Q & A with Whitney Simpson

1. Tell us a little bit about the events that led you to write Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit.

There are so many parts to the story of how God led me to put this devotional project on paper. This book encompasses much of how I have listened for God with my whole self over the past decade. A stroke and brain surgery at age 31 invited me into some very challenging and quiet places—for longer than I would have preferred. Yet God met me in those quiet places and on that healing journey. Scripture, yoga, breath prayer, aromatherapy, and journaling were a part of my healing journey but in a less structured way than offered in the book. I never expected to find healing in ancient or contemplative tools or considered using my own body to listen for God. Yet that was my invitation and what led me to write this book.

2. As a result of your medical condition, what did you lose? What did you gain?

For a short time, I lost function on the left side of my body. For a longer period of time, I lost the ability to multitask. In that season, I left a career I loved in the nonprofit world because my healing body could no longer sustain the fast pace of my work. Yet amid these losses, I gained so much more. I received the gift of exploring God’s peace. You’ll have to read my story, which introduces the book, to fully understand this gift and the impact it has had (and continues to have) on me.

3. Your book contains 40 themed invitations. What’s significant about that number?

The number of days selected for this journey—40—holds much significance. The number is often associated with times of testing and clarity in scripture. (See Genesis 7:12; Exodus 24:18; Matthew 4:2; and Acts 7:30.) The book’s 40-day format lends itself to be used during Lent, but it could also be used during Advent and other times of year. You may follow the themes in order, or you may skip around, selecting a theme that speaks to you on a particular day.

4. How did you choose the themes?

It was a privilege to create this project and amazing to watch it unfold from the beginning stages—from God’s idea placed in me to this beautiful book that Upper Room believed in and helped me shape and offer to others. As God placed the concept of bringing each of these tools together in a devotional format, I first sat down with my computer and created the last thing I would have imagined—a spreadsheet. My personality is more creative than structured, and in the past I never would have considered sitting before a spreadsheet to do creative work. I was surprised at first, but soon it made sense. As a theme was placed on my heart from my own healing journey, I added that theme to the spreadsheet. Some columns began with the theme name, while others began with a scripture passage, an aromatherapy scent, or even a yoga posture. To complete the day’s themes, I researched each essential oil, yoga posture, and scripture at length before matching it with a theme. This was not a random process but instead carefully prayed over, studied, and chosen. Compiling the themes, tools, and prompts turned out to be a beautiful and creative way to use a spreadsheet! Soon the themes went from spreadsheet to book form and now serve as a beautiful invitation to share with others.

5. For each theme, you provide four ancient tools readers can apply to their own holy listening experiences. What are they and why did you choose them?

As I mentioned previously, each day’s devotion includes a scripture passage to be read in the style of lectio divina (which means sacred reading), two yoga postures, a breath prayer, and a suggested essential oil for aromatherapy. The day’s theme also concludes with reflection questions to ponder your whole-body experience. The tools I included—lectio divina, yoga, breath prayer, and aromatherapy—are all ancient practices, yet they offer many Christians new ways of connecting with God. Each is explained more thoroughly in the book and also has its benefits (spiritual, physical, and emotional). Personally, I have found much healing in exploring these practices and sensed that connecting them for others served as an invitation for using one’s whole self to listen for God. I chose these specific practices for myself first because each has played (and continues to play) a part in my healing journey. Combined, they offer a unique way to connect breath, body, and spirit—making them accessible to everyone.

6. How might small groups use Holy Listening?

The back of the book offers two pages of suggestions for small-group leaders, as this style of listening, while very personal, can indeed be reflected upon and/or explored together in community. The book could be used in a small-group or Bible study setting over a series of 40 days together, using the group’s weekly check-in time as reflection and accountability on their personal 40-day journey. Each of the 40 days could also be used as themes for a Christian yoga class setting, allowing the instructor to guide students through a practice, scripture passage, and breath prayer related to that theme. Used in this way, an instructor has 40 class themes to use as a guide for their class.

7. What do you hope readers will take away from reading Holy Listening?

The title itself Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit is an invitation for discovering embodiment spirituality. Yet that can sound intimidating, and I often hear that people are not even sure where to start. I simply suggest starting where you are, and my hopes in writing this book are that it is approachable by everyone. Even if you can’t touch your toes, you have breath, a body, and God’s Spirit within. I hope readers consider this invitation to explore their whole self as a gift from God.

8. In your own holy listening experience, what has been the most surprising revelation or discovery?

It was not surprising, yet I have finally claimed that there is not a destination on the healing journey. Our lives are constantly being shaped on the journey of spiritual formation, and healing and wholeness are an ongoing invitation on the journey with God.

9. How did God bless you while you were writing Holy Listening?

Healing. In the book, I share how journaling has been researched as a healing tool. While writing this book is not the same as my years of journaling, in a way it was a glimpse into some of my past journaling. To share with others this invitation of embracing the gift of breath, body, and spirit offers both myself and others opportunities for continued healing, and that is an ongoing blessing.

10. What are your hopes and prayers for Holy Listening?

My prayer is that this devotional book • invites people to listen for God’s voice through ancient practices that are beginner friendly and non-intimidating • encourages them to embrace the gift of their whole self • allows them space to explore the gift of God’s peace • draws them nearer to their Creator in the process

11. Tell us a little bit more about yourself. What’s still on your bucket list that you’d like to do?

I live just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where I’m rarely far from a good book, a cup of hot tea, live music, or nature. My family and I love the outdoors! My husband, son, and I explore together whenever possible. We enjoy kayaking, hiking, camping, hanging out in our hammocks, and simply being outside together. Nature is a place where we often meet God as a family. When my husband and I were married, we set a goal of visiting all the US National Parks in our lifetime. We have made a small dent in that bucket list but have a long way to go on this adventure together!