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?
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?
For the past year, I have been writing. Actually, let me preface that - I have been writing since I learned to write! Recently, I found my first book which was bound by yarn, created in the shape of a panda bear's head (I collected stuffed panda bears as a kid and this book was ALL about pandas). I also uncovered boxes and boxes of journals in that purge, filled with pages and pages of thoughts, words, and even some poems. So, you could say writing has been part of my life for a very long time. It is one way I connect with God. And writing a published book that draws others closer to God has been a dream for many of those years (hint, hint!).
To the point of this post! For the past year, I have been writing a 40-day devotional for body and spirit. The seeds for this book idea were planted during my 500-Hour yoga teacher training with Holy Yoga Ministries. The idea kept growing to the point that I wrote the entire book before I ever shared it (although if you've been in any of my yoga classes in the past year, you've probably gotten a sneak peek without realizing it as I've shared some of the themes, scripture passages, yoga postures, and reflection questions with you!).
Then last summer while attending a writer's workshop at SoulFeast (a spiritual retreat hosted by Upper Room), I was nudged to submit a proposal for this project. Since summer is nearly here again, you can guess that this book has been many many months in the making. For the last couple of months, I have known we were moving forward yet certain details had to be in place in order to finalize and share. In that timeframe, I also submitted devotionals for the Disciplines 2017 publication. And finally, I can share with you that my 40-day devotional (title and details coming soon) will be published in 2017 by Upper Room Books!
Honestly, my heart beats fast as I share this news with you. One reason for this is that when I submitted the proposal for the devotional, the publisher specifically asked me to include more about me - my stroke and brain surgery story and how that led me toward work fostering care of both body and spirit. It's vulnerable to tell your story. But I believe it is important. I will tell parts of (because all those journals would never fit in one book!) my own story to escort you on the journey of body and spirit and to encourage you to embrace your story, after all.......these are God's stories!
Another reason my heart beats fast is because our son has been sick for weeks with sinus problems - which usually seems simple to heal - yet he has had many allergic reactions to medicines and it has simply been a very slow journey toward wellness. His body is tired and worn out. My body is tired as his caregiver (my awesome Fitbit helps me see how well I've rested and when I've moved, lately both have been lacking) and yet it proves I am ecstatic and full of energy at the same time (elevated heart rate!).
Recently, my grandmother (who is almost 95 and slightly frustrated with her body - as she broke a shoulder and hip last month) told me she always wanted to be a writer and that she could not imagine anything more important to write about than the spiritual life with God. My heart beats fast as I honor my grandmother and lean in to writing a book that I hope will help you draw closer to God with the gift of your own body!
My heart beats fast because God uses the gift of our bodies to help us listen and embrace our journeys (no matter your stage of life).
If you've made it this far in the post, surely you have questions because this is a unique approach to a devotional and emphasizes holy listening with your body. It will include yoga postures, breath prayers, aromatherapy, scripture passages for lectio divina, and of course journaling questions (tools we often use in spiritual direction and yoga)! I truly look forward to sharing more details with you soon! In the meantime, I'll be putting finishing touches on the book, finalizing lots of tiny details that most do not realize take place in publishing (I surely didn't), and gaining hands on experience caring for our son - in body and spirit.
Thanks for allowing my heart to beat fast as I share the news that #IAmWriting with you today! If you want to stay in the loop on details of the book (and I hope you will - there will be freebies along the way), sign up for my monthly(ish) newsletter below. The Upper Room has been a formational part of my faith journey, I'm ecstatic to be part of the Upper Room family of writers and look forward to what is to come. Hope you'll join me on the journey.
Quite possibly, Lectio Divina might just be my favorite way to pray in this season. I know I say that a lot. So, maybe I don't have a favorite way to pray. But, I really like pondering and chewing on scripture. That is the art of Lectio Divina.
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 you can explore this week:
Read, Reflect, Respond, Rest
If you've stumbled here for the first time, welcome! On Mondays through this Fall, I'm posting a short list of scriptures for weekly reflection as well as a different way to pray each week. Pray one scripture or pray them all, this is simply an invitation to journey deeper as we explore God's peace together through a variety of prayer styles. Click here to find out more and join us on the journey.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC