Get in touch… with massage therapy


As part of our final farewell to Group 2 pastors, the Spirited Life team offered chair massages during their concluding workshops. Throughout that entire day, pastors were able to sign up for ten-minute chair massages provided by local massage therapists. While a few were hesitant, many absolutely enjoyed it! Some even signed up for a second (or third!) massage as time permitted.

It was so gratifying to watch as pastors allowed themselves to enjoy such a gift. Some pastors were even inspired to discuss the origins of their tensions, and many left the experience considering the possibility of setting up future massage appointments.

While massages are typically wellness massage-285590_640perceived as an indulgence, they are actually centuries old in existence and provide a variety of benefits to a person’s mental and physical health. For instance, people use massages to relieve pain, rehabilitate sports injuries, reduce stress, increase relaxation AND reduce anxiety and depression.

It is true that massages can be expensive. However, there are cost-effective ways that you can occasionally treat yourself to this amazing form of self-care. For example:

  • Seek out Massage Schools in your area. To eliminate the guesswork of finding a reputable massage therapist in your area, the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy has a list of schools that provide licensed instruction for massage therapy. Some of the schools offer discounted rates because the students are in the process of being licensed. A list of those schools can be found here.
  • Contact your local Community College. Another good resource is your local community college as they occasionally offer massage classes for individuals, independent from a degree program. Taking a massage class through a community college’s continuing education department is a great way to pick up some basic pointers. I mention this option because it’s one that can be enjoyed by you and your significant other.
  • You can locate a massage therapist in your area through this locator.  When you call for an appointment, ask about special pricing packages.  Some places offer deals where when you buy a certain number of sessions up front, you get a session free.  

If you have never had a massage before – treat yourself! If you’ve enjoyed a massage in the past – maybe it’s time for another!

-Angela MacDonald

Image from via CC

Resources on Grief


Pastors are people, too. Just because clergy are used to presiding over funerals and sitting with people and families at the end of life doesn’t make them immune to their own feelings of sadness and loss at the death of parishioners or their own loved ones.

DynPicWaterMark_ImageViewerRecently, some coworkers and I were talking about how many pastors we had been on the phone with who had mentioned an increase in the number of funerals they’d performed lately. The quick succession of these deaths and funerals seemed to be taking a toll on the pastors’ physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. With the help of our colleagues and a few pastors, we compiled the following list of resources that may serve as a comfort or guide to clergy in their ministries as well as in their personal journeys with grief.

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.” -Leo Tolstoy

Are there any resources on grief that have been especially meaningful for you?

-Katie Huffman

There Is Endless Potential in the Clay: A Lectionary Reflection on Jeremiah 18:1-11 and Psalm 139


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

Our tenth guest post is by Ed Moore, reflecting on Jeremiah 18:1-11 and Psalm 139.* 

When I was a student at Duke Divinity School, I considered becoming an archaeologist. I had toyed with the idea as an undergraduate (religion major, as many “pre-mini’s” were back then) and then attended a lecture by Duke’s renowned Eric Meyers on his recent dig in the Middle East. I was fascinated as Meyers explained that strata in a ruin inhabited across millennia by different peoples could accurately be dated by identifying the various types of pottery.

With just a few shards, an expert could give a fair estimate of the date when this or that group “owned” the place. I thought my interest in archaeology had been shelved when I opted for the pastoral ministry, only to discover within a few months of arriving in my first appointment (a congregation founded in 1788 – Asbury preached there several times, the locals were quick to say) that identifying strata in a congregation’s past was nearly as demanding as digging up Nineveh. And some of the pottery shards were, well, surprising.

9371760700_d5ac835f13_hJeremiah knew about potters, their wheels and shards. In the reading for September 8, he imagines Yahweh sitting at the wheel, shaping the destinies of nations, just as a potter would a common vessel. As preaching technique, this is powerful stuff. Everyone who heard Jeremiah had seen potters at their wheels, and watched them gently form the wet clay into the desired shape. Occasionally the potter would be dissatisfied with the way the work was going, would collapse the clay back into a lump, and would start all over again. The shape hadn’t been right, and the work needed a fresh beginning. Just as Jesus’ parables drew upon the commonplace to connect with his listeners – lost sheep, prodigal offspring – so Jeremiah used everyday imagery as a vehicle for the prophetic Word. If you heard Jeremiah describe God at the wheel, you would remember the sermon next time you passed the neighborhood potter’s shop.

This time of year tends to evoke memories for United Methodist pastors, since many of us began serving new appointments on the first of July. It is inevitable that, as we leave one place of ministry for another, we reflect back upon what was good – and not – in the place we’ve been. If we’re not careful, we begin to dwell upon the “if only” scenario: if only I had been more pastorally sensitive in that situation five years ago, I’d have avoided serious conflict. If only I’d been more decisive in dealing with that difficult staff issue, the congregation would have been healthier. If only I’d been a better listener, preacher, counselor, manager, fund raiser . . . you get the idea. Yes, of course, the New Jerusalem would have descended had I only gotten my act together.

But I didn’t, and now it’s moving time again. This sort of selective remembering is really an archaeological dig. As we go down through the layers of ministry, we find shards of what-might-have-been. We gaze fondly upon them (as the Puritans loved to say), pick them up, and allow their sharp edges to wound us afresh. Each one is a stark reminder of some brokenness, either in ourselves or in the parishes we served. Stratum after stratum, year after year, they surface, each a relic of some shortcoming or missed opportunity.

When I was assigned the lections for September 8 and read again that passage from Jeremiah, I remembered a church camp experience from years ago. At the end of the week we had a consecration service (the planners weren’t clear about the meaning of that theological term, but meant well), in which we were asked to recall some sin we needed to confess. We were to write it down on a piece of paper, fold it up, and toss it in the campfire as we all sang, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” You know the lyrics, straight from Jeremiah, “Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way! Thou art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me, after thy will . . .”

8329324494_2572067fa7When we allow those freshly re-dug shards from the past to wound us, we miss the grace the Psalmist understood so well when she wrote, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me . . . and are acquainted with all my ways. . . In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them yet existed.” It’s helpful to hear the Psalmist’s words through the prism of that old hymn. God, as Jeremiah imagined God at the potter’s wheel, is constantly about the work of re-forming when something gets out of shape, because there is endless potential in the clay. Lord, help us wait, “yielded and still,” for the gracious, reshaping touch of the Spirit.


Ed Moore is the Director of Educational Programs for the Clergy Health Initiative, and an ordained elder in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Questions for Reflection

• Our memories are imperfect, and as such they can wound long after the fact. Why is that shard from a past ministry still hurting you? Why do you dig it up so often? The process of remembering can itself can become unhealthy, overweight with baggage that dulls the spirit. How can the healing of your memories begin?

• Sometimes it is helpful to note what scripture does not say. In this passage from Jeremiah, the prophet doesn’t mention the importance of water in the potter’s craft; he assumed everyone knew it. The potter always works with wet hands, shaping the clay until it yields to his skill. The waters of baptism are on the Spirit’s hands, too, molding the clay of your life and shaping it gracefully. How can the memory of your baptism be a means of healing and wholeness for you?

* 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.

Freedom From Infirmity: A Lectionary Reflection on Luke 13:10-17


Welcome to the eighth 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 eighth guest post is by W. Joseph Mann, reflecting on Luke 13:10-17.* 

In his woodcut, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the artist Robert Hodgell depicts a man bent over, not unlike the woman in today’s scripture from Luke. Strapped to the man’s back are large rocks, and written on them is the question, “What shall I do to be saved?” He tries to walk forward, but his burden is too great. Behind him are laughing faces, deriding him and adding to his woe.

This “pilgrim” makes little progress because he has burdened himself with the weight of his own salvation. This ill-health is deeply spiritual, marked by our human desire to save ourselves, rather than to accept the freedom that Jesus offers us.

458px-Juan_Rodríguez_Juárez_-_Jesus_with_the_Sick_Woman_-_Google_Art_ProjectLike the pilgrim and the ailing woman in this passage from Luke, many of us have seen the forces in life that can cripple us. We have seen parishioners burdened by the weight of grief, sadness, loss of work, economic woes, the failure of important relationships, or the inability to meet their own goals or others’ expectations. This weight can literally cripple and bend us over – we can see the pain in faces, in slumped shoulders, and in the broken rhythms of life. This ill-health taxes all of our abilities to cope, and we lose a sense of hope and promise.

We cannot straighten up, and we fear we never will. And there are those crippled by devastating diseases, diseases that make crooked our bones and leave us, as the woman in Luke, “bent over.” Those who are bent know diminished freedom and individual power. Such illness requires remarkable adaptation to the “healthy” world, a world where bones, at least for the moment, are straight and strong and allow us to move wherever we want to go. To revive us and give us health and freedom, we seek doctors, clinics, and hospitals – we seek to heal ourselves. But often, like this woman in the synagogue, health care cannot straighten us, cannot unbend us.

So this woman went to the synagogue. What a remarkable thing that preachers look out each Sunday and see a congregation of people, who, like this woman, are bent over by sin, illness, and burdens too heavy for them to bear. Why did this woman come? Did she come to synagogue as any observant Jew would, as her Sabbath right and duty? She does not appear to come asking for anything. She does not call out to Jesus – Jesus calls out to her. Wesleyans understand the wooing grace of God, a grace that comes to us before we call upon it.

And Jesus saw her. What a remarkable blessing: this woman is seen by our Savior, and in this seeing comes a call to him, a healing touch, and a response of praise. The church is the Body of Christ, and Jesus reaches out to us and calls us as well. Our opportunity, like that of Jesus, is to look about us and see. We can see those bent over and unable to stand, crippled by a spirit, and we can offer healing to them.

We can announce the Good News that Christ Jesus sees and knows our burdens and illness. We can be set free, even on the Sabbath, for such work is of the Lord. We only give praise. Praise that we all are made whole in Jesus Christ. Praise that we can participate in this healing work. All of us stand before God as broken sinners, unable to straighten up. In the church we confess our human condition and create solidarity with all like us who are broken. And we celebrate that the eyes of Christ are upon us. In the fellowship of the church we are called and touched and embraced.

In this story the woman is healed; she is made straight. We know that when we see, touch, and announce freedom from the burdens that weigh us down, not all of us are cured. But as in this Gospel story, we are all set free and given wholeness, purpose, and promise through Jesus Christ.

Joseph Mann File 0728/02  frame 26A © Duke University Photography  Jim WallaceW. Joseph Mann is adjunct professor of parish work at Duke Divinity School and an ordained elder in the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Questions for Reflection:

• There is a deep indignity in that bent-over pilgrim in Hodgell’s woodcut and in the woman in Luke 13: neither of them is able to look another human being in the face. Grace empowers us to see Christ face-to-face, but in that eye contact there is obligation. Do we cling to unhealthy aspects of ourselves because we fear the moment of being straightened and obliged to look Christ in the eye?

• The woman in Luke’s story still comes faithfully to synagogue, despite her illness, seemingly called or driven by something. When congregants bring their woundedness to church, what are the risks to the pastor’s own health and well-being? What resources help clergy manage the risk?

Reflections on Solitude


holy solitude

“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from other; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self.  It is not about the absence of other people, it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.”

–From “A Hidden Wholeness” by Parker Palmer

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Vocation to Solitude — To deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over that land and fills its silences with light.  To pray and work in the morning and to labor and rest in the afternoon, and to sit still again in meditation in the evening when night falls up on that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars… to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into the bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of life into a living and vigilant silence.

–from “Thoughts In Solitude” by Thomas Merton


–Caren Swanson

(Images by flickr users Massimo Margagnoni and Ajnagraphy, adapted and used with permission via Creative Commons)

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.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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 Greatest Healing of All


Jeremy Troxler ends his reflection on the 2 Kings 5:1-14 with the thought, “Sometimes a sickness of the body can heal the spirit by stripping away our illusions of command and control.” Have you ever encountered a physical sickness that has drawn you to a place of greater spiritual depth and reliance on God? Here are some further questions to consider as you meditate on this lectionary passage:

Like Abraham and Sarah, Naaman is asked to leave behind what he knows, trusting that the journey will lead to God’s destination. What privileges in the pastorate keep us away from healing? Is there a simple salve that pride or lassitude is hiding?

The United Methodist Book of Worship introduces its two Services of Healing with these words, “The greatest healing of all is the reunion or reconciliation of a human being with God.” Should every service of worship at which we preside, in some way, announce that?

The following prayer is taken from the United Methodist Book of Worship. It is a prayer after anointing, from the healing service found on page 621. May it be so for us all.

Sea and Sky

–Caren Swanson

Image by Caren Swanson

The Simple Salve: Reflections on 2 Kings 5:1-14


Welcome to the first 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, and will follow up with questions to consider either in the post itself or on the following Friday.

Our first guest post is by Rev. Jeremy Troxler, reflecting on 2 Kings 5:1-14.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commander Naaman was a four-star Syrian general who bore gleaming epaulets on each shoulder and a constellation of polished medals upon his chest. A revered war hero, he was the kind of stern, stoic, no-nonsense chief who made fellow soldiers wear the uniform with pride, and who emanated the aura of command. When ol’ “Stormin’ Naaman” told you to jump, you didn’t ask, “How high?” You asked, “When do you want me to come back down, sir?”

General Naaman, however, had finally come up against one enemy he could not outflank or outmaneuver, one adversary who refused to obey his orders. Leprosy.

General Naaman’s skin disease began as red spots on his arms, as if it were a child’s case of chicken pox. Before too long, the spots got bigger. They turned white and scaly, marching over the whole of his body. His hair began to fall out. His fingernails and toenails loosened.

He knew what would come next: the joints of his fingers and toes would begin to rot and fall off piece by piece. Eventually his leprosy would eat away at his face until the commanding visage that once had garnered so much respect would inspire only the most profound pity.

And then General Naaman would die.

The old soldier was, literally, falling apart. Had he the power, he would have court-martialed his own body for insubordination. Yet his body refused to salute.

Naaman’s cavalry arrives (so to speak) in the form of nameless servants, people with no rank or power. First is a servant girl, a young teenager kidnapped from the land of Israel who still could have mercy on her enemies. “If only master Naaman could visit the prophet in Israel,” she tells her mistress.

In his utter desperation, Naaman grabs hold of the servant girl’s comment the way the parents of a desperately ill child might try anything – anywhere – that could save their little one, no matter how unlikely the cure. Severe sickness is the great simplifier. Only one thing matters: being well again.

Soon General Naaman is on the move with a wagon train as long as a winding river, and with more silver and gold than Fort Knox. (Apparently doctors’ bills were just as expensive in Ancient Israel as they are today.) On this visit, however, Naaman comes not as conqueror, but as one conquered. He finds himself standing outside the home of Elisha the prophet as a supplicant, a patient in the waiting room.

Elisha adds insult to illness by refusing even to come out of his abode to meet the powerful Syrian general. Instead, another nameless servant bears the prophet’s prescription: “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”


General Naaman is outraged. Has he really traveled hundreds of miles just so some foreign prophet could say what sounds a lot like, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning?”

Does this prophet know WHO NAAMAN IS? Naaman had expected Elisha to offer some obscure herbal cure, to introduce him to the latest experimental treatment, to perform an elaborate ritual of healing. Instead, Elisha says, “Go wash.”

Can the salve really be that simple?

I get sick again. I want a wonder drug or prophet/physician to fix me so that I can get back to work. My doctor tells me: “Try to eat right. Try to get some exercise. Try to rest. Then maybe you won’t get sick at all.”

Can the salve really be that simple?

8474829966_4df2cd7b13The United Methodist Book of Worship encourages us to supplement our medical care by sharing in services of healing. I am struck, not by the elaborate ritual of these services, but by their simplicity. The church remembers the promises of Scripture. The church lays hands on the sick person and expresses its love. The church prays for the sick and anoints them with oil as a symbol of God’s care. That’s it: no miracle potions or religious amulets or incantations, just basic Christian practices.

Can the salve really be that simple?

The nameless servants say to Naaman: “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said was a simple thing, ‘Wash and be clean?’”

The severity of his sickness strips Naaman of the last vestige of his pride. Willing now to take orders from a foreign prophet and a nameless servant, Naaman removes the epaulets, the ribbons, and even the aura of command. Naked, humbled, he washes himself in the muddy waters of his enemies. Suddenly, his scaly sackcloth skin is made as soft at the skin on a newborn baby’s cheek. The leprous leader laughs. He is clean.

The salve really was that simple.

Scripture doesn’t tell us General Naaman’s story to encourage us to visit healing springs or bathe in muddy rivers. Sometimes, however, the salves for our sicknesses are surprisingly simple. Sometimes God sends servants to us whose words point us in the direction of health, if only we would listen. And sometimes a sickness of the body can heal the spirit by stripping away our illusions of command and control. 

074710_troxler_jeremy_hirezJeremy Troxler is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. Since 2007 he has served as the director of the Thriving Rural Communities initiative at Duke Divinity School. He begins a new appointment at Spruce Pine UMC, in Spruce Pine, NC, in July 2013.


Top photo by flickr user Tony Frates, lower image by flickr user John, both used with permission via Creative Commons.

 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.