Do You Need A New Rhythm? ~ Part IV

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This is the fourth in a special series on Sabbath by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. Please read the first installment here, the second installment here, and the third here. We offer these reflections in the hope that you will feel invited to deepen your own Sabbath practice. Thank you to Dianne for sharing these thoughtful reflections with us in this space!

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I believe that there are two important things to consider when you are planning for Sabbath time.  These two things are what to include in your Sabbath time and what to leave out of it.  So, let’s start with what you might want to leave out of your Sabbath time.  We should think about doing more of what gives us life and doing less of what drains us.  This calls for some reflection on our part.  We might ask ourselves: what do we find to be life- giving and what do we find to be life-draining? What helps us to give and receive God’s love and what hinders us from doing that?  These questions may sound familiar to you as they are the Ignatian Questions of Examen.  They provide a wonderful spiritual check-in for how our rhythm is working for us.

worn white cardboard box isolated on white background..When I think about what is life-draining for me, it’s rushing, deadlines, multi-tasking, being always available, unrealistic expectations, and not feeling the freedom to do the things at my own pace.  Wayne Muller speaks in his book, Sabbath, about having a Sabbath box- where you place the things that are not invited into your Sabbath time.  So, I might put my watch, cellphone, or my calendar in the box.  The idea is that you don’t allow the things that drain you to enter into your Sabbath space, you protect yourself from them for a set- aside time.  This is about freeing yourself up to take a vacation from those things.     

Once the life-draining things of life are set aside, then, you are free to open yourself to experiencing the life-giving things that replenish you.  For me those life-giving things are easing into the day, not always being available through technology, and allowing myself to do things at a more leisurely pace, as I actually lose track of time.  As you create your Sabbath space; you should be encouraged to feel free to do whatever you need to do for yourself.

318203573_0d6273c2eb_bI have been observing Sabbath for quite some time now.  I can say that it has been the most helpful spiritual practice I have found.  It has really opened up space for me to nurture my spiritual longings, without feeling guilty about the time that I am spending doing so.  This practice has brought refreshment to my soul and helped me to embrace a new rhythm.

As you enter into your Sabbath time, you might consider using these questions of Examen as well.  For most of us, it has been a long time since we took the time to consider what drains us or what brings us life.  Considering these questions will help you design a Sabbath day that truly ministers to your soul.  I pray God’s blessings on you as you embrace the kind of Sabbath Rest that will bring you life.  I celebrate the gifts that await you within it! 

Dianne Lawhorn

DianneDianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

 

Do You Need A New Rhythm? ~ Part III

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This is the third in a special series on Sabbath by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. Please read the first installment here and the second installment here. We offer these reflections in the hope that over the next weeks you will feel invited to deepen your own Sabbath practice. Check back next Monday to read the rest of Dianne’s thoughts on this important topic.

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What we are getting at here is the idea of embracing a new rhythm for life.  Rhythms are a normal and natural part of our everyday lives.  There is a rhythm of the day dissolving into the night.  There is a rhythm of growth and dormancy in our landscape through the seasons.  There is a tidal rhythm in the ebb and flow of the sea.  There is a bodily rhythm in our waking and sleeping.  At the heart of who we are is rhythm, as our hearts beat and then rest between each beat.  This rhythm of activity and rest is something that is so very essential for us.

Sacred_Rhythms_largeAuthor Ruth Haley Barton, writes about this in her book, Sacred Rhythms.  She talks about discovering that some people arrange their lives to see sunsets.  It becomes a part of their daily rhythm.  She tells the story about embracing this practice for herself.  She described rushing around, busy with errands one day, and realizing that she was going to be late for the sunset.  Hearing her beach chair calling her name, she dropped all of the goods that she intended to buy and rushed to meet her sunset, to experience holy rest at last.

I simply love this idea of embracing as a spiritual practice watching the sun go down every night.  I love the idea of scheduling your activities so that you don’t miss out on one of earth’s most beautiful rhythms.  I’m sure for Ruth Haley Barton, her time in the sunset is time that she sets apart to sit in the presence of God.  I’m sure it provides a relaxing and peaceful end to her busy day.  This is a rhythm that she has embraced to include holy rest– not every month, or every week, but every day of her life.  It’s a beautiful idea, isn’t it?

For most of us, it sounds great, but it isn’t something that we feel is very practical.  But why can’t this kind of a “stop” be a reality for us, maybe not every day, but just one day a week?  Are we really too busy for that?  Have we lost this rhythm of life, the balance between work and rest forever?

What we are being invited into through Sabbath-Rest is a new rhythm.  It’s a rhythm that God designed for our benefit.  It’s a rhythm where we take a long, loving look at our Creator and leave the work up to God.  It’s a rhythm where we stop, we become still, we notice, we celebrate our God, who is the source of all blessings. Only when we stop, will we really enter in to God’s rest.  Only when we stop will we experience the recovery of mind, body, and spirit that we need.  So, the question we are left with is- how do we do it, how do we make this kind of holy rest a reality in our lives?

Dianne Lawhorn

DianneDianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

What Do You Like About Your Body?

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By the time they are 13, most girls report that they are unhappy with their bodies.  Interrupt Magazine decided to find out what younger girls do like about their bodies, and what they found was both inspiring and interesting.  Many of the girls reported liking what their bodies can DO–draw, walk, run fast, dance–and one little girl simply said that her body is magic.  What a refreshing perspective!  And when you think about it, our bodies are pretty magical!  As my 8 year-old daughter was saying last night (when she was supposed to be going to sleep!) “Isn’t it amazing that I’m talking right now because my brain is sending signals to my mouth???”

I rarely focus on all the things that my body can do–I’m usually too busy worrying about the clothes I can’t fit in, or how out of shape I am.  These young girls convicted me to focus more on praising God for giving me a body that is fairly healthy and strong, and not spend so much time wishing it was different.  What do YOU like about your body?

Laila Sofia

 

Caren Swanson

Images by Interrupt Magazine.

How To Nap Well

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As a mom who works out of the home full time, there are never enough hours in the day. One thing that tends to suffer for me is my sleep–I often find myself staying up too late at night, enjoying a few precious hours of alone time after my daughter is in bed.  This makes for some lovely evenings, but some groggy days at work!  I love a good nap, but I tend to find that they make me feel even more tired.  Studies have shown that a short nap can actually increase productivity at work (good news for my nap habit!) but how much is the right amount?  The Wall Street Journal health blog recently published a study highlighting the benefits of napping and how to do it well.  For the full article click here, or read on for the highlights of their findings:

1. Don’t nap too long, especially if it’s a week day and you’re working. Experts warn that the longer the nap, the more likely you’ll wake up groggy, a feeling that can last up to 30 minutes. So what’s the sweet spot to feel the benefits of a nap? As little as 10 to 20 minutes will leave you refreshed, energetic and mentally sharper. On the weekends when alertness is less important, longer naps are ok, but try to avoid ones that last more than an hour so they don’t interfere with nighttime sleep.

2. Avoid napping too close to your bed time. A late nap could interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. Researchers aren’t sure what exactly the ideal time of day to nap is, but they say the afternoon – roughly 1 to 4 p.m. – is when our body’s circadian rhythms make us most likely to feel sleepy. (Tell that to the boss!)

3. Napping can be done anywhere where it’s comfortable, be it a parked car, under your desk or a chair. For some, a quiet, dark place may be necessary but for others a subway or airplane seat works just as well. One tip: If you’re trying to stick to a short nap it may help to be partially upright. Studies have found that if you lie supine you’re more apt to fall into a deeper sleep.

4. Napping is a no-no if you suffer from a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea. It will only make the disorders worse.

5. Catch yourself dreaming during a short power nap? That’s a sign that you’re sleep deprived because you’re quickly slipping into rapid eye movement sleep, which is supposed to be the final stage of the roughly 90-minute sleep cycle. Try getting more sleep at night.

6. Finally, don’t use napping as a substitute for getting a full night’s sleep. In an ideal world where everyone gets adequate sleep at night and wakes up well rested, napping shouldn’t really be needed at all.

Here’s to a good sleep, and a good nap, for us all!

–Caren Swanson

Image by flickr user atconc via Creative Commons.

How I Spent My Small Grant: Rev. Ron Weatherford

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One of the ways that we encourage participants in our Spirited Life program to focus on their wellness is by awarding them each a one-time grant of $500. Pastors are encouraged to use the grant to offset costs associated with their pursuit of the health goals. They’ve used their grants for everything from gym memberships to hobby supplies.

Rev. Ron Weatherford used his small grant to further his love of painting. Below is an interview with Rev. Weatherford:

Q. How long have you been in ministry?
A. My first church appointment was in 1988 and last appointment was in 2011. Currently I am classified as local pastor. I am not in an appointment.july__17_2013_028Q. What did you do before you entered into ministry?                  
A. I was a bi-vocational pastor for 25 years. I retired from the U.S. Postal System in 2009. I also founded a non-profit called Nia’s Ark that addresses health issues in the Retirement ExpressAfrican American church.  We have partnered with UNC Chapel Hill “Ethnic Minority Health Organization” on research projects in the faith community. We are currently planning prostate cancer workshops in the faith community for the fall of 2013.

Q. What did you purchase with your small grant?
A. I used the grant to purchase art supplies and to pay membership fees for local artist guilds. I bought canvases and paints and brushes.

Q. Are there other artists in your family tree?
A. My son majored in art in college and plans to pursue a master of fine art degree.

Q. What about art inspires you? What do you find relaxing about it?
A. I have always enjoyed art. As a child I enjoyed creating art. My favorite art form was ceramics at summer camp. I began painting in February 2013 after looking at some photos of the stars from the Hubble telescope. I was attempting to capture the beauty of the universe through painting. I found that painting allowed me to channel my feelings onto canvas. I started to experiment with different styles of painting. I studied the styles of various artists. There was a practice period where I tried to duplicate others’ work. During this period I had to learn about what brushes to use and how to blend colors. I eventually started to be able to bring my own visions to bring to life on canvas. I paint what I feel on a given day. My inspiration comes from conversations with friends and life itself. There is still a lot I have to learn. Art is instrumental in helping to maintain my mental health. I started doing art when I was going before the Board of Ordained Ministry. The outcome was not what I expected and art allowed me express what I was feeling. I did a painting called Jacob’s Ladder that came out that experience.  When I started sharing my art with friends they were surprised because it was something new. I was commissioned to do a few pieces for a local business. My art is on display for purchase. Art allows me to tell a story on canvas.

Q.What do you do with the art work when it’s completed? Sell it? Donate it? Keep it?
A. When I complete my art I post it on the Fine Art America website.  This is a great website as people from all over the world are viewing my art. I am trying to get art galleries to take them on consignment.photo_(22)Many thanks to Rev. Weatherford for sharing!

– Angela M. MacDonald

Pastor’s Reflection: The Best Walk of My Life

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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.

Living Wholly in Christian Community: A Lectionary Reflection on Hebrews 13

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Welcome to the ninth in a special summer series of guest posts featuring lectionary-based reflections on health. We offer these reflections in the hope that in the coming weeks, you’ll consider the lectionary readings in a new light — one of health and wholeness. We will post the reflections on Wednesdays, a week and a half prior to the Sundays on which the readings fall.

Our ninth guest post is by Christi O. Brown, reflecting on Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16.* 

The sermon was delivered, hands had been shaken, and the church doors were locked for the day. Now, it was time for the pastor’s favorite part of the week – Sunday afternoon. The family lingered over lunch, and then, ah, a glorious nap.

Five o’clock rolled around all too quickly. The young adult group from church would be arriving soon. They were in the midst of a six-week study on holistic health. They trickled in, chit-chatting about their latest projects, weekend trips, and job interviews. Then after an opening prayer, they turned to the sermon for the day, which had focused on Hebrews 13, a particularly apt scripture for this group. One of them looked at the pastor. “I liked your message this morning. But I wondered if you have thoughts about how to put it into practice.”

This is exactly the kind of question the author of Hebrews was responding to in chapter 13. As Tom Long has noted in his book Interpretation: Hebrews, the stylistic shift of this chapter indicates the formal part of the preacher’s sermon is over. Now it is on to the announcements, joys, and concerns – the point where teachings are put into practice.

DSC_0043This passage indicates what it means to be embodied Christians living faithfully in community. Hebrews 13 is a marker of what the Bible has to say about holistically living out the Christian faith. The formula in this passage is profuse, including mutual love, hospitality, empathy, simplicity, honoring relationships, praising God, giving thanks, doing good, and sharing. Overall, it is a reminder of the importance of Christian community in our ability to live wholly. None of the things the author exhorts us to do can be accomplished alone. We need to have others in our lives with whom to share mutual love, support, and accountability. As embodied members of Christ, it is our duty and privilege to care for, nurture, and help others, fully empathizing with their circumstances.

Though we’re not imprisoned in jail or tortured like some of the early Christians this letter addresses, we are each imprisoned and tortured by our own vices. Living in Christian
community, the author of Hebrews recognizes that we must try to understand the pain and struggles of others and to be vulnerable with one another, sharing even our most shameful challenges. And it isn’t easy. The obstacles that prevent us from living holistically – whether they include overeating, avoiding exercise, working too many hours, or becoming impatient with our families – often seem like things we should be able to manage ourselves. However, this passage reminds us that the Lord is our helper, and that it is grace that strengthens the heart. The grace to live wholly is found in true Christian communities. As we run the race with perseverance, Christ is our anchor and our community is our coach. Though it’s not easy to run or stay on track when pursuing balance, the good news is that the race is not run alone.

DSC_4295Living as embodied members of Christian community is extremely helpful in times of transition, which is the one thing most young adults have in common (as do United Methodist pastors.) Change is the norm: young adults are often living in a liminal space – betwixt and between towns, jobs, serious relationships, kids. It is challenging to live holistically when nothing seems grounded or stable. This is why the mutual love and hospitality that the author of Hebrews mentions as present in a Christian community are so important. It is via the love and encouragement of others that all of us are able to press on toward living our lives as fully and faithfully as possible. In our times of discouragement, it is helpful to remember that even the author of Hebrews asks for prayer in order to pursue the goal of acting honorably. This act demonstrates the need for Christian community, where we most strongly experience the prayer, support, and grace we need to fully live.

brownChristi O. Brown is a pastoral associate at First Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg, S.C., and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Questions for reflection:

• The Bible recounts numerous stories of God’s calling folk individually – Moses at the burning bush, Isaiah in the temple at Jerusalem, Saul on the Damascus Road, Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism – but in each case, the call is to equip them to be sent
back into the community of God’s people. How might the struggle to be healthier – mentally, physically, spiritually – be God’s summons to be shaped for a more powerful ministry in the church?

• In the self-help section of any bookstore are hundreds of titles: diets, self-esteem guides, toolkits for a happier marriage, and manuals to more effective management of every imaginable topic. Is the cry for self-help a lament that community has been lost?

* These reflections first appeared in the collection, “Connecting the Mind, Body and Spirit: Reflections on Health,” produced by the Duke Clergy Health Initiative in summer 2010.

The Practice of Paying Attention

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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.

Stoic Christianity

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In our feature piece in Christian Century, our research director, Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, said that if she could magically accomplish one cultural change, she would “shift the way that congregants think about their pastor.” No matter the responsibilities a pastor is entrusted with, he or she is still a human being “with flaws and graces…a person who has a life that needs fulfillment.”

This is a change many pastors desperately desire. As one pastor said, “I don’t think our congregations know how unhealthy our vocation can be. They seem to think we are super-men and -women…I keep telling them our vocation is hazardous to our health. They just don’t understand that.”

While pastors feel this pressure uniquely, it’s by no means foreign to most people. Alan Jacobs, professor of literature at Baylor University, recently reflected on the stoic values popular in the American Midwest and South, and he recounted a time when the tacit code that one suffers in silence became unmistakably clear.

When my wife was seriously ill some time ago, people from our church contacted me to ask if we needed anything. When I replied that it was nice of people to offer meals but that Teri’s chief problem was simple loneliness — no one to talk to, as she lay in her sickbed, except a very busy husband — people were, not to put too fine a point on it, shocked. I had said something unexpectedly shameful. One person even commiserated with Teri: how difficult it must have been for her to have a husband who so openly admitted that she had personal needs in her illness.

1024px-Michael_Ancher_001Let me highlight that this was not the experience of a pastor, but of a lay person, who tried to be vulnerable with his congregation and was shut down. Expressing weakness in shameful not only among pastors, but among many segments of our culture in which class and status and power are incongruent with dependency and loneliness and desire. As Alanis Morisette sings, no matter what pain we’re experiencing, we prefer to stick one hand in our pockets while explaining, “what it all comes down to my friends, Is that everything’s just fine fine fine.” Nothing to see here, folks.

In a follow-up piece, Jacobs concludes that that the Christian scriptures encourage us “to accept suffering but not to pretend that we don’t hurt or that we are somehow above the pain. Rather, we are to seek out our brothers and sisters for sympathy and support.”

Parishioners may want a pastor who is superhuman, but perhaps what they need is a pastor who is utterly human, someone who bravely opens up space for it to be okay to be weak and have needs. Pastors may not be the only ones ready to scream under the suffocating silence of stoicism.

Tommy Grimm

(Painting by Michael Ancher, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Free Financial Planning for UMC Clergy

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check bookThe topic of managing personal finances can be daunting, and even depressing, for many pastors, particularly those who are just trying to stay afloat. On the United Methodist Communications website, there are some good tips on how to assess your church’s financial health, but what about your own?

I have some good news: the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is offering free financial planning services to all active participants, surviving spouses of clergy, and retired clergy with an account balance.

The General Board has partnered with Ernst and Young Financial Planning to offer support in the areas of:

  • making investment decisions
  • planning for retirement
  • managing debt
  • understanding your taxes

When I read about this offer on the General Board’s website, I admit that I was a little skeptical. Free financial planning in a time when everything costs you something?

However, I mentioned this resource to a pastor who had named financial health as an area she would like to work on as she plans for retirement. She came back with a glowing report:“The financial planner has been so helpful. I sent in my financial documents, and his encouragement and professionalism has really put my mind at ease about the future,” she said. The pastor also said that “taking action has given me something to work toward, one small step at a time.

piggy bankYou can call Ernst & Young directly at 1-800-360-2539, Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Central time.

Their brochure contains additional information.

To log onto the program website, visit the Ernst and Young Planning Center, using the login info below:

  • company code: gbophb
  • company program: gbophb

I encourage you to take advantage of this free opportunity to alleviate some financial stress and take care of yourself.

Blessings,

–Kelli Sittser