your life in this season?
This month in our Peace Seekers online community and in my yoga classes, we're exploring what it looks like to enter the quiet. If you struggle with the inner chaos, I invite you to join us. I also currently have limited openings for private spiritual direction both in person at Bloom Yoga Studio and online.
Longing for More this Lent?
Are you longing for more this Lenten season? Looking for ways to connect your body and spirit? Seeking accountability and connection along the way? Grab your copy of Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit and join us for this online retreat.
Over 40 days, you'll receive direct support and encouragement from Whitney as well as bonus teachings using the book, Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit. Included in your retreat is access to our new Peace Seekers online community.
This Lenten season, give yourself the gift of safe space and explore God's peace in the process! Your retreat is open now with instant access to help you begin preparing for your Lenten journey.
The 40-day experience will begin on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021. Will you join us for accountability and connection this season as we listen and prepare ourselves for Easter? Click below for full details and to register today.
Discovering Your Rule of Life
Last week I wrote about what a Rule of Life is, an opportunity to discover your own routine with God and seek wisdom for how you long to order your days.
It's also important to know what it isn't. A Rule of Life isn't a compilation of what you hope to accomplish or achieve, it's not your goals list or your vision board. But a Rule of Life does help you find a rhythm for the life you long to live and may intersect with these. Crafting (and living) your rule may even help you reach your personal or professional goals and dreams!
So, how do you begin? There are several published books and even free resources on the web to guide you in creating a very detailed rule for your life (I'll share links for those in our Peace Seekers Community this Friday, January 29th). In the meantime, I invite you to keep it simple! Start brainstorming the habits you long to cultivate as well as things you're already doing that help you live your best life with God.
Consider talking with your spiritual director or seek out a spiritual friend to help you process and notice what's important to you in this season of your life. It's not uncommon to be overwhelmed by too many goals or resolutions at the start of a year, setting ourselves up for disappointment. Remember, your Rule of Life isn't a resolution list, it's an invitation to live your whole life with God. I've found simple is best for me when cultivating my Rule of Life. Try using the categories I am currently using below (God, Self, Creation, Companions) or create your own and jot down the habits you long to cultivate for each. This is a work in progress, one you can grow into with God.
So grab a pencil or start a note in our phone to brainstorm the habits that help you find the rhythm you long for, ones that draw you nearer to your Creator. Do you long to pray or meditate daily, move your body a certain number of times per week, get outside more, connect with loved ones on a regular basis? Once you've recognized your longings and habits, you can begin to cultivate your own rhythm and routine for purposefully living an embodied life with God.
Want to see examples from my own Rule of Life tomorrow? There's a seven day free trial to join our community, click here to join us.
Because of You
You may not know why the Exploring Peace Meditations podcast even began. But, it's because of you.
After Yoga & Silence retreats and Yoga & Meditation classes, you would often ask me to send you the meditation I'd read or even record it for a future listen. That was nearly impossible since those the majority of those prayers and meditations often began with only a word or a theme. From there, each meditation and prayer was a creative collaboration between God and the gift of my imagination. There wasn't a written script to send or a way to record the spontaneity of the moment.
At first I thought, surely you aren't serious. I would reply with gratitude and offer a, "please come back to retreat or class anytime." But, you wanted a new way to consistently interact with God that felt embodied amidst your daily life, not just while on retreat or in class.
And so, just weeks before we entered a pandemic and the opportunity to be together in the same ways came to a halt. I uploaded Episode 1, without any idea of what would happen or how much our souls would need this resource in 2020.
And here we are in 2021, as Season 3 begins (on January 29th). I want to thank you for inviting me into your meditation space, your bedroom, your closet, your yoga mat, or wherever you practice and pray. Because of you, the podcast now has over 13,000 downloads of it's 44 episodes. And out of this, has come a community of seekers.
If your soul has benefited from listening to the podcast meditations, I hope you'll consider joining our community this year as a Founding Member. The opportunity is more than simply committing to your own soul care in 2021. You're giving back too. The doors are open right now and for $4.99/month or $57/year, your presence as a Peace Seeker in our community isn't simply for you. For less than a fancy cup of coffee each month, your support not only enriches the spiritual journey of other Peace Seekers, it also supports the Exploring Peace Ministries podcast and the vision of a private retreat spot for seekers near a peaceful creek in rural Tennessee. This podcast has birthed a lot of connection in a time of disconnection. I'm honored to host this space and thank you for being here.
Tell me! What's your soul longing to hear in 2021? And if you want to check out our growing community first, there is a 7 day free trial, click here to find out more.
What is a Rule of Life?
A decade ago, in 2011, I crafted my first rule of life in a spiritual formation course while pursuing my certification. When I look back now on that first "rule" I realize now how I've grown spiritually over these past ten years, where I've been stuck (pandemic, anyone?!) and how God has met me in each stage of my spiritual journey.
A Rule of Life is an opportunity to discover your own routine with God and seek wisdom for how you long to order your days. My personality is one that swings between the rule obedience (I tried to follow) In childhood and the longing never to embrace rules others place on me as an adult. Anyone else feel like a rule rebel? But when I find the rhythm of my own rules today and embrace them, I thrive. I think this is true for most of us. If we can honor ourselves with what works for us, we can embrace discipline that helps us grow. Yet that discipline isn't the same for everyone. Afterwall, we don't have "one size fits all" bodies nor do we have "one size fits all" souls.
In the Christian community, Saint Benedict is known for inviting the monks of his order to establish the rules that shaped their lives, giving structure to what we know today in spiritual formation as a Rule of Life. While those of you reading this likely are not monks, I'm guessing you could benefit from the simple structure of a rhythm for your own life.
Living in a pandemic has invited me to revisit my rule and discover new rhythms for connecting with God. The shifting of worship, small groups, personal connection, routine, work, and everything else that had given my life structure dissolved in 2020. I was left with a shapeless routine and someone in most every room of the house logging on to a device to go about their day. I soon realized a new routine was in order if I was to connect with God.
So I began updating that Rule of Life that's undergone quite a few revisions in the past decade. And this time, it looks completely different. My Rule of Life is less structured and more inviting than ever before in regards to my daily routine. It includes good books, hot tea and time in nature. It also includes reminders of my dreams and goals and how God made me. And here's a bit of irony, there are no rules for how you create your rule.
Need some companionship in discovering your own rhythm? I'll be sharing my Rule of Life in our Peace Seekers community next week on Friday, January 29, 2021. You're invited to join our community if you'd like to be part of that conversation. This year in our private online space, we'll focus on a theme each month for ways to meet God. And in doing so, we'll be working on our own Rules for the entire year of 2021. It's not an overnight project to discover the ways you best connect with your Creator. Rather, it's a journey. You can find details to join our community by clicking here.
Have you explored a Rule of Life? What has it offered you?
Advent is Near
Advent is a time of waiting, a time of preparation for Christmas. Let's be honest, waiting is tough right now but this kind of waiting is expectant and exciting. This kind of waiting is pondering the arrival of the one who came as a gift for YOU and the one who gifted you with your body and breath. There is always much to prepare for Christmas - food, decorations, packages. But what if the gift God longs to prepare most is YOU?
This year is different in so many ways. And Christmas can be different for you too, in the best way. What if this Christmas you prepared yourself? What if you made space for your body and your spirit? What if instead of being last on the list, you heard God's nudge and placed yourself at the top of the list? After all, if you care for yourself well you're better able to care for others well too. And, in this season, loving others and ourselves needs to make the top of the list!
How do you prepare for Christmas? What are your favorite ways to get ready? Don't worry, I'll still be decking the halls but I'll also be practicing lectio divina, centering prayer and yoga nidra too! Curious? Want to join me in community? Click here to register or learn more about this online advent retreat experience (nope, you don't have to be on social media to participate, one less distraction, yay!).
Are you ready for Christmas?
Wisdom from Silence & Saints
All Saints Sunday, November 1, 2020 from 12:30 - 4:30 PM at Lebanon First UMC in Lebanon, Tennessee.
You're invited to join us for a reflective day apart offering space for God's wisdom through presence, intentional silence, and words from the Saints before us.
Space is limited to 20 participants, please RSVP to save your spot. Your registration and $15 check must be received by 10/23/20 (or until the retreat is full). Our day retreat will be socially distanced with plenty of room outdoors (bring a lawn chair, a 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. In case of inclement weather, please bring a mask for safety of all participants so that we may enjoy reflection time in the sanctuary and chapel.
This event is open to the entire community and is hosted by Lebanon First UMC. Our time in reflection will be facilitated by Whitney R. Simpson of Exploring Peace Ministries.
Whitney R. Simpson
yoga & meditation teacher
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Whitney R. Simpson
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC