When I heard that Upper Room Books planned to publish a spiritual formation resource that combined lectio divina, prayer, yoga, aromatherapy, and journaling, I felt both curious and puzzled.
Curious, because I’ve written for the Upper Room daily devotional guide; because the Upper Room publishes A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants which is a classic prayer-book and a favourite of mine; because the Upper Room is well-known for its spiritual formation resources.
Yet I was also puzzled. I’ve practiced lectio divina, and written about it on my blog and in my book, Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal. I’ve taught courses and led workshops on prayer and journaling. But what did these classic Christian disciplines have to do with yoga? With aromatherapy? How could these five different practices come together in the same book?
As I read Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit (Upper Room Books, 2016), I soon discovered that before these five practices came together as a book, they came together in the life of author Whitney R. Simpson. As a young mom, Whitney suffered a stroke that meant a journey of healing– from wheelchair to using a cane to fully functioning, re-learning how to shower and dress herself, being able to speak clearly. She learned to listen to her body in a new way, and she came to understand lectio divina, prayer, yoga, aromatherapy, and journaling as tools for listening.
Whitney has arranged her book as a series of forty days or themes, including Accept, Strength, Dream, Prune, Mourn, Wisdom, Peace, and other single words. Each day begins with a brief Scripture for lectio divina, followed by two yoga postures, a breath prayer, an aromatherapy scent, and questions for reflection and journaling. I love Whitney’s invitational approach, as she says,
If some of these listening tools are new or unfamiliar to you, consider trying them anyway. You may choose to engage in each daily activity. or you may only work with a few. There is no correct or incorrect way to use this book as you practice holy listening. . . . This book was inspired by my own journey, but I created it for you–no matter where you find yourself on your journey toward healing and wholeness. I encourage you to offer yourself grace instead of allowing perfectionism to cast a shadow on this opportunity for listening. If you simply breathe and reflect, you have listened with your body. (pages 21-22)
The first time through Whitney’s book, I simply read the way I might read any book, pausing here and there for lectio divina or to journal, but not in any consistent or systematic way, just to discover Whitney’s story and get an overview of her book. Now I’m going through it again more slowly, following the days in order, and trying each listening tool except for the aromatherapy. Maybe I’ll do that some other time.
I am, however, trying the yoga, even though I’ve never taken a yoga class, and even though some Christians might have reservations about it. Whitney doesn’t address any of the possible reservations in her book, but if you’re wondering about those, check out this article that offers a respectful and helpful discussion: Should Christians Do Yoga? Without going into a lot of detail on the benefits and cautions, let me note that there are now more than a hundred different types of yoga, with many focused on physical stretching and breathing rather than the teachings of Eastern philosophy. This is Whitney’s approach, with just one pose and counter-pose for each day, illustrated with line drawings that are also described in an appendix, which makes the yoga postures accessible to beginners.
I was so impressed by Whitney’s book that I agreed to write an endorsement that appears on her book page for Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit:
Whitney Simpson’s unique approach to communion with God draws on lectio divina, prayer, yoga, aromatherapy, and journaling. The combination of different elements from different spiritual traditions might seem surprising, but they came together in Whitney’s own experience as she recovered from a stroke as a young mom. Now she invites readers to explore for themselves—to engage body, mind, spirit, and soul in holy listening for God. May this journey for each reader be as healing and beautiful as this book.
Thank you, Whitney, for sharing your story. May you continue to listen well and gently encourage others toward healing and wholeness.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: How does God’s wisdom shape you? In what ways do you clothe yourself with the wisdom of God? How does your body invite you to listen for the wisdom of God? (from Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit, page 107)
Disclosure: I received a copy of Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit from Upper Room Books. The choice to review/endorse and the views expressed are my own.
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