Rachel Leavitt is a nurse, health coach, educator, wife, and mother. She is a mother to seven amazing children of God and married to a husband who is able to provide a wonderful push to her pull, while navigating spaces of faith and doubt together. She currently serves as a counselor in the Relief Society and has served in the primary in numerous roles. Her favorite calling is Sunday School teacher.
This year, I had done such a good job in preparing for general conference. With the upcoming spring equinox and the symbolism of Easter in mind, I had taken time to contemplate new life, new ideas, and new directions, and I had written down four questions I wanted to sit with during conference.
I have found that preparing in advance with the right questions does wonders for me. These were questions that had resonated with my heart and mind, which are the two things that have become more important to me in the development of faith.
I had given some thought to providing activities for my younger children to do and invited everyone to participate. I was hoping all this would allow me to have my own time and space to focus on what I felt God was sharing with me.
Yet, halfway through the first session, I was flustered and frustrated for a number of different reasons. I finally walked outside to sit and ponder what I needed to do to experience God this weekend.
I sat down on my porch and began a familiar routine of breathing and grounding as a way to calm my anxiety and frustrations that had bubbled up. I noticed the feeling of my feet on the ground and the sun warming my skin. I allowed my breath to move through me and calm my thoughts and emotions.
My attention then turned to my heart. I felt Amulek’s words where he taught that we should “let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer” (Alma 34:27). At that moment, I felt God again and I sat for a moment in that space.
I imagined perhaps that all of the other members watching conference may also have been taking a moment to try to tune their hearts to the spirit, all in their own unique ways.
I’m sure we were finding different ways and different moments to reflect on God, but we were doing it together all across the globe. A group of seemingly unrelated people coming together as covenant-makers to work at listening to what the spirit may speak to us through the words of our general leadership.
Preparing for Inspiration
Many of the steps I took before and after conference to strengthen my relationship with God, are ones that we could categorize under the term “Sunday School answers”. You could certainly say I was praying, reading my scriptures, listening to leaders, etc.. But I have begun to explore a deeper meaning of these answers, under a term that is known as contemplative practices that help make the general more personal.
The definitions of contemplation and contemplative practices are hard to nail down. They are used by various organizations in various ways. To provide a common understanding, I will provide a few different definitions.
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines contemplation as,
“the act of thinking deeply about something”, or “the act of looking carefully at something.”
One contemplative group defines contemplative practices as a way to
“facilitate and deepen our relationship with God. The more we practice and allow the transformation process to happen, the more we are able to experience the Indwelling Presence in everything we do. Contemplative practices give us the eyes to see and the ears to hear God calling us to the banquet that is our lives, as they are.”
The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society breaks contemplative practices down into seven categories.
- Stillness (Pondering, prayer, silence)
- Generative (Remembering, beholding, charity, gratitude, scripture study)
- Creative (Music, journaling, art, acting)
- Active (Ministering, service, fasting/tithing, activities)
- Relational (Bearing others burdens, counseling, dialoguing, storytelling)
- Movement (This is something we don’t do in our faith, but it may include things such as religious dancing or yoga)
- Ritual (Priesthood blessings and ordinances)
Essentially, contemplative practices are ways that we utilize our mind, spirit, and body to draw closer to God. Within our faith we utilize a lot of practices typically associated with this genre, but I find we often leave out the contemplation part of it. We just go through the motions, so to speak. While I know many who would like to bring the contemplative part into their practices, yet they have not seen examples of this or know what it may look like. In my personal porch example above, I utilized prayer, breathe work, visualization, stillness, and pondering.
Making it Personal
A huge benefit of incorporating contemplative practices, though, is that it helps us bring the generalized down to the personal. It allows us to feel and understand what the spirit teaches us in ways that are unique to us. Thus, we can take words spoken by our leaders to a generalized audience and find ideas, thoughts, and meanings meant specifically for us.
As an example of one way to find meaning in conference talks, I’ll walk you through a contemplative exercise based on a method called lectio divina. Before we begin, find a paragraph or even just a few words that you seemed to connect to during conference (you can even find some that bothered you or made you uneasy).
Contemplative Practice Examples
Grounding: Begin with a deep breathe in and paying attention as it fills your lungs. I like to imagine God’s love filling me in the same way my breathe is. Sometimes I bring more imagery in as I visualize a light filling me from my heart out with each breath.
Writing: Write down the words or phrases from the conference talk you are wanting to ponder. Read it out loud slowly two or three times.
Reflection: Reflect on words or phrases that stand out to you. Color, underline or decorate those words/phrases on your paper. Notice any feelings that may arise. How does your body respond to those words? What questions arise as you reflect? They may or may not be related to what you read. Write them down.
Connecting to God: How do these words connect you to God? What do you feel God is trying to teach you? If you feel disconnected by the words you read, how is God leading you to feel re-connected?
Rest: Breathe in again and sit with any new insights you may have gained. Let go of any worries that you haven’t done enough or learned enough. Release any anxiety over whether or not you understand things perfectly. Allow yourself space to be grateful or experience any thoughts or feelings you may have had during this reflection.
Perhaps the above contemplative practices resonated with you, or maybe a variation would work more effectively for you. I just invite you to consider some sort of contemplative effort as you review notes you may have taken during conference, or as you read the printed conference talks.
We now have six months to review, reflect and contemplate the inspiration God was sharing with us through the speakers at conference. I encourage each one of us to take the time to discover how we can best connect our heart and mind to this faith growing opportunity.