Spiritual disciplines are opportunities to grow closer to God. I'm passionate that we see these practices as opportunities rather than things to check off our list, they should never feel or be viewed as legalistic opportunities. The spiritual disciplines we engage in are practices we choose to grow closer to God, on purpose.
Oftentimes there is not a lightning bolt moment of nearness to God in my practices of prayer, or meditation, or journaling, or scripture reading. Sometimes there is (and that's glorious) but mostly (at least for me) there isn't. Is this true for you? And if so, what's the point?
When we discover discipline in meeting God, we can continue to find God in every detail of our life, not just the obvious ones. We can walk with God in the unknown. We can sit with God in the grief. We can know God is near to us we feel lonely. As Oswald Chamber writes, "We can all see God in exceptional things, but it requires the growth of spiritual discipline to see God in every detail."
Think about it, it is easy to recognize God in the mountain top moments! Those times of connection with with our Creator give us obvious encouragement, hope, refreshment, and more. And yet it's in every single detail of life that we have an opportunity to meet God.
The consistency of finding discipline in our spiritual lives, offers us the gift of drawing near, even when we feel far, that's the point.
Need some companionship for walking into the unknown right now?
Listen to the guided meditation from the podcast below.
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?
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!
Scripture reading is an important spiriutal discipline in my life. There are seasons when I long for in-depth Bible study and there are seasons when I long for more of a meditative style scripture reading. The first approach is informational, the second is formational. Both are important on the spiritual formation journey.
Lectio Divina is the style of reading scripture I enjoy most regularly. Clearly, it is one of my favorite ways of spending time with God as my new devotional Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit includes 40 different selections for Lectio Divina (latin for meditative reading). It's a fairly simple way, yet also very transformative, to spend time in scripture as you read and reflect on how the scripture touches you. You read, reflect, respond, and rest in God's word.
But, where do you start and how do you select a passage if you don't have a guide in your hand? In this season of life, my time in scripture follows the lectionary (a 3-year cycle of readings throughout the old and new testament). There are two main tools I use as my guide for following the lectionary. The first one is published by Upper Room Books each year, Disciplines 2017. This in-depth little book is loaded with deep yet also brief daily thoughts from 52 various writers. Each week the writers reflect on the weekly lectionary passages and invite you in to deeper reflection and study. I have turned to Disciplines over the years (for my personal study and for leading small groups). This year, I am truly humbled to be included as one of those 52 writers in the 2017 edition and Iook forward to journeying with these thoughts throughout the year.
Next up, and newest to my spiritual formation tool kit, is the Sacred Ordinary Days Planner. This planner includes the current lectionary passages for the week and follows the liturgical year. The liturgical year is also known as the Christian Year. It includes all the seasons of the church (lent, advent, easter, etc.). If you're new to discovering the rhythm of the liturgical year and long for a community of resources, check out Sacred Ordinary Days! My friend, Jenn Giles Kemper, is the founder of this soul-stirring company (you can check out the new calendars at the link below). Sacred Ordinary Days now offers weekly and monthly formatted planners for your year and include much more than simply a guide to the liturgical calendar. Great for personal reflection and for daily planning. Check them out!
It is with Lectio Divina, the Lectionary, and embracing the Liturgical year that I discover the rhythm I long for in a new calendar year. How do you plan to spend time in God's word in 2017?
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC