Spiritual Practice: Taking a Retreat

My Thinking Spot

I know I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating; get away! Get away from household chores, get away from kids, family, friends. Get away and get quiet.

For me, this has become something my spirit longs for. It wasn’t always so. My first silent retreat was a bit of a disaster that involved a lot of pacing and letter writing. If I couldn’t talk to a friend, I’d write her my every thought.

But after years of practice, I can’t think of a better way to spend my time. I try to take a 24-hour retreat once a month, but the pandemic made that very difficult. I’m so grateful things are opening up again and I had a much needed retreat this week. The most important part of this for me is the gift of TIME. Time to quiet myself. Time to walk in the trees. Time to listen.

My Room at Mercy Center

I love this quote by Henri Nouwen,

“Nature is God’s first language.”

I find this to be true for me. When I can sit outside on the green grass among the flowers and trees, I can hear God better.

On my recent retreat I had a hard decision to make. Sometimes it’s harder to say “No,” to something we want than it is to say “Yes” to something we don’t want. At least that is true for me. Something I wanted came my way, but it just didn’t feel right. On my retreat I was able to process why it wasn’t a good fit. I read, I prayed, I walked, I sat. I napped (this is very important) and I reached out to some wise counselors. Taking the time to sort out important decisions is a great way to spend a retreat. I even walked the labyrinth. It was a great day.

Take a walk with me...

If you can’t take 24 hours away, try to find two hours even if you must swap childcare with a friend.  Drive somewhere lovely: a park, or a river, or a lake, and just be in nature. Listen, rest, contemplate. It’s amazing what gifts that kind of silence will bring. Taking a long hike is another way to experience this kind of retreat. Most people I know, who have grown in contemplative practices, find it is easiest to hear God in nature. So, if you can, get outside.

But there are those that are house bound for some reason. I’ve taken virtual retreats that have also been lovely. The curse of the pandemic is that so many folks with compromised immune systems have had to stay home for a long time. The hidden blessing of the pandemic is the world learning to do things online. Virtual retreats are available, just google them. I took a nine-day virtual retreat to Ireland and Scotland, and it was amazing.

What kind of retreats have worked for you? How do you make time and space for them?

Spiritual Practice: Discernment

Are you trying to make some BIG decisions right now? Maybe you’re trying to decide if you should get married, end a relationship, get training in spiritual direction, leave a job, go to graduate school, or adopt a child. These big life choices need time. It helps to have some guidance during that time.

I’m reading the book, Discernment, Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henry Nouwen (with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird).

In the preface it defines discernment in a Christian context this way:

 “Discernment is the spiritual practice that assesses and seeks to understand what God is trying to say.”

The good news is that God’s voice is everywhere. When you are in a difficult place of decision making, I encourage you to pay close attention to your dreams. I’ve noticed that when I’ve made big decisions, my dreams ramp up with a lot of guidance and information about what my unconscious mind really thinks about a situation. Listen!

Discernment is about paying attention to what is drawing you.

“When certain poems or scripture verses speak to us in a special way, when nature sings and creation reveals its glory, when particular people seem to be placed in our path, when a critical or current event seems full of meaning, it’s time to pay attention to the divine purposes to which they point.” (viii)

As we do this, we take these “noticings” to a group of people we trust and together they can help us discern what is best.

I have a group of fellow spiritual directors that meet monthly for supervision. Sometimes one of us asks for a time of discernment and we listen deeply, ask helpful questions, and allow the answers to surface over time. It works well and has helped me through some major life decisions.

Not everyone has that kind of group, so I wanted to share something I’m doing online. I’m starting a discernment group in July that will go for six months. It will be pretty low key – we will read two discernment books, meet online twice as a group, and once individually, and there will be some spiritual practices to try. Please consider joining me. You can access that program here. If you are discerning something with your significant other, I’ll let you both join for the price of one, which is only $99. I’ve never offered something like this to a broad group, but I’ve found that online communities can be just as rich as in-person groups. So, if you’re interested, just sign up and I’ll keep you posted.

Last weekend we graduated our first on-line spiritual direction cohort. They worked for two years, meeting for six weekends during that time, reading a book a month and writing book reports. They also wrote spiritual reflection papers, took retreats, tried about twenty-five spiritual practices, and met with their own spiritual directors. In year two they met with their own directees and received supervision. It is a lot of work and we had never done it online before, but we found it an extremely rich experience. There were many tears at Sunday’s graduation. If becoming a spiritual director is something you’re interested in, we will be starting another program in 2023. The discernment class is a prerequisite for that program. But look at their faces! It was magical.

I’d love to hear how you go about discerning when difficult decisions come your way. What works for you?

Spiritual Practice: Creativity

My husband recently signed up for a pottery class. The way his eyes light up when he comes home from class and tells me all he is learning gives me great joy. There is something about creativity that is good for our souls.

I’ve always been shocked when people take wood and make it into a table, when they produce a delicious meal, grow a garden, or sew something by hand. These gifts of creativity are beyond me, but I imagine they feel the same way about their gift as I do about writing. I couldn’t not write if I tried. It gives me joy and takes me to a place where I lose time. For me, it’s a spiritual practice, a form of prayer.

Today I thought I’d introduce you to some friends, or at least beloved acquaintances, who are making the world a better place through their artistic gifts.

Music: I “met” Simon de Voil, on a nine-day virtual pilgrimage to Ireland and Scotland led by Christine Valters Paintner. Simon is a Scottish sacred musician and song writer now transplanted to Washington state. He sang most of the songs on this album during our retreat, and I was pleased to win some of his music during the last day raffle. Now, I listen to this album almost daily as it feels like “deep calling to deep.”

My Facebook friend Emily is a single mother of three children – two with special needs. She supports herself and her children by making and selling beautiful and reasonably priced jewelry. Check out her creations on her Etsy shop. I’ve bought several for myself and as gifts. She often talks about how much joy this creativity gives her.

My friend Marietta does incredible things with silver. She makes sacred objects for churches and priests. How did she get into that? We talked about it over lunch one day. On her Facebook page she shares this explanation under a picture of a beautiful challis:

 “When I chose to pursue creating Holy Hardware as a full time profession, this design filled my mind.

This moment in time, the moment God reached through to tap Mary and tell her of the unbelievable plan He had for her life. It takes my breath away and fills me with awe. Mary said, “Yes” without hesitation. She trusted God 100%.

Then I look at my life, the times God has tapped me, those transcendent moments where I have gotten a glimpse of the unbelievable plan God has for my life. I have hesitated in fear. Then I remember Mary and my fears are annulled.

Loudon Silver Work has come about as a result of saying, “Yes” to God’s plan.”

And of course, I have to tell you about indie authors. I could mention dozens of personal friends but today I want to highlight a give-away. Those of us who write books for children aged eight and up have wild imaginations. We often give away more books than we sell. This month, several of us are sharing books at no cost to you through this link. My book, Bending Willow, the first book of five in The Finding Home Series, is one of them.

The creative folks I’ve shared today are just a drop in the bucket, but I’m sure all would love it if you shared their art as widely as possible.

What kind of creativity sets your soul on fire? I’d love to hear about it and share your links if you have them!

Spiritual Practice: Healing Your Body from Depression

We are living in difficult times and depression is a natural part of that.

When I was a School Counselor at a middle school, kids came to me all the time, saying they were depressed. I’d say, “Congratulations, you’re doing your job!” After all, in the words of Bart Simpson, “Depressing a teenager is like shooting fish in a barrel.” Then I’d help them decide if their depression was teenage angst or something more. Either way I’d give my, “how to release endorphins” talk.

Endorphins are those brain chemicals our body releases to soothe and comfort us. There are some ways we can release them if we’re depressed. For instance, exercise: every minute past fifteen minutes of aerobic exercise releases endorphins! Simple? Here are other ways: Laughing, eating chocolate, sex (don’t worry, I didn’t mention this one to the middle school kids), petting a dog or cat, holding a baby, and looking at something beautiful (which is why Brad Pitt will always sell tickets. I mean they tried to make him less attractive in Fury, but did it really work)?


If having friends over to eat chocolate and watch a comedy (hopefully starring Brad Pitt) doesn’t work, this may be a more serious depression. Of the two more serious kinds of depression, both are physiological, but one is caused by circumstances, and one is a chemical imbalance in the body.

I’ve had circumstantial depression twice. The first time there were a lot of losses in my life over one summer: Four sets of close friends moved up north, we left our job and our church all at the same time. Of course, being a therapist, it took me waaayyyy too long to figure out I was depressed. Physician, heal thyself!

The second time my depression was triggered by the month of stress related to my son’s disappearance. A month after reconnecting with him, even though I knew he was safe, my body went into depression. The body can crash after a long period of being amped up on adrenaline. Both times I became aware of my depression by noticing the symptoms: Loss of interest in things that normally interest me, increased (or loss of, though I’ve never experienced it) appetite, increase (or loss of) sleep, malaise, and a withdrawing from social relationships.


“I think I’m depressed,” I said to myself with great insight as I lay in a fetal position on my bed, crying into my chocolate bar. So, I decided to be proactive, and I gave myself this prescription: sleep more, expect less, cry often, bake, eat, and stay home when I can. Then, if I didn’t feel better in two months, I promised myself to go see a therapist and get some meds.


Thankfully, this worked for me and three weeks on this stringent program allowed me to heal and feel better. Many people need short or long-term therapy and anti-depression meds and there is absolutely no shame in that. But let’s try these natural methods first.

How have you managed your depression?

Spiritual Practice: Taking a Walk

How can something as simple as walking be a spiritual practice? Actually, any kind of exercise: walking, running, or hiking, can be a spiritual practice when it is done without the distractions of talking or music, and when done with intention to listening to the Spirit, nature, and the wisdom of the body.

Or, to put it another way, In The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, the author says, “The wisdom of the spirit often comes through the wisdom of the body.”

Too often in the west we separate the body, mind and spirit from each other. But, in the Hebrew culture the idea of a SOUL has all three linked together. We separate them to our own detriment. How many people do you know that have allowed their bodies to atrophy and then become unhealthy of mind and spirit as well? Or students in medical school who are so focused on learning that they forget to eat, or walk outside in the sunshine, only to resemble the cadavers they study. We can even become unbalanced spiritually; I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “She is so heavenly minded she is no earthly good.” Walking can help us balance our souls.

I understand this can be harder if you live in a big city. But all cities have parks or marinas. You might need to have headphones on to block some of the noise, or even stream something instrumental to help you clear the external noise away.

For me, walking my dog for 25 to 45 minutes helps get me out of the house, and even though I live in a desert, I can observe the beauty of that landscape. This has been really helpful during the pandemic. How many Biblical stories happened in deserts? There is much to learn even there.

But, as you know, I’m also a tree hugger and I try to drive up to the trees at least once a month to fill my soul with green beauty. God often speaks to me through nature, but only if I get out long enough to let my thoughts settle and then turn my inner ears to really listen. I don’t have huge revelations every day, but moving my body regularly is a great way to make sure my soul stays in balance.

My husband and I went to the redwoods last weekend and I keep thinking about what I’ve been learning about trees, how they release “feel good chemicals” as we walk among them. Some people call this “forest bathing.” It sure feels good to me to walk in the forests. I hope each of you can find this kind of place. The world is super stressful right now and we need all the feel good chemicals we can get!

Have you found that exercise helps strengthen your soul? I’d love to hear your stories.

Spiritual Practice: Welcoming Prayer

In the past 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.  In difficult times like these a director can be a touch stone for spiritual health.

Personally, the pandemic has been hard enough, but throw a war on top of it, along with escalating gas and food prices, and difficult feelings start to take over. My chest hurts just thinking about it. I can’t even watch the news. It’s hard to pray. But it’s Lent, which is a time in the church calendar for lament. So, let’s not ignore the pain of the world, but try to sit with it. One way to do that is called, “The Welcoming Prayer.”

The Welcoming Prayer is a good practice to try during Lent. It is the process of welcoming deep feelings that get triggered throughout our day.

I don’t like negative feelings such as anger or sadness. In my family of origin, they weren’t really allowed. In the past I would try to soothe or dampen those feelings with sugar or wine. But those things don’t help me have a healthy body, and the feelings I think of as negative, are also a part of me and need to be heard. If I ignore them, they tend to come out in unhelpful ways like hurting someone I love or making me physically sick. The Welcoming Prayer can take me to a deeper, healthier place.

You can find out more about the Welcoming Prayer on the website, The Gravity Center, but here is my explanation:

Instructions:

  1. When I feel angry, sad, jealous (or some other strong emotion I think of as negative) I sit down and welcome it. I might say, “Hello Sadness, I see you. I know you are a part of me. So, tell me Sadness, what’s going on? Is there something I’m missing? Is there something I need to change, or do, or let go of?
  2. After you have listened to your strong feeling let it go. Give it to God for healing. Let it know it is loved as a part of you and if it needs to tell you more later you will give it time. It’s okay to put strong feelings on the back burner until you have time to sit with them.

So, that’s it; easy peasy right? We’ll see in about two weeks how easy it is. I just tried it and may still have tears blurring my vision. Thanks for joining me on this quest to develop helpful spiritual practices. Let me know if you try The Welcoming Prayer.

Spiritual Practice: Contemplative Activism

Several years ago, I had the privilege of attending a “Gravity” conference in Nebraska. Gravity puts on conferences for “contemplative activists.” When I try to explain this to people the first reaction is, “Contemplative Activist, isn’t that an oxymoron?”

Let me tell you how Gravity started. Chris and Phileena Heuertz worked overseas with marginalized populations like sex-trafficked women and girls. They noticed over time that their co-workers burned out every few years. They decided to try to figure out how to make this kind of activism more sustainable.

To that end, they interviewed Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton, and Mother Theresa. All three said that in order to sustain good works, you must have a discipline of contemplative prayer practices from which to strengthen your soul.

The retreat I went to was called a Grounding Retreat where these contemplative practices were taught. It was held at a Benedictine Monastery.

The retreat was wonderful! Each session we learned at least one practice and then tried it and debriefed it. On the Gravity Website, you can explore all these practices. I’ll list a few here: Silence, Solitude, Stillness, Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, Breath Prayer, and the Examen.

For me, the take-home was threefold:

First, I had already used many of these practices, but none of them had become regular disciplines in my life except my monthly retreats to the Mercy Center in Auburn, California which was greatly curtailed during the pandemic. I also added yoga to my exercise routine, which I first tried at this retreat. I’ve also enjoyed meditation and lectio apps.

Second, as a writer, I was between books when I arrived at the retreat – without a clue about what I wanted to write next. Almost the second I walked onto the property; an idea downloaded into my brain and The Retreat was born. It’s a fictional book that takes you on a personal retreat. Phileena even wrote an editorial review for me.

Third, this is very personal: in my former job, I was at these kinds of retreat centers at least twice a year. One of the saddest parts of leaving that work was having to give up those retreats. The last day of the retreat I sat by a little lake and asked God why I was there. Was it just to beef up my personal practices? Was it for a new book idea? He reminded me of the sense of loss I’d felt when leaving that job, thinking I’d never be at a retreat like this again. And God simply said, “I love you enough to make this happen because I know it’s important to you.” That made me cry. It was as if God was saying, “I’ve got you!”

If you’re an activist, especially if you are working in a job that exposes you to soul-draining work, it is important to restore your soul with contemplative practices. But all of us will do well to add these practices to our lives. To help us do good, better.

I started this blog to bring easy onramp spiritual practices to folks. I hope you explore it to find some that you might enjoy.

Do you have any favorite contemplative practices? What has worked for you or what would you like to try?

Spiritual Practice: Sitting in Unlikely Thin Places

I don’t think of heaven as a place far away, with harp playing angels on fluffy white clouds. Nope. Heaven to me is another dimension, just out of sight, a hairsbreadth away and occasionally, it breaks through: through us, through nature, through worship, and through hard places where people feel in desperate need.

These places are called THIN places. Places where the presence of heaven is THICK, where you can feel God. I often feel it in old churches and retreat centers where decades of prayer have saturated the walls with peace. But those aren’t the only places.

The first time I noticed such a place, outside of church, was at a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting I was asked to attend for a class. I shouldn’t have been surprised that God was so THICK in that room Jesus was always present to the desperate. He always answered the requests of those who knew their need. I had the urge to take off my shoes in that NA meeting. It felt like holy ground.

I had the same urge standing in the old growth redwoods near Santa Cruz. It was unearthly quiet under those giant sentinels. The years-deep carpet of duff makes it a hushed place. My neck ached as I tried to see the top of the trees that were growing there before heaven came to earth that first time in the form of Jesus. It was like standing in a cathedral…holy. My feet wanted out of my shoes.

In the past decade, I’ve found thin places while sitting with my friends from the LGBTQIA community. I find them when I hear of their faith despite fifty years of being told that God couldn’t love them. I hear of their self-hatred and trying desperately to pray away their very selves until they realized that kind of praying didn’t work. When these friends trust me enough to be honest about how hard it is to trust me, it feels THICK. It’s a THIN place. My toes long for freedom.

I see thin places when I sit with parents of these children who have told them, through their tears, how they have denied their true identities to the point of longing for death. I have seen the hearts of broken parents, not knowing what to do, but desperately wanting to do right by their children.  We hold hands and cry over churches that won’t let their kids in. Or with parents, who are pastors, and their choice to stand with their gay children means losing their jobs. It feels THIN. It feels THICK. God is very real in those conversations.

So, if you see me sitting in Starbucks, barefoot and handing a Kleenex to a friend, pray for me: Pray I will listen well. That I will love well. That I will hold the space for God to be with us. Because God wants to heal the desperately hurting. God always has. God always will.

Where have you felt the THIN places of God?

Spiritual Practice: TAlking with friends

Hi friends,

I wanted to invite you to join me this evening as I talk to my friends Debra Trappen and Molly McKinley about Thresholds, Mary Magdalen, and how my book, The Retreat came to be written. We cover topics like Deconstructing, The Stages of Spiritual Development, and much more.

Use this link:

The thing is, none of us have it all figured out, and talking to friends who are on the same spiritual journey helps!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this conversation and I’m sure it will be accessible after the live event.

Thanks, Jacci

Spiritual Practice: Looking for Inner Light

Christianity, when it first came from the East, looked very different than after it became the religion of Imperial Rome. The Celtic lands were able to keep the heart of Eastern Christianity and today we are being called to remember, to harken back to what has been lost, what is true inside us.

First, and most importantly we need to remember that God’s light is resident in every person and everything God created. It’s there, in everyone. There is no original sin, but original blessing. You can’t hold a newborn and not see that.

The indigenous peoples understood this, and what a difference it would have made to them if the missionaries that came to their land had looked for God’s light in them! This God wisdom is resident in nature as well, another thing our indigenous brothers and sisters understand. Not that trees are God (we are not talking about Pantheism), but that God can speak to us through trees, or birds, or grass because God is in everything (Pan-en-theism).

Western imperialism seeks to dominate, claim, and subdue the land, leaving it blind to God within the land and its inhabitants. Now more than ever we need to remember, the land is ours to cherish and care for.

So, as we approach another difficult year, what can we do to begin looking for God’s light in everyone? How can we learn to listen to it in ourselves?

First, we need to reorient ourselves toward the light and remember. The Celtic view of “sin” is that God, through the Spirit, is calling us back to our true selves. The light might have been dulled by our choices or circumstances. We need to dust it off, listen, and respond.

The Celts believe that God does not reside in buildings but everywhere. Yet, gathering with likeminded people is important. There are two Bibles in Celtic thought, a big one (Nature, where we meet God) and a small one (The Bible we read, which instructs us in the way of Christ). So, meeting with likeminded people gives us courage to be the light in this hurting world. If church doesn’t work for you, find or create a small group of folks to be your support.

The Celts believed in a balance of feminine and masculine. We have become unbalanced in our patriarchal Roman western faith traditions. And sex, which was made by God to be a beautiful expression of love, is redefined as a value of celibacy or in marriage, “only for procreation.” We have lost balance in so many ways. Perhaps reading a book on female spirituality would be helpful. Or meeting with someone who expresses their sexuality or gender in a way you don’t understand, and listening well to them. Or meeting with someone on the opposite side of the political aisle and looking for the God light in them.

If you want to learn more about the Celtic way, I recommend any book by John Philip Newell. His new book, Sacred Earth Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What Our Souls Know and Healing the World, is FANTASTIC.

On a personal note, I retired from my counseling practice last week! Thirty years after receiving my Marriage and Family degree, I’m laying it down. But I really want to press into this idea of looking for the light, being the light, and listening to the light within. I’d love to hear how you respond to these ideas. When I first heard them, I felt like I had finally found my people, but you may have a different response.

My word for the New Year is “be.” I look forward to slowing down, reading, writing, and loving folks well. Happy New Year to you all.

Photo of light in tree by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Photo of girl by Masha Raymers on Pexels.com