The last week of each month focuses on a spiritual practice. This week is the spiritual practice of neighborhood walking.
One spiritual practice I was able to be a part of regularly while working down in Chattanooga, Tennessee was neighborhood prayer walks. It's a spiritual practice using prayer or mindfulness to focus your thoughts on the community you are in.
Intentionally putting yourself in the neighborhood where you live, where your church is located, or just anywhere you find yourself, can be powerful if we allow it to be. Sometimes we are so busy and occupied with everything going on in our world, that we miss the opportunity to be present where we are at.
The beautiful thing about neighborhood walks is seeing the area in a new light. Many times it transforms our thoughts and perspectives and ultimately who we are as individuals.
Below is a video titled "Open Your Eyes" created by Leading Congregations in Mission showing how we can see with new eyes when we are intentional in what we do. The man is running in his neighborhood instead of walking but uses the same concept as this spiritual practice. This man in particular uses the mission prayer to refocus his thoughts. Enjoy!
God where will your spirit lead today?
Help me be fully awake and ready to respond.
Grant me courage to risk something new and become
a blessing of your love and peace.
Why Take Up Neighborhood Walking?
Prayer walks can provide a lot of benefits as a spiritual practice. I have listed and explained some below.
1. Awareness of Community - Our awareness about what is going on in the community or neighborhood usually immediately increases from this practice. We notice the roads, the houses, and the noises around us. Questions roll through our heads about why something is the way it is. These questions ultimately bring potential ministry opportunities where we can get involved and make a difference in others lives.
2. Uplifts the Neighborhood - This practice focuses our thoughts on uplifting this space in a new way. It is a shared space among many people where so much happens for both good and bad. Despite the bad you can choose to make it a sacred space. Your hope for this area brings forth a spirit to work and be present in and among the community.
3. Meet People/ Cultivate Relationships - Walking neighborhoods creates countless opportunities to visit with people some you may know and others you may not. Relationships can be deepened when you take the time to just visit and meet people where they are at. Authentic relationships create community. People want to know others care about them. This practice can sometimes be a way to cultivate relationships with those you meet.
4. No Agenda - There is no specific agenda when using this spiritual practice other than praying or being mindful of the community in which you are in. It's not about going a set distance or meeting a certain number of people. It's merely welcoming what may come and opening yourself to the mystery of what might be.
5. Help & Pray For Others - Sometimes along neighborhood walks you may find opportunities to help others or pray with individuals you feel led to pray with. The help might be something specific you notice an individual doing such as digging, carrying, etc. You may also pray for the individual or just ask them to pray with you as you pray over the neighborhood. It can be odd to ask strangers to pray with you however what I find is that most people want the best for the place in which they live and are more than happy to participate.
Get Into Your Neighborhood
I hope this has at least intrigued you enough to give it a try. Here is a Guide to Prayer Walking provided by the United Methodist Church of Wakarusa just in case you want more specifics of how to get this started. It provides some great insight into community observation and some specific ways to chart what you see.
Here is also a "Thirty Days of Praying Through The Neighborhood" resource produced by Nav Neighbors. It gives specific things to look at and pray for when participating in this spiritual practice.
It is important to note that you should always be alert and look out for your safety when walking in an unknown area. Even if you are prayerful in what you are doing, you never know what you may encounter. Take someone with you if possible, let people know where you will be, and follow your gut.
Best of luck to you as you get into your neighborhood!
Next week will be a full year since we started this blog! It has been an incredible journey as we have heard so much positive encouragement. Thank you all for journeying with us!
This week walk through your neighborhood and notice what you see.
Our guest blogger this week is Steve Hensley! Steve is a talented Comedian who was the former House Manager at Laugh Out Loud Theater in Schaumburg, just outside of the Chicago area. Steve is incredible at finding ways to make life become humorous. His impressions of George W. Bush, Denzel Washington, and Matthew McConaughey are amazing and can be found on his Youtube channel. Steve also hosts BedroomNews which is a political satire show exposing the humor in today's political arena. You can find his video posts on facebook or on Youtube. A big thanks for Steve sharing his thoughts with us this week.
I am a Christian Comedian?
“Are there any other catholic survivors here tonight?” This is an opening line I’ve heard on several occasions. Often times I feel like the earth is splitting under me and I have to choose to jump to the comedy side or the Christian side. This post is about finding similarities between the two.
All Are Welcomed on Stage and in the Church
“You’re welcome to join us on stage tonight as long as you don’t do something sexist, racist, or homophobic.” This is something you’ll hear at almost any performance opportunity in Chicago. In the Community of Christ I’ve heard on several occasions, “Come as you are.” We’re all a bunch of freaks. Yeah, especially you! Freaks are welcomed to both the stage and to the chapel. All are welcomed.
Allowing Ourselves to be Vulnerable
Comedy allows us to be vulnerable, which makes us relatable. We try so hard to be normal, so when we hear a comic say something off the wall that’s relatable, it’s a relief. “Yes, I’m not the only one!” You just can’t help but laugh, because you can relate. In the Community of Christ Mission Prayer it says, “Grant me courage to risk something new”. The best preachers and performers I’ve met are vulnerable, which makes them relatable. This is how we become more comfortable with ourselves and other people. This allows for us to build a closer more accepting community.
Justice is Served!
When thinking of justice, I like to think of the time when Jesus comes in to the temple and starts flipping tables and calling out a bunch of thieves. “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers.”
I’m currently working with a group of comics on a show I host called Bedroom News. We are a political satire group that often times like to poke fun at things that are unjust. Like most sketch groups, our general rule is to punch up and not down. For example, we won’t make fun of someone with a disability, but we will make fun of someone in office doing something unjust. It’s our attempt to say, “Hey, that’s really messed up, and people need to understand that.”
We are a Joyous People!
I feel like Kevin Bacon over here trying to relate art to religion. God, wants us to feel full of joy. As the Community of Christ has said for years, “We proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.” The comedy community is a safe place for a lot of us. It’s our time to escape, play, and laugh with each other. I like to think back to teaching improv at some Community of Christ camps. It was a recipe for happiness. The kids were loved, physically active, and spiritually focused. Then they came to my class and we got to play and laugh. I’ve never been happier.
Good comedians want the audience to have a good time, even if they’re poking fun at an audience member. When people don’t like our set, we say we bombed. We feel awful, because you (the audience) didn’t enjoy yourself. However, when we “kill it” we feel full of joy because we made you laugh. Just like a minister, we want to help people.
Bringing the Two Communities Together
I think a lot of comics feel judged in some church settings. A high number of comics drink, swear, write edgy material, and etc. Many Christians may not agree with these actions, but it’s not a good enough reason to close the doors on them. Most of the people I’ve met at comedy clubs are kind and loving people. And I believe love is the root of our belief. Comedy community, you’re not off the hook. If we’re sensitive to things that are racist, sexist, and homophobic, then maybe we can work towards being more inviting to religion. Both communities will thrive in common ground. I’m done hiding part of myself, because like many, I belong in both communities. In the words of Kevin Bacon I say, “Let’s Dance!”... And laugh!
A big thank you to Steve for helping us tie comedy to faith! Sometimes laughter is the best way for us to sense and find God in our lives.
This week incorporate humor into your daily life with a joke, smile, or just laughing with someone. Also please follow Bedroom News on Facebook!
When I was eleven years old, two years after my father died, I went through a short stage of depression. I didn't know it at the time but I remember feeling empty. Nothing sufficed anymore or brought joy like it once had. I remember my good friends inviting me to their houses, and the feeling of not wanting to go. If I did go I would come home and just cry in my bed. My mother would comfort me as I said, "I didn't have any fun."
It was this dark abyss of emptiness taking over my life which led me to stay in my room and isolate from others. Luckily school started up and I got back into a normal routine. They lack of motivation faded away and became just a short time period in my life.
Looking back I can see how what I was experiencing was depression. By no means is this to the extent of what most people with depression experience. Its just glimpse of what it might be like to live with this mental health condition.
Today our focus on depression is to not only help educate and raise awareness but also to help those struggling find ways in which they can still find God in the midst of their struggles. Having depression or any other mental illness does not mean your faith is weak. On the contrary it means you are incredibly strong.
What is Depression?
Depression based on the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5) is a mood disorder characterized by experiencing a variety of the symptoms below.
- Depressed mood most of the day, every day
- Marked diminished interest in activities/ hobbies
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Slowing down of thought or reduction in movement
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or overly indecisive
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideations
According to the World Health Organization over 300 million people are impacted with depression. 16 million (7%) of Americans experienced a depressive episode each year. Depression is a common illness affecting a large amount of people, however much like other mental health issues we do not talk about it. Spring time in particular can be difficult for those with depression as others are excited to go outside while they may not experience the same feelings.
This short one minute video by the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) describes what depression is.
Depression can occur spontaneously or be triggered by an event or life crisis. People also believe other factors contribute to depression such as genetics, brain changes, trauma, etc.
I think its important to learn how depression works in the brain. If you are interested in this too please go to this youtube video "Depression and its Treatment" produced by Nature Video.
If you are experiencing depression or other mental health symptoms and are not currently being treated please call the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-6264 between 10am-6pm.
Faith and Depression
First let's start by saying Christians can have depression and still have a strong faith. However the lack of understanding by the faith community can cause further pain in those suffering from the illness. Depression usually does not just go away. Simple statements such as, "Just have faith", "Believe more", and "Pray harder" are not helpful for those with depression or anyone for that matter.
Life is seldom that easy and statements like this bring guilt to those individuals who sometimes have little control on what they are experiencing. Stephen Altrogge writes about this in his article "How to Fight for Faith in the Dark". Another article titled "Why Christian Love Matters in Depression" by Kathryn Butler discusses the misconceptions of some Christian communities and how the love of others in a faith community is powerful.
Below a blogger named Jo from Trauma Talk discusses how to still have a strong faith even if you are dealing with a mental health issue.
Therese Borchard writes a great article "How Faith Helps Depression" giving specific ways in how faith contributes to positive growth and outcomes for those facing depression. She identifies these five areas.
1. Faith Provides Hope - Hope is always with us when we hold to a belief in something greater than ourselves. Faith gives us hope that there is more than what we know and experience here.
2. Faith Changes Your Brain - Therese writes about a study completed showing how spiritual practices related to religion/ faith help contribute to changing brain patterns providing protective benefits against depression. Please check out our monthly spiritual practice blogs to learn more about spiritual formation processes.
3. Faith Assigns Meaning to Suffering - There is meaning in our suffering and faith reminds us of this. We can look to Jesus life and death for hope in our suffering.
4. Faith Provides a Support System - Many churches provide a great social network for support. Support networks are crucial for those experiencing any mental health issues. However we have to be open and vulnerable to sharing our concerns with people in those communities. For those of us in faith communities we really need to question the culture we have created to determine if it really is one of trust and openness for others to share deeply about their inner struggles.
5. Faith Provides Hero's and Inspiration - Faith traditions provide a place where sharing takes place. This sharing allows others to come to know the struggles they have went through. Many times this can give us people to look up to and model our lives after. These may be from the Bible or those who we see as mentors.
Faith is a powerful tool that does not heal or take away depression but can help individuals manage it. This is not a replacement for treatment but works with the therapy, medication, etc. you may already be receiving. Faith can be a way for people to find strength through their struggles.
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This week self-reflect on your own thoughts and possible judgments about mental health or other subjects.
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.