glimpses of his face
upon leaving the parade
wisps of confetti and hurrahs floating in our brains
palm branches remain scattered in our minds
and one on a donkey passes by, looking, intently – as if into our very souls
seven days our watching, from afar or close by
perfume scents the air before a feast of delicacies spread
she has broken open her heart and the vial of treasure
for sharing silent tearful words of holy drops, his feet touched
tainted tables in the Temple crash to the floor
his voice echoing off the marble walls in defiance
of mistreatment upon those come to worship,
who is there in this company, over-priced dove in hand?
friend/companion arranges the ill-fated movement of betrayal
we ponder motive - angst, skepticism … despair or truth
loft dinner for a chosen few; ‘tis good to be included
what will he have new – in song or word – for us this night?
night that never ended and never will
garden dew, strangers’ grip, off and away
we watch him disappear into the courts
early morning and far too many people in the streets
choices offered between the two
but we have no part do we, as he appears
tattered and torn, enduring, suffering
interrogation and courage
only the weight of that devilish cross spans
our perception of the moment, his breath in our face
his eyes once again in our gaze
to the deafening silence of death
a holy week.
by Rev. Mary Anne Akin, April 2020
I have a confession to make. Lately, I may have been stalking you. No, not really...I'm not outside your bedroom window and there is no reason to call the local authorities. My stalking has been perfectly legal, it's actually a pretty well-worn path. I did not give up social media for lent. I gave up chocolate-covered almonds.
And I've been stalking you simply by scrolling - with not one single chocolate almond nearby (although there was that one bag of chocolate covered mangos that jumped into my grocery cart, realizing this may have been a slip of judgement). I've not shared and interacted a whole lot on social media lately but I have been reading your posts, even amidst my longing to purposefully slow down and experience God's joy and delight since releasing my devotional book in January.
When I clearly heard God ask me to step back from some commitments recently, I was not sure what was to come. And, I'm still not. God has offered a ton of grace for what this season looks like. Yet I have filled it with more than my share of...scrolling.
My lenten disciplines and a renewed commitment to honoring my body have kept me away from reaching for those chocolate covered almonds. So lately, I've realized my unintentional avoidance of some things [anything, really...the laundry, the writing time, the bills, the yoga practice, the dishes, meditation] has led to me hopping online to see what you're doing. And, I love seeing what you're doing. You're doing some good things! You, my friends, are: writing amazing books, fighting for social justice, empowering others to love their bodies, sharing the word of God for all to hear, raising families, caring for the elderly and the sick, facing things that scare you, chasing slow moments, and living life fully. You are doing good, deep things on this journey.
Diving deep with God involves risk. And one of those risks includes the thrills and the dangers of discovering a less traveled path on this spiritual formation journey. For me, that means a healthier relationship with this helpful and useful tool known as the Internet. Enter, my friend Esther and her new book, What Falls from the Sky.
I was instantly intrigued by her book because I know how she lives her life - as a homesteader. What I didn't know were the details of what led her and her family to where they are now (and don't worry, you don't have to live in a yurt after you read the book - although I'm seriously considering this for the future myself - I love yurts!). Esther went a year without the Internet. A YEAR. That's a path less-traveled. When I go my entire Sunday Sabbath without "accidentally" logging in, I am so proud of myself. Anyone else?
Just to be clear - Esther went a year without her cell phone, texting, surfing, clicking. Her story arrived in my mailbox recently, and now my sleep patterns are off because I've been reading beyond my bedtime. Guess what? She sent me a book to share with you! So, not that I want to mess with your sleep, but I'm fairly certain your scrolling will be interrupted because #whatfallsfromthesky is a phenomenal story of one woman's willingness to dive deep with God.
Holy Week is such an appropriate time to finish Esther's memoir and share it with you too - it seems a perfect time to admit my weakness, my struggles, my doubts, my joys, and celebrate the good things the promise of Easter offers each of us.
What are your struggles? Do those get in your way of living fully? Could you go a year without digital conveniences? Would you be willing to give it a try? What does the less-traveled path look like, and is it accessible to you?
Contemplate and share your thoughts below if you'd like. I would love to hear from you. You don't have to comment for your "chance" to get this book in your hands, but be sure to complete the form with your email address because I would love to send this gift from Esther to you!
Esther Emery was a successful playwright and theater director, wife and mother, and loving it all - until, suddenly, she wasn’t. When a personal and professional crisis of spectacular extent leaves her reeling, Esther is left empty, alone in her marriage, and grasping for identity that does not define itself by busyness and a breakneck pace of life. Something had to be done.
What Falls from the Sky is Esther’s fiercely honest, piercingly poetic account of a year without Internet - 365 days away from the good, the bad, and the ugly of our digital lives - in one woman’s desperate attempt at a reset. Esther faces her addiction to electronica, her illusion of self-importance, and her longing to return to simpler days, but then the unexpected happens. Her experiment in analog is hijacked by a spiritual awakening, and Esther finds herself suddenly, inexplicably drawn to the faith she had rejected for so long.
Ultimately, Esther’s unplugged pilgrimage brings her to a place where she finally finds the peace - and the God who created it - she has been searching for all along.
What Falls from the Sky offers a path for you to do the same. For all the ways the Internet makes you feel enriched and depleted, genuinely connected and wildly insufficient, What Falls from the Sky reveals a new way to look up from your screens and live with palms wide open in a world brimming with the good gifts of God.
Sometimes you have to zoom out before you can refocus the camera, my friend texted me. Yes, that's what these days before Easter have been about for me. Zooming out so I can see again. Discovering focus. Discovering refuge with God.
2017 has been zoomed in so far - packed with opportunities to share and celebrate the release of Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit. And a time to soak up being in my community offering local events and workshops. April so far has been for zooming out and refocusing (and washing all the laundry!). And I'm so grateful; the timing couldn't be better.
Holy Week is nearly here! There is much to mourn, there is much to celebrate. There is much to experience, to taste, and to see! Psalm 34:8 in the Common English Bible (my current favorite version) says, "Taste and see how good the Lord is! The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy!" In zooming out, I find refuge in God. In zooming out, I find courage to journey off the beaten path. In zooming out, I can taste and see the good things.
Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey off the Beaten Path has been my Audible read during my morning walk/run lately And wow, has it come at just the right time! Many good things are happening with the ministry of Exploring Peace and amidst this my mom asked me recently, "So, are you practicing what you preach?"
Ping. I'm thankful a mother's love can survive asking such a question. Time for a bit of self-reflection.
So, you could say that read came at a good time. Erin spoke to my heart. And her book wasn't all about building boundaries and saying no to life or stuff (well, maybe some of it). Erin's message invites us to journey the path just for us. Erin invites us to taste and see what God offers us! Erin reminded me to discover joy and delight and not to rush past it.
Yes, I share and teach and offer soul care resources for others. I LOVE my job - zoomed in or zoomed out. They say we are drawn to what we long for most. I long for soul care on this journey. I think we all do. And, you know one thing that is really good for my soul? JOY! My spiritual director and I spent an entire year exploring the concept of finding joy and delight (my homework one month was to blow bubbles - a practice I often invite my retreatants to experience). Delight! And, I think I'm finally getting brave enough to pause and lavish in it. Sound ridiculous? Maybe it's time for more bubbles.
Brené Brown reminded me recently (in one of her talks, not over a cup of tea, wouldn't that be fun!?) that as a culture, we don't know how to experience joy. We rush right past it rather than embrace it. We expect the worst. We move on to the next thing. We rush past a lot, don't we? Okay, book release is complete. Oh, well. That was good...done. What's next?
Nope, I'm choosing to pause right here and give thanks for the joy of this season, for the privilege of publishing my first devotional book, for good health that allowed me a ton more travel than I'm comfortable with in a couple of months time, and now for the chance to take long walks while I learn to chase slow. If I'm being honest, finding joy in chasing slow is harder than it seems.
How are you journeying off the beaten path? How are you chasing slow?
In chasing my own slow and finding my joy, I helped set up a prayer room for my son's youth group this week. And, I couldn't find a reflection mandala that fit our theme of Psalm 34. So, I created one! This brought me joy and the only thing that brings more joy is sharing it with you. Download it here if you'd like. And if praying with mandalas is new to you, check out my friend (and fellow Upper Room author) Sharon's new book, Praying with Mandalas. It's a delightful introduction to using mandalas for prayer and reflection.
Blessings on your Holy Week. May you taste and see, may you discover joy and delight in the good around you as you find refuge in our God this Easter season.
The Lenten season is here! This year for Lent, I’m welcoming more silence (and giving up chocolate almonds - yes, that’s a sacrifice). I recently wrote this poem about silence and offer it to you as encouragement for why we sometimes avoid the quiet in and around our lives. How do you meet silence?
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
The Lenten season is a symbolic journey toward the Cross. For many today, that journey has become an opportunity to let go of certain foods, activities, or habits that distract us along the path. For others, it is a time to cling to disciplines that give life and draw us closer to our God. You may have given up chocolate or let go of your grasp on Facebook, yet this invitation is much more than cocoa or status updates (both of which I cling to often). No matter your plans for Lent, I invite you to consider this a season of receiving God’s healing and wholeness offered us through the gift of his son, Jesus.
For over a decade of my young adult years, I was plagued with chronic health problems. During an appointment one day, a practitioner asked me a profound (and what I honestly thought at the time to be rude) question. She asked, “Whitney, do you believe you can be well?” My response was silence. She shocked me and I couldn't believe she would ask me such a blunt and obvious question. Of course, I wanted to be well; I had taken the time to make an appointment to prioritize my health! My efforts proved I was working hard at it by investing time, energy, and plenty of resources.
But guess what? After my initial shock wore off, I realized I wanted to be well but didn’t believe I could be. It did not seem possible that I could live a life free from the pain that plagued me. And suddenly, as that truth sank in, I began to believe I could be well in a much broader sense than she could have understood. Her words slowly and steadily seeped into my soul.
Since that question, I have changed my thinking. I don’t believe I will always be physically well on this earth, but I will always be whole in Christ. There is nothing wrong with seeking guidance for health and wellness from wise practitioners (as a matter of fact, I recommend it), yet we can only seek true healing and wholeness within from our God. My practitioner knew this fact and planted that seed in my heart.
What is wholeness?
In order to live whole lives, we need to put to death thoughts that are not life giving. When putting to death old ways and embracing life-giving alternatives, my biggest barrier is often myself. Scripture tells us, “in Him you have been made complete” (Colossians 2:10, NASB). Did you catch that? God has already completed us. He has made us whole. It is not about stripping away; it’s about receiving that promise. That is what we are moving toward this Easter season—wholeness. And we must believe it is possible.
What’s your story? Do you long to be whole? Do you believe it is even possible? No matter your story, God is offering you healing and wholeness this season.
While there is no one answer for each of us regarding what wholeness looks like, there is one response: say yes. Yes, I want to be made whole. And trust me, you can say yes before you understand how it may even be possible. What are you afraid of? What might happen if you let go of the old patterns of unbelief this Lenten season and embrace God’s promise of wholeness?
How can I embrace God’s wholeness?
Read the following Scripture, slowly, three times. Ask yourself if there are any words or phrases that stand out to you as you read. You may even choose to read aloud or listen to an audio version of this passage. However you listen, truly hear the words Jesus spoke, as if they are spoken aloud to you today:
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:1–9, NIV)
Do you want to be made whole?
Do you believe you have already been made whole through Jesus’ gift to you? Do you believe you can be well? How many years have you been sitting at the pool’s edge of healing waters? Are you just sticking your toes in the water? Who or what are you waiting for? Grab your mat and walk toward Jesus this Easter season.
Giving something up is thematic for many people across Christian tradition during the Lenten season. Yet for me, giving up has been less of my focus over the years. Traditionally, I have been more likely to add a spiritual practice during the season of Lent rather than take something away. And I now realize how much I have added over the years and how "doing it all" often blurs my ability to open my heart and soul. Let's be honest, fasting is hard.
Yet sometimes we need to strip away, let go, fast. Recently I have been in a season of "letting go" in regards to my sugar addiction. I now have a new perspective on giving up and am embracing it in the kitchen. I've been on a whole foods (Whole30) plan for the past several weeks that has stripped away many of the unnecessary extras that cause my body to experience brain fog, fatigue, and anxiety. It has taken several weeks to see the fruits of my work but my body (and my soul) are thanking me for the new found clarity. And I must admit, it has taken me two rounds of this process to truly find the beauty in the letting go of my beloved sugar for a season!
I read the poem below this morning and in my reflection realized quickly that as I've let go of the extra sweeteners and not-so-natural flavorings (as well as the junk I had been feeding my body) my tastebuds can truly experience the flavor of food in new ways. We chew, we eat, we swallow. But, do we take the time to truly savor and taste? If we did, how could that change us? When we fast (not simply from food) we are invited to taste/feel/experience more deeply.
The poem is from St. Catherine of Siena, a Dominican nun, mystic and poet from Italy, who lived from 1347-1380. Her words speak to me on this journey of wellness, they remind me that God gave us the gift of food as more than nourishment, that we can see God in all things/people/situations, that our hearts and souls really do need to be fed. I hope her words offer your heart encouragement as well this Lenten season.
How will you feed your soul this season? How could "giving up" actually give your heart more strength? Are you letting go of any specific foods or activities for Lent? How are you hoping to taste, smell, experience God?
Give the Heart More Strength
(from Love Poems from God)
Herbs can help the body and give
the heart more strength
When my sight became clearer,
I could see auras around different foods.
and I now know — should I say this? --
that everything can sing.
The songs of fruits and grains will calm,
why not put them into yourself,
a new language you
And just from touching life’s requirements
close to their source
will add grace to your
More generous eyes we need.
The songs of light
This morning we awoke to another day of likely being homebound. It began with ice early in the week and now I'm watching snow fall and listening to the wind-chimes chime rapidly. We've been off the roads a lot this week. Our part of the country (Middle Tennessee) simply doesn't experience this type of weather enough to have the tools to travel safely. Our church, which is across the street, has canceled Ash Wednesday services for tonight. And, while I completely agree that even attempting the steep drive into our church building could be treacherous, I am a bit (okay, a lot) saddened to miss the imposition of ashes. I didn't even realize this tradition was so important to me until today. I did not grow up in a church where we received ashes on our foreheads (sounds odd, right?) to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. And yet, as we journey toward Easter, I'm longing for that very mark today.
As I woke this morning to the snowfall, I had an overwhelming longing for our family to share in the observance of Ash Wednesday together in our home (I realize the excitement may not be shared by my housemates, but they have agreed to journey along with open hearts and minds). As I rushed to my computer and grabbed my Book of Worship, my husband asked what I was doing so early on this Wednesday. Typically, I would be heading out to teach a weekly yoga class but it was canceled due to the weather. And, I likely should be washing laundry or doing chores that I have no valid reason for ignoring today (that will come later, there's time!). But first, God called me to sit as his feet and ask why I am clinging to a tradition of dust and ashes. So here I sit, longing for ashes in the snow.
Why is Ash Wednesday important to Christians today? A friend and I were chatting yesterday about Google as a spiritual tool (I'm so thankful technology has connected me to a world much bigger than my own as I've grown in my spiritual journey). When I asked myself that question about Ash Wednesday, Google led me to this post at Patheos. I'm reminded Ash Wednesday is important not simply due to tradition but because this is a time that we are drawn to focus on not simply life in Christ, but also death in Christ. And while death may be hard to talk about, it is vital to fully living as a follower of Christ. Whether or not you have a tradition of marking the start of the Lenten season, consider this day an opportunity to mark the start of the path with intention as we journey toward Easter and this new life.
Do you have to "give something up" for Lent? No, I don't think you have to "give something up" to experience this season fully. But, I do think that the only way to make space for something new is to let go of something old, to make space for the new work God is doing in you (like cleaning out a closet to make room for new finds). So, what could you let go of to make space for the new work God wants to do in you during this season? This is a great list to get you started on ideas (i.e. it doesn't have to be chocolate).
So, how can I begin and mark this Easter journey with my family? Create a sacred space in your home by finding a candle, cross, Bible, or other small object that may remind you of Christ's love for you. This post has some fantastic suggestions for creating sacred space during Lent. Turn on some music by clicking here for a Lenten playlist on Spotify from my friend, Eric Coomer. Then for your ashes, grab a candle and break off some burnt wick or you could burn a bit of newspaper (outdoors, please). I tried to prep some ashes for our family and was reminded that is the kind of thing you do outdoors! Use caution and go lightly here - no allergic reactions needed. Service ashes are typically made from palm branches. So, this isn't ideal! You could also simply make the sign of the cross with your finger or use an essential oil. This is not about legalism but symbolism. Gather your (willing and hopefully as excited as you are) loved ones or sit and reflect on your own. Read the scripture, mark the sign of the cross on your forehead, and give thanks for a season in which God is making you new amidst the dust and ashes (and even the snow).
Click here or below to download this family-friendly guide that includes scripture and prayer as you mark your own Ash Wednesday. God is making all things new in this season. Let's make space together as we journey toward Easter.
Maybe I'm drawn to soul care because my own soul desires to be drenched daily. When it isn't soaked, life too easily feels like a drought. Ever felt that way? I long to soak up God's word. Soak up good friends. Soak up making a difference. Soak up movement with intention. Soak up prayer time. Soak up God through good food and "mostly" good habits. Soak up every opportunity in this life to worship and be with God, to fill my soul because simply put, too many things try to drain my soul in this world. And, the sad part is that I often let them.
We'll start with the internet. I love connecting via social media. I do. I love seeing my childhood baby sitter or an old high school friend celebrate milestones I would otherwise not have witnessed. I long to sit in my pajamas with a hot cup of tea (even when there is work to be done) and read bold, beautiful, creative, smart writers share their own souls. Before Google Reader met it's demise, my daily reading list couldn't have been completed if it were my full time job. There is so much good stuff out there to soak up. And yet, it doesn't ever shut off. So, I start to drown and in turn I am drained. When I step back, I wonder if I'm missing something but more often than not, my thumb clicks and taps or my mouse hovers and just like that, I am back. Didn't miss much other than what an old college friend ate for breakfast.
The feeling of "missing out" reminds me of a time as a little girl. My grandparents came for a visit and my parents sent me to bed while they were still chatting. I couldn't stand "missing out" on a word they shared. So, I laid on the floor of my bedroom with my ear to the crack under the door. It was muffled and I had a miserable night's sleep. Instead of embracing whatever memories we did share that night, I remember edging my ear to the door and waking up sore and miserable. The only thing I missed was a good night's sleep.
Even the good things can drain our souls. My soul needs to be drenched, not drained.
So this Holy Week, I am letting go of the distractions (even some of the good ones) with a desire to be drenched by God alone. This won't be a legalistic fast, just simply an opportunity to check in and make sure that I'm not missing out on Easter. I long to sit at the feet of Jesus and soak up all that is Holy this Easter. Will you join me? Let's get drenched.
Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of lent. It's a perfect time to journey toward wholeness as we journey toward Easter. My friend, Jen, and I have a gift for your journey. We're offering some spiritual food for your Body & Soul. We have put together scripture, thoughts, and activities for the next 40 days and we'd be honored for you to join us. Below is an introduction and a link to get started as we seek wholeness together.
"People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” - Matthew 4:4
Welcome on this lenten journey.
You might be surprised as you dive into this devotional journey. Yes, we are passionate about physical wellness but we’re not focusing on what you may be used to hearing in regards to healing or wholeness. We both believe that food is medicine and that movement and exercise are life-giving for our bodies. Yet, this devotional isn’t specifically about the food you eat or the number on your heart rate monitor (although we may allude to those in our reflections). Consider this weekly devotional as a dose of spiritual food during the season of lent.
We’re so excited for the answers you will find here and yet there are no answers for this journey. There is simply no predictable answer key for what God may be offering you during this season. To be honest, there are zero promises of healing and wholeness after downloading and reading this devotional guide during the 40 days of lent. What we do promise is that our own wholeness and healing has been found in our savior, Jesus. And, this season of lent gives us each the perfect opportunity to be awakened to God’s love through his son, Jesus. That is where we find all the answers.
So, what is lent? Lent is the Christian tradition of preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of Easter. The lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday (this year that is March 5, 2014) and concludes on Easter Sunday (April 20, 2014). During lent, some Christians fast from specific activities or food items. Others may add a specific spiritual discipline for the 40 days of lent. Not all Christians observe lent with such traditions. We both grew up in traditions that did not place an emphasis on the days leading up to Easter. However, as adults, we have begun to understand that the lenten journey is parallel to the journey of life. We see lent as a wonderful opportunity to connect and re-connect with our faith and our God.
And so we’re inviting you to join us this season. Each week during lent, visit www.zoneconditioning.com to download your free short devotional and guide that includes scripture and activities for reflection. Our hopes are simply that your spirit will be renewed and refreshed this season. We look forward to this journey toward Easter together.
Jen and Whitney
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Message:
May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!
Click here to bookmark the 40-day site and download your weekly devotional guide.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC