The last blog of each month will be dedicated to various spiritual practices. I believe continued use of spiritual practices help us maintain good mental health and spiritual well being. The purpose of exploring spiritual practices is to expose ourselves to various ways we can connect with God and deeper our relationship with the people around us. Spiritual practices are actions undertaken to connect deeper or cultivate spiritual development in oneself.
Since so many people have made new years resolutions to get in shape I thought this would be the perfect timing to look at how exercise can be used for the good of our body and more importantly our soul as a spiritual practice.
Let's look closer at how our brains/ bodies are impacted by exercise and ways we can turn our movement into a spiritual practice.
Exercise and our Brains
Exercise has profound affects on our physical health. However it also impacts our brains. Check out this short video explaining how our brains benefit from exercise.
If you want further information here is an article by Psychology Today that discusses how "Physical Activity Improves Cognition." You can also check out Wendy Suzuki's TEDtalk about "The Brain-Changing Benefits of Exercise."
Making Exercise and Everyday Movement a Spiritual Practice
Spiritual practices are all about intentionally finding ways to develop spiritually. Exercise is something that is good for us and something that some people are already doing. For others exercise may be the last thing you want to do. So how do we turn this task into a spiritual practice?
A few years ago I took up running preparing for an adventure race. Around this time I also became fascinated with the book "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall. It's awesome you should definitely pick it up! Each morning, I became acutely aware of the time it took to run and wondered how I could intentionally use it better. This chain of thoughts while running led me to focus on my thankfulness for the people in my life, and praying for their well-being. This small but significant change in my thought processes became a powerful tool for my spiritual life. I could have very easily focused on any discomfort or pain during the run, frustrations in my life, or future events that would be taking place. But the intentional shift of my thoughts quieted my mind, shortened the perception of my run, and made me crave to exercise more. My runs began to take on meaning in my life outside of the goal I had set for myself.
Now my experience is just one method. There are many ways to use exercise/ movement as a spiritual practice. I think it is important to note we can make any movement in our lives spiritually intentional. It doesn't mean starting a new exercise routine but may be just using what you are already doing in a different way.
Dr. Heidi Hanna from the American Institute of Stress wrote the article "How to Use Physical Exercise as a Spiritual Practice." In her article she talks about the benefits of exercise in quieting the mind. She also provides these 5 ways to use exercise as a spiritual practice.
1. Listen to inspirational music or a podcast
2. Practice paying attention to your surroundings and body (Mindfulness)
3. Reflect on people and things you are grateful for
4. Use breathing patterns to meditate/ personal mantras - breathe in what you want and breathe out what you need to release
5. Invite a friend to participate with you - Share what you appreciate about each other, etc.
The Blog Wanderlust by Clark Hamilton Depue also identifies "Why Fitness is a Spiritual Practice." If we intentionally use exercise as a spiritual practice there is an amazing opportunity to bring meaning to our lives and our physical bodies.
I know what you are thinking - My church needs a yoga class! Well if that's the route you want to go, best of luck with your downward facing dog. But more importantly I hope this subject begins to let us think about how we can use movement in and outside of our religious settings as a practice of our spirituality.
What benefits have you seen from exercising?
What movements in your life can you use more intentionally?
What would church be like if movement was incorporated into it?
Thank you all for your support! Please continue to share our blog with those you know. This week intentionally use a movement you are already doing as a way to intentionally focus your thoughts.
Every year the Salina Community of Christ holds a clothing drive for three weeks helping those out in the city that need extra items. This last year they saw over 150 people come through and gave out three turkey's to families in need. One interesting situation took place this year that took those helping by surprise. There was a family in attendance whose house had just burned down. The Pastor took the family through helping them find the sizes they needed. At one point he looked up and everyone else in the room had stopped. They were all looking at the family and apparently knew of their recent situation. Some people stepped back so they had room while others began shouting out the sizes they needed. The attendees of the clothing drive searched table by table and even gave up the items they had already taken for themselves. The people provided service by searching and disregarded their own desires for the sake of others who they felt needed it more than them. This was not pity but a sacrificial love for others.
Sacrificing our own wants and desires for the benefit of something more important or worthy can be powerfully freeing. Sacrifice is an interesting and controversial issue among some groups. Let's look closer at how sacrifice can play a role in our spiritual life, what is sacrificial love, and if we should have limits of what to give.
Drum Major for Justice
Since today we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., I think its imperative we take a little time to pull him into this discussion of sacrifice. Martin Luther King believed in equality for all people. It was a cause that meant so much that he was willing to take the risks of harm, jail, and even death in order to ensure those for others. The peaceful, non-violent marches raised awareness of the injustice happening in America. He believed his sacrifices and personal harm was little compared to the worthy cause of equality. There are many ways Martin Luther King lived this out in his life but maybe there was nothing more widespread as his sacrificial love for others in the belief we are "the beloved community". This spoke through his actions in attempting to end racism and give equal rights to all. For more information on Martin Luther King please read the TIME Magazine "What People Still Don't Know About Martin Luther King Jr."
Injustice still happens in our world, even surrounding some of the same issues Martin Luther King Jr. fought for and against. It is our actions as a beloved community which can eliminate injustice and show sacrificial love for others.
Sacrificial Love and Our Spiritual Life
Sacrificial love is about giving up our own selfish desires for those of others. Agape love would be another term used for it. You are making a choice to respect and honor another individual while seeking their overall well being. This type of love is of moral integrity and is at the heart of God. Our spiritual lives can thrive when we choose to love sacrificially in the situations life presents.
Check out this video by the Bible Project describing Agape love and how Jesus modeled this in his life and ministry.
If we allow our love to expand for the well being of others around us people are impacted in creative and life changing ways. Are you currently living out sacrificial love in your work and personal life? How would you be different if you choose to sacrificially love those around you?
When we seek the heart of God by sacrificially loving those around us our spiritual lives deepen. Our own personal desires suddenly become aligned with the will of God for our lives. We listen more attentively, walk more confidently, and open our eyes to the needs of others. I love this song by Jeremy Camp "Empty Me" because it speaks to opening ourselves up to the Spirit of God in our lives.
Limits and Boundaries to Sacrificial Love
Sometimes we will go out of our way to help others. We might think if we just give more and try harder it will happen. However sometimes that is not the case. Giving can be tiresome, and emotionally exhausting, especially if it is always one-sided.
Somewhere along the way we have equated sacrificial love to giving everything for others, even if its not good for us. Sacrificial love is at the heart of God but does God want us to personally suffer from our giving? And if so how does that impact our spiritual life?
I think it comes down to us really knowing who we are and what we want. Sometimes others can take advantage of people knowing they will give if they ask. Other times people might try to shame or guilt us into actions. Sacrificial love always comes from our desire to help but it has to be our desire. If we are doing it from a position of obligation, worry, or attempt to keep a relationship than I would argue it is not sacrificial love. It seems like we need to have healthy boundaries that protect us and lead us into relationships of respect and accountability.
Aaron Ben-Zeev wrote an article on Psychology Today titled "Does Love Involve Sacrifice or Compromise" which discusses sacrifices in relationships which might be helpful for you. Chiara Mazzucco's blog "3 Toxic Signs of Sacrificial Love: Why it Doesn't Work and How to Detach" describes some of the issues of not having healthy boundaries in our life and how they impact our relationships.
Now there are some people who would argue sacrificial love is never wrong. We give and do not expect anything in return. We love without conditions and do not look back no matter what or how others treat us. What do you think?
I think its important to remember Jesus had boundaries and expectations for others especially those in power. Jesus met the needs of others but did not let others walk all over him. He peacefully and confidently handled concerns upholding the worth of others and himself.
As I stated above sacrificial love is a controversial topic however its important we think and talk about it. We each have to decide what it means for our lives and what boundaries we should have.
Questions for Discussion
When have you seen sacrificial love displayed?
When is a time you have given of yourself for another?
What injustices are happening in your community?
Should there be limits or boundaries for ourselves when we love sacrificially with others? If so what should those be?
How do you align values, lifestyle with God's will for your life?
Thank you all for following along and sharing! This week think how you sacrificially love others and what boundaries are helpful for you.
A few years ago I was in a worship service singing the song "All Are Welcome" by Marty Haugen in our new hymnal "Community of Christ Sings." Check out this video by Chris Brunelle if you haven't heard it. It's a beautiful song singing about the worth of all people and how everyone is invited into this space. I understood the message of the song as I read the words and sang along. However it didn't really resonate with me until my youngest son, who was two at the time, starting singing "All Welcome" days later. Even though his language skills were not developed enough for him to say the entire phrase I knew this is what God's love is all about. At two years old he got it! All are Welcome in this Place! Accepting people for who they are! Creating authentic relationships with others that uphold their worth! It also made me realize the power of the messages we give our children even in the earliest of days. At two years old my son is hearing a collective voice singing the words "Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live" and "All Are Welcome." I can only imagine how this message and others will impact his worldview and interactions with others as he gets older.
Our language is a major piece of welcoming others. The words we choose can be powerful and impact others in both positive and negative ways. What messages are you sending with your conversations? How has the language in your environment shaped who you are and how you see the world? In what ways is your language welcoming others into relationship with you and the God you know?
Language Impacts Thought Processes
In an article by Alan Yu with NPR titled "How Language Seems to Shape One's View of the World" he describes how the differences in language can change how we see the world. Language influences how we think and what we look for in interactions. You can also check out this TED Talk by Lera Boroditsky who reiterates similar findings of Mr. Yu in further depth. Enjoy!
Welkom, Bienvenue, Salve, Velkommen, Afio mai, Maeva, Bienvenido! This is just many ways to say welcome in other languages. Check out the translation of the word Welcome in other languages at Omniglot.com. How we use our language can help others feel welcome. However its important to remember hospitality is more than just our language but also the messages we send in all aspects of our lives. Here are some specific ways to be more welcoming and inclusive with our language.
1. Smile - Welcoming starts with our facial expressions. Non-verbal body language makes up most of our communication. If we greet each person with a smile we immediately send warmth and comfort.
2. Be Person Centered - Genuinely focus on the person by asking questions and getting to know them. Many people like to talk about who they are and what they are doing. Be active listeners allowing them to openly share and be thankful for them talking with you.
3. Avoid Excluding Others - Avoid using expressions or words that may exclude others or certain groups. This allows others to feel welcome and open to express their true thoughts and opinions. This can be done by using words such as we, us, or ours to evoke commonality.
4. Be Gender Neutral - This allows people to interpret the information in their worldview. In church settings God is often depicted as a father/ man though many people have had poor relationships with their father or other men. Using gender neutral language to express the divine gives others the opportunity to further their relationship in how they see fit.
5. Speak Common Language - Sometimes certain groups have acronyms, slang, or language which is used that others do not know. It's welcoming if we explain the language to those outside of those groups or to avoid the the use of them all together if we know there are outsiders there.
Language and Spirituality
What we say about our lives both personally and spiritually makes a huge difference! When we surround ourselves with welcoming language and intentionally focusing on making others feel included than as a by product we become more welcoming. In contrast when we are in groups that exclude others or limit various groups abilities we are as well impacted.
Church in particular can be a vital place for welcoming language to develop. Prayers, liturgies, responses, sacraments, singing, sermons, etc. all use language as a way to connect us spiritually with the divine. Many times it is through our words that we communicate with God. I know the hymnal referenced above was intentionally put together using peaceful and inclusive language. Language can be a spiritual guide helping us construct how our relationship with the divine is developing and maturing.
However I want to acknowledge that many have not felt welcomed, safe, or included at churches. I believe it is important for churches to use language and act in ways that welcome all people, stand up for the equal rights of others, and give opportunity for anyone to serve in any role. For all those searching and questioning, I hope you will find that welcoming community to further your spiritual journey.
How do you speak about your spiritual life and church?
What language do you use to welcome and accept others?
What spiritual practices or religious traditions evoke welcoming language?
What does the phrase "All Are Welcome" truly mean?
It is my pleasure to be able to write something that may be beneficial to you or others. I know it can be uncomfortable to comment but I welcome any and all thoughts to this article or the questions above. This week please reflect on the language you use to welcome others.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.