Spiritual Practice: Journaling

Journaling

I always say I’m not a journaler, but I just typed an update on the computer in a journal file that I’ve kept faithfully since 2009. And, if you dug around in the recesses of my basement, you’d come across boxes of notebooks I’ve been writing in since 1977. So, am I a journaler? I guess I am.

Where’s the breakdown? I think the problem is that when I think of journaling, I imagine a diary, something people cherish and update daily. I tried that as a child, but I had little success. My life was  just not that interesting. I tried again when my life finally did get that interesting, those diaries had to be burned!

We need a new idea of journaling that includes a broader definition. Here’s mine: Journaling as a spiritual practice is any way of keeping an account of the work of God in your life. If that is true, I am a journaler.

Eight years ago, I took a spiritual direction class that included the book, “Journaling As a Spiritual Practice: Encountering God Through Attentive Writing,” by my professor, Helen Cepero. As part of that class we did the journaling exercises set out in the book and after the class, I continued. The difference was I only wrote in this journal once a month when I was on my silent retreats. I have continued this practice for eight years now, but never really thought of it as journaling because it wasn’t a daily practice. Still, over time it has become a record of the work of God in my life through the tremendous experience of the last eight years. It counts!

What about the boxes in my basement? When I was eighteen I arrived at college as a newly minted Christian. I didn’t know anything about being a believer so I found the first mature looking Christian I could and asked how to go about growing my faith. She suggested that I find a spiral notebook and divide it in half. In the first section, I was to read the Bible and when something stood out to me, write it down. In the second section I was to draw a vertical line down each page and use one side for writing out my prayers and the other side for writing the answers to those prayers. This was very doable and I’ve been doing it for forty years. I don’t often go back and read the old ones, but the idea of having boxes full of forty years of answered prayer is very encouraging. It counts!

So, how do you make journaling work for you? I think a journal can be as different as the person writing it, or drawing in it, or painting in it, or placing photographs in it. I’ve seen some people who cherish their journals and go back often to re-read them. They are modern day examples of memorial stones that people of ancient times set up to mark a spiritually significant event. Some find writing too cumbersome and prefer to draw or paint. I have a friend who does a photography blog, which is very much a way to journal. It counts!

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What’s stopping you? For the next two weeks, try a journal of your own design. Find a way to make it work for you. The point is to record the work of God in your life. Maybe it will be a purely mental journal, or a list of bullet points, or some kind of fitness tracker where you note significant aspects of your workouts that have filled your soul tank. Think outside the box – or in this case the notebook.

*For more on spiritual formation exercises, check out my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.

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Spiritual Practice: Quaker Clearness Committee

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Last time we talked about discernment using the Ignatian method of Examen over a period of time, looking for themes of joy and life to guide us to our true selves. This week I will discuss bringing a discernment question to a group in a Quaker Clearness Committee.

In the same way that you don’t have to be Catholic to try the Ignition practice, you don’t have to be a Quaker to try the clearness committee. I am neither and have used both very effectively.

Of course, there are wonderful online resources to read more about this practice in depth, so I will do a short summary here.

When you have a difficult decision, and you need some wisdom and guidance, you can try this with some trusted friends. You will be called the “focus person,” and you will come with your question written out as clearly as you can, even if it is not a fully formed question. Some questions might be: Should I marry this person, should I take this job, should I go to college…any big question will work.

The goal of the clearness committee is not to give you an answer to the question, but rather to help you listen to your inner voice, your own wisdom, to find the answer.

When you gather, make sure you have two hours of time set aside to really listen well.

Appoint someone to be the leader or clerk and keep everyone else on target. The target for the committee members is to listen well and ask ONLY open ended, honest questions. That is the hardest part right there: No advice giving, no pointed questions or leading questions or judgments. At the “Alive Now” site they said this about the process:

Typically, the meeting begins with a period of centering silence. The focus person begins with a fresh summary of the issue. Then committee members speak, governed by a simple but demanding rule: Members must limit themselves to asking the focus person questions-honest, caring questions. This means no advice (“Why don’t you…?” or “My uncle had the same problem and he…,” or “I know a good therapist that could help.”), only authentic, challenging, open, loving questions. Members guard against questions that arise from curiosity rather than care for the person’s clarity about his or her inner truth. The clerk dismisses questions that are advice or judgment in disguise.

 

The last fifteen minutes, the leader can ask the focus person if they’d like to suspend the questions only rule and at that time, and if the focus person wants to, the committee members can reflect back what they’ve heard. Still, no advice is given. The focus person is not expected to have an answer by the end of the meeting, but the process of unpacking the focus person’s inner wisdom will continue to unfold over time.

Of course, all that is said in a Clearness Committee is confidential and all notes taken during the meeting are given to the focus person at the end.

I did this once, with some wise women friends and I found it very helpful. I was going through a major transition at the time and I felt lost about what to do next. The main idea that stayed with me from the clearness committee was that “when you are journeying through the wilderness you can’t carry a heavy load, you have to decide which things you want to keep and which things you need to let go.” This began an important season of letting go of some old things and making room for the new.

I’d encourage you to read more on this idea and to try it with some friends. You never know what your inner wisdom is waiting to tell you.

If you’re interested in a fun way to learn more about Spiritual Practices, check out my eBook, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It’s fiction but you will learn many new formation techniques along the way, and you will get to know some quirky new characters as well.

 

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Spiritual Practice: Ignatian Discernment

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Looking back over my blogs I’ve noticed that many of them have to do with discernment about big changes in my life. We all have to face these kinds of questions. Is it time to end a relationship, change a job, retire, switch majors in college?

How do we go about making a thoughtful decision? In this two part series, I’m going to share two ways that are very different but equally effective in helping guide your future: Ignatian Discernment and a Quaker Discernment Circle. I have used them both to good effect.

Ignatian Discernment: In a previous blog, we tried the spiritual practice of the Examen. Take a quick read if you need a refresher. Basically, it is about reflecting back at the end of the day and asking yourself two questions: “Where did I see God, or experience my truest self,” and “Where did I miss God or act from my false self?”

This is a small part of the wisdom St. Ignatius left regarding spiritual growth (seriously, you should google the guy, he’s amazing!). And, he taught you can use the Examen in discernment. It’s easy. For three weeks do the Examen six days a week and quickly write down your findings. On the Seventh day, read over what you have written and look for themes that stand out for you. You can circle repeated words or phrases. At the end of three weeks make a list of things that came up when you were being your truest self and a list of the things you did not enjoy.

I believe that God wants us, and has created us, to be our truest selves. The things that come up on the daily Examen can become our guide posts for our decision making. We need to be living into our true selves and moving away from the false. This may lead to some stark revelations that are hard to face. People have realized their need to end a job or a relationship when realizing that it was not supporting the joy of who they were created to be.

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When I did this recently, the words “new,” “learning,” and “teaching” came up over and over. It confirmed that I value learning new things and teaching them to others. It also showed that I have less energy for the mundane things that I’ve spent a lifetime doing, like cooking, cleaning and caregiving. This led to an unexpected amount of guilt on my part, because I felt like I was asking my husband to pick up the slack. But when I shared the results of the exercise with my husband, he said men never feel guilty about wanting to grow or learn new things, and he affirmed my desire to transfer much of this household work over to him.

This idea, that men never feel guilty about wanting to grow and expand, brought home in new ways one reality of white male privilege. It was eye-opening for both of us.

Of course, there will be times when some things are revealed which can only be held as a hope for the future and not lived into in the present. A single mother may realize that her true self longs to be a writer, but writing may have to be a hope deferred until she is in a more secure situation. However, it is good to know what really gives us joy and to plan and make a way for it in the future.

Next time we will talk about “Quaker Discernment” which is a form of discernment that you do with friends. In the meantime, give this method a try and let me know how it goes.

If you’re interested in a fun way to learn more about Spiritual Practices, check out my eBook, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It’s fiction but you will learn many new formation techniques along the way, and you will get to know some quirky new characters as well.

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Spiritual Practices: Gratitude

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I’ve always been a pretty happy person. I like my life, like my eggs, sunny side up. But I was stopped in my tracks by a line I read in the fantastic book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” by Henri J.M. Nouwen.

“Resentment and gratitude cannot co-exist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift. My resentment tells me that I don’t receive what I deserve. It always manifests itself in envy.”

Now I have to admit that I am occasionally resentful. When I don’t get noticed for a job well done, when my sibling seems to get more of my parent’s attention, when someone else gets a promotion…

So, how do we live a life of gratitude when failure and disappointment are bound to come our way?

The book by Nouwen is about the famous Biblical story of the Prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32. But, the book is also based on the above painting by Rembrandt that Nouwen spent years contemplating. In the story a younger son asks his father for his share of the family money, takes it and goes off, losing it all to wild living. He comes home broke and broken. The father’s love for this son is beautifully overwhelming; he welcomes him home and throws a lavish party.

But, the older son (standing to the right in the painting) is bitter and envious — feeling that his good and faithful ways have gone unnoticed by his father who has welcomed his no-good brother home with such fanfare. And that is where the gratitude quote comes in. When he complains, the father tells him “You are with me always, all I have is yours.” The father encouraged him to come to the party.

I have much experience being the resentful sibling. It is easy to feel overlooked and resentful when you’re “the easy one, the good one, the perfect one,” and your siblings are literally punching holes in walls or having mental breakdowns. But, this kind of attitude poisons the well and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to untangle myself from it. I need to see that the father’s prodigal love is just as great for my errant siblings and just as genuine and available for me. One does not negate the other.

So, how do we move from resentment to gratitude? We have to look through and beyond our resentment to see that the father’s love is available to us every day. Nouwen says, “Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice…There is always a choice between resentment and gratitude because God has appeared in my darkness, urged me to come home, and declared in a voice filled with affection, ‘You are with me always, all I have is yours.’”

 

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Today I will choose gratitude. I mean, really, there is so much to be thankful for. I’m sitting at a retreat center, looking out the window at leafy green trees moving in a gentle breeze. I have a loving spouse, meaningful work, a full and beautiful life. Today, and for the next two weeks, I will focus on choosing gratitude and letting go of resentment. Want to try it with me? Let me know how it goes.

 

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To learn more about spiritual practices, check out my book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening

Spiritual Practice: Gospel Contemplation

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This series of spiritual practices is in celebration of my book release: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening now available wherever eBooks are sold!

We previously tried the spiritual practice of Lectio Divina and today we will begin Gospel Contemplation. The two are similar but not the same.

Gospel Contemplation comes to us from St. Ignatius of Loyola. It was described back before scriptures were readily available to the laity and there was a lot of illiteracy. It was a way to engage in prayer and scripture imaginatively.

It’s not hard:

  1. Chose a short passage where Jess interacts with someone. If you are using a different holy book, active passages are the easiest to start with.
  2. Read the passage twice.
  3. Then close your eyes and enter the passage in your mind. Let all of your senses become engaged: What do you see, hear, smell, taste? Look around you, who is there, where are you? In the Crowd? Which character in the story might you be? One of the disciples? An onlooker?
  4. At some point, you can choose to interact with Jesus. Ask him, “What do you want to say to me?” and listen for the answer. Or bring another question.
  5. If you are highly imaginative, you may want to find a grounding memory outside of the story, a time you felt fully loved, to pull you back out of the story if you get too involved.

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Now, let’s try it:

Read this story twice, then let yourself engage. Jesus might ask you the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

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Mark 10:46-52 New International Version

 

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

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Who were you in the story? What did Jesus say when you interacted?

I hope this was a meaningful experience for you. It can take the fear out of Bible Reading and make if fun, interesting and life changing. Let me know if you try it!

 

Photo Credits

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Blind Bartimaeus 

 

Spiritual Practice: Visio Divina

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We are nearing the end of our series on Spiritual Practices. I wanted to do this series to lead up to the promotion of my new book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening which is now available wherever eBooks are sold.

Today we will talk about Visio Divina (Latin: Divine Seeing). It is very similar to Lectio Divina which you can read about here. Instead of meditating on scripture or poetry or other holy writings, you are meditating on something visual.

There is great precedent for this in scripture (visions and dreams, metaphors from nature) and in history with icons, as I discussed in my last blog.

Basically, we approach a picture or something in nature, with openness and spend time (about 20 minutes) gazing at something beautiful or meaningful with a prayerful attitude. Then, you ask yourself some questions. The following set of instructions comes from the Patheos website:

As your prayer deepens, open yourself to what the image might reveal to you. What does it and the Spirit want to say, evoke, make known, or express to you as you attend to it in quiet meditation? Become aware of the feelings, thoughts, desires, and meanings evoked by the image and how they are directly connected to your life.

(choose one of these images to try)

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Does it evoke for you important meanings or values, remind you of an important event or season, or suggest a new or different way of being? What desires and longings are evoked in your prayer? How do you find yourself wanting to respond to what you are experiencing? Take the time to respond to God in ways commensurate with your prayer: gratitude, supplication, wonder, lament, confession, dance, song, praise, etc.

Then spend some time journaling your insights. I find this spiritual practice very refreshing and look forward to trying it with you for the next two weeks.

Let’s see how we do!

 

Today’s the Day!!! Book Launch Day.

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Today is book launch day for The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. Here’s what people are saying:

“The Retreat is a colorful and winsome story that underscores howmuch contemplative practice is needed in our modern times.”
~Phileena Heuertz,author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Lifeand Founding Partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

“For those who have beeninjured by involvement in a church, or other Christian group, or those whosimply find evangelicalism to be constraining, The Retreat, is likeopening a window for fresh air.”
~Rev. Dr. Paul Sorrentino, Directorof Religious & Spiritual Life and Protestant Advisor at Amherst College andauthor of A Transforming Vision: Multiethnic fellowshipin college and in the Church.

“JacciTurner has found a creative way to introduce people to contemplative
practices, thusproviding a vista of the transformative process that occurs
when one slows down, reflects more deeply, andis increasingly open to the
present moment.”

~Douglas Gregg Founder and Director of Christian Formation and Direction Ministries and Co-Author of Disciplines of the Holy Spirit.

Join my happiness! Read the book. Write a Review. Share the JOY!!

Spiritual Practice: Reading Icons

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Review: Last time we talked about The Welcoming Prayer. It has been really good for me to practice this discipline. Since I’m not eating sugar or drinking wine, sitting with and welcoming my difficult feelings has been a daily activity. How has it gone for you?

This is an ongoing series on trying different contemplative prayer practices leading up to the release of my new book, The Retreat: A Tale Of Spiritual Awakening.

Today I want to talk about Reading Icons. I think about this as, “praying icons,” but the ancient practice says that icons are not painted, they are “written,” and therefore meant to be “read.”

People that write icons go through years of training and it is a very spiritual process for them. Icons tell a story, but they contain deep truth about God. They were a way for non-literate people to learn about God, and for us now they can be a window or doorway into the presence of God.

First, you have to understand why they look how they look. When I first saw icons, I thought they were just ugly paintings. Then someone explained to me that icons are written with inverse perspective. We are used to a perspective with the vanishing point in the distance, things get smaller to show depth in a painting. Icons are the opposite. The vanishing point is set out, behind us, drawing us into the painting, inviting us in.

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Consider this famous icon: Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity. It is two things: The story of Abram entertaining angels at the Oak of Mamre, and it is the trinity, father, son and spirit, inviting us to sit with them at a table.

There are deep and intricate explanations of this icon on the internet. For brevity’s sake, I will share only a few of them here. The Father is on the left, wearing heavenly colors, a staff authority is in his hand, and the other hand is blessing his son. The Son is in the middle, wearing earthy and heavenly colors, a staff of authority is in his hand, and he is blessing the chalice. The spirit is wearing the colors of water and heaven and he also holds the staff of authority. His hand invites us to sit at the table with them. See the opening at the table where we are invited into this holy communion? Notice how their heads incline toward one another?

I invite you to sit and read this icon. Put yourself at this table and let yourself feel what it is like to sit with each member of the trinity. You might have one reaction to the Father and a completely different one to the Son, or to the Spirit. You are welcomed in. How does it feel to be there? Let me know if you try it and how you relate to the different persons of the trinity.  If you enjoy the experience of reading an Icon, this book really helped to guide me through reading others.

The Open Door: Entering the Sanctuary of Icons and Prayer by Frederica Mathewes-Green 

Photo Credit Partial Icon, Full Icon

 

Spiritual Practices: The Welcoming Prayer

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Last month I introduced you to the practice of having a Spiritual Director. I love having one and if you are wanting to go deeper with God,  I hope you will consider finding one for yourself.  If you’re wondering why we are doing these bi-monthly practices, see the note below. *

Today I want to talk about the Welcoming Prayer. I’m going to be trying this one during lent. It is the process of welcoming deep feelings that get triggered throughout our day.

I don’t like deep negative feelings. With my reaction, I want to eat sugar or drink wine. Since about a month ago, I gave up both of these in favor of a healthier body, and my feelings are now more front and center. I’m hoping the Welcoming Prayer will take me to a deeper, healthier place.

I’ve borrowed information, with permission, from my favorite website, The Gravity Center, to help explain the Welcoming Prayer. It’s a fairly simple but powerful practice. Here is part of their description:

“The Welcoming Prayer is a method of actively letting go of thoughts and feelings that support the false-self system.

Developed by Mary Mrozowski, one of the founders of Contemplative Outreach, the Welcoming Prayer invites God to dismantle the emotional programs of the false-self system and to heal the emotional wounds we’ve stored in the body.

The method of the Welcoming Prayer includes noticing the feelings, emotions, thoughts and sensations in your body, welcoming them, and then letting them go.”

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Instructions

When you have an overly emotional experience in daily life, take a moment to be still and silent and follow these steps.

  1. Focus, to feel and sink into the feelings, emotions, thoughts, sensations and commentaries in your body.
  2. Welcome God in the feelings, emotions, thoughts, commentaries or sensations in your body by saying, “Welcome.”
  3. Let go by repeating the following sentences:
  • “I let go of the desire for security, affection, control.”
  • “I let go of the desire to change this feeling/sensation

 

So, that’s it, easy peasy right? We’ll see in about two week how easy it is. I just tried it and may still have tears blurring my vision. Thanks for joining me on this quest to try and develop helpful spiritual practices into my life. Let me know what you are trying and if it is helpful. Jacci

*I’m writing these bi-weekly blogs to get ready for the release of my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It’s available for pre-order now on all eBook distributors and although it’s fiction, it has a lot of wonderful resources for expanding your contemplative practices.

Photo Credit: Empty Hands, Hands with plant

 

Spiritual Practices: Spiritual Direction

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Hello and welcome to my bi-monthly blog on spiritual practices*. Last time my wonderful spiritual director guest blogged about Centering Prayer because it was not a practice I had tried consistently. I must say, it wasn’t easy for me these last two weeks. Some days were easier than others. Some days it was an exercise in frustration. How did it go for you? The verdict is still out for me, but so many of my friends love this discipline that I will keep trying.

Today I thought it would be wise to talk about Spiritual Direction as I often mention my own spiritual director as the source of wisdom in my journey. I am also a certified spiritual director and a certified supervisor of spiritual directors; but I still remember about ten years ago, someone asked if I was a spiritual director and I had no idea what they were talking about — so let me explain.

A spiritual director, also known as a spiritual companion, is someone who comes along side you in your spiritual journey. They are not a therapist or life-coach. Usually, they meet with you once a month for only an hour, and usually they receive a fee, typically about $40. 

Path splits two directions, fork in the road

Maybe the best way to describe the discipline is to paint the picture of a spiritual direction appointment; so, join me in my prayer room if you will. You would be welcomed into my cozy prayer room, seated across from me in a comfortable chair, and we might chat a bit about how you are. Then, I’d ask if you’re ready for me to light the candle. If you said yes, I’d light a candle and say something like, “This candle reminds us that we are in the presence of the holy.”

You see, the role of a director is to set the table for you in the presence of the holy one. This is a conversation between three people. Then I might say, “How would you like to start? Shall we breathe for a moment, while you collect your thoughts? Take your time and start whenever you are ready.

Then the session starts. You would talk about whatever is front-of-mind and I will listen, ask occasional questions to help you notice themes, or go deeper into a subject that seems important. An example of a good question might be, “Where do you see God in this?”

At the end of our time together, I’ll ask you how you’d like to close: In silence? Would you like to pray? Would you like me to pray for you?” And then we’d set up our next meeting.

Spiritual Direction can be a wonderful spiritual discipline to receive when you are finding the old ways of prayer aren’t really working for you as well, or perhaps when you are in a difficult life transition, or you just want to go deeper in your relationship with God. Directors can be found in your area through the website, Spiritual Directors International but remember you should interview several to find one that truly fits for you.

Does Spiritual Direction sound like something you’d like to try? Let me know and I’ll try to help you find a director in your area.

*This blog series is leading up to the release of my latest book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It is available for pre-order now!

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