Spiritual Practice Activity: Gratitude

Gratitude is more about liberation and joy than it is anything else. Liberation from anything that holds us back and joy for what we have.

Find a comfortable posture and close your eyes. Think of three things that you are grateful for today. Not things that you have overall, like your family, house, or food on your table that you could also be grateful for tomorrow. Things that happened today.

For example: grateful that your spouse made dinner today, to find that thing you lost under the couch, that you didn’t have to sit for hours of traffic to get home. Or, even if you did have to sit through hours of traffic to get home, grateful that you weren’t one of the unfortunate people who were in that accident on the highway. Or, if you were in that accident, that you’re still alive today.

There are small aspects of gratitude that you can focus on today and at any moment.

After you’ve come up with three things you’re grateful for today, think of one constant thing that you’re grateful for. Your life, your house, your friends; something that is more permanent in your life. Then, think of something that you used to have that you don’t anymore. A person, a pet, a job, a childhood, something that gave you something that you’re so grateful for.

The gift of gratitude is a humbling one because it reminds us that no matter what we demand of ourselves, others, and God, we’ve already received so much.

Spiritual Practice Activity: Conscious Breathing

For this activity, we will be using the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we also forgive those who trespass against us. And do not bring us into temptation, but rescue us from evil. For the kingdom and the power and the glory are Yours, forever and ever. Amen.

As you read this prayer in a comfortable position, breathe in and out on each word. For example, you’d breathe in on the word “Our,” out on the word “Father,” in again on “in,” and so on. You can go at whatever pace is best for you. Use this strategy for whatever method of prayer you like, to silence the world around you and focus on the words of your prayer.

Spiritual Practice Activity: Noticing God

This exercise is based on this writing from Saint Ignatius:

“This is to reflect how God dwells in creatures: in the elements giving them existence, in the plants giving them life, in the animals conferring upon them sensation, in people bestowing understanding. So God dwells in us and gives us being, life, sensation, intelligence; and makes a temple of us, since we are created in the likeness and image of the Divine Majesty.”

Find a posture that is comfortable for you. Take time to notice God in all of the things around you. God is the giant conductor of existence, the orchestra leader for all that is and all that will be. Take time to not only notice the overtly Godly, but the things that seem ordinary, yet couldn’t be without the great I Am being part of it. Take time to focus on all of the many ways in which God shows up all around you.

(Dis)comfort & Joy

In my years studying to be a priest and working to build up faith communities, I never thought I’d advocate for people to physically stay away from the church, let alone on Christmas. Though the first doses of the COVID vaccines are being administered, the most loving course of action this year is for people to not physically gather for the holidays. Priests and clergy across traditions, around the world are asking everyone to reconsider what it means to be home for the holidays, and what faith and community should look like during a pandemic. Rather than fighting municipal restrictions, the faithful should find comfort in the fact that Christmas is more about change than it is about tradition.

A year ago, “home for the holidays” meant the exhausted elation of arriving back to familiar places after hours of travel. It meant submerging into predictable family craziness while leaving political, workplace, and day-to-day dramas of our lives behind—at least for the holidays. It meant so much comfort food that you either had the best sleep of the year or renewed your gym membership as soon as possible—or both. And for some it meant visiting the church your parents took you to as a kid for midnight mass or Christmas Day service. This year, to be (stuck) home for the holidays means a Zoom family dinner and gazing on Baby Jesus in the manger through a computer. It means being part of a Christian tradition most modern first-world Christians aren’t used to dealing with: Suffering with joy for our faith. 

If you’ve been going to church this year it’s likely been online. Maybe you attended outdoor services in the summer, but let’s get real, ain’t nobody got time for that when it’s five below freezing. And whether you’ve been watching services every Sunday or will join virtually for the first time on Christmas, hopefully you still feel connected to your church community. An important part of community is something we’ve known all too well this year—shared suffering. This year dealt our communities a double whammy by dividing us according to politics, race, gender, sexual orientation, and class, and then isolating us from the aspects of community that can heal those rifts. Everyone has shared the experience of being a part of a group forced to cope with changes we didn’t ask for nor frankly deserve, and shared experiences give birth to empathy. 

We’ve all heard that ancient carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” offering its tidings of comfort and joy. From neighborhood carolers to Simon & Garfunkel to Pentatonix, its lyrics have always reminded me of the Christmas season’s duality. While its tone and melody are uplifting, hopeful and joyful, the lyrics offer a reminder of the (sometimes overlooked) meaning of Christmas. Between the choruses of “comfort and joy” we sometimes overlook or mumble through those verses about Mary and Joseph sheltering in a manger, the shepherd pressing through a storm, and Jesus saving us from Satan. Hauntingly, the song is both about the drudgery and the joy of Christmas—something we are living quite pointedly these days. 

Like that song whose lyrics alternate from comfort and joy to suffering and expectation, Christmas at its core is about transition. We zip past and don’t notice how beautiful it is that immediately following the withering of summer and fall, our lifeless world is transformed with glistening beauty by the Christmas season. We forget that right after the holidays full of food and festivities we transition to a new year and new resolutions. The true holy tradition of this holiday season isn’t found in what stays the same, it’s found in what has been transformed. For some of us, this holiday season commemorates God’s incarnate participation in the world. But for all of us, it is a moment that resets our body. With that understanding, I implore you this Christmas holiday to embrace change. Create a special moment for yourself where you honor the power of transition and transformation that this holiday season embodies. 

Whether you decide to log on and share the simultaneously joyful yet suffering experience with many others—which has a beauty all to itself—or you decide to go solo, make a point of creating some kind of intentional hinge-point this season. Not a resolution or action plan: I invite you to partake in one of the most important and profound miracles that Christmas has always offered us: the tradition of change.

Advent-Inspired Ignatian-Style 7 Day Devotional

This devotional is intended to be an additional prayer resource as we contemplate the Advent spirit of expectation. Originally created by Rev. Means-Koss for the Grace Episcopal Church (Alexandria, VA) parish, we thank them for letting us share this devotional with you. Please feel invited to use this devotional in its original structure or to modify its structure as is best for your prayer life and devotional need.

CLICK HERE for the devotional

Beginning the Day

As we venture into the day we are always pressed with the push and pull of the outside world. Emails, to-do lists, family members, traffic, and a whole host of other things contribute to how we act and react during the day. But how we begin the day, how we choose to set our sights on God and the divine before all of those pushes and pulls affect us give us powerful support to carry the day.

Many forms of Morning Prayer exist as a resource. One can choose options from the Book of Common Prayer, the Catholic Bishops Website, YouVersion Bible app, SacredSpace.ie and many other options—including writing your own. All have their merits.

Whatever you choose, make sure four components are always present: 1) Scripture, 2) the Lord’s Prayer, 3) Gratitude for the many ways that God acts in your life and the lives of those around you, and 4) Resolution—declaration on how you will carry God’s love through the day to everyone you meet and every place you go.