Monthly Spiritual Exercises
Each month you can deepen your experience of our worship theme by engaging in the monthly spiritual exercise. If you are not part of the Soul Matters Circle, share your experience of the spiritual exercise with others on the “Friends of UCM” Facebook group, at coffee hour on Sundays, or even with your family and friends in your day-to-day life.
May Spiritual Exercises: Embodiment
Option A: The Question We Embody
“Hearing about [others’] first, big question got me wondering about my own. What is the question that I asked as a little girl and have never stopped asking? How has asking that question defined, even if unconsciously, the choices I’ve made, the things I’ve created, the legacy I will leave behind?” -Courtney Martin
Courtney Martin sees our lives as embodiments of our “first big questions.” This exercise asks us to take that proposition seriously. Instead of a complex set of steps, your instructions are simply:
Spend the month figuring out and articulating your “first big question” and identify one way it has shaped you and one way it is calling you to change or deepen.
So… What question have you been trying to embody your entire life? What question has embodied you whether you liked it or not? What is the question that you asked as a little kid and have never stopped asking?
Check out the rest of Martin’s essay for more inspiration:
Option B: Embody Your Privilege
The embodiment of (or lack of) privilege is arguably the defining characteristic of our relationships and our life’s trajectory. And yet most of us in this culture are taught to ignore privilege, even pretend that it doesn’t exist. The website Buzzfeed has created a powerful video and shared a challenging set of questions to help us get in touch with our privilege and its consequences. So, for this exercise:
- go to the Buzzfeed website
- read the article
- watch the video, and then
- reflect on the questions that are shared.
Find a way to participate in the experiment/questionnaire either by organizing a handful of your friends or imagining yourself doing it with a circle of your family, neighbors and co-workers.
Option C: A Love Letter To Your Body
Deep Breaths are like little love notes to your body. – Anonymous
In a vulnerable and insightful essay, Christine Valters Paintner asks, “How many of us treat our bodies with the lavish attention they deserve? What does it mean to treat our bodies like the temples they really are? What is the damage caused by the endless messages we receive each day about our bodies’ inadequacies? What if for one day we could put to rest the damaging stories we tell ourselves about how our bodies don’t measure up? What if we could bring our full presence to our bodies’ needs instead of endlessly ignoring them?…What if our bodies truly were an “inexhaustible source of sanctification” and we treated them as such?”
She goes on to challenge us to “write a love letter to your body, offering both gratitude and forgiveness. Instead of using words, offer it in food, in warmth, in touch… Instead of rushing from place to place until you crash into bed exhausted, allow holy pauses to breathe deeply, take a long bath as an act of offering, lavish yourself with oil. Prepare a nourishing meal for just yourself. Eat chocolate, but make sure it is the deepest, darkest, richest kind you can find and eat it with as much attention as you can summon. Make an appointment for a massage and receive some loving touch imagining that you are being anointed for blessing others.”
So there you have it. Paintner lays out this exercise plan and simple:
“Write a love letter to your body, offering both gratitude and forgiveness. Instead of using words, offer it in food, in warmth, in touch…”
If you find yourself struggling with what this might mean for you or if you want to go take this further, consider another simple blessing or love letter. Spend a morning or evening completing the following list of sentences:
- To my mind I say thanks. It has helped me hold on to memory, dream bigger dreams and correct the sometimes confusing and confused voices in my head. I especially thank it for the time it…
- To my eyes I say thanks. They have helped me perceive life more widely and anew. I especially thank them for the time they…
- To my ears I say thanks. They have helped be take in beauty, new ideas and the wisdom and pain of others. I especially thank them for the time they…
- To my throat and voice I say thanks. It has enabled me to speak into existence the me that is truly me. It has helped me bravely speak out, offer soft words of comfort to others and sing myself back into joy. I especially thank it for the time it…
- To my heart I say thanks. It has been broken, allowed itself to mend and was brave enough to trust again. I especially thank it for the time it…
- To my body’s sensuality I say thanks. It has helped love and feel loved. It has allowed me to know intimacy and experience a self that extends beyond the limits of my own skin. I especially thank it for the time it…
- To my hands I say thanks. They have allowed me the gift of good work. They have held others and allowed me to hold on tight to those I needed most. They have also been brave enough to let go. I especially thank them for the time they…
- To my feet I say thanks. They have led me on adventures and helped me stand tall. They have allowed me to dance and feel every ounce of my joy. They have made me move forward when my heart wanted to run in fear. I especially thank them for the time they…
April Spiritual Exercises: Healing
Option A: Admit Exhaustion
One way we allow healing into our lives is to widen our view of what it means to be in pain. Too often pain is equated only with dramatic ruptures such as sudden loss or a devastating diagnosis. But often – maybe even more often than we all admit – it’s about the slow creeping of us never allowing ourselves to rest and replenish.
So this month, finally do it: Admit to yourself that you are exhausted! And do something about it!
To get you there, carry John O’Donohue’s poem, A Blessing For One Who Is Exhausted with you throughout this month. Read it regularly. Meditate on it when ever you can.
In the first part of his poem, he offers numerous phrases to capture the nature of exhaustion. In the second half he offers phrases that describe many ways to rescue yourself from it.
Consider committing yourself to doing each of the healing tasks that O’Donohue recommends. In other words, make it a checklist and do each of them (in your own way):
- take refuge in your senses
- open up to small miracles
- watch the way of rain
- imitate the habit of twilight
- draw alongside the silence of stone
- stay clear of those vexed in spirit
Option B: Rethink Kindness
We also need to widen our view of kindness. Too often we think of it as “sweet.” Sometimes we even give into our culture’s tendency to mock and make light of it. But there is nothing sentimental or silly about remembering that most pain is hidden. Everyone walks around with wounds we are unable to see. Thus kindness isn’t helpful here and there; it’s needed everywhere we look. It’s not “good to remember” every once in a while; it is necessary all the time. In fact, if everyone is walking around with invisible wounds, we actually allow and cause great damage when we forget to be kind.
So this month, here’s your assignment: Remember that kindness is needed everywhere you look. Make yourself walk around with new eyes. Commit to taking kindness a bit more seriously than you have in the past. Remind yourself regularly that it’s not about being polite or sweet; it’s about healing unseen wounds – maybe even yours.
Here’s some guidance and inspiration to keep you on track:
- Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, Kindness
- The Power of True Kindness
- Kindness Boomerang – “One Day”
- 35 Powerful Images of Kindness Found Within Conflict
- From Anne Lamott’s, Traveling Mercies: “On the first Sunday of Advent our preacher, Veronica, said that this is life’s nature, that lives and hearts get broken, those of people we love, those of people we’ll never meet. She said the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward, and that we, who are more or less OK for now, need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, you bring them juice and graham crackers.”
Option C: Show Others Your Healing Place
Healing also happens when we expand our understanding of where it comes from. We know it comes from the people who love us, but it often also comes from the places we love. To honor this, you are invited this month to share your healing place with a friend or loved one. This of course will serve as a way of re-connecting you to this space and reflecting on why it means so much.
In particular, here’s your assignment: Turn your healing place into a tangible and portable form!
In other words, take a picture of your place, or maybe instead of a picture, find an object from your healing place, or something that represents it. For instance: a shell from “your beach,” a leaf from “your forest,” your dog’s leash representing your walks, your ski pole or maybe even the paddle from your canoe.
And don’t forget that music creates its own healing space! Maybe your healing place is not a physical space but a state of mind that you only have access to when you play that healing song. If so, play that song for yourself, a friend, or loved one.
Here’s some inspiration to help you on your way:
Option D: Open Your Eyes to a Politics of Healing
So often, politics is framed as being about “winners” and “losers.” But, none of us will “win” if we fail to find the healing that comes with understanding.
So this month, you are invited to engage one particular person’s quest toward political healing: psychologist, Jonathan Haidt. He offers a unique frame for understanding the Left-Right political divide. Your assignment:
Explore Jonathan Haidt’s way of framing the political divide, then see if it heals a real life political divide in your life!
Here’s a list of works by and about Haidt for you to read.
The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt (How misunderstanding political mindsets divides us and how understanding them can heal us!)
Articles by or referencing Haidt: