Listening for God can sound like an intimidating concept. Listening for God with your body sounds even more intimidating to some. Yet pausing to listen for God does not have to be hard or overwhelming. This little sentence of truth washes over me now after years of expectations. Expectations of how I should approach quiet time with God. Expectations of what it should or should not look like to worship my Creator. Expectations of the outcome after having spent time with God. Maybe those were expectations I placed on myself, maybe they were expectations others placed on me, I’m not certain. However, I am certain that today I celebrate in releasing all expectations and simply find joy in pausing to listen for God with the gift of my whole self in new and creative ways.
On my spiritual formation journey, author (and now friend) Kristen Vincent’s work with prayer beads has shaped me and my listening. Over the years, I have offered workshops and retreats inviting others to create their own prayer beads to draw nearer to God using her book, A Bead and a Prayer. There is something special about this anchor of sorts in my hand. A set of beads which I enjoyed crafting with the intention of drawing me nearer to God. Prayer beads help me slow down in my own body when I hold them or wear them. They also invite me to pause and pray when I see them with my eyes on my nightstand. The simple act of seeing or holding a set of beads encourages me to breathe in the presence of God. Our bodies are remarkable and a simple reminder to be present in our own selves, drawing us nearer to our Creator.
My work invites others to use their very own body to draw nearer to God and listen. After attending one of Kristen’s workshops, I was so inspired by Kristen’s journey and her invitation to pray with beads that I created this prayer for me and for you. Allow this prayer to invite you to pray not only with your beads, but also with your body on the journey of listening to God.
Holy Listening with Prayer Beads
by Whitney R. Simpson
Cross: Creator God,
Invitatory Bead: give me ears
Resurrection Bead: to listen for you with the gift of my whole self – breath, body, and spirit.
1st Cruciform Bead: With each breath I am reminded you give me life.
Week Beads, Set 1: (Praise God for each breath and how it allows you to…)
2nd Cruciform Bead: Forgive me when I do not love my body as you intend.
Week Beads, Set 2: (Confess to God the ways in which you do not love your physical self as God intends…)
3rd Cruciform Bead: Holy Spirit, you are within me, for this I give thanks.
Week Beads, Set 3: (Give thanks for the Spirit within and the ways in which you recognize this…)
4th Cruciform Bead: Maker, I give thanks for the gift of the whole self and your dwelling within.
Week Beads, Set 4: (Praise God for noticing the connection of ways in which your breath, body, and spirit allow you to listen for God…)
Resurrection Bead: Giving thanks to the Creator,
Invitatory Bead: I receive the holy in what you may have me hear today.
Meditation: Thank you for the gift of listening for you God with my breath, body, and spirit.
Are you interested in creating your own prayer beads using Kristen's model to practice this prayer? Join me on Saturday, November 17th from 10 AM until Noon for a time of mindful crafting and prayer at Bloom Yoga Studio in Lebanon, TN. Click here to register.
This prayer and post originally appeared on Kristen's blog in March of 2017.
I've not written in a while. At least not at my blog. Or, anywhere really. I recently put my pen down (yes, I still write with pen and paper) and picked up markers instead. The markers were sort of a desperate attempt at sabbath - to reboot my soul after a challenging summer and a truly full season of my writing being released in three publications this year (one of which was my first published devotional book - for which I'm truly grateful).
My friend, Dana, also released a book this year. It turned out her book was released into the world 38 days after her mother passed away in the care of hospice. The book was dedicated to her mom (prior to Dana knowing her mother was terminally ill or that she would only be around long enough to hold an early release copy). And so, Dana was invited into releasing For Sabbath's Sake into the world at a time when she needed sabbath more than ever - to honor her mom and her own grief. Dana shares her wisdom not only in her words but also in her actions and I'm so honored to see her live into sabbath since her mother's passing. She inspires me to remember sabbath is not a far-off dream. Think about your practice of keeping sabbath. Do you regularly keep sabbath? Is it invited or forced? Is it a set day of the week you honor or keep? Is there any sabbath space in your life? Or, does it occasionaly slip away like mine accidentally did?
My recent sabbath experience extended beyond an anticipated Sunday afternoon nap. It was not expected and actually bumped into weeks of other plans. Yet it was necessary beyond measure. Since it was uninvited by me yet clearly mandated by my body, it even included some anxiety (what about this commitment or that duty?). The more I'm honest about the fact that anxiety took hold during my recent sabbath experience, the more I realize how many of us struggle with anxiety on a regular basis. And, when that emotion hit, I panicked.
The standard tools in my tool box for soul care (writing, meditation, yoga, labyrinth walks, and retreats) offer me sabbath rest and recharge. Yet they have also become my work and I realized they were not companioning me as they had in the past. This made me anxious. Thankfully, I had some new tricks up my sleeve and per a little rest and relaxation (and even a bit of Netflix), I pulled out a new pack of markers for my newly embraced sabbath plans. And, wow! Was I surprised. Inviting in a new spiritual practice allowed me to hit the reset button and truly discover a new rhythm of sabbath. I began with a beautiful wall art poster I found at Ten Thousand Villages as well as the Upper Room book, Praying with Mandalas.
At first, I was impressed with the markers themselves. Each stroke swiftly glided across the paper with vivid color as my mind relaxed and I let go of my task list. And an amazing thing happened as the colors filled the page, I began to find rest in God's presence. My mind had been overflowing for weeks (okay, months). I was not sleeping well and my body barely desired movement (something I regularly long for). Yet with each stroke of the marker, a new tool was added to my tool box. I began to relax and unwind as I savored this quiet time with God.
And, then...I started to dream.
I'm not talking about dreaming into the future (this is a norm for me, I am always dreaming up new ideas). I'm talking about dreaming in the present, in my sleeping hours. The kind of dreams you wake up from and wonder what they had to teach you or what they may be inviting you to in the new day. Once embraced, God allowed me to find true rest when my head hit the pillow during this time of sabbath. True rest, which had recently been just a dream was a reality of the present. My nights were filled with dreams, dreams, and more dreams. Not all the dreams made sense nor did I remember every detail. Yet the dreams surfaced and my body and my soul found rest.
Sabbath is not a dream. Sabbath invites dreams. Sabbath does not have to be forced or uninvited. Sabbath may be a day a week. Sabbath may be a season. Yet how could I forget? Sabbath does not have to be a far off dream. Maybe you need this reminder too? Pick up your markers (or some other new tool for your own unwinding) and embrace your sabbath dreams with God.
Three times I have started this post and three times I have erased my thoughts.
Why? It is difficult to capture the spirit of the Goose in a blog post.
Wild Goose = Spirit. Justice. Music. Art.
Actually, I do not believe it is possible to clearly capture this experience with a journalistic wrap-up blog post. The people I met and shared stories with have inspired my life with God. I feel free. I feel inspired. I feel encouraged. I feel called to action. Rather than words upon words. I'll simply say this, Namaste, y'all.
I see you.
Your light. God's light in you. All of you. Each and every one of you. God is here among us. I'm certain of it.
To share the spirit of the Wild Goose Festival 2017, scroll through some of the images below and let's chat about it. Ever been to the Wild Goose Festival? What do you experience there? Where else do you experience freedom and encouragement on your journey with God? And in the presence of God's Spirit?
Sabbath: the seventh day of the week observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship by Jews and some Christians; often observed on Sunday among Christians as a day of rest and worship; a time of rest; abstaining from work
There is simply something about summer that leaves me yearning for quiet, slow, sunny mornings and extra time under the stars late at night. Somehow, exploring Sabbath rest comes more easily in the summer. The days get longer and time seems to slow down, even though my task list, chores, and never ending ideas continue no matter the season. Yet, summer days help me embrace the concept of Sabbath a bit more freely than other times of the year.
I don’t know about you, but my Sabbath time is not often scheduled on one set day of the week as the definition suggests. Since my retreat and workshop work often continues throughout the weekend, it’s challenging to always find Sabbath on Sundays. Many of us work varied hours, and those of us who are caregivers or parents know this type of work cannot be unscheduled on certain days. Those who work in the church or other ministry settings often share with me that Sunday is far from a day in which they abstain from work. Can we, too, discover Sabbath rest and might it be easier than expected in the summer?
Amidst the ongoing duties of life, new rules seem to take effect in the summer for our family. Or, maybe it’s less rules? A teen who calls to stay over and spend the night at his grandmother’s house rather than come home (he knows his room looks like a tornado hit and avoids this duty at all costs), yet I agree. A newsletter that has a deadline, but instead, a yoga mat, some homemade kombucha, and a lovely back porch (from where I cannot escape the loud construction of a new home next door) call more loudly and I easily unplug. And a day that should have involved household cleaning - instead I find myself loading my Kindle with tons of library books. Free fiction and summer - that’s my Sabbath.
Today I sat in silence and wondered - rest and worship come easy for me. Yet why is it sometimes hard to abstain from work? Is it because there are so many great ideas brewing in my creative heart? There are not enough hours, even on a long summer day to tackle everything God has planted inside me (and the stuff I avoid too, like laundry). How do I step away from "work" and lean in to my own soul care? Here are five soul care tips for exploring Summer Sabbath:
This summer I am definitely not tossing my ideas or creative spirit - these are not work. I am exploring Sabbath rest and discovering time apart from work (like my computer screen) more freely. I desire to embrace soaking up the sun, sleeping plenty, keeping safe boundaries for my social media time, savoring my senses, and discovering plenty of silly fun! Will you join me in this and keep me accountable as well?
What does your summer Sabbath look like? How do you make space away from your work? Is that easy or difficult in this season of summer?
By the way, I was inspired to write this post as one of my fellow Upper Room authors, J. Dana Trent, is releasing a book on the topic of Sabbath this fall. I’m excited to dive in (I might just get a sneak preview, one of the perks of “working” alongside her). Yet reading her words will not be work for me. Sabbath, this summer I’m ready to embrace you! Stay tuned for the release of For Sabbath’s Sake!
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.
Kristen Vincent and her work with prayer beads has impacted my own healing journey. I have shared her book and prayer bead model at retreats and workshops over the years with many of you.
It’s an honor for me to now be working alongside Kristen as an author with the Upper Room Books family of authors. Kristen is also a fellow yogini. She shared the following reflection with me and I’m so honored to share it with you in celebration of the release of her newest book and deepest sharing, Beads of Healing: Prayer, Trauma, and Spiritual Wholeness.
Guest Post by Kristen Vincent
Our yoga instructor asked us to do Pigeon Pose last week. As my class members and I leaned into this stretch, she said something interesting: “I often find stretches to be the hardest part of my practice. There is all this sensation in my body in the areas I’m stretching, and it’s hard to just be with those feelings. But sensation is just that: sensation. You don’t have to judge it. It doesn’t have to be good or bad. And if you can stay with it, sit with it, the stretch gets easier."
She's right. Pain is, by nature, uncomfortable. We do whatever we can to avoid it, whether easing up in a stretch or staying busy when a distressing memory arises. As a trauma survivor, I know this firsthand. I spent years trying to avoid painful feelings and memories. Problem is, by avoiding the pain I was allowing it to continue. I realized I was stuck in a place of fear, always trying to stay one step ahead of the pain.
It wasn’t until I took the time to be still that I learned to be present with my pain. In that space I recognized that God was there, too; indeed, God had always been present - even during the painful events - helping me to cope. Now, in the stillness, God was offering to take that pain and transform it. The more I spoke my truth and described my feelings, the more I saw God guiding me towards a place of trust, gratitude, and wholeness.
It is natural for us to want to avoid pain. But when pain takes the form of memories and feelings from past events, and we avoid that pain because we judge it as being too scary or too hard to deal with, then we get stuck. Lucky for us, God is always present, always ready to help us bear the pain and move through it to a place of deep, healing love. Thanks be to God.
As you can see from the previous post, the book signing and celebration at Parnassus was a great joy. Thanks to your support, the book was the number one seller at the bookstore and was even listed in The Tennessean as such. Truly never imagined this! They do have some signed copies left in stock, as of this week. Stop by and say hello to their amazing staff.
Many of you have sent me messages about your own 40-day journeys and your story of healing and wholeness. I’m indeed on my own journey and it gives me great honor to companion you in yours.
And you have asked, how can I help? Here are some ideas:
Simply contact me to share your thoughts. It is an honor to be a companion on your spiritual formation journey.
In Nashville, Parnassus Books is known and loved by locals and visitors alike. Just recently, I read an article from co-owner (and one of my favorite authors), Ann Patchett, about planning your travels around amazing local booksellers like Parnassus. And, if you're in Nashville, you are in for a treat as you don't have to travel far. Parnassus is a gem to Nashvillians.
So when my fantastic editor at Upper Room Books, emailed me to share that we would be celebrating the launch of Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit at Parnassus in January, I was a wee bit (okay, a lot) excited. There is much that goes in to giving life to a book. And, Parnassus fully understands and appreciates this fact. It seemed the perfect place to celebrate this devotional's birthing. Their team was awesome. I arrived to the beautiful cover (envisioned by the Upper Room team after I shared my heart and ideas) filling the window of the shop. Greeted by friendly staff and the shop dog (neither of which treated me like a "newbie" author but instead welcomed me with open arms and a wagging tail).
Book supporters (I have some pretty amazing friends, you know who you are, thank you!) began arriving as I ran to the restroom to take a deep breath. My heart was racing and I wondered how or why God invited me here. Who, me Lord? We soon ran out of chairs and strangers even paused to join us in this very special place.
In Greek Mythology, Parnassus is known as the home of music and poetry. Truth is, I am a huge music and poetry fan! Although I'm not well-versed in the myths of ancient Greece. And, while there was no audible soundtrack, it felt like it. I was asked to read some of my story from the introduction to the book and answer questions - both of which felt extraordinarily daunting. Who, me?
In a standing-room-only middle-of-a-bookstore, I shared God's nudges and longings. I invited people (some who simply came to grab their copy of Zadie's new book - which is on my reading list!) to listen for God with their whole self - breath, body, and spirit. You see, Parnassus Books may have made me feel like the special guest as a local author (I was even invited to sign their author's book), yet it isn't about me at all. It's about you - your whole self. God created you with breath, body, and spirit. God created you to listen for those nudges and dreams. God created you to release your fears. God created you to come alive with purpose. God created you.
Reflecting in Parnassus helped me claim this for myself and for you too.
Yes, Lord. Me.
I’m excited to announce Holy Listening with Breath, Body and the Spirit is now available!
You can find out more about the book and what people are saying by clicking here or by visiting Upper Room Book's site. The book is currently a #1 new release in its category on Amazon! This great response is thanks to YOUR amazing support and encouragement since the book’s official release date is not until January 1st! However, it is already available online for purchase (and yes, just in time for Christmas gift-giving).
Curious to know more? Click here to read a Q & A interview with me about how and why I wrote this devotional book and what my hopes are for you as the reader.
You're at the library or your favorite bookseller (by the way, please go visit your favorite local bookseller if you have not lately - maybe ask them to pre-order this book?!) and you hold a book in your hand eyeing the cover. You have done this before. You pick up a book and either savor the cover curious as to what is inside or... you are instantly not interested. Your senses react to the colors, the font, and the imagery you hold in your hand. From that first impression, you may decide if the book is for you or not - even before you open the pages, glimpse at the author's profile or read a description of what may actually be inside.
The first book I ever wrote (probably around age 8) was about panda bears and was created in the shape of a panda bear's head. Yes, you read that correctly. I created the cover myself from white construction paper, carefully shading the ears and eyes with a black sharpie. As the first book I will ever publish became a reality, I was honored to be able to vision and dream with the Upper Room team how this cover could invite the reader into the pages of this devotional. It definitely did not look like a panda bear, but I was not certain what it did look like. It still felt abstract, but I knew it was to be an invitation for you, the reader.
You see, this devotional is an invitation to begin listening with your body in a way that is undefined. Each person who chooses to journey with God through the pages of this book is invited to use their body to listen for God. And guess what? No two of our bodies are the same! And, no two persons will read or experience this invitation in the same way. There is no "how-to" for how you should use your body to listen for God's activity. But there is an invitation.
This book cover is for you.
As I glimpsed the cover for the first time, I noticed:
How the feet imprinted on the mat leave the impression of a heart, and they do not show how a body should look or even stand in perfect alignment.
There is no gorgeous yoga posture or person in meditation as the focal point.
There is God's grace and love.
The imperfections of the wooden flooring.
The mat has barely been used.
The title itself as an invitation to journey with God's Spirit.
Go ahead, judge this book by the cover - because this invitation is for you. You are welcome here.
Coming in January 2017 from Upper Room Books.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, unless otherwise indicated.
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