Digital Resources for Your Spiritual Life

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While the DIY retreat was (to some extent) about unplugging, there are a lot of opportunities for spiritual growth online. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Blogs
Blogs were sort of my entry point to digital spirituality (it was about the time I started Episcotheque that I really became interested), and while I don’t have as much time to read them anymore as I would like, they’re still a great resource. I have so many more favorites than just the ones I’ve named, but this is a start.

Rachel Held Evans
I feel like I can safely assume you’ve heard of Rachel Held Evans, but I figured she still had to make the list.

Jamie the Very Worst Missionary
Jamie doesn’t seem to be posting that much anymore (like I have any room to talk), but I always enjoy what she has to say and how she says it.

Christianity Today Women (previously her.meneutics)
A little on the evangelical side of things for my taste much of the time, but I really enjoy the variety of posts and can always find some food for thought.

Storyline
Donald Miller’s swung a bit far into the business world for me to keep up, but the Storyline blog still has some great content.

Websites
Non-blog websites also offer interesting and useful resources.

3-Minute Retreat
This is a fantastic website (also available as an app, but I prefer the large format of a computer screen) run by Loyola Press that provides short guided meditations with music, scripture, and reflections.

EXAMEN.me
An Ignatian spirituality resource that allows you to create an account and save journal entries that you create as part of their Examen process. While I haven’t used it much, it’s a neat idea.

Apps
There are a number of good apps out there for spiritual growth as well, though some I list here are specifically tied to religion. My links are largely to iOS versions, because I have Apple products, so apologies if that is inconvenient for you non-iPhone users.

Reimagining the Examen
This is another resource out of Loyola Press (they’re doing some great work!) that I like for its simplicity and applicability. It’s an easy-to-follow, aesthetically pleasing, updated Examen. I actually found another Examen Prayer app while I was searching for the url for this one, and it also looks promising, but I can’t personally recommend it as I haven’t tried it out yet.

Mission St. Clare
This is also a website, but in this case I prefer the app. Mission St. Clare has been offering an online daily office since 1995(!), and while the aesthetics of this app leave something to be desired, the functionality is great if you want an easy way to pray the 1979 BCP daily office on the go.

Meditation Apps
There are loads of meditation apps out there, and I think the key is finding one that works for you. Headspace and Stop, Breathe, Think are both subscription-based, which I’m not a huge fan of, but both offer free introductory content of some sort. While not specifically religious, the quality-of-life improvement that meditation can bring is definitely tied to spiritual wellbeing.

Journaling Apps
I would also include journaling apps as non-religious but helpful to spiritual growth. My favorite is Day One—one of many neat features is the ability to have multiple journals (and/or tag entries in the same journal), so if you want to write about a particular topic in your spiritual life or track your thoughts on something over a period of time, you can do that.

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Do you have a favorite blog, website, or app that benefits your spiritual life? What is it?

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Easy DIY 3-Hour Retreat

The holidays are over. If you happen to be operating on an academic calendar like I am, the semester is over—except that today I begin three days of all-day ordination exams… Regardless, the last few weeks have been busy ones for many of us.

Perhaps you’re ready to hit a refresh button (or you will be by Friday, when you’ve finished GOEs).

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Retreats provide refreshment and renewal. They are a great place for creative types to seek inspiration. They are a great place for introverts to recharge. They are a great place to rest and emerge refreshed to jump back into life. With busy lives, numerous commitments, and limited financial resources, however, arranging for a formal retreat is not always easy.

With that in mind, here’s a loose outline for a 3-hour retreat that you can do right at home! It may not seem like much, but even a few hours of stepping away can help reset a busy, overwhelmed schedule. It’s also hard to feel guilty about a measly three hours—I think I’ve wasted that much time just following an Internet rabbit hole!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A 3-hour stretch of uninterrupted time
  • A space you can reasonably expect to be quiet and free from interruptions (if you live with other adults, tell them you’ll be out of commission for a few hours; if you live with children, consider finding childcare—you deserve it; if you can’t conceivably find a quiet place at home, consider going somewhere
  • Access to clean, cool water
  • Notebook and pen/pencil
  • A Bible
  • A book you’ve been meaning to read, whether that’s spiritual writing or a novel. Not something you have to read outside of this context. Or, if you wish, something else you do for fun that does not involve noise or light (e.g. knitting)

Here’s what you’ll do:

  • Turn off all your devices. For three hours you will not be available, and you will not need anything with a screen. If you will be using your phone as a timekeeper, turn it to airplane mode.
  • Drink a glass of water. Often we get so caught up in running from place to place that we forget to hydrate. Drink a glass of water at the beginning of each hour.
  • Settle yourself in a comfortable spot, and just be quiet for a couple of minutes. Ask God to guide you as God will through the next few hours.
  • Do as you feel led; don’t feel tied down to the schedule (which is already quite loose).
  • Hour 1: Meditate on a Bible passage. If you are being led to a particular passage, choose that one. Otherwise Matthew 6:25-34 or Psalm 121 are good options. Read through the passage a few times, slowly. Sit and let the words seep in. Then use your notebook to journal your thoughts about the passage. What might God be trying to tell you?
  • Hour 2: Remember your second glass of water. This hour is for recreation: take out that book and just lose yourself in it for an hour. Try not to think about anything you should be doing instead
  • Hour 3: Water again! As you begin this hour, ask God and yourself what you need from your final hour. Do you need to keep reading? Do you need to go back to journaling, or spend more time in scripture? Do you need to take a nap? Do as you feel led to do; follow your enjoyment.
  • When you have about 10 minutes remaining of your time, put away what you were doing (or wake up), and thank God for the time you were able to spend on renewal and refreshment. Enjoy the quiet for a few more minutes. Then, when the time is up, return to life as usual.

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Have you ever done a DIY retreat? What did you do? What do you suggest?

A Rule of Life, Part 2

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You’ll recall that on Tuesday I wrote about how to begin crafting a Rule of Life. Here are a few next-step thoughts to consider as you think about crafting your own Rule:

Keep it Moving

This is a living document. You will not ultimately create your magnum opus Rule of Life that will work perfectly for you for the rest of your life. Real talk: I still have not created one Rule that works just right for me, and I’ve been trying for five years.

It’s a process.

A Rule of Life is a living document that will change as you do. If something isn’t working, change it. If you can’t seem to live with what you created, scrap the whole thing and start over (just make sure you aren’t doing this solely out of frustration or perfectionism).

Make Small Changes

While a Rule of Life shouldn’t be wholly aspirational, it can be useful for making positive changes in your life, creating a path to greater abundance and fulfillment. The key to this is to make small, sustainable changes. While an hour of yoga every morning followed by an hour of meditation would probably be very beneficial, the benefits will be lost when, after a few days, you give up and throw in the towel (unless you already have this practice—if so, kudos!).

You might, however, be able to set your alarm ten minutes earlier and start your day with five minutes of meditation and a few stretches. As this becomes habit and you begin to see positive changes in your life, perhaps you will be moved to lengthen the time and add practices gradually. Perhaps you will even work up to hours of morning meditation and yoga.

Or perhaps you will find that meditation and yoga are really not your thing, and you will scrap it to spend half an hour painting or cycling, or playing the oboe. Remember: living document.

Make Smart Changes

One caveat to making incremental changes is the concept that certain changes work better together. Recent research shows that sometimes we are more successful in making changes when we change a number of things that work in tandem, for example sleep, exercise, and diet. Getting more or better sleep can increase energy for exercise and make it easier to make good choices concerning diet. Regular exercise can make it easier to fall asleep and sleep soundly, and complements a healthy diet. A healthy (and thoughtful) diet can positively influence sleep and provide necessary energy for exercise…you get the picture.

I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to say the same is true for spiritual practices—worship supports your prayer life and vice versa—and probably other areas as well. So as you make small changes, consider whether there are changes that will affect other areas, and consider making a few small changes at once, where appropriate.

Ultimately, I think having a workable, growth-oriented, good-habit-focused, flexible, long-term Rule of Life will serve you better than any well-intentioned New Year’s Resolution. Give it a try in 2017!

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Have you started a Rule of Life? Do you think you will?

A Rule of Life

The term “Rule of Life” doesn’t sound all that appealing to our 21st-century ears. A Rule of Life was okay for Augustine and Benedict. It even makes sense today for those who choose to live lives set apart in religious communities. But what about the rest of us, who are busy living lives and living into ministries in the messiness of the world?

We have as much to benefit as the monks who came before us.

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The fact of the matter is, you already have a Rule of Life. There are certain values, principles, and practices by which you live every day. Crafting a formal Rule of Life is about making those practices and values explicit, and pursuing them intentionally. And the fast-approaching New Year is a great time to get started. But where do you start?

Observe

If your Rule of Life is all aspirational, it’s going to fall flat, just like truly every New Year’s resolution I have ever made. First, you have to know what you are already doing, and (if you can figure it out) why you do it.

Find a Structure

You might realize a good structure for you as part of the first step, or you might find having a structure helpful in your observations.

One way to consider your Rule is to think about wellness in particular areas of your life, for example:

  • Physical Wellness (sleep, exercise, diet)
  • Relational Wellness (friends, family, intimate relationships)
  • Emotional Wellness (mood and feelings, gratitude)
  • Spiritual Wellness (prayer, worship)

What practices in each of these areas are important to you? How frequently do you practice them?

Another way might be to think about what makes you feel most alive and closest to God (and do more of those things), and what makes you feel least alive and farthest from God (and avoid those things). Perhaps your Rule will be visual rather than textual. Perhaps it will be a series of bullet points, or an Excel spreadsheet.

As a general rule, it is better to be specific than general, because specifics are easy (or at least possible) to measure.

If this is all overwhelming, perhaps consider starting with something simpler, like a Post-It note with a daily reminder to engage in one act of kindness or generosity each day, or beginning a gratitude journal. This is your Rule; you don’t need to follow other people’s rules.

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming Friday!

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Do you have a Rule of Life, or have you at any point? What was it like? How did you make it work for you?

 

December

TBT a day late to that one time I wrote a sestina (and to five years ago when I also used it as a blog post punt). Yeah, just the once. Also the one thing I did that for one specific week earned me the WHOLE STINKIN’ FRONT PAGE of my college paper, along with a photo I took (NB, not the stock photo I’m using for this post…). What a wild and wondrous life this is. The real Christmas miracle is that it’s survived all these years with me not hating it.

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December

A pair of skates draw spiral shapes on ice;
a child glides. Her coat shocking as blood
is bright against the steely sky,
a sky that whispers snowflakes to the waiting
ground. The pale sun gives way to dusk
and the girl is called home by her mother.

In the doorframe stands the child’s mother.
She knows the lure (and lore) of ice
and cold and white and quiet dusk,
of wind-chapped lips that taste of blood.
But now she makes her place inside, waiting
for her own, watching the sky
for a sign, watching the slate-dark sky.

It was not so long ago her own mother
stood there in the doorway, waiting,
heat and light pouring out into the icy
night, a cameo in the color of blood
through closed eyelids. This is every dusk,

every still and bleak midwinter dusk,
when gazing up at a spangled sky
sparks a vision, a sensation, and blood
rushes to remember a long-ago mother
in a setting minus snow and skates and ice:
fierce, tired, flushed, waiting.

She’d spent those long months waiting
for this perfect boy, born just at dusk
on an unforgiving night as clear as ice,
and, perhaps, there in the sky
that fabled star. Inside, the mother,
unaccustomed to so much blood,

is quiet. What if she knew the way the blood
would run down the cheek she strokes while waiting
for the dusky eyes to open? She is his mother,
and come that fearful day, at dusk,
she will stand beneath the angry sky
and cry tears bitter as ice.

Here and now, in snow and ice, in falling dusk
the world is waiting under a timeworn sky;
through centuries: child and mother, body and blood.

The Life-Changing Spirituality of Tidying Up

Did you read the title of this post and laugh? Because I’m laughing right now. The semester just ended. My apartment is a mess—as much as it can be, given its size, anyway. I’m in great need of some serious tidying up, so WTAF am I doing writing about spirituality in this context? How can cleaning be a spiritual act?!7203340384_fc6110a3b1_b

I should start by owning up to the fact that I’m actually totally on board with the tidying up craze. Definitely read Marie Kondo (and hooray for the shout-out in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, right??). I actually really liked what she had to say, on account of how her animistic view of possessions meshes well with the strange attachment I developed to material belongings as a child…

This is more fun-fact than therapy-session: for a period of several years, if I donated or disposed an item I had cared for, I would give it a hug or kiss so as not to be lonely. My husband has (unfortunately) figured out that I am highly susceptible to the assignation of emotions to inanimate objects. Saying “Awww, that stuffed cat is so sad and lonesome because you aren’t taking it home” will trigger an emotional response, and occasionally lead to unfortunate buying experiences.

All to say, when Marie Kondo talks about thanking items for what they’ve done for us, I get it. On an uncomfortably deep level.

Related to this “tidying up” craze is the capsule wardrobe craze. You might not have heard of this. Or, on the other hand, you might spend even the tiniest amount of time on Pinterest. Basically, the idea is that your wardrobe (for a particular season) consists of a small-ish number of items that all general work well together/mix-and-match. Some even go so far as to develop a “uniform.”

Now, I wouldn’t say I have a capsule wardrobe, exactly, but I do try to get and keep clothing that works with the rest of my wardrobe, and I try to limit my closet to things I like and wear regularly. I don’t thank my clothing for serving me when I take it off for the day (another Marie Kondo thing), but I do try to take good care of it and arrange it in a way that is easy to see and pleasing to the eye. I try to have a place for everything and, when I can manage, keep everything in its place.

The kicker is, I actually think this “tidying up” has pretty strong ties to spiritual wellbeing.

What?! How can cleaning be related to the life of the spirit? That sounds like a stretch…or does it? Tidying up and the capsule wardrobe craze are all about ridding life of clutter and distractions that make us anxious and unhappy. They may be fads, but they are fads built on the human desire to live more joyful and fulfilling lives, which in many ways is what Christian spirituality is all about.

It may sound strange, but I think tidying—ridding ourselves of what is superfluous and unhelpful, holding lightly to God’s good gifts that bring us joy, and living in gratitude for what we have—is nothing short of an act of prayer. We’ve just begun the new church year and are quickly approaching a new calendar year. If you are looking for a new way to pray (and wouldn’t mind having a cleaner, calmer, more organized life as a result), consider giving tidying up a try.

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Have you tried tidying up? Do you have a capsule wardrobe? What do you think of all this?

Recommended Reading

I’ve heard that a book is a boring Christmas present, but I never understood this sentiment. I love books, of all kinds. I even love e-books, which are mainly what I’ve been collecting lately, on account of how there is no space on the many bookshelves in my New York apartment.book-774837_1920

I have also, as I mentioned quite some time ago when I was actually publishing my blog posts on schedule like I was supposed to, been doing a fair amount of reading this semester, mainly in the genre of religion and spirituality texts.

SO, just in time for you to run to your local bookstore or place one more Amazon Prime order, I thought I would kindly provide a thoughtful and informative short gift guide for your enjoyment and edification. Titles link through to Amazon, not as affiliate advertising or anything, but I thought it would be convenient.

For someone who likes smart discourse, and also words:
Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living
Because how can you not want to read a book with a chapter that begins, “I take it as an elemental truth of life that words matter”? If you’ve ever listened to On Being, you know Krista Tippett. This book is a collection of the highlights she’s gleaned from a really amazing cast of characters over an astonishing career. Its words do matter—it is a smart, lovely, hopeful book that is perfectly suited to gift-giving this year.

For someone you can’t for the life of you get along with:
Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery
But actually, get the book for yourself, not that person. I know I wrote a whole post about this book, but I think it’s such a warm, accessible invitation to a model for introspection and increased understanding of self that I had to include it. And who knows? As you learn more about why you do the things you do and feel the feelings you feel, maybe you’ll start to understand why that one person gets on your nerves…or maybe you won’t. But the process of discovery is worthwhile all the same.

For someone with a short attention span:
Multiple Authors, the post calvin: selected essays: 2013–2016
Okay, so this is basically a plug for a best-of collection from another blog where I am a contributing writer. That said, it’s pretty neat that the editors took time to pull this collection together and add awesome illustrations.

For someone who is probably, but not necessarily, a woman:
Shauna Niequist, Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are
Or, for that matter, Madeleine L’Engle, Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts and Reflections
These are both 365-day devotionals. I read Savor recently, in a totally inappropriate, non-devotional manner, but enjoyed it (and the recipes within) all the same. I read Glimpses of Grace a while ago, as a devotional, and because I love Madeleine L’Engle, I love it. January 1 is quickly approaching; a 365-day devotional is a gift that keeps on giving.

For someone who would think all of the above books are a little too touchy-feely:
C. C. Benison, Eleven Pipers Piping: A Father Christmas Mystery
The one piece of fiction on this list. British priest called Father Christmas solves a mystery (in January, but that’s close to Christmas). That’s all you need to know.

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What great religion & spirituality books have you read recently? Do you have recommendations to add?