CHI Tour of the Tarheel State


The Clergy Health Initiative health screening staff took to the highways in April and May.  From the mountains to the coast and everywhere in between, they got to meet lots of Group 1 and Group 3 Spirited Life pastors, and they also had the chance to experience some of North Carolina’s finest treasures!   Below are a few examples from their adventures.  For more pictures, click here: Spring 2014 CHI Tarheel Tour Slideshow. 

Looks like fun!  Did you see your part of the state represented?

A Reflection on Centering Prayer


Cheryl LThe Clergy Health Initiative recognizes that strong spiritual wellness lays the foundation for all other spheres of health. During our Spirited Life workshops, we introduce or reacquaint pastors to a variety of spiritual practices that they can continue on their own. Following a workshop that featured centering prayer, one pastor, Cheryl Lawrence, shared the experience on her blog; it is reprinted here with her permission. Thank you, Cheryl!

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It seems surprising that in all the years I have been a pastor or preparing to become a pastor, I never really had an experience with “centering prayer.” No one ever explained it well, and I had never been invited to pray a centering prayer. At least I don’t remember ever doing it — until this week, when I was at a “Spirited Life” retreat in Wilmington.

“Spirited Life” is part of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative, which focuses on the holistic wellness of United Methodist clergy in our conference and the Western NC Conference. The retreat planners had invited a Presbyterian pastor from Durham to come explain centering prayer and then to lead the fifty or so participants in a centering prayer.

The Presbyterian pastor said that centering prayer had saved her ministry. We were all listening closely after that.

Centering prayer is contemplative prayer — now, THAT I had read about as a practice of highly spiritual Christians through the centuries. But I had never heard it explained so simply and so well. Centering prayer is “the teaching of earlier times in an updated form,” according to the leader’s information.

The centering prayer often comes after our prayers of petition.  It is, simply, coming before God in silence. It is a method of prayer that moves beyond conversation with Christ to communion with him. You don’t converse with God, you don’t ask God for anything, you just sit quietly in the presence of the Almighty, for twenty minutes.

Easier said than done, believe me.

From the information: Centering prayer is a way of cultivating a deeper relationship with Christ. It is not a relaxation exercise nor a form of self-hypnosis. It is “resting in God beyond thoughts, words, and emotions.”

First, you prayerfully choose a “sacred word” as a symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within (this comes from the book Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating). Our leader said her sacred word was “peace,” but it could be one of many spiritual words like Jesus, Abba, Father, Faith, Trust, Love, Mercy.

You sit straight but comfortably (don’t want to fall asleep), close your eyes, sit quietly in the presence of Christ, and introduce the sacred word very gently whenever a thought of any kind intrudes. The sacred word is supposed to gently push away any thought that comes. Any thought…for twenty minutes. When your mind is as hyperactive as mine is, this is difficult to do.

I managed to pray the centering prayer during the workshop because the leader was there, and I was with fifty other pastors who also were praying (although some of them fell asleep). Once I got over the difficult initial period of focusing and pushing away intrusive thoughts (I’m not sure how long), the centering prayer was … awesome.  It made me hungry for more.

Since returning home, I have prayed the centering prayer several times, although I have not managed to sit silently in the presence of Christ for the full twenty minutes. This afternoon as I prayed, I fell asleep quite unintentionally, and I had a vivid dream that I was having a conversation with a colleague. When I woke, the memory of the dream was very clear, and I felt strongly led to pray for this colleague. So I did.

I am going to keep praying the centering prayer, and all I can say is — Christ is very close.

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Please check back NEXT MONDAY for a follow-up post offering some resources on practicing centering prayer.

What is God’s Dream for Me?: A Pastor Creates a Personal Rule of Life


Sacred RhythmsIn her book entitled Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton includes a chapter about how to develop a personal rule of life. Barton explains that a rule of life seeks to answer the question: How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be? The following entry is provided by Rev. Dianne Lawhorn, a Spirited Life pastor from Cohort Two. She recently crafted a personal rule of life for herself and wanted to share her perspective.

I was given an assignment recently to create a “simple, sane, rule of life.”  As I looked over the instructions for this assignment, I saw words that resounded with my soul like “arranging our lives around our heart’s deepest desire . . .  patterns most conducive to leading full & joyful lives . . . getting a bodily sense of where we might be called to live most vibrantly.”

This is something that I have been considering for quite some time now.  I am convinced that the rhythm that our culture advocates is not good for our minds, bodies, or spirits.  It’s an endless hamster’s wheel of activity, responsibility, and availability that is anything but life-giving.  I think that Jesus desperately wants more for us and from us than this.  I believe Jesus wants new life for us and this life requires a new pattern for living; a new rhythm that incorporates work and rest, and one that results in wholeness.

This lesson has been a difficult one for me to learn, being a person who has pursued activity, productivity, and most of all, work, my whole life.  I feel that Jesus speaks tenderly to me in this saying, “Oh, dear one- your heart is so good, but this is not what I wanted for you, or what your calling requires of you. I want more for you than this- I want you to be well, healthy, and whole.  Then, what you’ll have to offer will be so much better than anything you can produce on your own.” 


This message has inspired me to look towards finding a better way to do life and ministry.  It has reminded me that what I need most is a new rhythm.  This draws my mind to what God’s dream for me in this might be.  This has not yet been revealed, but I believe in time, it will.  For now, my job is to create the kind of life that will allow me to be receptive to discerning whatever this dream might be.  My first step is to create a balanced rhythm, where work, rest, and play flow together in harmony.  This is the piece of the dream that is my work to do on this particular day.  The rest will come; it will be revealed in time. 

How I envision this rhythm is like a dance, to a Trinitarian beat, that is full of intentionality, but expressed with the kind of holy ease that I have been longing for.  So, the rule that I have created is a dance of things that I believe Christ wants for me like silence, solitude, and stillness.  I offer this to Christ and pray that the Spirit will lead my every step in the dance; that this rule will become my guideline for abundant living, thanks be to God.

– Rev. Dianne Lawhorn, M. Div.

compiled by Angela MacDonald

“Nothing is lost, Jesus says”


The spiritual discipline of Lectio Divina ( is a practice that was part of the winter workshops held for our final cohort of Spirited Life pastors. Kept alive by the Benedictine monastics, Lectio Divina’s four traditional steps are read, meditate, pray and contemplate. In the slow, deliberate reading of a selected passage, Lectio Divina is not used to gain scriptural information but “as an aide to contact the living God”.

DSC_0114The passage used at the workshops was John 6:1-14, the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Since we were in a corporate space, we dimmed the lights and invited the pastors to listen as the scripture was read slowly and thoughtfully. After each reading of the passage, the pastors were invited to speak a world thought or phrase that resonated with them. The full exercise was concluded with prayer and a moment of silence.

Rev. Dr. Tom Steagald, a Cohort 3 Spirited Life pastor, wrote a blog entry about his personal experience with Lectio Divina while attending his Spirited Life winter workshop. Through his experience, Rev. Steagald invites us to consider this passage in an interesting way. Instead of considering this story through the lens of Jesus or the boy that provided the fish and loaves of bread, Steagald invites us to consider that perhaps we are “the leftovers” collected after Jesus had fed everyone. He poses the question this way:

“But what if, on the other side of that, I am the “leftovers”: one of the scraps cast aside when the crowd is sated? A piece of what I used to be, just a crust? The best part of me, after all these years, just eaten up by the crowds; there is nothing much left to be done with me but to be cast aside, on the ground, away?”


Here is the link to his full blog entry entitled, “Nothing is lost, Jesus says” and read just how Pastor Tom’s experience with Lectio Divina revealed a different perspective for him.

-Angela M. MacDonald

(Top image by Donn Young for the Clergy Health Initiative, lower image by flickr user hoyasmeg via creative commons)


Monday Giveaway #4: The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman


8495570358_b4e01c3fb8_cWe all know that Americans eat too much junk food. But figuring out what to do about it is complicated. Do we ban super-sized sodas? Do we all become vegetarians? Do we eat like the Italians? The Japanese? There are truly thousands of books, articles and websites out there, telling us how to eat more healthfully, but it can be hard to sort through all the conflicting information! Complicating it further: in our information age, much of what we do find seems to assume we either have an unlimited budget, multiple hours available to prepare a meal, or both.

We at the Clergy Health Initiative promote healthy eating choices because we believe that our bodies are gifts from God, which we have been charged with stewarding. We recognize that in our fast-paced culture, making these choices can be difficult, not to mention costly. Many pastors in our Spirited Life wellness program live in remote parts of North Carolina, where there is limited access to sources of fresh food. Despite these challenges, though, we continue to encourage and provide support for healthy eating, because we recognize the connection between mind, body and spirit. When our bodies feel well-nourished and cared for, we have more energy, we are able to think more clearly. Simply put, we feel better.

03-29-00_mark-bittman-the-food-matters-cookbook_originalIn this spirit of feeling better, we offer our final May giveaway — The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman. Bittman is best known for his cookbooks, How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Both are heralded for being full of recipes that are easy to follow, with affordable, down-to-earth ingredients. He also blogs for the New York Times, and his op-eds champion simple, healthful food and the pleasures of cooking — without assuming that you spend two hours making dinner every night.

The Food Matters Cookbook is one of Bittman’s newest offerings, and it draws the connection between the food choices we make and the environment. (He did an entertaining and informative TED talk on the topic, which you can find at the bottom of this post.) Bittman emphasizes that what is best for the environment is often times what is best for human health as well, and he offers 500+ recipes for “better living” that help the reader eat healthfully and sustainably. If you are looking for some inspiration for what to do with all that kale and swiss chard at the farmer’s market, or are looking for some ideas on making healthier desserts, this cookbook is for you!

As we move into the season of bounteous fresh food, let’s remember that God called all of creation GOOD, both the human body and earth that sustains us. Eating well does not have to cost a fortune, or be boring and tasteless! Let’s celebrate God’s provision for us by enjoying the good gifts of the land this season, and by tending with care the bodies in which we travel this life.

–Caren Swanson

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This week we are giving away one copy of The Food Matters Cookbook!

There are 3 ways to be entered in our giveaway – just make sure to tell us what you did so we can count your entry!

  1. Take a moment to look back through the blog and find a post that catches your attention, then leave a comment with what you like about it!  ( = 1 entry)
  2. “Like” the Clergy Health Initiative’s facebook page! ( = 1 entry)
  3. Share our blog with 5 friends, and tell them about the giveaway! ( = 1 entry)

You can enter as many times as you’d like, just make sure to leave us a comment ON THIS POST with how many entries are “due” to you! That’s right, if you e-mailed 25 friends (or tagged them in a post on Facebook) about the giveaway, and liked our Facebook page, and left a comment on a previous post, you would be entered 7 times! Thanks for celebrating with us by participating in the giveaway!

And the winner is Caren Bigelow Morgan!  Congratulations!  Please contact us Caren, and let us know where to mail your copy of this book!

Thanks to all who commented here on the blog or on our facebook page, and for supporting the work of the blog and making our one year “blogiversary” a great month!  

Image by flickr user gruntzooki via Creative Commons

Is ‘Just Do It’ Bad Advice?


clergy-at-spirited-life-workshopClergy generally have very few opportunities to focus on their own health and well-being, to take time away to reflect on how they are doing, or to simply participate in a worship service without leading it. But in each of the past three years, the Duke Clergy Health Initiative has given them that opportunity. From January to March we have hosted a series of three-day workshops across North Carolina for clergy entering our Spirited Life program.

Spirited Life workshops serve a dual purpose: to introduce clergy to the staff and the resources they will have access to over the coming two years of the program, and to give pastors the space to reflect on the current state of their health and the vision they have for it.

We recognize that pastors come to this gathering in different states of readiness for change – some arrive raring to go; others are more reticent. And even those who have identified a facet of their health that they wish to address may encounter challenges along the way. Nike might tell us to “JUST DO IT,” but making changes and sticking to them is much harder. So early on in the program, we share with clergy a model that James O. Prochaska of the University of Rhode Island and his colleagues developed to better understand how the process of change works.

Prochaska concluded that behavior change is something that happens in stages, and that it has an upwardly spiraling effect. The following graphic illustrates the various stages and how movement between those stages takes place.

  1. Pre-contemplation – No intention of changing behavior
  2. Contemplation – Aware that a problem exists, but no commitment to action
  3. Preparation – Intent upon taking action
  4. Action – Active modification of behavior
  5. Maintenance – Sustained change: new behavior replaces old; generally recognized as a habit sustained for six months or more
  6. Relapse – Fall back into old patterns of behavior

What this model tells us is that relapse – falling away from one’s goals – is an expected part of the change cycle. It is not synonymous with failure, provided we use the experience as an opportunity to learn. By examining the situation – What triggered the relapse? What was going well beforehand? What caused me to break from that practice? – we become better prepared to resist the same temptations and distractions the next time we arrive at a place of sustained behavior change. Moreover, we don’t return to point zero after a relapse. The awareness of the goal already exists; therefore, we start further along the change cycle, with the benefit of additional strength and wisdom.

Equally important: it’s not necessary to tackle every goal at once. Someone who is actively engaging in more physical activity (Action Stage) may only be thinking about seeking help for depression (Contemplation Stage). Spirited Life provides clergy with a safe space to air the challenges they face at each stage of the process, and offers staff who are trained to listen and encourage. To learn more, visit our website.

— Kate Rugani

Image by Caren Swanson; stages of change diagram courtesy of

Monday Giveaway #2: Fitbit (plus other fitness gadgets and apps)


7418728612_d2f66668d3_bIn previous posts, we shared several nutrition and fitness apps that help you plan and keep track of your health habits.  While most apps on the market today don’t have clinical research to back them up, researchers are starting to look into the technology’s effectiveness, and the initial results look promising!

A recent Northwestern University study found that people who used a mobile food and activity tracking app alongside of another weight loss program lost an average of 15 pounds (and kept the weight off for a year!).  Even those participants who used the app alone lost an average of 8 pounds.  Below are some new apps and other gadgets that make a healthier lifestyle more attainable and maybe even more fun!

(Be sure to read to the bottom — we’re giving one of these beauties away!)

Fitbit: Wear this small device to track your daily activity (steps, distance, calories burned, sleep cycle); your information is wirelessly synced to your computer and mobile device.  Use the companion app to set goals, log your food intake, track your progress, and share/compete with friends.  The Fitbit comes in three small and stylish options: One, Zip, and Flex (new!). Price range: $59 to $99

Withings Smart Body Analyzer: This “health tracking scale” instantly gives you your weight, body composition (% body fat) and heart rate; then it automatically transmits this information to a companion smartphone app where you can keep track of your progress, note trends, and get help with your goals. Price: $149.95

Fooducate: Use this website or smartphone app to learn which foods at your local grocery store pack the most nutritious punch.  Using a scientific formula, this program gives letter grades (A-F) to thousands of products so that you can pick the more nutritious items.  You can take a picture of the product’s barcode with your smartphone to get an instant and easy-to-follow report of the product’s contents, to compare it to other products, and to select a healthier alternative.  Price: Free

GymPact: Put your money where your muscles are with this mobile app!  Decide how many days a week you want to work out; select a cash amount that you would be willing to pay if you do NOT work out.  When you work out, check into your gym using the GymPact app (includes a GPS tracking feature), track log at-home workout with the GymPact Anywhere app, or log your outdoor exercise time in the RunKeeper app.  The money paid by those who do NOT exercise is divided up and distributed to all the exercisers.  The more you exercise, the more money you earn, but if you miss a day of exercise, you have to pay up!  Price: Free

Lift: This app extends beyond physical health.  Select good habits that you want to increase the frequency and consistency of in your life.  Examples of habits include: getting outside, pleasure reading, flossing, learning a new skill, spending time with friends, exercising, drinking more water, etc. Use the app to set goals, track your progress, and share your success with friends.  Price: Free

The key to all of these apps?  They encourage you to set goals, track calories and activity, and use social media for social support.

–Katie Huffman

Post adapted from “Better Homes and Gardens” (May 2013), “Fitness 2.0” page 187.

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fitbitWe are so excited to announce that this week we are giving away a Fitbit ZIP!

There are 3 ways to be entered in our giveaway–just make sure to tell us what you did so we can count your entry!

  1. Take a moment to look back through the blog and find a post that catches your attention, then leave a comment with what you like about it!  ( = 1 entry)
  2. “Like” the Clergy Health Initiative’s facebook page! ( = 1 entry)
  3. Share our blog with 5 friends, and tell them about the giveaway! ( = 1 entry)

You can enter as many times as you’d like, just make sure to leave us a comment ON THIS POST with how many entries are “due” to you! That’s right, if you e-mailed 25 friends (or tagged them in a post on Facebook) about the giveaway, and liked our Facebook page, and left a comment on a previous post, you would be entered 7 times! Thanks for celebrating with us by participating in the giveaway!

A winner will be drawn at random on Friday morning, May 17, so be sure to get all your entries logged by 10 a.m. EDT Friday.

Thanks to ALL who supported the blog this week by leaving comments, “liking” the Duke Clergy Health Initiative Facebook page, and telling your friends! This week’s giveaway is now closed! And now, (drumroll, please!) the winner of the Fitbit is Erica!  Congratulations!  Please contact us Erica, and let us know where to mail your Fitbit.

Check back next Monday for details on our next giveaway!

Monday Giveaway #1: Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul!


sanctuary-of-the-soul-2We are so pleased to bring you the first in our Mondays in May giveaway series, celebrating our one-year “blog-iversary“! We can’t think of a better resource to offer for this first giveaway than the newest book by beloved Christian writer and teacher, Richard Foster, author of the contemporary classic, Celebration of Discipline.

Foster’s newest title, Sanctuary of the Soul, focuses on meditative prayer as a practice that is both ancient and contemporary–rooted in scripture and the writings of some of the oldest voices in the Christian tradition, yet also offering spiritual depth and wisdom to the individual Christian in today’s church.

wellness wheel

Spiritual health lies at the very core of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative’s vision of holistic wellness. Many of the clergy participating in Spirited Life have expressed an interest in learning more about Christian spiritual practices, particularly ones that enable them to refill their own “wells,” as they spend so much time feeding others. One way that our staff has tried to respond to this need is by devoting time  in our fall workshops to the practice of centering prayer. We’ve written about centering prayer on the blog here and here.  So it is with this enthusiasm for contemplative prayer that we chose this book to be our first giveaway item.

For a glimpse into the book, there is a great review of it by Rev. Jason Byassee, pastor of Boone UMC in Boone, NC, first printed in Books & Culture when the book was published in late 2011. Read the full review here, or enjoy this excerpt:

This was a hard book review to write. You can only read so much elegant prose inviting you to pray before you feel guilty for not actually praying. Richard Foster notes this difficulty, quoting Thomas Merton: “You cannot learn meditation from a book. You just have to meditate.”

True enough, but good books help, and Sanctuary of the Soul is a good one. Not a sentence is misplaced, each drives you to the next with the expectation that good things will be waiting. Like all of Foster’s work since his landmark book The Celebration of Discipline, this one presents the spiritual disciplines to an evangelical audience as disciplines that are (not paradoxically) grace-filled.  If Ron Sider and Tony Campolo made it possible for evangelicals to speak of social justice, Richard Foster has done the same for spiritual disciplines.

There are 3 ways to be entered in our giveaway:

  1. Take a moment to look back through the blog and find a post that catches your attention, then leave a comment with what you like about it!  ( = 1 entry)
  2. “Like” the Clergy Health Initiative’s facebook page! ( = 1 entry)
  3. Share our blog with 5 friends, and tell them about the giveaway! ( = 1 entry)

You can enter as many times as you’d like, just make sure to leave us a comment ON THIS POST with how many entries are “due” to you! That’s right, if you told 25 friends about the giveaway, and liked our facebook page, and left a comment on a previous post, you would be entered 7 times! We’re excited to spread the word about this gem of a book, and about the resources that this blog represents. Thanks for celebrating with us by participating in the giveaway!

A winner will be drawn on Friday morning, May 10, so be sure to get all your entries logged by 10 a.m. EDT Friday.

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Thanks to ALL who supported the blog this week by leaving comments, “liking” the Duke Clergy Health Initiative Facebook page, and telling your friends! This week’s giveaway is now closed! And now, (drumroll, please!) the winner of Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul is Aundrea!  Congratulations!  Please contact us Aundrea, and let us know where to mail your book.

Check back next Monday for details on our next giveaway!

–Caren Swanson

Grandma’s daily meditations


My grandmother was a wise, exceptionally well-read, open-minded, grandmapragmatic, spiritual, anti-dogmatic woman whose car proudly bore a “Catholic Woman for Obama” bumper sticker in a heavily red-leaning part of Eastern North Carolina.

Madelon Leaman Hyman passed away in January 2011. A few of her mementos that I have held onto include that bumper sticker and a photocopy of three daily meditations that she kept taped up in her bathroom. These meditations are beautiful in their simplicity, and I read them daily.

I am sharing this one with you in the hope that it brings you the same peace and perspective that it brings to me:

Ever in my inmost being, eternal, absolutely one, whole, perfect, complete, indivisible, timeless, ageless, shapeless, without face, form or figure, is the silent presence fixed in the hearts of all wo/men.

Anonymous meditation

–Melanie Kolkin

It’s time to C E L E B R A T E !!!



Yes, it’s true! Come the last week of May, it will be ONE YEAR since we re-launched The Connection – our ongoing effort to provide information and inspiration for clergy pursuing wellness.

Since then we’ve brought you three posts weekly, connecting a variety of health-related topics to life in ministry. Over the past 12 months, we’ve offered book reviews, poems and prayers that inspire us, meditations, and research on the health and wellness of clergy and other professions.

We are passionate about bringing these resources to others who, like us, care about the life of the church and recognize the importance of holistic health. We are proud of all that we’ve accomplished, and we’re excited about the coming year. And we couldn’t have done it without YOU, our faithful readers!

sanctuary-of-the-soul-2So to celebrate, we’ve put together a month of fun! Every Monday in May, we’ll be offering a giveaway. First up: a copy of Sanctuary of the Soul, an incredible resource on the spiritual practice of meditative prayer by the wise Christian writer and teacher, Richard Foster! Check back on Monday for details on how to be entered to win a copy.

In the meantime, we need your help. Please consider taking a moment to find a post that was meaningful to you and share it with a friend whom you think would be encouraged or challenged by it. Some of our most popular this year include:

THANK YOU for reading, and let us know how you think the next year can be even better!

— Caren Swanson and the staff at the Clergy Health Initiative