About Catherine Wilson

Catherine is a Wellness Advocate with Spirited Life. Catherine has degrees in Physical Therapy and Public Health and has worked on projects domestically and internationally around developmental disabilities and community health promotion. In her spare time, Catherine enjoys running with her dog, visiting the North Carolina mountains with her husband, and reading in her back yard.

All Is A Gift


We share hope that in this week of Thanksgiving, you may be aware of the power and presence of God’s great gifts to you: His goodness, His mercy, His steadfast love, now and forevermore.

“Everything is a gift.  The degree to which we are awake to this truth is the measure of our gratefulness.  And gratefulness is the measure of our aliveness.  Are we not dead to whatever we take for granted?  Surely to be numb is to be dead.”

– David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness the Heart of Prayer


 – Catherine Wilson

Image courtesy of flickr user Ben Fredericson, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Pastor’s Reflection: The Best Walk of My Life


The following post is by Spirited Life pastor Matt Smith, who serves as the Associate Pastor at Guilford College United Methodist Church in Greensboro, where he paces himself on runs of moderate distances.  A version of this story appeared in the Crossroads Chronicle.

Matt w. Green STole 2In each of the last three years, I have run in Western Carolina University’s Valley of the Lilies Half-Marathon. This year, for the first time, I wasn’t able to run that whole distance. On a seemingly endless hill, my calves got as tight as bowstrings, and I was forced to walk the last two miles. It may have been because I started too quickly or because I ate too little or (more likely) due to my inadequate training. I was disappointed, but my disappointment didn’t last long.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving never walked much on Western’s campus, I had never realized how beautiful it is. I learned why the event is called “Valley of the Lilies” as I enjoyed the hundreds of white and yellow blooms lining the path. I encouraged the other runners as they passed me. I savored an energy bar. My feet were no longer racing, but my mind was. As someone who was gearing up for a new appointment, I thought about how it felt like my best running in this area is behind me.

My mild disappointment at my performance lead me to question other areas of my life where my efforts come in fits and spurts. In terms of my health: wouldn’t it be better for my health to commit to running three miles every other day throughout the year, rather than gearing up for such a long run annually? In terms of my motivations: in running so far this one day, was I just trying to prove something to myself or to others?

In terms of my work: hadn’t some of my most heroic efforts to do something novel and exciting fallen flat? In terms of discipleship: is it better to read a whole book of the Bible in one sitting or read a chapter every day? Maybe that’s why Eugene Peterson calls discipleship “a long obedience in the same direction.”

In a funny way, facing the answers to these questions wasn’t demoralizing but freeing. I beamed as I crossed the finish line, having been reminded that my worth doesn’t lie in my pushing myself to my limits or beyond them. It’s not our backbreaking toil, after all, but abiding in Jesus that enables us to bear great fruit.

Image by flickr user Jason A. Samfield, via Creative Commons.

The Practice of Paying Attention


This is a guest post by Rev. John Bryant.

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This summer I am reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s excellent An Altar in the World with the Duke Field Education student working at Wesley Chapel. I love Taylor’s books because she crafts words and phrases in a way that always captures my imagination. An Altar in the World explores spiritual themes through simple practices. This week one of the chapters we read was on paying attention.

I like to think I am pretty good at paying attention, but I know the buzz of smartphones and social media leads me to be more distracted than I would like and probably more than I even realize. So I did my best to slow down and really digest her words, rather than scanning quickly through the chapter and moving on to the next thing.

I was reading outside on the porch and heard a buzzing sound off to my left. Assuming it was a Cicada Killer wasp or bumblebee checking out some flowers, I looked over just to make sure it was not getting too curious about me. To my surprise I saw a hummingbird hovering right off the edge of the porch. It stayed for a brief moment, then flew on.

4603495186_189549c3e1_zWhat a gift! I can’t remember the last time I saw a hummingbird not at a feeder. And to have it so close was an extra blessing.

I still can’t shake the irony of my gift also being a lesson. Had I not slowed down and paid attention, had I assumed I knew what was happening and not looked, I would have missed the gift.

Where have you paid attention and received a blessing this week?

JohnJohn Bryant is a participant in Group 2 of Spirited Life. He is the pastor at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Misenheimer, NC.  His blog can be found here: http://johntbryant.wordpress.com/

Click for Rev. Bryant’s post, Pray without Ceasing.

Image by flickr user gainesp2003 via CC.

Pray Without Ceasing


The following is a guest post from John Bryant, a participant in Group 2 of Spirited Life. He is the pastor at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Misenheimer, NC.  His blog can be found here: http://johntbryant.wordpress.com/

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“Pray without ceasing.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:17

John on Galilee

I’ve never considered myself a very accomplished pray-er.  I have difficulty finding the words I want to say, especially when I’m praying extemporaneously.  It’s one reason I found such peace in services of Morning Prayer while at Duke; I never needed my own words but could lean on the words of others.

Needless to say, Paul’s admonition has always filled me with dread.  Without ceasing? Really? It’s hard enough already!  That verse creates such a high standard that I can never live up to. I can’t constantly be in a state of prayer can I? What does it mean when I fail? The pressure mounted to the point that I figured it was better not to even try.  Pray at meal times, in church, upon request, and call that good enough.

Galilee Stone

So imagine my surprise when a trinket ended up providing me with an answer.  I bought this stone on my recent trip to the Holy Land. We were sailing on the Sea of Galilee (See above: John and his wife Kathy on the Sea of Galilee), which was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. We visited a number of churches where tradition states some event happened (and maybe it did), but the Sea is the Sea. On this body of water, the disciples fished and Jesus traveled and taught. There’s no changing that. So I bought this stone, over-priced as it certainly was, as a reminder of the trip and how meaningful that moment was to me.

I thought about simply carrying the stone in my pocket, but I was afraid of losing it if it caught on something while I was retrieving my keys or phone. Instead, since it came with a cord, I decided to wear it around my neck. I leave it under my shirt because I don’t like to be flashy about these sorts of things and it had a tendency to knock into things whenever I leaned over.

I’m still not used to wearing it, so I find myself adjusting or at least noticing it several times during the day. It finally occurred to me that this was a great reminder to pray.

In the mornings, when I put it around my neck, I pause to say the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer. In the evenings, when I take it off, I pray over my day using a practice called the Daily Examen. And during the day, whenever I adjust or notice it, I pray a simple breath prayer.  Breath prayers are simple, one sentence prayers that can be said in the time it takes to breath in and out. I typically pray something like “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

This pattern is by no means perfect and I still have a lot of growth before me in my personal prayer life. Yet having something as simple as a small stone has given me cues that remind me of how important prayer is.

What helps you to pray without ceasing?

Click for Rev. Bryant’s post, The Practice of Paying Attention.

Centering Prayer Liturgy and Resources


This is Part II in a series on Centering Prayer.  For Part I, please see Pastor Cheryl Lawrence’s guest blog post reflecting on her experience with this spiritual practice.

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Centering Prayer is a response to to the call of the Holy Spirit to consent to God’s presence and action within.  It is based on the format of prayer that Jesus suggests in Matthew 6:6: If you want to pray, enter your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Spirited Life has offered Centering Prayer as a workshop activity for Group 2 pastors, as shared by pastor Cheryl Lawrence on her blog, and we have mentioned it a few times on this blog (here and here).  It is a form of silent prayer using a sacred word to draw focus and attention to interior silence and an intention to consent to God’ presence and action within.  For more information about the method, click here.

Several pastors have shared with us that they are offering Centering Prayer to their congregations, but developing the structure around this time can be challenging.  Below is a liturgy for worship with Centering Prayer.  This particular liturgy is written for ‘the height of this day,’ but could easily be tweaked for whenever your group gathers.  We’ve also indicated a twenty minute sit, which is recommended by Contemplative Outreach, leaders in the Centering Prayer movement.


Each time you gather, you may use the same liturgy and alter the reading and the psalm.  As for material for the reading, consider using a favorite devotional or the week’s Gospel lectionary.  If you are interested in more contemplative materials,  the works of Fr. Thomas Keating, father of Centering Prayer, like Journey To The Center, may be appropriate.  Suggested psalms to use include 23, 46, and 62.

Worried about keeping time during the twenty minutes? Insight Timer has a free meditation timer app for both Android and iPhones.  The app has a variety of chimes to both open and close the twenty minute time of prayer.  To draw the group out of the time of interior silence, the leader may consider praying the Lord’s prayer very softly.

We hope this liturgy will be useful to you for your own centering prayer practice, for leading a group in your congregation, or to use with a group of clergy.

Centering Prayer Liturgy

Call to Worship:

One: The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

All: And also with you.

One: Blessed be the one, holy, and living God.

All: Glory to God for ever and ever.


Loving God, in the height of this day we pause to rest in you.  Quiet our minds that they may be still, fill our hearts that we may abide in love and trust.  Christ, as a light illumine and guide me.  Christ, as a shield overshadow me.  Christ under me; Christ over me; Christ beside me on my left and my right.



Holy God, open our hearts to the silent presence of the Spirit of your Son.  Lead us into that mysterious silence, where your love is revealed to all who call, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’

20 minute sit


Go in peace

Click here for a copy of this liturgy, ready to be printed, copied, and used with a group.

–Catherine Wilson

Image by flickr user ninjapotato via Creative Commons.

The Power of Habit: Keystone Habits


Don’t miss the news about the winner of this week’s giveaway on Monday’s post, and check in with us next Monday for another fun giveaway!

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On Monday, Kelli posted on The Power of Habit, a book that has been passed around our office and has generated interesting conversation. We rely on habits to help us make it through our days, so that the activities we do regularly are not as taxing to accomplish and so that we can run on autopilot when we need to.

In the book, Charles Duhigg talks about keystone habits: small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives. Keystone habits have a ripple effect into other parts of life, creating positive change unexpectedly. And who doesn’t want this whole behavior change challenge to be a bit easier?

Two keystone habits that Duhigg highlights are exercise and food journaling. On exercise:

5447958713_a375185097_o“When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly. Typically people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why…‘Exercise spills over,’ said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. ‘There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.’” (p. 109)

Once people invest time and energy in exercise, it appears that they are set up to make other beneficial changes, even without consciously doing it.

Food journaling seems a little more clear cut: if someone is focusing on weight loss, keeping track of what they eat increases the intrinsic reward of good behavior by creating an extrinsic reward, which is seeing the food consumption documented. But researchers of a large weight-loss study were surprised to see just how effective it was, and how it influenced other behaviors:

“It was hard at first [writing down everything one day per week]. The subjects forgot to carry their food journals, or would snack and not note it…Eventually, it became a habit.  Then something unexpected happened. The participant started looking at their entries and finding patterns they didn’t know existed. Some noticed they always seemed to snack at about 10 a.m., so they began keeping an apple or banana on their desks for mid-morning munchies. Others started using their journals to plan future menus, and when dinner rolled around, they ate the healthy meal they had written down, rather than junk food from the fridge.” (p. 120)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chore of recording food was difficult at first — as all new habits are.  But researchers found that six months into the study, people who kept food records daily lost twice as much weight as everyone else! And because of their heightened awareness, they were primed to make additional positive changes to their behavior.

Exercise and food journaling are just two examples of keystone habits, and they’re by no means simple to implement. But they’ve been shown to serve as catalysts for other changes.

What are the keystone habits that set you up for flourishing?

–Catherine Wilson

Top image by eccampbell, lower one by John’s Brain, both used with permission via Creative Commons.

Hope Amid Disaster: Sermons After the Boston Bombings


As I type, it is Monday afternoon, and I am keenly aware that almost exactly one week ago, moments of celebration for Boston Marathon runners and spectators quickly shifted from a time of unity and celebration to terror, death, and horror. During times of national tragedy such as occurred over the past week, pastors and religious leaders are tasked with the monumental role of comforting their communities.


TIME magazine asked seven pastors from across the country, from Copley Square to rural Ohio to Los Angeles, to share the reflections and sermons they would offer their communities after the tragedy in Boston.

Katie Crowe is the pastor of Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church in Durham and works with Spirited Life in providing training for pastors on the practice of Centering Prayer. She is one of the pastors who offered words of hope as an antidote to violence, reflecting on the passage from the Gospel of John where Jesus shows the disciples the scars from the wounds of the crucifixion.

Katie shares that Christians have a Savior who shows his scars as a sign of solidarity; he knows the trials we endure and the pain that comes along with them. The scars are also the place where God’s work of healing can flourish.

“When Jesus bore the world’s brokenness on the cross, God’s grace filled in the gap between human sin and God’s righteousness, building a stronger body by uniting us with God through Christ as one. Today, the scars on Christ’s body represent the brokenness and sin of the world that can break us down, create gaps in our faith, and tear us apart as a human family. In this painful and anxious place, God’s grace fills in the gaps by the work and power of the Holy Spirit, building us all into a stronger body of believers, and making the moment of crisis a means of transformation within disciples, communities, and the world.”

As we pray for our healing in our country and peace within our world, we also pray for pastors and religious leaders who are sharing messages of hope, peace, and comfort, messages that allow us all be reminded of where we gather endurance for the races set before us. Thanks be to God for your work and ministry.

Catherine Wilson

Image from flickr user txfc of a vigil for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing Monday, April 22, in Davis Square, Sommerville, Mass., used with permission via Creative Commons.

Doctor’s Orders: Walk in the Park


A recent study measured brain waves of healthy adults as they took a 25-minute walk through three different sections of Edinburgh, Scotland.  Participants first traveled through an older, historic shopping district with light vehicle traffic, then down a path through a park-like setting, then through a busy, commercial district.

The researchers were attempting to identify whether a walk in the park could be an intervention for brain fatigue, a condition caused by the brain’s being overwhelmed by constant noise and input, resulting in distraction, forgetfulness, and flightiness.

When traveling through the urbanized, busy areas, brain wave patterns demonstrated higher arousal levels and more frustration.  While in the park, the brain-wave readings became more meditative and quieter.

Jenny Roe, a lecturer at Heriot-Watt’s School of the Build Environment, commented to the New York Times Well Blog about the different ways the brain was engaged, based on environment:

“Natural environments still engage” the brain, she said, but the attention demanded “is effortless. It’s called involuntary attention in psychology. It holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection,” and providing a palliative to the nonstop attentional demands of typical, city streets.

Several of the comments on the blog echo what you may be thinking: “Nice to see this study, but I feel like it is confirming that the sun rises in the east,” or “What I get from this study is less about what a walk in the park does to our brain waves than amazement that so many of us still need science to ‘prove’ the validity of our experience.”

It doesn’t seem like rocket science, I agree, but I appreciate that it highlights an effective and low-cost strategy for how to reset our brain’s capacity to take in the world around us and make decisions with clarity.  Our lives can quite easily be over-engaged with many responsibilities and being accessible all the time.

Dr. Roe also connects the seemingly obvious conclusion of the study with challenges for our daily lives:

“Right about now, you should consider taking a break from work,” Dr. Roe said, and “going for a walk in a green space or just sitting, or even viewing green spaces from your office window.” This is not unproductive lollygagging, Dr. Roe helpfully assured us. “It is likely to have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery.” ‘

I’ll see you in ten minutes. I’m going for a walk.

StellaWoodsCatherine Wilson

Photo courtesy of Catherine Wilson, of one of her favorite mountain paths in western NC, and a favorite walking companion, Stella.

Race of Grace 5k



The warmer weather and longer days are beckoning many of us outdoors after some dismal winter months.  The popularity of road races will soon become evident as communities hit the streets to sweat in honor of their favorite charities, to challenge their fitness, or just as an excuse to delight in the outdoors with loved ones.

North Carolina boasts innumerable road races year-round, but there is only one we know of that has a ‘Clergy Division’ as a prize category: the Race of Grace and House Your Neighbor 5k.  This 3.1 mile run/walk was formerly the Race of Grace 5k, which began in 2004 when 65 United Methodist Churches participated in the event to help alleviate suffering of neighbors impacted by hunger, homelessness, and lack of adequate healthcare.

race for grace

Since then, they have joined forces with the NCSU chapter for Habitat for Humanity to offer one great big event!  Over the past 14 years, these two events have given away over $340,000!  This year, Habitat for Humanity of Wake County will be the beneficiary.

Want to get involved? Check out their website to register to walk/run, donate, and volunteer.  They’ve also put promotional resources together, including bulletin blurbs for your worship bulletin or posters for the church halls.

We wish the event a great success and applaud the Race of Grace’s efforts to promote physical activity and enjoyment of the outdoors along with raising money to help provide shelter for our neighbors.

The Lord does not delight in the strength of the horse nor the speed of the runner, but the Lord takes delight in those who fear him and who hope in his steadfast love.

Psalm 147: 10-11

Catherine Wilson

Photo by flickr user Jim Larson, via Creative Commons.

Reverence and the silence of God


When was the last time that you experienced pure stillness and silence?

I had a conversation with a pastor last week who shared how rare it is for her to have moments of silence.  Even when she is alone and not in the physical presence of others, e-mails are coming in, her to-do list is nagging her, her children are active upstairs, she’s running sermon prep through her head, or she’s playing music.  Silence isn’t golden…it’s non-existent.

I find that it’s not always the demands of others that keep silence at bay.  When given moments to pause, even at a stoplight or in-between phone calls at work, I feel the need to fill these times of silence with words or actions.  It is easy for me to fill the moment with another task, a duty, a phone call, an e-mail.

But if we are not familiar with silence in our day-to-day lives, what happens when we feel that God is silent, either to us or to those that we care about?  How much more fear-inducing or uncomfortable are those times when we experience God’s distance?

Barbara Brown Taylor speaks to the silence of God as a mystery to be entered into with reverence.

“I believe we do more for those in our care by teaching them about the silence of God than we do by trying to explain it away. By addressing the experience of God’s silence in scripture and in our listeners’ own lives, we may be able to open up the possibility that silence is as much a sign of God’s presence as of God’s absence – that divine silence is not a vacuum to be filled but a mystery to be entered into, unarmed with words and distracted by noise – a holy of holies in which we too may be struck dumb by the power of the unsayable God. Our job is not to pierce that mystery with language but to reverence it.”

– Barbara Brown Taylor, When God is Silent

Heeding this wisdom, during Lent, I’m pursuing more time in silence and attempting to both acknowledge and welcome God’s overflowing presence in that space. In particular, I’m aiming to spend twenty minutes of silence per day in Centering Prayer and fasting from the radio on my commute to and from work.  My hope is that I become more hospitable toward silence and replace the false busyness and action with obedience to God.

Catherine Wilson

Top image by flickr user seyed mostafa zamani, lower by -Delphine-, both via creative commons