Going on Retreat: What am I Reading?

Away on retreat

Away on retreat

The summer is definitely in full swing here in Seattle and Tom and I are getting ready to head out of town for a retreat. I am browsing through my stacks of books both read and unread to see what I want to take with me. It is a daunting task – so many good books come across my desk each week. How do I or any of us decide?

1. First I like to take a spiritual devotional. At present I am using the New Zealand Book of Prayer. It’s morning and evening prayer are great ways to start and end my retreat days. I might also use the pray-as-you-go.org devotional put out by Jesuit Media Initiatives.

2. I always take a book that scratches where I itch from a spiritual perspective. This time I have three – two by Jan Johnson whose work on spiritual direction and lectio divina is always both practical and insightful. Savoring God’s Word and When the Soul Listens are both books I have used in the past that I love to return to when I need some spiritual discernment. Margaret Guenther’s Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction is my third choice. Not hard to tell that I am wanting to revisit my contemplative practices and renew my ability to listen to God on this retreat.

3. I like to take something that addresses my ministry focus. This time Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of the Possible by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon.

4. I also take my bible, my journal, and my spiritual retreat log which is a compilation of all the notes from past retreats. I love to look back over these and sense the thread of God’s direction in my life. I love to savour the scriptures that have spoken to me in the past and ask what God may want to say through them or through other scriptures on this retreat.

Now obviously this is more than anyone can read in two days. But I like to have a good selection because even though I head off on retreat with a sense of the direction God is taking me, the details are not obvious until I spend undistracted retreat time in God’s presence. In the first few hours of retreat I might skim though all the books I have with me anticipating that God will grab my attention through something I read. Then I know which of the books I need to bury myself in for the next couple of days. I love to see how God develops this sometimes taking me down unexpected pathways.

Look back with gratitude, look forward with anticipation has become a mantra for my times away that stirs me to expect new things from God at every step.

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Enhance Your Spiritual Resilience – Five Practices that Make a Difference

Crosses on rooftop - (c) Christine Sine

Over the weekend I read an interesting article in Scientific American Mind entitled Ready for Anything about enhancing your resilience. The article talks about rethinking adversity with a positive emphasis, encouraging optimism, taking on novel challenges getting plenty of physical exercise and developing strong social support systems and friendships.

The article soon had me reflecting on my spiritual life and what makes for resilient spirituality. How do we maintain and grow our faith through the ups and downs of life?  In previous posts The Stability of Practice . and Have You Taken A Spiritual Audit Recently? I have talked about some of what I think is important here. Here is what I find makes a difference.

1. Maintain regular spiritual practices. This has been the key to my spiritual resilience. I know that many today are afraid of regular practices because they can become stale and legalistic, but if we don’t have these regular disciplines then our spiritual life soon dries up.

In my book Godspace I talked about the need for regular routines and rituals, practices that enhance our lives without overwhelming us. I suggest that we need four types of practices – those that intentionally deepen our relationship to God, those that move us towards wholeness and maturity, those that empower us to see beyond our own needs to the hurting world of which we are a part, and those that draw us into the rest and celebration of God’s kingdom. I still think that these are all important and intentionally thinking about the purpose of our spiritual practices is one way to keep them fresh and alive.

2.Establishing regular physical exercise regimes. Like the article in Scientific American Mind, I find that regular physical exercise increases my spiritual awareness and wellbeing. It is no wonder that many people feel closest to God when running, walking and hiking. Intentionally combining exercise with spiritual practices like prayer walks or labyrinth walking may be even more effective for some.

3. The practice of gratitude. This practice revolutionized my life several years ago. Thanking God for the good things God has done is at the heart of a resilient faith. I particularly love the way that Sue Duby practices this as she describes in her post What Do We Hunger and Thirst For?

4.Going on Retreat. I am sure that many of you get sick of me talking about this, but I feel I cannot emphasize this practice enough. Regular 3 monthly retreats have become the mainstay of Tom’s and my spiritual life. I outline the process we follow in this post Retreat, Renew, Refresh

5. Discerning as a Group. The article I mentioned above talks about the importance of social networks and relationships for developing resilience, the group discernment process that we embarked on in MSA several years ago has enhanced and strengthened our relationships in ways that I think is unique to a spiritual community.

So what practices have you found provide spiritual resilience for your life? If you have other suggestions to add to this list we would love to hear from you.

Still Time to Sign Up For The Lenten Retreat

Celtic cross - photo by Andy Wade

There is still time to sign up for the Lenten retreat. I am really looking forward to this – a great way to start this season of reflection and refocusing. If you are not in the Seattle area think about getting together with some of your friends wherever you are for retreat and reflection to kick off the Lenten season

When: February 16th – 9:30a.m. – 12:30p.m.

Where: The Mustard Seed House, Seattle, WA (510 NE 81st St.Seattle WA 98115)

The season of Lent awakens in all of us a hunger for deeper intimacy with God. Our world is alive with the presence of God, beckoning for our attention. Yet we are often distracted by busyness, worry and work.

Explore the simple things of everyday life – breathing, drinking a glass of water, running, picking up a stone or taking a photo – that open our senses to the God who shines through every moment and enlivens every creature. This time of reflection and refocusing is especially designed to draw us into the presence of God and prepare us for the season of Lent and Easter. Cost: $20. Snacks and coffee will be provided. 

Sign up here

Return to Our Senses in Lent – Accept the Challenge and Download Free Study Guide

Return to Our Senses - cover

Return to Our Senses

What are the experiences of everyday life that make you feel close to God or that make you want to respond to our broken world with compassion and love? For most of us it is not pipe organs, pulpits and churches. It is simple things like breathing, drinking a glass of water, running, or taking a photo. Our world is alive with the presence of God, beckoning to us in every moment and through every encounter. We just need help to recognize this.

Lent is a time to reflect on our faith and the practices that sustain it and I want to challenge all of us to consider the experiential practices we can incorporate during the season to increase intimacy with God and concern for God’s world. Is it gardening or painting pictures? Is walking the labyrinth or providing hospitality for those at the margins?  Is it participating in something like the $2 challenge or using public transport rather than driving the car? How does this connect you to God and what are you doing to nurture this practice?

Please consider contributing a post about practices you plan to use during Lent and beyond that transform your everyday activities and encounters into prayer and spiritual practices. Posts should be no more than 800 words long and accompanied by a short bio and photos you wish to include. (Please don’t forget to include credits for photos.)

The emphasis for this series comes from my new book Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray which was written out of my own hunger for experiential forms of prayer that open my eyes and ears and in fact all my senses to new ways to interact with God in every moment. We have just published a study guide that many of our friends and associates plan to use during Lent. I hope that the blog series will provide additional resources for those who want to integrate their faith and their everyday life.

So get ready to join us for Lent.

  1. Join us for a time of retreat of reflection and refocusing.  Establish new spiritual disciplines for the season: February 16th at the Mustard Seed House.
  2. Join us in the study of Return to Our Senses and challenge your friends to participate too. The study guide can be downloaded free from the MSA website. The book itself is available at a special discount price ($15 for a single copy; $12 for 5 or more) until Easter.  
  3. Share with us the experiential prayer practices you plan to incorporate in your life during this season
  4. Contribute a post to the series Return to Our Senses in Lent. 

Can We Wait As Children Wait?

Let us Wait as Children Wait

Let us Wait as Children Wait

Advent is coming. The end of the liturgical year is only a few weeks away and many of us are already preparing. I know because it is time for me to work on my annual Advent mediation video.

And just as Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas, so, at least in the northern hemisphere, is this season of storing food (both physically and spiritually), slowing down and rethinking our focus. It is a time for storing up the resources we know we need to see us through a season in which our hearts ache for the coming of God’s light. Tom and I go away for one of our quarterly retreats at the end of the week and we are both already anticipating this important pause in our routines. We want to make sure that we are very ready for the upcoming season.

Part of my preparation is getting ready for the blog series that I host during Advent. This year’s theme is Let Us Wait As Children Wait.  I am very excited about this, and by the number of posts I have already received can see that others are too. I hope that out of this series will not only come some thought provoking reflections (and possibly another Advent devotional book) on how we as adults wait for the coming of Christ, but also some good resources to help us focus our children on the real meaning of Christmas. As I mentioned before, one of my most popular posts during Advent is this one on Celebrating Advent With Kids. People are looking for resources – and I think not just to celebrate with their kids but because many of us want to find again that childlike enthusiasm and excitement we once experienced in our faith.

So once again this is your invitation to join in. Do you know of resources that should be added to the list for celebrating with kids? If so we would love to hear about them. Or would you like to contribute your thoughts to this series. There is still time to participate. Please email me for more details. Or, like Tom and I you may just want to spend more time reflecting on how you wait for the coming of Christ. Is it with excitement, impatience and barely contained longing or is it with worn out indifference? What are some steps you could take to change that?

The Stability of Practice

The joy of journalling

The joy of journalling

Yesterday Tom and I had breakfast at Chanterelles restaurant in Edmonds then drove down to the waterfront and looked out over the Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains while we journalled and shared about our week. This has been an important part of the rhythm of our life for many years but over this summer with the busyness of attending Wild Goose, Creative World Festival, the Celtic retreat and other commitments, we have had to let it slide. As we sat and journalled yesterday a deep peace settled into my soul. I need this I thought. I am incomplete without it.

We hear a lot today about the importance of stability of place. I wish we talked as much about the stability of practice. Regular daily, weekly and yearly practices that restore our bodies, our souls and our spirits are essential for all of us and I don’t think we realize how much the loss of these impacts us. I love to sit each morning in my office looking out towards the mountains while I pray. This morning I notice that the big maple tree I can see is touched with tones of red. Autumn is definitely here. It is also the harvest season, the time to pick and process apples (Tom and I picked 100 lb from our trees on Saturday), to make marinara sauce from the tomatoes, store the winter squash and generally get ready for a season when there is no fresh, local food available.

What are the equivalent practices in my spiritual life I wonder? This summer has been a busy season of ministry, a good season of growth and productivity. How am I now getting ready for the winter blasts? What spiritual food am I storing up for the coming season of dark? Getting back into our weekly rhythm of journalling and check in time is obviously part of that. Going away on one of our quarterly spiritual retreats is another.  Walking around Greenlake with Tom and our dog Bonnie talking, praying and drinking in the beauty of creation is another. These are some of the practices that help me store up the spiritual nutrients I need to see me through the dark season of my life.

This is obviously not the first time that I have blogged about this. The information in this post How Do We Find Stability in a Changing World? is some that I have found particularly valuable over the years. So much of my life has been spent in unstable living situations. Most of these suggestions came from my twelve years on the Mercy Ship Anastasis when my only stable reference point was a moving object in the middle of the sea.

This is a good season to evaluate your spiritual lives as I suggest in this post: Have You Taken A Spiritual Audit Lately? and you might want to evaluate the rhythms that are important to you. What are your equivalents of daily prayer, weekly journalling and quarterly retreats? How do they provide stability for your spirit?