Reading Red Letters

a faith blog

Dusting Off the Cobwebs

After a very eventful two and a half years (family changes, including a death and a wedding; leaving a job and finding a new one, with a bit of a sabbatical in the middle; feeling the call to seminary, deciding to attend, and starting courses; taking a pilgrimage to Israel), I’ve decided to return to this blog with a renewed focus that will be a bit of a content shift for any previous readers. I’m not committing to any kind of blogging schedule here, and I’m not quite sure how regular a blogger I will be, but I’ve got to start somewhere, right?

The shift isn’t so much a change as it is an evolution based on how I have personally grown since creating Reading Red Letters:

  • When I started this blog I was a 21-year-old undergrad student who had pretty much discovered who she was, but was still drinking wine out of Solo cups and, let’s be real, thought naming her blog after a great DC Talk song was cute and witty.
  • At this point in my life I’m a 32-year old single woman who takes pride in her career and has no idea who she is, but feels like she’s getting a little bit closer every day. I not only finished my undergrad degree, I earned a graduate degree too, and on top of a full life of work and volunteering I’m halfway through earning a second graduate degree because I apparently enjoy unnecessary homework. And I’ve upgraded from Solo cups to iced tea glasses (better for the environment, but I’m still too lazy to hand-wash stemware).

I’m currently completing my Master of Theological Studies, and as I started this quarter’s course it occurred to me that some of the things I’ve been learning in my classes could use some further discussion/exploration, and this blog might be the right vehicle for me to take what I’m learning out of a purely academic setting (most of my classmates are seeking ordination, so there are lots of practical applications for them; I, however, am just weird and want to study this stuff because it’s interesting to me).

I imagine that I will use this space for some spiritual reflection, to contemplate current events, and sometimes I’ll share thoughts from seminary, either as ramblings or perhaps even posting some of my short essay assignments (so don’t be surprised if there are footnotes). It may be a bit of a hodge-podge at first, but I’m sure I’ll hit my stride eventually. I also feel like a fresh coat of paint and a new name might be in order for this blog, but one step at a time, right?

All things in moderation, right?

As I mentioned previously, this year for Lent I’m taking on the discipline of being mindful.  I mentioned that I’m not 100% sure what this was going to look like, and that I’m open to adjusting the practice as Lent progresses, but my starting points were removing the social media apps from my phone, no television/movies aside from a planned activity with friends or while I was exercising, and daily quiet times.

Over the past 2ish weeks I’ve noticed that I’ve simply replaced mindless watching with mindless reading!  Since Lent began I have read 11 books, which is a bit excessive.  I live alone, so I think that I usually use the TV to fill the quiet (and, honestly, sometimes loneliness), and since it’s been quiet I’ve been filling that with reading.  However, this has proven to be more harmful than the TV watching – I’m staying up too late, I’m reading books on my Kindle app on my phone during the time when I’m normally on my social media apps on my phone . . . at least I can multi-task when I’m watching TV, that’s not an option with reading a book!

So I think I’m revising this practice.  I can watch television (but not Nexflix) when I’m working (honestly, I work better with the background noise), but not when I’m just sitting down to watch TV.  And I can read books, but no more than an hour on weekdays, and on weekends no more than 2 hours at a time (with the exception of travel – I’ve got hours to spend in an airport this weekend).  I’m also removing the Kindle app from my phone.

That feels a bit more balanced to me, and definitely still in keeping with my intent for Lent.

The Discipline of Mindfulness

So I’m trying something a bit ambiguous for Lent this year.  I very often (most days) find myself barreling through my day, and I’m so worn out at the end of the day that all I can do is fly through the drive-thru and veg out in front of my TV – I literally do not have the energy or mental strength to do anything else.  It’s exhausting, and I feel like I’m not enjoying my life, and I’m certainly not living intentionally.  I found a great explanation of mindfulness that I think really fits into the spirit of what I’d like to accomplish this year during Lent:

Mindfulness is a practice in which one pays attention on purpose to present experience, without judgment. By slowing down, being fully present, and examining the mind and emotions with acceptance, the mindfulness practitioner can find freedom from suffering. Individuals who practice Mindfulness notice an increased ability to stay in the present moment and to be more open to “things just as they are.” Acknowledging present moment reality, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, is the first step toward transformation and insight. Responding versus reacting becomes a possibility. Often practitioners discover long held emotional and behavioral patterns that create stress. These emotional and behavioral patterns are the basis of mental, physical and spiritual disease or suffering. Because of insights that arise from self observation, practitioners often experience an increase in positive mind states such as joy, compassion, equanimity, and kindness.  ~Atlanta Mindfulness Institute

My thinking is that living a more mindful, intentional life leads to Christ-like behavior.  So, it is with that in mind that I’m creating a bit of an amalgam for my Lenten practice this year.  I am taking on the task of living more mindfully.  There are a few base things that I know this will look like, though I’m very open to adjusting the practice as the weeks progress.  Here’s what I know so far:

  • No television shows or movies (on the TV, iPad, or computer) at home.  If a friend wants to go to the movies, or if I’m spending time out with friends and the TV is a part of that, fine – that is an intentional activity choice.  The mindless binge-watching is not.  The only exception is that I can watch TV if I am exercising, with the theory being that if I can intentionally set aside time to care for my body (something I do not currently do), I can reward that intentional activity.
  • I have removed Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest from my phone.  It’s not that I’m “giving up” social media – I think it’s great to be able to connect with my friends and family that I do not see every day.  However, it’s gotten to the point where I can’t even walk from the parking deck to my desk at work without checking Facebook.  I get anxious and fidgety if I’m not on my phone.  Social media has a time and a place, and that is not when I’m at a restaurant, in the car, on the elevator, etc.  I can still visit all of those places on my computer at specific times, but the 24/7 social media stream will end.
  • I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to implement daily time in the Word this year, and one of the things I noticed is that when I have the time for it, I default to either turning on the TV or pulling out my phone.  I’m recommitting to a daily spiritual time that will become regular practice long after Lent has ended.

I also found this awesome list of Mindfulness Rituals written by Leo Babauta at zenhabits that I might play with a bit.  I think that the above things will force me to refocus my thoughts and impulses, and once I am able to turn my brain down a couple of notches I can start to look at picking up some rituals to keep me grounded.  In the article, Leo says “Are you simply moving through your day, without fully living?  I did this for many years. It was as if life were just passing by, and I was waiting for something to happen. I always felt like I was preparing for something later.  But today isn’t preparation for tomorrow.  Today’s the main event.”  That sentiment really knocks me in the gut, because that’s exactly how I’m feeling.

There’s also a really fascinating movement called I’m Not Busy that lists the following challenge:  “I’M NOT BUSY is a message both to yourself and to others. It doesn’t say that you have no pressures, demands or deadlines. It means that you are not going to let them rule your life or eat into your soul.”  While the intent is slightly different than what I am working on, I think that this is an easy way to visualize some of the practices I’m working towards.  Their Top 10 Tips are things that might work their way into my experience, and I’m definitely following their conversation on social media (but not with my phone!) to see how other people embrace this practice.

I’m very curious to see how all this works out, and I’d love to know what other Lenten practices people are working on this year!

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