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Defense Against the Dark Arts: Tips on How to Thrive During Winter (or CST)

Now that we've "fallen back" it can really feel like we've fallen back... it gets dark in Nashville about about 4:30pm, and that can feel like a real shove to the ground for our bodies, minds, and souls. We talked about Sabbath last week, the act of intentional rest, and we mentioned ways to sabbath and, similarly, ways to fight the darkness of winter (not unlike, say, a Defense Against the Dart Arts class at Hogwarts ;). Here's a few we mentioned, plus tried and true favorite practices we've done at UKirk before.

Rewrite a psalm or a song in your own words... darkness can make us feel pretty drained and defeated, so, coming up with our own words for how we feel could be quite the battle. So, why not rely on the saints? Pick a psalm or a hymn to write in your own words. You can use a hymn we've sung at UKirk, there's at least one on this weblog(!) or whatever prayer or psalm is on the UKirk app for the day...

Stretch for Jesus (maybe go for a walk first)... try the happy stretch (which is laying on your back and reaching as far as you can in every direction), Superman stretch (same thing as the happy stretch but roll over on your stomach), Super Hero Pose (standing like a Super Hero, feet shoulder length apart, hands on hips, head tilted upward, for two minutes has been proven to increase happy chemicals in your brain and productivity)... child’s yoga pose, or any other comfortable yoga pose, and HOLD!

Write a letter... you could also send an email or a text, but there's something very vintage about writing a letter. It can make us feel especially connected when we may be feeling isolated.

Accomplish something small... Have you showered in the last 36 hours? No... maybe do that, for all of us. Have you eaten lunch? Do that. Exercised? Walk around the block a few times. Accomplish something small, that you know you can do, like making your bed, and it will lead to bigger things!

Do something meaningless... read a magazine, get involved in your roommates' newest Netflix binge. Ask someone you don’t know well what TV shows they’re watching or fiction they’re reading (and no talking about politics or school, please, this is supposed to be restful) or magazines they subscribe to… and why? It’s really okay if the answer is, because it’s mindless. Remember fun is important and often doesn't directly relate to your GPA or CV. Make a list of concerts you want to go to... Take a dance class...

Try meditating or praying in color... we've done this many times at UKirk, if you need book suggestions they're below or you can come by the office and use ours. Remember that the point isn't to create something beautiful (sabbath is literally a break from creating), but for you to feel connected, which may mean throwing your coloring away immediately following so that you don't even try to be productive.

Not doing it for you? Try meditating or praying with Play-Doh... since Play-Doh really can't be "saved" or made permanent, this is a really good exercise for those of us who truly can't help but "create" things and be productive. There's an explanation of Play-Doh prayers a few weeks/weblogs back.

Think about nothing OR meditate on Heaven... There are people who are good at thinking about nothing, and that should be celebrated. See how long you can think about nothing. Time yourself. If you find you're not great at it, or would just like to try something different, try thinking about Heaven. Get creative... most of the history of Christianity doesn't do a great job of helping us think about Heaven, so here's a place you can help us all out. Is there a nice beach there? Mountains? Hammocks? Trampolines? Taco trucks? ...What's Jesus doing? Is he playing basketball? Is he dunking? See how long can you meditate on this historical theological need before the earth, homework, bills to pay, etc., starts to creep back in... Practice!

Make a plan... What do you want to do this winter? Where would you like to grow when everything else growing is hidden? Maybe it’s going to the gym. Maybe it’s NOT going to the gym and watching more Netflix. Maybe it's learning to knit a Hogwarts scarf. Maybe it's finding out what's on top of the refrigerator. Or maybe it’s checking out the career center, seeing a counselor, or making some new friends... It's important to have bright dreams, even small ones, when everything outside goes dark. You don't have to record your success on meditation, and most would say that's the opposite of meditation and sabbath, but having a few goals in front of us reminds us that Christ came to bring life abundant and we can thrive in winter.

While you’re defending yourself/doing these exercises, pay attention to what you like, what can you do with friends, or do even during finals when you're super busy and in the library for several hours? Pay attention to what you don’t like doing, too. It's 100% okay to hate praying in color or to think that thinking about nothing is unhelpful. If something isn't restful or helpful to you, skip it. But if you find that you're avoiding doing ALL of these things (or giving up without trying that hard), and anything else friends suggest might help you feel a little better, then it's time to see a counselor. And we're happy to help with that. UKirk can feel like therapy, but it's important to remember that what we do isn't actually clinical therapy, and we all need regular check ups there, just like we need regular check ups with a doctor to make sure our cholesterol is okay. We have good connections with on and off campus counseling services that are free or very inexpensive.

That said, we also fully believe joining us on Thursdays for dinner and worship, and Tuesday or Wednesday for FREE coffee and short prayers, will help you defend yourself against the dark arts, too!

Some References and Ideas for Further Defense Studies:

Praying in Color, Kids Edition, MacBeth (and those $5 meditation coloring books at Target)

Dark Night of the Soul, May (looks at similarities between depression and spiritual darkness, while noting that one can always experience both and that both will require different solutions and therapies)

When the Heart Waits, Kidd (written for mid-life changes, but I read it at 22 and loved it, since it's primarily about waiting and how to wait well, and there can be a lot of "winters" and waiting in your 20s)

Let Your Life Speak, Palmer (focusing on vocation and seasons of life, says that winter is the clearest!!!)

Inner Voice of Love, Nouwen (short “imperatives” for when one is going through darkness--this is the book we give seniors when they graduate--but if you need to borrow one now, we're happy to share)

Accidental Saints, Bolz-Weber (follows the traditional liturgical/church calendar year, including practices/themes like these, in a narrative/unorthodox way; helpful for pondering seasons of life)

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