More on branching out–25 ways to deepen your spiritual life

In my last post, I wrote about branching out, trying new things. I mentioned exploring ways to expand your spiritual life.

Christ the Pantocrator by Marian Zidaru--2002
Christ the Pantocrator by Marian Zidaru–2002

I believe God (your Higher Power, the Divine One, however you describe God) wants to be close to each one of us. I believe this God is full of compassion and mercy–and that God calls out to us, like a passionate lover longing for quality time with his or her beloved.

Various ways of praying do not earn us “extra credit” with God. God loves us immensely no matter what. However, if you love God, you will want to spend some quality time together. There are various ways of being together, and some specific ways of praying that will enable you to be more present to God, more aware of God’s presence in your life.

There are many ways to build a deeper relationship with God or a more developed prayer life. Looking for some ideas? Here is a list of 25 ideas of ways to expand your own spiritual time with God:

  1. Say grace–before breakfast. I don’t know why, but I don’t recall doing this even once. Why do I thank God for dinner but not for  breakfast?
  2. Copy a sentence or two from sacred texts (such as the Bible or the Koran). Place it where you will see it everyday, such as on the bathroom mirror, refrigerator, or screen saver.
  3. Walk a labyrinth, reflecting on key points in your life as you make the turns. (Read more:  Labyrinth: The Walking PrayerPrayer labyrinth--photo by Julie McCarty
  4. Sign up for a retreat and mark it as high priority on your calendar.
  5. Read a spiritual classic. (Suggestions at Good Reads )
  6. Look for websites that help you learn about prayer–or actually guide you in prayer. For example, the “Daily Disconnect” offers a guided prayer reflection which includes an online timer to allow for some silent time at the end of your reflection.
  7. Visit a different house of worship. Been to a church or temple lately? Use the web to look at places of worship in your area, and then just experiment–visit a few in person.
  8. Take a prayer walk–drop everything and walk outside with God. (For more info, visit my post or other Prayer Walking Tips  )
  9. Look for your “spiritual type.”Just for fun, try the “spiritual type” quiz on Beliefnet 
  10. Attend a bible study, women’s group, or other event offered at your place of worship. Don’t just read about it online. Get in touch with real people.
  11. Deal with your anger. Angry at your church institution? Try talking with a counselor or spiritual director about your confusion. Find a neutral person who will help you sort out the complicated, perhaps mixed feelings about religion, faith, God, and what is best for your life.
  12. Serve the poor at a soup kitchen and think about Jesus being in the midst of that soup line as you hand out the bowls.
  13. Set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier each morning, sit up in bed and read the bible or devotional for those 15 minutes before getting dressed.
  14. Find a spiritual director and visit with him or her once a month, exploring your own spiritual dimension in a friendly, confidential, prayerful setting.
  15. Try coffee break prayer. Once a week, during your coffee break or lunch hour, slip into a church or quiet park bench for a few minutes alone with God.
  16. Make a gratefulness list. Write a list of 25 things for which you give thanks–and don’t forget to tell God about it.
  17. Sing a prayerful song. So what if you voice isn’t that great? Sing when you are alone–or play spiritual music during your morning commute. 
  18. Keep a prayer journal. Write your thoughts about your religious beliefs, your feelings, your experiences, etc. in prayer form. Write letters to God about your life.
  19. Pray ahead of time. When you look at your calendar each morning, pray about the upcoming day’s events, asking the Holy Spirit to guide your every word and deed, to bless those you will see that day.
  20. Grow your spiritual mind. Want to understand your religion’s teachings at an adult level? Bring your questions to your minister, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader–or audit a class at a college (many religious colleges allow auditing for inexpensive rates, and/or special rates for seniors).
  21. Examine your conscience. During the past week, when were you especially alive to God’s presence? When did you “miss the mark”? Thank God for all that is good, and ask for forgiveness for your sins.
  22. Learn yoga as a way of quieting yourself in the presence of God. If you don’t feel comfortable with ancient yoga foundations, try a “devotional yoga” that combines the healthy body movements with Christian attitudes towards God.
  23. Ask God what things need a new home. Clean out your closet or garage in a prayerful way, seeking to give to others in a Christ-like manner. Pray for those who will receive your gifts.
  24. Common Prayer book coverDo your normal prayer with a different body posture. For example, try reading the psalms in standing position, facing east (place of the sunrise). Or, try kneeling when you ask God to forgive your sins.
  25. Let the last thing you think about before going to sleep be God. Not the news, not Facebook, not your problems, but rather God. How to do this? Start a routine of prayer or spiritual reading just before you nod off at night. (Don’t worry if you fall asleep holding the prayer-book in bed. What better way to sleep, than in the arms of God?)

These are just ideas to get your creative spiritual juices going. Pick one and run with it. I’d love to hear how it goes.

Until next time, Amen!  

P.S. Want little spiritual nuggets in-between blog posts? Visit the Facebook page “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty” and click on “receive notifications” on the “like” button. 

Branching out–expanding your spiritual life

Jesus said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
          –Matthew 8: 26

Branching out--photo by Julie McCarty

As it was growing, how did this tree know when it was time for the trunk to become two major life lines to the rest of the branches?

I could answer, the DNA in the cells tell it how to grow–but then, how does the DNA know? 

Growth is a mysterious process, highly individualized. God calls us to keep growing in our spiritual lives, no matter what our chronological age.

Is there something in your life that God wants to expand? A new experiment with prayer? A different service to others? A fresh way of looking at life in general?

What stops you from “branching out” in this new way? Is it fear? Exhaustion? Laziness? Something else blocking your path?

Will you pray with me?

Come, Holy Spirit, help us to listen for your voice, leading us along the path of discipleship. Please give us the courage to put aside all fear and to bravely try whatever new things God may desire of us. Help us to grow strong in faith, like this tree that bravely stands through all kinds of weather. 

Until next time, Amen! 

Attentiveness: A Spiritual Word for 2013

During 2013, I hope to learn some new layouts and methods for posting on my blog. (This one is called “image” for a shorter post with a single image.)

Remember the blog post about choosing a word for your spiritual theme for the new year?  Here’s my word, sprawled out on a whiteboard design I created:

Whiteboard art by Julie McCarty (click to enlarge)
Whiteboard art by Julie McCarty (click to enlarge)

Yup, that’s my word for this year, “attentiveness”… I want to ponder the meaning of the word, how to live more attentively, and most of all, how to be more attentive to the presence and action of God in my life.

Thought question of the day: What or who in your life captures the most of your attention each day?  Your job? Your family? Sports? Facebook? Shopping? Or ??

How does your daily focus coordinate with the quality desires of your deepest, truest self?

Please think about it. I plan to!

Until next time, Amen!

P.S. Looking for daily spiritual inspiration? Read short spiritual nuggets and updates at Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty” on Facebook.

Creating things anew with God’s help–a look back, and forward

Some of you may remember that I selected the word “co-create” for my spiritual word for 2012. The spiritual word provides a theme or focus for one’s mind and heart over the course of time, an idea I learned from Christine Valters Paintner, the “online abbess” at the website Abbey of the Arts.

For me, “co-create” means to cooperate with God’s grace in making the world a better place. I found the word helped me to focus on trying new creative things, such as practicing nature photography and learning watercolor painting.

Downy Woodpecker underneath branch--photo by Julie McCarty, Eagan MN USA.
Downy Woodpecker underneath branch–photo by Julie McCarty, Eagan MN USA.

However, as so often happens when one takes up a spiritual practice, I was surprised at how many other, often deeper, meanings and ap-

Julie with her "Campfire" watercolor painting at Instructor-Student Art Exhibit --BTAC
 Julie with her “Campfire” watercolor painting (above) at the Instructor-Student Art Exhibit –BTAC
 

plications to “co-create” arose in my mind over time. These new understandings came to me through reading, talking with others, and thinking about my life experiences in journaling.

For example, when grieving the loss of my dad, the creative activities often consoled me as something new being “born” in my life. When waking up in the morning, I would find myself asking God, “What will we co-create together today?” As I did housework (something I dislike), I began seeing chores in a fresh light, as something that re-creates a beautiful, wholesome environment. While weeding the garden, it occurred to me that growing vegetables is also creating something good with God–good for me and good for others. 

From this year's garden
From this year’s garden

The year 2012 will be over soon. In fact, for Christians at least, the new liturgical year has already begun with Advent. I find myself wondering… hmm… what will be my “spiritual word” for 2013? What does God have in mind for me?

I invite you to ponder the same question with me. Is there one word or short phrase you would like to be your spiritual focus for 2013? Let us pray, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal a wise word to each of us for the good of our spiritual growth and service to others.

May the Good Lord bless you this holy season.

Until next time, Amen!

For more pictures from Julie’s watercolor class and other spiritual nuggets, visit Facebook’s  Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty.

Spiritual Drawing Board Page now on Facebook

Looking for a short spiritual nugget to brighten your day? A reminder that God’s divine presence is with you, even on a “bad day”? Something motivational, thought-provoking, or creative?

ImageSpiritual Drawing Board now has a Facebook page of its own. I’ll be continuing to write here, on this WordPress blog, but now you can also receive little spiritual nuggets on the Facebook page “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty”. 

Expect to find encouragement to pray or meditate, to love others, to seek wisdom, to go beyond politics and “group think,” and to learn from famous spiritual figures.

To find the link, log on to your Facebook account and search for this:

“Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty”
(click on “like” to start receiving in your news feed on FB)

And, while you are there, I hope you will share your own inspiring thoughts or questions you wrestle with. The spiritual journey includes community focus–and I would love to hear from you, on the FB page, in the comments on the blog, or via e-mail (see contact page for e-mail).

Please, do spread the word. Share what I post on SDB on FB all you like. The world has enough sin and hate. It is up to Spirit-filled people to spread the message of  compassion in whatever ways they can.

Until next time, Amen.

P.S. For those new to Facebook:  If you “like” Spiritual Drawing Board FB page, you will receive “news” from the page, but your personal posts will not come to me unless you choose to put something on my page or message me directly. I will not see the messages you send your FB friends unless I’m already one of your friends on FB.

The Spiritual Practice of Being Uncomfortable by Christine Valters Paintner

Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. –John 21:18

Have you ever thought about moving beyond your comfort zone as a type of spiritual practice?  Is life drawing you to something new, but you are hesitant? Is God inviting you to another way of serving others or giving of yourself, but you are reluctant or procrastinating?

In her column on Patheos.com, Benedictine Oblate and “online Abbess” Christine Valters Paintner explores the way that moving beyond our comfort zone could be called a spiritual practice. Here’s the link:

The Spiritual Practice of Being Uncomfortable.

(If the link above doesn’t work, try googling “spiritual practice of being uncomfortable”.)

Thanks to the “online Abbess” of Abbey of the Arts for challenging us to listen and act when the Spirit invites us to new ways of thinking and behaving–and thanks to Patheos.com for allowing the sharing of columns.

Until next time, Amen.

Milkweed, Giftedness, and Becoming Your True Self

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Jesus (in John 12:24)

Milkweed in autumn (click to enlarge)–photo by Julie McCarty

When I was a child, we loved to play with milkweed seeds, watching them float away like bubbles on the wind. I was reminded of this recently when I spotted this milkweed plant in Lebanon Hills Regional Park here in Eagan.

Seeing these seeds bursting forth makes me think of all the hopes and dreams lying dormant within each of us. In my forties, it felt like life was “over” (I’m so old!) –and yet here I am in my early fifties, eagerly learning new things, such as watercolor painting, digital photography, and gardening techniques.

The good Lord gives us many gifts and talents deep within ourselves. Is there something you have always wanted to do, but never have gotten around to doing it?  Chances are, it’s not too late. You may need to modify the goal or alter your plan a bit, but that unique packet of gifts inside you is still there.

But here’s the thing about seeds: some part of our life activities may seem to “die” in order to make room for something new. The old “something” may be basically good or perhaps something that is no longer working for us, but we decide to focus our efforts on this new thing. After all, there are only so many hours in the day.

If there is something you really feel called to do, some deep desire in your heart, ask God to show you the way. Take one step in that direction and see what happens.

Allow the “wind” of the Divine Spirit to carry the seeds within you wherever God desires. Something good is bound to happen.

Until next time, Amen! 

Kristen Hobby on Spiritual Direction

People sometimes ask me, “What is spiritual direction?” Great question! However, it’s not so easy to answer in a single sentence.

Historically, spiritual direction has been a one-on-one process of “companioning” with a person on his or her spiritual journey. In some ways it’s a little like meeting with a counselor or church pastor, but often those meetings are dealing with the search for solving a particular problem, whereas spiritual direction is about paying attention to the presence of God in your life (not to say that “problems” are excluded from the conversation in spiritual direction!).

Some people think of a spiritual director as a sort of coach, mentor, or personal trainer for the soul. Others may view their spiritual director as a spiritual companion, soul friend, or “spiritual midwife.”

In the short video below*, spiritual director Kristen Hobby from Melbourne, Australia answers many questions about the spiritual direction process in our times:

(If you don’t see the video here, visit YouTube or Google and type in the search these words: Kristen Hobby spiritual direction .)

Questions or comments about spiritual direction? Please share them below or  send them to me in e-mail (see contact page). I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time, Amen!

***

*Special thanks to Spiritual Directors International, a network of spiritual directors of many religious traditions throughout the world, for making this video available on YouTube.

When there is no vision, a people perish.–Emerson

Morning Light on Smoky Mountains–photo by Julie McCarty, Eagan MN USA
(click on image to enlarge)

When there is no vision, a people perish.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Funny how getting away from it all for a time can give one a new perspective. Vacations and retreat experiences are important to our well-being. Unhurried time with family, long walks, extra sleep, and different surroundings are good for us on every level.

This summer, while taking some breaks from blogging, I’ve been focusing on other creative activities. I’ve experimented with new plants in the garden and practiced taking photos of nature. I attended a couple of seminars connecting art, writing, and spirituality, and vacationed with my hubby.

Although I haven’t blogged much during the summer, I think the break will be fruitful in the long run. Funny how that works: sometimes when you stop trying, something good is percolating deep down inside. (We’ll see if this is true…!)

In future blog posts, I hope to bring some fresh ideas and new formats. In addition to the longer spiritual reflections now and then, I hope to add some simple creative images (photos, artwork) along with spiritual quotations. I hope to provide starter dough for your own prayer and spiritual reflection, as well as my own.

Mid-August is a time of preparing for the new school year, planning church ministries, and signing up for sports and recreational programs. As I plan activities, the words of Emerson draw me to think more deeply than mere scheduling:

When there is no vision, a people perish.

What is your vision for today and tomorrow? How will you make the world a better place? What is the one thing God is hoping you will do?

Take a moment and just think about it. What is the best thing you could offer God right now? How do you envision your future–and the future of your children, community, and world? What one step you can take today, headed in the right direction?   

(pause and pray if you are a praying person)

Until next time, Amen!

Transformation: Learning from Worms during Lent

Note: Today’s blog is written by guest writer, Pastor Sarah Clark.

Jesus will take our weak mortal bodies and transform them into glorious bodies like his own… -Philippians 3: 21

I like to tell people that I got worms for my birthday…. because it’s true. I did, just not the gross kind of worms! My husband Brian gave me composting worms for my birthday – a 37 gallon bin of dark dirt and many hundreds of (maybe even a thousand) red worms. And now, these worms are happy to call the north-west corner of my basement ‘home.’

I know that composting worms aren’t a normal birthday present. The guys I share an office with remind me of that every time talk of the worms comes up. But I really like my worms. I like that during the week I save all my coffee grounds, veggie scraps, and egg shells in a big Tupperware container.

Then when Saturday rolls around, I take all of that gross, slimy, smelly stuff and I feed it to the worms. I open the bin’s lid, dig a hole, fill up the hole with the week’s gross collection, cover it all up with dirt again, and then top it off with some brown oak leaves from the tree in my yard. In some very strange way it’s satisfying.

The worms don’t say much. They don’t ever say thank you. They don’t cheer every Saturday when I open the lid. But I know they’re content because every week I see baby worms crawling around… eating the previous weeks’ blueberries, spinach leaves, and carrots. And each week, there’s more rich, black dirt for me to use in my garden this spring. Talk about transformation.

Transformation. From disgusting leftovers to rich, wonderful soil. From moldy refrigerator scraps to fertilizer for this summer’s tomatoes. This time of year is a time of transformation. From dark winter to warm, bright spring. From brown to green. From death to life. Lent is all about transformation… and I’m so glad that Easter [Lutheran Church] is talking about transforming at worship, and church school, and confirmation, and book studies, and Chick Talk [women’s group], etc.

‘Transformation’ means that there’s hope for us. If a bin of worms in my basement can transform slimy onion skins into fantastic soil… how much more hope there is for us… who will be transformed by the promises of Jesus Christ on a sunny Easter morning!

Jesus will take our weak mortal bodies and transform them into glorious bodies like his own… -Philippians 3: 21

Sarah Clark is an ELCA Pastor and works at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN. She graduated from Luther College in 2005 and Luther Seminary in 2010. Sarah seriously loves the Current (a radio station), good food, and the BWCA in northern Minnesota.

Worms in the photos from Julie’s garden.

Until next time, Amen!