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! 

Expanding Spiritual Direction Ministry

It is with gratefulness and joy that I make this announcement: The church I attend, Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, Minnesota, is providing a space in which I can meet with people who desire spiritual direction.

Amish Quilt I have been a spiritual director for a few years, but one of the challenges has always been finding a quiet, confidential space in which to meet people. Spiritual direction is an ancient Christian practice, so what better place to meet than a church building?

Over the course of my life, spiritual direction has been such a huge benefit for my soul. In difficult times, a spiritual director was there to offer support and remind me of God’s love. When facing challenging decisions, my spiritual director helped me to listen carefully to whatever God wanted for me (discernment). For me, a spiritual director has been one of the ways I take care of my deeper self and grow in my relationship with God.

Because of the many blessings I have received in spiritual direction, it is only natural that I would want to serve others in the same way. In fact, it was a spiritual director who invited me to become a spiritual director (also known as “spiritual companion,” “soul friend,” “spiritual midwife,” or “spiritual counselor”).

Although I’m meeting with spiritual seekers at Easter Lutheran, you do not have to be Lutheran to come visit me for spiritual direction. Although I am a follower of Christ and a member at Easter Lutheran, my spiritual direction training was very broad, even including learning about spiritual direction in other religious traditions. Some people who want spiritual direction are “spiritual but not religious;” others are diehard Lutherans, Catholics, or Baptists; still others blend traditions, such as the Christian who also practices Buddhist meditation.

Click to enlarge--Open Butterfly--photo by Julie McCarty

Any of these people might benefit from spiritual direction, because spiritual direction is a highly individual, personal process. It focuses wherever you are at with God (or the divine as you perceive it). In spiritual direction, one person might want to learn a new way to pray; another might feel drawn into ministry but wants to explore this potential with a spiritual listener; yet another feels confused about where God is in the midst of suffering; or another may want to focus on their passion about social justice and finding God in the midst of serving others.

It is always important to recall that the real “director” is the Holy Spirit, the hidden God within and around us, who loves us deeply. As I see it, the spiritual director is an active listener, who listens both to what the seeker says and to what the Spirit within might be saying. The point is to GROW in your spiritual beliefs, your awareness of God, your ability to serve God and others with your gifts, and mostly to grow closer to that God who is already deep within your heart. Spiritual direction helps with this process. READ MORE 

If you are interested in spiritual direction, I encourage you to learn more about it and seek a spiritual director who will best meet your needs. Ask God to show you who to work with. Research the options on sites like “Spiritual Directors International” and ask around at retreat centers or your local church.

If you want to visit with me for spiritual direction, you can reach me by phone or e-mail to set up an appointment:

Violets image with info 2B

(The first letter of e-mail address is a “j” for Julie. Phone is in Central time zone.)

In all things, pray for God’s desire for your life–
and know that God loves you, immensely.

Until next time, Amen!

P.S. THANK YOU to my faith community at Easter Lutheran!
You give me hope and keep me growing in my faith and love for Christ.