The Lenten season is a time of fasting and releasing. I have gotten so comfortable here, Holy Week has slipped up on me.
Easter is almost here!
In that comfortable place of Lent, I've had some trouble thinking about celebrating Easter. Maybe you've felt overwhelmed by the troubles of the world too? It's easy to be distracted by the hard and heavy things of this life and miss out on the good things promised to us by our Creator.
But as a follower of Jesus, I do not want to miss out on celebrating the goodness of Easter! So, how do I move from Lent to Easter (and through an emotional Holy Week)?
My yoga knowledge reminds me how powerful presence is in the body using the senses. So this week, I am choosing to engage in tactile prayer experiences. And, I thought you too may enjoy this experience. I invite you to grab some crayons or markers and print the mandala resource below. It guides you with some thoughts to ponder as you pray and color.
No matter what you face today, may you...
Taste and see how good the Lord is!
The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy!
- Psalm 34:8 CEB
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
One of the first things they tell you when you publish a book is to make sure you stay in front of your audience. I've worked consistently over the past few years to not only be present on social media but also connected and engaged. And I've loved it. I truly love seeing your photos and reading your favorite quotes. I appreciate being inspired by people different from me, helping to expand my perspective. I crave to know what's happening in the lives of my internet friends. But guess what?
Recently, I found myself overwhelmed. Not only because our country and our world are amidst crisis but also because I found myself using my thumb to see your reactions and concerns before I even checked in with my own.
Here's how that looked:
Hop out of bed, open Instagram.
Eat lunch, check LinkedIn.
Have a snack, click on Twitter.
Post yoga, better look at Facebook.
After dinner, repeat.
And lots of clicks in between.
It was exhausting!
Now the irony doesn't escape me that I'm using these platforms to share with you my burnout moment. I heard clearly the nudge in my spirit to take a break into the new year. And, I did.
Here's what I learned, the first few days were really hard. It was truly like letting go of an addiction (well, I guess it had become that based on the detox time period I have needed). After a week of complete social media detoxing, we had a death in the family and it felt quite appropriate to share my grandmother's obituary (because she was amazing and I wanted to honor her memory) on my personal account. I appreciated the kind words and condolences that interaction offered me. But I didn't jump back in completely, I found myself purposely entering in slowly to check the messages you sent.
And guess what? With purposefulness rather than mindlessness, I felt more in control of my scrolling and less depleted. I found myself realizing I could find balance in my presence here rather than letting social media rule my heart and mind. I wasn't sure that was possible, I was afraid I may have to completely cut ties forever to care for my soul. That felt impossible with my role as a business owner and author (who hopes to publish again someday and will then have a new book to share with you, that I hope you'll want to set your device down to read). At a time when physical presence in community is limited, social media has become a practical lifeline to others. I did not want to lose that connection but I did want to find a new rhythm for my life.
Four ways you can decrease social media time to care for your soul (and how I did just that):
1. Stop using your thumb. Uninstall social media apps from your smartphone and after a detox time period (set by you) re-enter using them only on a computer or tablet. I've found there's less temptation to scroll from these devices than the always present phone that is by my side.
2. Set time limits. You can either set limits for yourself or (if you're like me and need a bit more structure) set your phone to shut down from social media or all screen time at certain times of day or after a certain period of time. This way, your phone is still a phone (what a concept!) and less of a time sucker. I've read so many more books and even picked back up some hobbies (knitting!) I had long forgotten about. I'm amazed at how much time I've gained back with my limits.
3. Install helpful apps (apps that help you be present, learn, or grow) on your phone for those moments of waiting that you truly think you need something to do. I like Insight Timer, Audible, and Mighty Networks (the app where our Peace Seekers community connects).
4. Keep your phone outside of your bedroom. I'll admit, this one is tough for me as I'm a parent of a teen who works evenings and my spouse and I are often already in bed when our son gets home from work. I'm finding a new routine though and purposefully plugging my phone in to charge in the bathroom. I can still hear it in an emergency but it's not by my bed nor am I tempted to pick it up first thing in the morning. Now in the mornings, I brush my teeth, let the dog out, practice meditation then open my devotional. After all those things, I pick up my phone. And guess what? It's just a phone now so it's power over me is much less than it's ever been and my thumb is way less stressed too!
Why shouldn't I be telling you this? Because what if you decide to unplug? What if you miss out on something I'm supposed to share with you soon? What if you make discoveries like me and find a new rhythm that leaves us less connected? Maybe this invitation will keep us accountable to one another? Maybe we'll find a new way to explore peace in our own lives. Maybe we'll discover what matters most and choose being present with God, ourselves, and those around us over the constant distractions. Maybe we'll see more of what God wants us to notice and feel less overwhelmed by the constant stream of information that's available in arms reach.
So actually, I should be telling you all of this! Why yes, you can find connection and balance in social media and still care for your soul. It's possible.
Do you have parameters for your social media use? What are they? How do these guidelines help you? Note: we'll be checking in on this in our Peace Seekers group later this month as we explore the ancient practice of Creating a Rule of Life. I'm working on mine now and am excited to share it with our small and growing private community. If you're looking to find a place with less distraction and more purpose, join us there.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Content @ 2010-2021
Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC