Most mornings I walk in the high desert. I’ve noticed that after one of our rare, intense rains, the landscape of the trail changes dramatically. Large rocks, previously hidden, are uncovered. Smaller rocks, washed down slopes, make the trail tricky to navigate. In some places, fine sand washes down to cover the trail in a delightfully soft carpet.
Our interior landscape also changes when the storms of life descend on us. The loss of a loved one, a job loss, or the onset of a chronic illness will forever alter the landscape of our lives. These major changes have the ability to make us bitter and angry people, or soft and loving people. The difference is whether we are willing to assent to the changes that are happening to us. We don’t have to like them, welcome them or look forward to them. Change can be really hard! But, it is also inevitable. Therefore, we can choose how to respond to it. Can we see change as God’s grace to help form us into more loving people? Can we look for the good or the gift in the change?
Large boulders, exposed by the rain, are like those parts of us previously unexamined. which in times of stress now rise to the surface. Our fears, insecurities, and stubborn bitter roots are exposed for all to see. Do we try to cover them up, or can we be honest with ourselves and others so that healing can begin?
The rocks that cover the path are like the myriad decisions we have to make after a huge storm. These take careful navigation at a time when emotional resources are low. Do we hide from the enormity of these decisions or ask for help from our trusted soul friends?
The soft sands which have washed across the path are like the unexpected graces that surprise us: the support of friends, the sudden brilliance of a sunset, or a double rainbow. These glimpses of beauty are reminders that we are not forgotten in our pain. We do not walk alone.
There are also beautiful landscape changes in the desert after a storm; new life springs up almost at once. Desert flowers bloom afresh and small creatures, their numbers previously diminished by drought, are born in abundance.
This same hope for growth and life are ours in times of landscape renovation. They are a reminder of the God who is known for recycling ashes into beauty, turning mourning into joy, and exchanging the spirit of heaviness for garments of praise. All that God asks is our assent to the transformation.
These are the markers of hope to look for as we walk the now altered trail. What new insights will we receive? What new skills will we learn? What adventure is ahead…just around the bend?
Change is not easy, and I have faced more than my share, so if you need someone to walk with you, let me know in the comments below.
How is breaking off a relationship a spiritual practice? Read on!
Shouldn’t we all try to live at peace with one another? The answer is yes, of course we should. Yet, there are people and even institutions who don’t have your best interests at heart. They can actually become crippling to your soul, and when they are revealed as toxic, sometimes the best thing you can do is cut them out of your life.
I have a friend who was once a part of a very controlling church. When she thinks about it now, she shakes her head in wonder and says, “I was drinking the Kool-Aid!”
For you younglings, this is a reference to the Jim Jones cult, where in Jonestown, Guyana, 909 followers were killed by murder/suicide when they “voluntarily” drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. My friend’s church wasn’t as cultish as the Jonestown group, but it had some very controlling features like needing approval from leadership to date someone, etc. It was definitely heading down the Jonestown road.
I was thinking about how churches can become controlling and toxic when differences of opinion aren’t tolerated and everyone is forced to believe a certain way. I’ve had many friends hurt by being part of the “inside group” of a church, then when they don’t tow the party line, they suddenly find themselves on “the outside.” The hardest part is their “friends” don’t want to hang out with them anymore. It is devastating.
But churches aren’t the only ones who have this cult-like, controlling, or toxic behavior. I’ve seen it in businesses, marriages, and even friendships. Often, you don’t know you’re drinking the Kool-Aid until you leave that place/relationship and get some distance from it.
One example of a corporation with Borg like tendencies (you know, “resistance is futile” …Star Trek…) is the behavior of a local, unnamed hospital. Hospitals send recruiters to nursing schools for an employment fair before the students graduate. But this particular hospital sent recruiters a month before the others came, then told the applicants, “If you agree to take a job with us before you graduate, then change your mind, you will be blacklisted from ever working for us.” This kind of proprietary behavior is downright evil. It doesn’t give the nurses a chance to compare offers from other hospitals. When a corporation uses threats to control behavior, it is a “cult-like” practice. Making a choice to work there is choosing into a toxic work environment. Trust me, it won’t be good for your soul.
This toxicity is easiest to see in marriages or romantic relationships. Usually, the controlling behavior involves money and/or jealousy. If your partner is keeping a tight rein on the finances, questioning you every time you go somewhere, or using anger to control you, you are probably drinking the Kool-Aid.
I made the mistake of mentioning to my middle-aged hairdresser that I’m a licensed therapist. I don’t usually mention this fact, for a good reason, because she then felt free to tell me too much information about her and her boyfriend. “He gets mad and jealous whenever I go anywhere,” she said. “And he wants sex all the time; isn’t once a day enough?” I wanted to scream, “Run! Run away from him as fast as you can!” But, she was still wielding scissors near my head.
I’ve also seen this same dynamic in friendships, usually in women. If your friend gets jealous and you feel like you have to lie to him/her about spending time with other friends, you’re drinking the Kool-Aid.
So, how do you know if you’re in a toxic relationship at home, work, church, or with friends?
- When someone tries to change your personality by using manipulation, anger, or guilt, to make you into someone you are not.
2. When you don’t feel free to express your own beliefs or opinions.
3. When someone tries to limit your access to money, time, friendships, options, or your own body.
4. When you feel like you can’t talk to anyone about these problems: You can’t go see a counselor or talk to anyone about your issues.
If this blog is making you uncomfortable, sit with it for a while.
Ask yourself “Where do I feel this discomfort in my body: stomach, back, head…?
Ask your body, “What are you trying to tell me?”
Ask the Divine, “What do I do now?”
You may need to seek the help of a trusted counselor, spiritual director or wise friend for help in disentangling yourself from a toxic situation, but your soul will expand and rejoice if you do!
So, is breaking off a relationship a spiritual practice? You bet it is when your soul is suddenly free to breathe and grow after being bound and suffocated by a situation or another person.
I’d love to hear what you think about this idea and/or any times you’ve left a toxic situation and what it was like for you.
Photo: Woman at top
Writing as a spiritual practice? Of course! Every religion has its writings. I remember when my spiritual director said that writing was a form of prayer. I was blown away. Anything done with intention toward God is a from of prayer. So, I’ve been pondering this question lately: Why do I write? And especially, why do I write books? Obviously, there are other things I could do with my time. But, writing seems to be something I feel almost driven to do.
I’ve tried writing off and on many times in my life but for some reason this is the first season I’ve been able to take a finished book and see it through the rewriting/editing/publishing process. Maybe I just had to be old enough to have the patience for it.
It feels like there’s something more though. I’ll never forget the privilege I had at the Festival of Faith and Writing in 2014 when I heard Brian Doyle speak. He was a poet, novelist, essayist and the editor of Portland Magazine. Sadly, he passed away suddenly and too soon, at the age of sixty. During his talk he told us how three of his friends died in the twin towers during 9-11. He was too distraught to write about it until his little daughter came and said,
“Dad, you always tell us not to waste our gifts. Your gift is writing and you are wasting it.”
Then he decided to tell three stories about 9-11: One about a couple who may or may not have known each other but chose to face death together and jumped from the building holding hands, another about a man that wheeled a women in wheelchair down 80 flights of stairs then ran back to get more and didn’t come out, and the third about a fireman who kept going in and out saving people until he came out no more. He said our stories about hope and beauty help push back the darkness in the world and we need to keep telling them. I hear you Brian. I hear you.
This is the way I feel about writing and it felt good to hear someone else say it.
I believe our stories are sacred and somehow push back the darkness in a very dark world. I write because I am driven to shine a light, no matter how small, and say to a hurting world, there is hope.
How about you? Why do you write?
Want more? Check out my books!
On Mondays, when I’m in the middle of my work day, I get a calendar reminder on my phone that says, “Tomorrow is your Sabbath.” The notification gives me great joy and peace knowing tomorrow I can rest.
The word Sabbath means different things to different people. To my Jewish friends it comes from the creation story where God created the world in six days and on the seventh day rested. He commands his followers to do the same, and when I lived in Israel, the Sabbath was definitely something to look forward to! It was celebrated from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday, so we spent Friday shopping and chopping, preparing a fantastic dinner to share with friends. Good food, good friends, good wine, joy and rest. Everything was closed Saturday so there was nowhere to go, nothing to do but relax. It is a beautiful practice.
Americans, however, even the Christians who still celebrate a form of the Sabbath on Sundays, have largely missed the point of Sabbath Rest. They rush off to church, dragging their screaming children, because they are usually late, and sit through a service that may or may not renew their souls. The rest of the day might be full of errands or house cleaning or yard work. It isn’t very restful. Plus, everything is open for business, so there is shopping to be done! I don’t know about you but I generally clean the house, do the laundry and buy my groceries on Sundays.
I had the good fortune of working for a ministry that taught me the importance of taking a Sabbath day to rest to restore my soul. For most people in ministry, the weekend is not a good time for Sabbath rest as it is full of ministry opportunities. That is why my Sabbath falls on a Tuesday. I plan my work schedule around my Sabbath.
I see Sabbath as a day to reconnect with myself and with God — a day to do things that are good for my soul. My Sabbath day might go like this: I don’t set the alarm and wake up with I’m done sleeping. I enjoy some time to read and pray, or as on an extra special morning, get a massage! Then I generally go to the library and sit in the corner quiet area. This is where I write. I love to write and writing restores my soul in a very real way. You might have a different favorite activity like hiking or reading or going to a movie or scheduling lunch with a friend or taking a nap. At lunch I may treat myself to food I don’t normally eat, like a Taco Bell burrito and a diet coke. In the evening I enjoy my Yoga class. It’s a day of spaciousness and settling and reminding myself what is truly important.
If you’re a young parent, having a Sabbath might seem impossible. But, I’ve known couples who have done Sabbaths together, or taken half-day Sabbath’s so they can trade the children off with each other. I’ve known single parents who have traded kids with friends for a few hours so they can have mini Sabbaths. When you have small ones, two or three hours for yourself is an incredible luxury.
And don’t think it’s going to happen naturally once you’re retired. I’ve noticed that as soon as someone retires other people tend to make demands on their time, which is fine, if that gives you joy. But, if you want to have a Sabbath, no matter what your life situation is, you’re going to have to make boundaries around that day, or that period of time, and defend them against the myriad offers to do other good things. With Sabbath, like with most things, you are not choosing between good and bad things, but good and better things. No one will value your time for you, you have to fight for it yourself.
So, give it a try. First, brainstorm these questions:
What would I do if I had an entire day to myself?
What most makes my soul feel light, happy, and renewed?
How can I consciously connect with God, myself, and my body?
Then, decide when and how to make it happen. Let me know if you try it and how it goes. Enjoy this day of rest.
Have you ever been in a place where you are the only one who looked like you? Maybe you went somewhere you didn’t speak the language, or the food was unfamiliar, or the customs were confusing. What did it feel like to be in that place? What you experienced is called a displacement experience.
For those who live in the margins, the non-majority folks, displacement is an everyday experience. Being a white, cis gendered, straight person, I am rarely displaced. I live in a city where I’m in the majority. It is comfortable for me to be who I am here. Why then should I go out of my way to displace myself?
It is important to displace ourselves because this is often the only way to truly know the human experience of our brothers and sisters. How can we have love and compassion if we have never known what it feels like to be “other?” If am to grow beyond my prejudices and assumptions, I’m going to have to start by displacing myself.
Displacement is the first, and easiest place to enter into honest dialogue about cultural, ethnic, religious and world view differences. If God is the God of all people, and we want to move closer to oneness with God and with each other, we will have to take steps to cross the barriers that separate us.
Here are five easy ways to displace yourself. Pick one, try it and share the results. If you are already from one minority culture, try one from a different group.
- One of the easiest ways to displace ourselves is to read a book written by someone who is not like you. Some of my favorites are:
Fiction: The Hate You Give, by Angie Thomas. (especially good on audio)
Non-Fiction: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum
Memoir: Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians by Justin Lee
- Purposely go someplace where you are not like the majority of people in the room:
Visit an ethnic church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Places of worship are still the most segregated parts of our society. Let yourself really feel what it is like to be unfamiliar with the culture of the church. There are black churches, Latino churches, Korean churches, Greek Orthodox churches, Muslim mosques, Jewish Synagogues…all will welcome you in, but you may not feel welcome there. This is a good thing to understand as it is often the experience of when a person of color, or a different region, or one of our rainbow family members visits your place of worship.
Take a trip to an inner city ethnic enclave. Visit China Town or Little Italy; walk through Harlem; go to a gay bar or dance. How do you feel there?
Notice your bodies reaction to this environment: Are you scared? Are you anxious? Can you imagine that some of your brothers and sisters feel those sensations every day at work, or when a police car comes up behind them?
- Try a different ethnic food restaurant each month. How does it taste on your tongue? Do you like it? What would it be like to feed it to your baby? What can you learn from the different diets? This is a fun and easy displacement exercise!
- Invite someone different out to lunch, or even better, over to your house for a meal (ask if they have any dietary restrictions first!). Then open an honest dialogue as you get to know them. Be a learner, not a teacher.
- Watch a movie that is out of your comfort zone. Some of my favorites:
Black Panther (What Africa, undisturbed by European colonization and European cultural dominance, might look like, a sci-fi version of course, but still awesome.)
Love, Simon (When a gay protagonist is the star of a sweet, chaste film, like “Never Been Kissed,” it can open our eyes to the experience of our gay friends.)
The Sea of Trees (Learn about the Japanese suicide culture and deal with the truths of grief in the American culture and how they intersect.)
The Danish Girl (What does it feel like to have one body on the outside and feel like the inside doesn’t match? This will help build compassion for our trans friends.)
I’m still a newbie in this racial reconciliation dialogue but my friends of color have taught me that displacement is a good first step. In light of the things I’ve learned the last twenty years, I wrote a book that helps put white people into a fictional displacement. It might be a fun and easy on-ramp for you to read. It’s called, Cracker.
Some comments from reviews:
“Cracker is a must read as it takes you away to a world that we should all see, one that helps you truly open up your eyes to the magnitude of racism and prejudice against gay and lesbian’s. This story not only forces you to face your own thoughts on racism, but it also educates you on the history of oppression creatively through her vivid and strong characters. Cracker will change the world you see and the way you decide to treat people that are different from what you see in the mirror; it opens your eyes and your mind.”
“I recommend this easy to read yet profound book to teens and adults without reservation, and hope that it yields deeper curiosity, trust, and courage to love across difference in every reader.”
“This story made me keenly aware of (and question) my own beliefs in the most profound, imaginative way. Ann’s story riled me up and shocked and shook me to my core. Jacci challenged me and changed my perspective.”
Let me know which displacement exercise you try and what you learn from it!
I was asked to translate some spiritual practices into non-spiritual language for classroom settings for a seminar at the Nevada Reading Week Conference. Since our beautiful conference got snowed out, I thought it would be fun to share those here, for you or your teacher friends to try!
Mindfulness in the Classroom, by Jacci Turner
The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for intense physical activity and is often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. The parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite effect as it relaxes the body by inhibiting or slowing many high energy functions. Sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. Techniques which stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system help us feel more calm.
1. Deep breathing: Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.
Ask your students to sit with their feet on the floor and their hands on their desks or in their laps. Have them take several deep breaths, picturing the in-breath as moving all the way down to their toes, and the out-breath as moving all the way to the tops of their heads. This exercise balances and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — which will calm your students. You can do this in two minutes!
Additional ideas: You can ask your students to give the in-breath a color, e.g. blue, and another color to the out-breath. This simple mindfulness technique helps us remain present with our bodies in an easy and relaxed way.
Or, you can have your students picture their negative emotions going out of their bodies with the exhale and the positive emotions coming in with the inhale, e.g. “As you breathe in, picture yourself breathing in strength and courage and as you exhale, picture yourself sending all of your insecurities out of your body.”
1. The Examine: Have your students sit comfortably with their eyes closed. Have them think back through their day and search for a time when they felt they were their best selves: the most true and good part of who they are. Maybe they were kind to a friend or a pet or did something their parent asked without arguing. This might take a minute, like searching through a backpack for a pencil; you know it’s there, you just have to find it.
Then, when they have found that memory, have them savor that memory using all five senses: touch, taste, feel, sound, and smell. This will anchor the memory to their long-term memory. It takes about 30 seconds to anchor a memory.
Then repeat the exercise looking for a time during the day when they fell short of their best self. Maybe they were short with someone, or got angry unnecessarily. Let that memory land lightly on their hand, like a butterfly. Say to it, “you are a part of me, and next time, I’ll do better.” Then blow on the butterfly and let it fly away. This is not a time to beat ourselves up and we don’t want these memories to stick in our long-term memories — just acknowledge them and let them go.
2. Welcoming: Have your students sit comfortably and ask them to identify any difficult feelings they might be having, such as anger, sadness, fear, or anxiety. Allow them to let themselves welcome that feeling and really feel it. Where do they feel it in their body? Is it in their stomach? Their brain? Their back? Ask them to tell the feeling “I know you are a part of me and I welcome you.” Then let them just sit with the feeling for a few moments. Then, have them say to the feeling, “Right now, I need to get back to my day, so please take a back seat; you are allowed to be here, but not allowed to drive. It’s okay if you stay with me, but you cannot be in control because I am in control. If it’s important we can talk more later.” Then, take a deep breath and let that feeling go.
3. Walking and breathing: First, have the students practice breathing in slowly through their noses and out slowly through their mouths. Then challenge them to make their exhale one second longer than their inhale. Have them walk and count their steps as they inhale: one, two, three, four. Then have them try to exhale one more step: one, two, three, four, five. However, many inhale steps they can take, they are to try to add one more exhale step. They can do this around the classroom or on the playground, concentrating on their breath. Again, this balances the parasympathetic nervous system.
4. Body Listening: Have the students sit comfortably and close their eyes. Have them take an internal scan of their bodies. If there is a part of their body that draws their attention, have them focus on that part and try to see what is happening. Ask, “What is that part trying to tell you? It might be saying that you’re hungry, or tired, or you need to go to the bathroom or that you’ve injured yourself in some way. It could be saying something metaphysical. Tell your body you are listening and you will take care of its need ASAP.”
5. Breath Affirmation: Chose a name for yourself that is positive and that you would like to be called. Maybe it’s a name someone you love calls you like, “sweetheart” or “honey,” or a nickname you like. Then think of something you need when you are anxious. A word like “breathe,” or “calm,” or “relax.” Then, put the two together and think the first one on the inhale: “Sweetheart,” and the second one on the exhale: “Breathe” Use this reminder silently during stressful situations: “Sweetheart (inhale) Breathe (exhale) Sweetheart (inhale) Breathe (exhale)…”
6. Reading: Reading to a child is one of the simplest ways to calm them and help them stay present.
Jacci Turner is an Amazon bestselling author of Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction. Her MG book, Bending Willow represented Nevada at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. That book is the first book in, The Finding Home Series, and Jacci recently released the fifth book in the series, Willow’s Roundup. The series will soon be coming out in hardback for Libraries and Schools. You can find it and all of Jacci’s books on Amazon and other online outlets. Jacci is on most social media outlets or you can find her on her website at Jacciturner.com and her blog on Spiritual Practices at https://jacciturner.wordpress.com. She enjoys speaking in schools. As a former school counselor, she loves children very much.
These photos link to some great websites for mindfulness in the classroom.
My friend Catherine Gregg says the goal of our spiritual growth is “Oneness with God.” I’d add, “Oneness with God and each other,” but I don’t think you can separate the two; they are dependent on each other.
But what is oneness? Is it a pie-in-the-sky ideal, or is it something we can experience here on earth? I’d like to suggest it is what we are working toward every day, and we will occasionally get to experience it. Perhaps we will experience it more and more over time. It takes time because we have to get past a huge roadblock — the space between us. Any space that keeps us apart, the color of our skin, our social economic status, our voting record, our religious or sexual preferences, all of these things keep us separated into us-and-them categories. But, sometimes we can see beyond that into oneness.
Here’s a story to illustrate:
I don’t go around hugging strangers. I’m warm and affectionate to my family and close friends, but the church I’m currently visiting has a greeting time where everyone hugs each other. It feels very uncomfortable to me, though I’m trying to get past the awkwardness of strangers invading my bubble.
But, recently I went to visit a new hospice patient in her home. I was met by her daughter, who is about sixty years old, and who is also her mother’s caregiver. When she invited me in, she stopped and pointed to a dog bed on the floor with a blanket draped over it. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “My dog just died.” Before I could even consider what I was doing, I had her in my arms and held her while she cried. In that moment, we were one. We were not strangers meeting for the first time, we were humans, together in an experience of deep loss that we could both relate to. Even though we had just met, the otherness of her was swept aside by our common pain and shared experience. That is what I mean by oneness, or unity; it is a goal for the human race to be that with each other and with God. It is developing the ability to see beyond our differences to our shared human experience.
But most often we are dualistic, like the way I feel at the church I’m visiting. I am me, and you are you, and why are you getting into my space? This is also true of much of our thinking, it is either/or, black/white, us/them, in/out. I’m not saying it’s always bad to be separate and have boundaries, I’m just saying our long term spiritual goal moves us away from the things that separate us toward a unity of being, with each other and with God. In the words of the Quakers, we “look for that of God in each other.”
A prayer that I often pray before my day begins is, “God, give me your eyes today. Help me see people the way you do.” I challenge you to try this and see if it makes a difference. Let me know what you find out.
I can hear what you’re thinking right now, “Now THERE’S a spiritual practice I can get into!”
The first time I went in for a massage I was surprised to find myself crying. But, the massage therapist was not surprised. She said it happens a lot because massage releases stress, tension and trauma from within the body.
I’d heard about body memory during my training as a Marriage and Family Therapist, but I wasn’t sure that I believed it. How could our very cells hold a memory? Then one day I was sitting in my private counseling practice, across from a woman who was describing a difficult memory that she had never told anyone. She recounted how, years before, an abuser had grabbed her arm and as she spoke to me four finger sized bruises appeared on her arm. Did you catch that? Four bruises in the shape of the abuser’s fingers appeared on her arm before my eyes!
The cells of her body had held that memory all those years.
This is why I’m including massage in a blog on spiritual practices. We are whole people. You’ve heard me say before that the ancient eastern understanding of the soul is body, mind and spirit – all three. But, when it comes to trauma, most of us look for healing for our spirit and our mind, but forget to include our bodies.
A friend of mine who runs spiritual practice retreats in Fresno California, suggested CranioSacral therapy is another body practice that can be helpful in releasing deep trauma and tension through a light touch to pressure points in your head. He actually has a CranioSacral therapist come to his retreats and offer 15-minute sessions, saying that it goes hand in hand with other spiritual practices to bring health and healing to the whole soul.
So, here’s some homework you have always wished someone would give you: Go get a massage!! Or try CranioSacral therapy. Don’t have much money? Most cities have schools where students will give you a one-hour massage at a greatly reduced rate. Enjoy!
Now for some shameless self-promotion: We’ve just finished creating new covers for my Finding Home Series and I think they look amazing. Plus, book five is almost out! So, if you have, or know of a child age eight and up, please share this series. It is very popular with the kiddos. Here is a text I received two days ago from a friend regarding the first book, Bending Willow:
“So, my “little brother” (through big Brothers big sisters) was describing to me a book today. He begins with, “I really don’t usually read books about girls lives, but this one was recommended to me by my teacher, and they went to burning man… it was soooo good.” He described the scene and then I asked him if the book was by chance called Bending Willow. He said yes, and I told him my friend actually wrote that book. He said he loves it, and he wants me to get his copies autographed 😀
Thanks for reading and I would love to hear if any of you have tried CranioSacral therapy and how it was for you. Also, how massage has helped your soul!
I don’t know where you are in relation to Scripture, you might see it as your rule for living, you might see it as a book of wisdom, you might see it as your final authority, you might see it as an oppressively abused and abusing book.
But, a recent seminar* reminded me that The Psalms give us words for our experience. The Psalms help us know how to talk to God. The Psalms were written as songs to be read or chanted corporately, and that is still a powerful way to enjoy them. But, they can also be an incredible source of strength and comfort for us individually.
Did you know that of the one hundred and fifty psalms, they can be broken down into three helpful categories?
About 72 psalms are Psalms of Orientation – These talk about the way life is supposed to be: God is good, and if you follow God, your life will be good. These Psalms keep you oriented in a positive direction. If you were sailing in a boat, these psalms would be the smooth sailing water, or if there were waves, you would still know God is with you and you could see the shore from your boat. Psalm One is a perfect example of a psalm of orientation; here are vs 1-3.
“Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
About 62 psalms are Psalms of Disorientation — That is ALMOST half of all the psalms in the Bible! These are psalms for when life and our experience of God leaves us disappointed, dis-eased, disillusioned. When our faith is hanging by a thread we pray these psalms. If you were in boat, it would be capsized and you would be drowning. These include the Psalms of lament, which can give us words to talk to God when we are in distress. At our present time in history when things seem to be going so wrong in our world, these psalms can give us a kind of template for our lament. Some of these psalms end in hope, but not all. Consider these lines from Psalm 142:4
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.
Unfortunately, in many parts of our current Christian culture, we have forgotten how to lament. This is especially true for white Christians; many non-white cultures still feature traditions of lament. In fact, the book of Lamentations and the Psalms of Lament have been removed from many modern prayer books. What we are left with is a Happy-Clappy Christianity, which can do us a great disservice when we deny our suffering an leave lament out of our prayers. After all, the Old Testament writers felt that almost half of our life will be about suffering and we need some words to navigate that!
The Jews still understand this. During each Sabbath service they pray a Psalm of Lament for all those who are hurting. This “kaddish” is sung in a minor key. How beautiful is that? Words for our pain, prayed corporately, are healing.
About 13 of the psalms are Psalms of Reorientation – Nope, our boat did not get righted so we can go our merry way. Instead we were picked up by the coast guard and placed on a completely new shore. We learn a new language after our grief has left us different than we were before. Why are there so few of these psalms? There are two thoughts on this:
1) Sadly, when the psalms were written,most people did not live to see the answer to their pain. Sometimes we die in our disorientation, but that doesn’t mean it is not a holy place.
2) If they did make it to the new shore, they were too busy re-orienting themselves to the new country to write about it. Think about how often you make it through a rough patch and forget to go back and thank God for it. This is not a guilt trip, but just an acknowledgement that finding yourself in a new country can be overwhelming and it may take awhile to unpack the experience.
Some people consider Psalm 23 a psalm of re-orientation because the writer is able to say:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Our ultimate hope is to survive our disorientation and to come out on the other side with some hope and faith, but the other side it will look different; we cannot un-see what we have seen in our times of disorientation.
Have you found the Psalms helpful in talking to God? I’d love to hear how you have used them. Here is a site where you can use a template to write your own Psalm of Lament.
*Most of these ideas were presented at a spiritual direction training by the Rev. Dr. Catherine Gregg and are used here with her permission.
We’ve all had relationships that changed from healing and helpful to damaging and unhelpful. Many of us have had these kinds of relationships within our own families. Some of us have worked at jobs that, because of toxic cultures, were sucking the life from our souls. Some of us have attended churches that became so controlling we were dying on the vine.
How do you extricate yourself from this kind of damaging relationship, job or church? There are good ways and bad ways to make the exit.
You try and you try, but when you really need to leave, when that is what is best for your soul, it’s important to leave with as much peace as you can. I love the wisdom that says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)
And that is where Blessing and Releasing come in. Is there a way you can draw a firm and healthy boundary to separate yourself from a toxic person or environment and yet live in peace?
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
Here’s how to know if it’s time to Bless and Release:
- Take a piece of paper and draw a line vertically down the middle of the page. Label one side “Pros” and one side “Cons.” Then write honestly about the thing or person you are considering leaving. If the Con side is heavily weighted, it might be time to bless and release.
- Go to a mentor or spiritual adviser, someone who knows you well and yet can be objective. Ask for their honest opinion about leaving. If you have two or three folks who can help you with that kind of wisdom, get more than one opinion. This will help you know if it is time to bless and release.
- Pay attention to your body, mind and spirit. When this person calls, do you cringe? When it’s time for work, do you get a heavy feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach? Is your inner voice screaming at you to “get out?” Our body wisdom is important to listen to when deciding to bless and release.
- Sit comfortably in a chair. Let yourself believe that you have already made the decision to leave. Feel it in your body as if it has happened. How does it feel? Do the same exercise as if you have decided to stay. Compare and contrast. This is a good way to get in touch with your true feelings to know if it is time to bless and release.
Then, if it is time, picture the person, job or church cupped in your hands. Slowly open your hands and offer them to God. Pray a blessing over them and let them go. Follow through with whatever it takes to make this happen in your life: a change in relationship, quitting a job, leaving a church…
You might need to hold this person or place before God and let it go more than once! It is so important to bless and release, rather than break off and curse. If we break off relationships and curse those left behind, we become bitter and angry. It hurts only ourselves and leaves a trail of brokenness behind us. To bless and release will put you in a much healthier place as you move on to what is next. And what is next is sure to be a softer, wider and more spacious resting place for your soul.
Have you tried blessing and releasing? I’d love to hear how it went for you.