A Guest Post by Jessica L. Luzong
Why is Spiritual Formation, and specifically Spiritual Direction, important? This quote by Luci Shaw summarizes a deeper need for it in our lives:
"The pace of life and our preoccupation with unimportant things takes so much of our attention. The significant things, like taking time to develop friendship, to read and pray,... to listen to God- these all get sacrificed on the altar of good works and... busyness." - Luci Shaw
I don't know about you, but I would rather spend my life paying attention to what really matters!
Whenever I mention moments of revelation, growth and insight I receive from a Spiritual Direction session, I'm almost always met with the question: What is spiritual direction? Despite the consistent practice of accountability Whitney has offered me over the years of our meetings together, I usually hesitate to explain exactly what it is. I hope that in sharing some of these moments and experiences, you will be stirred to taste and see for yourself the goodness of God offered through Whitney and her ministry of Spiritual Direction through Exploring Peace.
I met Whitney at a Holy Yoga retreat in October of 2014. I had never heard of the ministry of Spiritual Direction, but I was stirred to meet with her and hungry to hear from God. The only briefing I was given prior to our first meeting was: "Even though it's called 'direction' a Spiritual Director doesn't really 'direct' you." But after our first, brief encounter, I knew I wanted her to continue walking with me on my journey with God as an accountability partner and a holy listener. The reason this was so important to me was because rather than giving me direction herself, what Whitney did was open up a space and hold moments for me to encounter God directly, to be directed by his Spirit.
Since that initial meeting in 2014, I can look back on the past 7 years and see very specific ways the Lord has used Whitney in my life to help me encounter, seek, and follow, which in turn, has encouraged me in making major life decisions. Some of these include moving across the country, serving overseas, quitting jobs and starting new ones, and letting go of fear! Less dramatic but extremely beneficial examples are: seeing and celebrating God in my every day life, pausing to savor good things with gratitude or actually feel the hard things in life, or naming my desires and surrendering them into the Lord's hands and perfect timing.
When I was first called to leave a dream job working in an art museum to move to California (unemployed), I thought it would be a temporary move, but the Lord had highlighted a one-way plane ticket for me to purchase. I felt a lot of trepidation at this and immediately thought to schedule a Spiritual Direction session. Whitney asked thoughtful questions, listened alongside me, and confirmed what we both heard as direction from Holy Spirit. After that session, with the affirmation I sensed Whitney shared that it really was a prompting from the Lord, I felt confident in my faith to buy that plane ticket! When I look back on that decision, it drastically impacted my future decisions and walk of faith with the Lord. What seemed a temporary place of travel became my home for the next 6 years!
Another example of the refreshment offered me by the ministry of Spiritual Direction happened when I was ministering overseas in India. I felt a bit burned out and very misunderstood by my team, especially the leaders. I met with Whitney, who graciously co-ordinated an 11.5 hour time zone difference! She listened- really listened- affirmed my feelings, gave me space to breathe (literally!), and invited me into a deeper freedom that I had somehow lost along the way of "doing" mission work. Caring for my soul in that season was more important than ever.
Because of my own yoga practice and investment as an instructor, as well as God's design of my body's flexibility and love of dancing and movement, I really appreciate how Whitney incorporates breath and posture (and movement if desired) into our sessions. "Embodiment" was never a terminology I consciously used, but began to understand more recently, through Whitney's usage, that I have always done this naturally. With her help, I am able to intentionally put into practice the embodiment of God's Spirit living in me and knowing God is there - Emmanuel - God with us! It's one thing to know some truth in your mind, another to know in it your heart, but it's absolutely transformational when we can know in our bodies, too. This practice solidifies our faith by making what is ethereal and unseen more tangible and alive.
There is such a powerful expression of faith that comes when we invite the Spirit of God and the Human-ness of Jesus into our lives. Whitney always reminds me in our sessions to slow down, become aware, and breathe. Even though I practice doing this on my own, I often still forget, speed up, or lose sight. Spiritual Direction grounds me back into the practices in which I know I can hear clearly from God. Having another Soul Friend on the journey with me is always such a great support and help.
Through Exploring Peace, Whitney has walked with me with God through major life decisions, not only in relocating several moves, but in listening to God's miraculous work in connecting me to my husband, getting married, and (most recently) having a baby! Experiencing Spiritual Direction while being pregnant offered me an incredible invitation to practice the embodiment of God's Spirit and his Creative Power within me during that precious time! Whitney invited me to include her as a prayer partner when I went into labor, and never neglected the wholeness of me as a woman, wife, new mom, and most importantly, child of God. She has lovingly remembered and reminded me of the call of God over my life, the dreams God has planted in me, while celebrating with me as they come to pass. When I've lost sight of these things, she offers subtle reminders, without any guilt or shame, for me to come back to the Loving Presence of God and simply be with my Creator, Savior, Friend of all friends. She is always and consistently "quick to listen" and shares in my walk of life in such a profound way, gently guiding me to recognize the Hand of God and his work within and around me.
With great honor I call Whitney my Spiritual Director, and can't imagine journeying through the spiritual life as a disciple of Jesus without such a precious witness and support from her!
If you're considering Spiritual Direction but have hesitation, my encouragement to you is to try it! There is nothing more valuable than the investment you make into your soul care. Scheduling time with Whitney is scheduling time with Whitney AND Jesus, with the accountability to meet with God, hear from God, let go of distractions, and have a safe listener there for support, confirmation and guidance into what you hear. God's love is always available for you! I have never, in 7 years, finished a Spiritual Direction session without feeling the love of God, having connected my body-soul-spirit with him, and being encouraged to continue walking closely with the Lord.
For this, I say a simple: thank you, Whitney. Thank you for offering your gifts to the world through Exploring Peace!
A Christmas Prayer
WHEN LIFE FORCES US TO WRESTLE with what's difficult, give us courage.
Teach us that there is a purpose in everything we experience, and everything is more than it appears to be.
This world is permeated by your Presence, and is your Presence in form.
May we be drawn to your Voice above the other, competing voices.
Great and Holy one, we pray for Peace.
Take us to the abode of Peace for which all hearts long.
WE PRAY TO FIND STILLNESS WITHIN our busyness, and
Rest in the midst of our celebrations and activity.
Show us how to walk more gently, more patiently, on the Earth.
Let kindness be born within all hearts.
Teach us to draw together as one people.
May our prayer rise up like fire and be Light for a troubled world. This we know, Something is trying to be born in us.
Take our hand as we set out anew.
From Advent: A Time of Hope by Paula D'Arcy.
Since our puppy, Penny, joined our family this Spring, I've taken a lot of walks. A lot. Oftentimes I use our morning walk to listen to audiobooks that grow or stretch my faith. My recently played books include titles by Rob Bell, Glennon Doyle, Thich Nhat Hanh, Austin Channing Brown, Eckhart Tolle, and Jen Hatmaker. Through these recent (and yes, varied) listens I've been inspired to practice kindness with my neighbors, smile more often (I don't mean to always look so serious), slow it down, face my fears, realize everything really is spiritual, and truly strive to practice presence.
And while books and knowledge fuel, me, I don't always read and walk. Sometimes I pray when I walk, sometimes I listen to a favorite playlist, and sometimes I simply have to stay focused on training (AKA wrangling) our new puppy.
Walking has become a habit for me - twice a day, every day. I'm not quite ready for the Tennessee winters but I don't think Penny will let me break this habit. She loves walking, it's an automatic response to the start of her day. It took some practice for me to get on her plan but quickly it became a habit. I then realized our habit was becoming routine and at moments I dreaded it. Maybe like me, you often walk on auto-pilot. Do you ever wonder... How did I get to the other side of the house? Why is my face always in my phone? Or... What was I doing on my way to the mailbox?
Our minds wander and so having a focused purpose helps me stay present in my walks and break the cycle of worry (which I've carried my fair share of lately). Presence keeps us present! But we don't always need a book or music in our ears to practice presence. We can use our own bodies and breath to practice awareness with a purposeful walking meditation.
The first time I practiced walking meditation was on a retreat with a group of teens. It wasn't easy but it stretched us all and we learned a lot about ourselves. To start, I suggest practicing in your back yard or even at home if you can't get outside. It's nice to have some privacy to allow yourself full presence so you're not worried about being distracted or even stepping out in front of a car. Yep, that happens. Practicing alone gives you more confidence to start, then you can practice walking reverently throughout your day. Walking meditation isn't about exercising yourself or your pet but it is about healing, it is about being fully and completely present in your body.
In walking meditation you feel your feet hit the ground, each and every step. You notice how mindfulness in your body can bring you into the moment. You go slow on purpose. You walk and breathe in sync and allow your body the space to be fully present. While being present in this way is not easy, it is indeed transformational.
Ready to try it? Need some help in discovering presence with a short mindful walk? Listen to the Walking Meditation podcast below. Then use some of what you learn to begin incorporating presence and breath in all of your walking - about the house, to the car, or around the block.
Walking has become a natural way for me to destress and unplug. I have a long way to grow my mindfulness while walking (especially with a puppy in tow) but I'm glad to keep practicing.
How do you practice mindful presence while walking?
Will you take a walk with me?
How is it already October? What has become of this year's vision board and goal plan? For me, not much. It is the year of PIVOT! And while it's been tough, I'm finding many silver linings in this invitation and focus shift. Amidst that shifting, I do know I'm hearing this quote from Augustine and a very familiar verse, loud and clear.
"Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee." - Augustine of Hippo
“Be still, and know that I am God” – Psalm 46:10
Do you have any stillness or rest in your day? Or, does stillness only find you when you crash in the chair at the end of the day after being all things to all people?
Or, does rest evade your mind because although your body is still, you rarely choose to stop scrolling or turn off the news? Do you collapse at the end of a day feeling tired, alone, or even unworthy of being still in God's presence? Are you restless?
This restless pondering and verse aren't simply about being still, are they? Nope. There is so much more than stillness in this invitation.
We might want to take note of something pretty important in the verse. The word "and" in the sentence. The scripture doesn't just ask us to be still, it asks us to be still AND know. What do we need to know?
If you keep reading, verse 11 tells us that “The Lord Almighty is with us.” We aren’t simply told to be still (I was told that in church as a little girl plenty, that's not the same as this). We’re told to be still and know that God is with us. Augustine reminds us God wants us to not only rest but to rest IN GOD. Amidst stress, overwhelm, injustice, worry, changed plans, and pivoting dreams, rest in God.
God gives us the ability to do more than just stop worrying or running. God gives us the ability to rest in God and be reminded how much God cares for each of us, especially amidst restless times like these.
Today, I invite you to find stillness somewhere in your day AND in that stillness of knowing God is with you.
Know that God is your comfort.
Know that God is your peace.
Know that your Creator longs for you to rest in thee.
Reflect: How am I reminded that God is with me? What is causing me restlessness (get specific, consider journaling or praying through these specifics)? When was the last time I experienced stillness and rest WITH God? Where and when can I rest today AND be reminded of God's presence in my life?
Action: Let's not choose to be restless in this season, let's choose to rest in God. Need a little help? Press play below and drift off to sleep in God's presence tonight.
How's your focus and attention these days? Believe it or not, mine has found a renewed sense of clarity in the season of this pandemic. While there is plenty to overwhelm my body and my spirit (the hurts of our world, the effects of a mysterious virus, the longing to end racism) there is a new pace that helps me be more mindful and present.
Slowing down came naturally to me after my stroke and brain surgery 15 years ago. Honestly, I didn't have a choice. My ability to multitask ceased and life as I knew it shifted drastically. Not that long ago, I reflected and lamented with a friend about this longing to again juggle too many balls in the air. As she listened, she told me, "what a gift this experience of forced slowing down was for you!" And, I realized she was right. I am re-opening this gift of slowing down. Will you join me?
How are you intentionally slowing down in this season? What gifts are you discovering in the midst of a pandemic?
Group Spiritual Direction was my introduction to the ministry of soul care. After my stroke, I experienced extreme anxiety. The anxiety was emotionally and spiritually paralyzing. I could barely go to the grocery amidst strangers, let alone be surrounded by people wanting to hug and communicate (at church). The church wasn't causing my anxiety. My anxiety simply didn't allow me to be present at church, which felt conflicting and overwhelming.
It was an isolating and lonely season. A friend knew I was in this searching season, trying to discover God in new ways. So when she heard that her church was offering a group spiritual direction series, she asked me to join the group. I had never heard of the ministry of spiritual direction. I was hesitant and also curious. You would think something brand new would have been harder to embrace than what I knew but what I needed in that season was simply a small group of people to hold space for me and my struggles on my spiritual journey.
This little group of listeners soon helped me hear God in brand new ways. They listened fully, completely, and without judgement. They didn't try to "fix" my challenges or change me. They helped me notice God's activity in my life and I'm forever grateful.
According to Rose Mary Dougherty, three conditions are essential to the life of a spiritual direction group:
Are you willing to be open and honest about your relationship with God (struggles and all)? Are you in a season of change, discernment, or longing? Do you simply want to learn to be a better listener? You're invited to join us for our first online small group inside our new Peace Seekers Community.
Attendance is important since our group will be intimate. Our time will be an introduction to spiritual direction so you don't need to know a thing about this ministry to begin. We'll meet for 4 Sessions on Zoom, Wednesdays from 10:30 AM - 12 PM Central beginning October 28, 2020. We'll offer safe space to share and ask questions about your spiritual journey among peers and with me (a trained spiritual director). You'll participate in weekly guided scripture meditations for listening to God's activity in this intimate group (limited to 6 participants). Your investment in this 4 sessions is the cost of 2 private spiritual direction sessions. You can find full details and register at this link.
BONUS: You'll become a member of our new online community during the time of our group. This community offers you support from other Peace Seekers, weekly scripture passages and ponderings, as well as connection.
Will you join us?
Oh, coronavirus, you've taken too much from us this year, retreats included. However, I am so very excited to share with you each that online retreats are here.
YES! We're finally ready to begin our journey of online retreats at Exploring Peace Ministries. It's been a challenging season for all of us to find new ways to interact and connect in our businesses, churches, communities, and relationships. After pausing all in-person retreats for 2020 due to COVID-19, I wasn't sure what was next. Yet after much discernment and lots of prayer and help, I've discovered and created a safe online space that I think you're going to love. Yes, it's possible to connect in safe space amidst a pandemic and I can't wait for us to begin. I'm more than thrilled to be hosting my online retreat book experience for you in a new space, our Peace Seekers Community. You'll find me there now along with our community moderator, Lauren, and a handful of Beta Testers. If you register for the Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit book retreat, you'll gain access to our community and see exactly what's in it for you (encouragement, connection, community with other Peace Seekers just to name a few)! The retreat and our new community is open as of TODAY!
Retreat materials will be available for pre-work beginning August 17th. Our 40 Days together and live teachings begin September 1st! Don't miss out on this chance to offer your body and spirit a reboot in community. I am so excited to journey through the book with you!
We often get tips for our bodies or our business at the start of each new year. But, what about tips for your soul? We're not talking goals, we're talking soul care. What makes your soul sing?
Below is a transformational tip that if you embrace this one habit this year, I believe your soul will indeed sing. I use the practice of a morning ritual in my own life and encourage you to as well.
Already have a morning ritual? Share it with me on social media! Tag me at @WhitRSimpson and show us how you're #ExploringPeace in your daily life.
How to create a morning ritual:
Set aside a few minutes to ponder, what draws you nearer to God? Then make a list (journaling, savoring silence, reading, watching the sunrise, meditating on scripture, a healthy breakfast, practicing centering prayer, movement, etc.) and place that list in your planner, journal, beside your bed, or on your bathroom mirror (somewhere you will see it!).
Enjoy your morning ritual:
Once you have your inspiration, take action for your soul and enjoy it! Here's the tip: each morning dedicate the time you have set aside to one (or more than one) thing on your list. Whether you have 5 focused minutes (not every morning is slowly savored, I get it and remember the toddler days) or a slow and savory 75 minutes (on the best day ever of you being the only one to care for), enjoy YOUR morning ritual. Consistency is my key to a soul-filled morning ritual. Contrary to popular belief, there is no time limit required for drawing near to God and you do not need to do everything on your list at once (it may actually be better that you don't). For the benefit of your soul, choose to BE with your ritual rather than DO your ritual and start with just a few minutes at a time.
So what's my morning ritual look like?
My morning ritual:
It feels important to share I'm not what some would call a "morning person" which is why I believe my morning ritual is so valuable to my soul. This time set apart helps ground me and enter in to a day with a heart and a body that is set on God and not how little I love mornings.
Before my feet hit the floor, I explore a few simple yoga stretches and place my hands on my body for prayer. The normal morning hygiene routine takes place (Ayurvedic medicine has taught me about tongue scraping and I include this most days too, ever tried it?), then I cuddle into my prayer/meditation chair for either a few minutes of breath prayer, centering prayer, or a time of journaling (as an Enneagram 4, I like variety in my quiet time but I don't do all of these - I pick one). If it's a slow and savory morning, I include devotional and/or scripture reading. Note: while I prefer to draw out my mornings, many mornings are more hurried than others so this may take as few as 5 minutes, it's the intention of being present with God that is the focus of my morning ritual. Commit to pick one thing from your list and practice it daily, that's it.
Once I've enjoyed the quiet, I move from contemplation into some self-care action with prioritizing care of my physical body. Before bed, I try to prep my favorite green lemonade so I can sip on something good for my body first thing in the morning (my green lemonade recipe is lemon water with spearmint chlorophyll and green juice powder - it's an acquired taste and I love it now). A brisk walk does me good but it's true for me that my soul must be awake first. So while exercise is part of my day, it comes after my soul is awakened! Once I'm dressed and ready for the day, I visit the kitchen for two more important hydration elements. First, I brew my herbal tea then I blend my favorite smoothie (hemp protein, spinach, banana, frozen blueberries, frozen butternut squash, raw cacao, collagen, flax, chia, or whatever else I may have on hand). So yes, caring for my body is a vital part of my morning ritual. With practice, these habits have become a soulful experience to start my day for spirit rather than chores I must check off my list.
What do you do for your soul in the mornings?
Create a ritual of caring for your soul a few minutes at a time and you'll find encouragement to care for your self and grow in your spiritual practices in 2020.
In the past week I have had multiple conversations about prayer labyrinths and how prayerfully walking these over the years (some indoors, some outdoors) has shaped my faith journey. One conversation arose in a spiritual direction session, another after a yoga class with a student, and another at a meeting with a colleague. I find it interesting how God nudges me to return to the ways I best listen and hear when life feels distracted or I begin to feel distant. Labyrinth walk soon anyone? I am grateful for the reminder that this ancient prayer practice helps draw me nearer. So, I thought I would share this overview for those of you who aren't familiar with labyrinths and invite you to discover one near you (keep reading).
What is a Labyrinth?
For Millenia, pilgrimages to holy sites have been part of the Christian tradition. However, when a pilgrimage was not possible, the discipline of this spiritual journey was found on the labyrinth as a symbolic prayer walk. By walking the labyrinth today, we are rediscovering a long-forgotten tradition found in various traditions and forms around the world. While labyrinths have a history that can be traced back thousands of years and to a variety of religions, their beginning origin is unknown. No matter the style of the labyrinth, structurally, it has only one path so there are no tricks and no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives, each on a journey. Walk it with an open heart and mind as you allow God to touch your sorrows and release your joy, allowing your soul to sing.
What a Labyrinth is Not?
It is important to keep in mind that a labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is designed to confuse you, a cognitive puzzle (mazes only entered our world’s culture about 600 years ago). A labyrinth has only one path that leads to the center, designed to easily find your way making space for prayer and meditation.
Why Walk the Labyrinth?
The labyrinth offers a sacred and stable space to focus your attention and listen to your soul. It is a wonderful place to pray. However, the experience is different for everyone because each of us brings different raw material to the labyrinth. As with any spiritual discipline or prayer practice, we bring our unique beliefs, hopes, dreams, history, and longing of the soul. Leave behind what may not serve you as you journey toward union with God in quiet reflection.
How Do I Walk the Labyrinth?
Try to not have expectations, simply enter into the journey and use your senses to move your body forward in prayer. Before you walk, quiet your mind and become aware of your breath. Ground your feet and let go of any expectations. Simply have an open mind and do what feels natural. You may wish to choose a prayer, centering word, or phrase to avoid a wandering mind. Some find simply focusing on their breath helps them remain in the present. Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to move forward (skip, dance, or walk very slowly). Those going in on the path will meet those coming out. You may "pass" people or step to your right and let others step around you. Do what feels natural. Afterward, you may wish to sit quietly and reflect, journal, create, or simply give thanks. You may find the following three stages helpful for your walk:
Find a Labyrinth Near You:
Click here to visit the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator. Note, not all labyrinths are posted at this website. You may also wish to do a simple search on the internet for locations in your area.
The above information was created and compiled by Whitney R. Simpson from the research of Lauren Artress using her guides, "Walking A Sacred Path” and “The Sacred Path Companion” as well as the Grace Cathedral Website. If using this information as a guide for others, please note these resources and also cite this post at www.ExploringPeace.com/blog.
If you know me well, you know I love collecting Bibles. Insightful commentary as well as scripture in fresh translations are encouraging to my soul. So, when I discovered the Common English Bible had created a Women's Bible, I was excited to spend time with this one in my lap. It is indeed fresh and what really makes this one unique is that the commentary was written by women - for women. The CEB Women’s Bible is intended for all women. It was designed for women in church leadership, women in the pews, and especially for women who value spiritual practice in their lives. It is ideal for those who value equality and discussions related to issues of gender and justice and how those ideas are lived out through their faith (YES, please!).
Once I discovered this gem, I wanted to share it with you too. Good news! My wonderful friends at Abingdon Press gifted me a new hard cover edition to be given away here at my blog - TO YOU! So, if you're feeling like you may need a fresh new translation with insightful commentary, I would love to share this Bible with you! It will be mailed via Media Mail in October to one blog reader (US Residents Only). You have during the month of September to enter the giveaway (the winner's name will be drawn and announced in the October newsletter)!
Simply enter your name and email address below (you'll be subscribed to my monthly soul care newsletter). For an additional entry, comment on this post with an encouraging scripture passage you would like to share with the women in your life. AND...you gain another bonus entry in the giveaway if your passage is from the CEB translation (my favorite)!
Feel free to share this post with someone who may also love to discover the new CEB Women's Bible. Let's encourage and bolster one another on the spiritual journey and reconnect with God's word.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC