Sunday, November 29, 2015

Week One of 30-Day Contemplation

Are you ready and excited to start our 30 days of contemplation?  Please comment all week to let everyone know how you're doing, to ask questions, or just to share your experience.  Here we go!

First, I should say that this 30-day exercise can be done in more than one way.  I am going to make it part of my meditation practice.  I will begin at 6 a.m. with five to ten minutes of prayer.  Then I will write any insights or relevant experiences from the previous 24 hours before I  read the new day's scripture verse.  Again, I'll write any thoughts that come as I read.  Then I will assume a meditation pose for about ten minutes.  Personally, I like to sit cross-legged on a cushion, but you can also sit upright on a chair.  I will focus on my breath; not on controlling it, but just on noticing it.  Once my mind is quiet, I will repeat the day's question in my mind with each breath.  I'll close the practice by recording any thoughts that come during that quiet, meditative time.

You could skip the meditation and breathing exercise, and simply take ten minutes of contemplative reading or writing.  Feel free to share in the comments the approach you are taking.

We are starting on Tuesday, December 1.  I will simply enumerate the days so you can catch up if you miss a day and not worry about figuring out what the date would have been.

Thank you to Dr. Pam Blackwell for this adapted version of St. Ignatius' month-long meditation.  You can find more on meditation from Dr. Blackwell in her book (pictured).

Before or on Day One:  Write in your journal what you think of Christ.  Be sure to date the entry.

Day One
Question:  How can I follow in His steps?
Read:  1 Peter 2: 9, 21
Ponder:  How can I follow in Jesus' steps today?  In all my decisions, I will ask, "What would Christ do?"  I will think of myself as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Day Two
Question:  Am I seeking Christ's help?
Read:  Proverbs 3:5-6 and 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Ponder:  Am I seeking the Lord's help in all I think and do?  Do I pray enough?  Do I pray with integrity?  How can He help me overcome my weaknesses?

Day Three
Question:  What do I need to do to be closer to Christ?
Read:  Isaiah 55: 6 and Hebrews 10:22
Ponder:  What do I need to give up to be closer to the Lord?  What can I do to 'remember' when I was with Him?  List Christ's personal characteristics.

Day Four
Question:  Do I really love Jesus Christ?
Read:  John 13:34-35 and John 14:15
Ponder:  Do I keep ALL the commandments, or am I guilty of 'selective' disobedience?  Have I put another god before Christ?

Day Five
Question:  Who am I really?
Read:  Psalms 8:5-6 and Isaiah 13:12
Ponder:  What can I do daily to stay in touch with my 'true' Self?  How can meditation where I clear my mind of all thoughts help me find myself?  Why does Christ care about me?  In what ways do I see His  hand in my life?

Day Six
Question:  How can the Holy Spirit help me to be more like Christ?
Read:  John 14:16-17, 21
Ponder:  Do I really desire the Holy Ghost to be my constant companion?  Do I listen and act when I hear the still, small voice?

Day Seven
Question:  Do I believe in the Atonement of Jesus Christ for my sins?
Read:  Luke 5:20-24 and Ephesians 4:32
Ponder:  Can I forgive myself for past mistakes today?  Can I forgive others who have done harm to me?  How do I get rid of guilt?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Meditation and Our 30-Day Contemplation

Quick, understated history:
Meditation has been around for a long time.

A little more background:
In different forms, meditation is part of many religious and non-denominational spiritual practices.

My background:
I remember doing a guided meditation in a high school class one time.  Fifteen years later, Kent and I felt guided to start meditating about five years ago.  We simply focused on our breath, learning to be present.  I got serious about the practice when I decided to prepare a lesson about meditation for my LDS Relief Society group.  I studied the scientific research and the recommendations from experienced yogis and my own prophets and church leaders.  I was delighted to find so much support from my own religious leaders for a practice that many who haven't tried consider to be new agey at best, and downright weird or possibly dangerous at worst.  I've gone off and on with the practice these past five years.  I know it's a good habit, and it makes my mind stronger.  I find it relaxing, and I've found some Christian guided meditation downloads that are enjoyable.  Twice I've had a profound spiritual experience while meditating.  I truly feel that through meditation and prayer, I can connect with the Divine and with the divinity inside of me that I've inherited from Him.  I don't always connect spiritually, but I can.  So it is a useful tool in feeding my spirit, and I want to be more consistent with a daily practice.

A cool tidbit:
Search the internet for habits of happy people, and you'l find meditation, mindfulness, or prayer on many of those "Top Ten" lists.  (I sometimes throw yoga into the mix, but to me, that is different than sitting quietly in meditation or a mindfulness practice.  Prayer is also different, but it's pretty closely related to the practice, and I always precede my meditation with a prayer.)

The challenge:
Most teenage girls in the LDS Church participate in what is called the Young Women's Personal Progress program.  (Follow the link to learn what that entails.)  Mothers are encouraged to work through the experiences and set goals alongside their daughters.  I challenged myself to complete one of the eight values each year that I would have daughters in the program.  This includes a ten-hour value project each year.

Recently, in my study of meditation practices, I came across the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  The Exercises, composed 1522-1524 AD, were originally meant to be practiced as a 30-day retreat of silence and solitude.  Jesus Christ is the focus of the Exercises, and they are meant to bring the practitioner closer to Christ, to help her/him become a better disciple.

This seems like a perfect project to develop my value of Faith.  I have decided to practice these Exercises in the month of December 2015.  Since I can't disappear for the month, I will be following an adapted system that can be completed in 15 to 30 minutes each day.  I am following the system outlined in Dr. Pam Blackwell's book, Christ-Centered Meditation: Handbook for Spiritual Practice.
Each day starts with a question, followed by a Bible scripture reference, and more specific questions to ponder.  Dr. Blackwell gives the following five suggestions for each day's contemplation:

  1. Read and study each lesson in order.  Commit to making time for this each day.
  2. Spend 15 minutes on each day's activities.
  3. Keep a log, writing at least one page each day.
  4. Don't give up if you miss a day.  Just pick it up again the next day.
  5. Try to do this work at the same time each day.  (For me, that's 6:00 a.m., when my mind is relaxed but alert.)
My teenagers have committed to also go through these Exercises in December.  I am hopeful that we will all draw closer to our Savior.  I expect that doing so during the month of Christmas and looking forward to the new year, we will experience support and an enhanced experience through the many messages of Christ we receive at this season.

My reason for posting this on our blog is that I hope a lot of people will join us in these contemplative exercises next month.  I will post a week's worth of exercises each Sunday.  I invite you to come back to this blog and write in the comments any experiences or insights that you would like to share as you practice this Contemplation yourself.  We have five days left in the month of November.  Take tomorrow to be grateful and to voice your gratitude and your love for others.  Then, commit to joining us in these spiritual exercises by commenting on this post.  And spread the word!  You don't have to be LDS or Catholic or even identify with a religion to practice these exercises.  You simply need the desire to invite the love of God into and through your life.

P.S.  Kent wanted more context.  Here is the first assignment and Day One of the Exercises:

Before or on Day One:  Write in your journal what you think of Christ.  Be sure to date the entry.

Day One
Question:  How can I follow in His steps?
Read:  1 Peter 2: 9, 21
Ponder:  How can I follow in Jesus' steps today?  In all my decisions, I will ask, "What would Christ do?"  I will think of myself as a disciple of Jesus Christ.