Spiritual Practice: Grieving

bathing the dying

 

Grieving is a spiritual practice? I believe it is and it’s one we often try to cut short, but it’s time to reevaluate grieving, it’s time to give it it’s due. I mean, even Jesus wept.

I’ve learned a lot about grief, personally and in my work as a hospice counselor. I guess if I had to summarize what I’ve learned about grief, I would say: White, non-Jewish Americans don’t have the practices in place to support a grieving process that allows the body, mind and spirit of a person to truly heal after a loss.

Grieving is a beautiful, natural outcome of loss, but we just don’t know how to make space for it in our culture. Let me give some examples of grief I’ve seen in white, non-Jewish families and then compare them to that of other cultures.

I attended a death yesterday of the husband/father of a beautiful family that was quite typical in this way. When the father died, the mother rushed everyone out of the room while the funeral home attendant loaded the body onto a gurney, covered him completely with a blanket and took him out to an awaiting van. It was all very quiet. Then the wife looked at me with a blank expression and asked, “What do we do now?”

Typically, in these kinds of families, what happens next is a flurry of activity. Family and friends are called, the house is cleaned, insurances companies are informed, death certificates are ordered, funeral arrangements made, and the bereft has to make a million small decisions. This process takes about a week, maybe two. Then the funeral comes, an hour of remembrance about the loved one, and that’s it. Now you are expected to go back to work or life — as if your world didn’t just explode.

In a Jewish death, people observe Shiva: the mirrors are covered and people gather to sit with you at your house for a week to offer condolences. Often the dead body is lovingly washed by family. A candle burns in the home and everyone wears a black torn ribbon to symbolize grief. A Jewish friend of mine said when a family experiences a loss, they can turn down social invitations for a year without any bad feelings; I think that is beautiful.

My hospice agency had a Latino family who lost a beloved sister, and when we went to pronounce the death, the house was packed full of friends and family, weeping, wailing and eating together. Death in the Latino community is a communal affair. No one grieves alone. This is true in many other cultures and I believe communal grieving is extremely helpful in allowing the natural process of grief to occur. Grief can receive its full expression and is not cut short.

We need some rituals for our grieving. In the Hebrew Scriptures, grieving is taken seriously. There are psalms called Psalms of Lament and an entire book called Lamentations. Sadly these two sets of scripture have been removed from many modern prayer books. It’s as if we are afraid to give expression to our grief and we choose instead to “suck it up and be strong.” In my opinion, this leads to prolonged/unresolved grief and unhealthy bodies that have to carry unexpressed grief.

broken instrument

Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?

 

How can we learn to grieve well?

  1. Realize that loss is a natural part of life. Not just death, but any kind of loss: loss of a job, loss of a friend, loss of a pet, loss of your health…
  2. Lament is another name for deep grief. Cultures that lament together heal together. As a culture, we have a lot of things we need to lament together to heal our nation: let’s start with the loss of our national unity, or our failure to end racism or systemic injustice. What would it be like to lament that together? Might that be a starting place for the healing of our nation?
  3. Make room for grief in your life and give yourself permission to grieve. Take naps, wear waterproof mascara, eat chocolate, lower your expectations…
  4. Invite people into your grief so that you don’t have to grieve alone. Friends don’t know what to say to a grieving person but they usually want to help. Let them in on how you’re doing, accept offers of food, chores, and company.
  5. Brainstorm, in advance how you want to respond to grief so that you have some ideas/structures in place to help. There are many grief groups, generally offered by hospitals and hospices; those are important, especially if you don’t have family or friends who understand what you are going through.
  6. Remember that everyone grieves differently. There is no rule book to follow and those unhelpful reminders by others to, “get on with it,” are just that: unhelpful. It’s okay to stand up for your right to grieve in your own way.

We need to create new rituals to allow for grief. What new ways can we allow ourselves to heal through the power of grief? Are there ways that we can facilitate healthy grieving through art, music, or dance? How can religious/spiritual organizations help create these spaces? What can you add to the discussion? I’d love to hear ideas about how we can help each other grieve more freely.

 

For more spiritual practices check out my newest book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.

Photo Credit: Statute , Violin 

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Spiritual Practice: Walking

 

walking

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. How many Biblical stories happened in deserts? There is much to learn even there.

Man walking in trees

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.

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

 

Photo Credits: Walking,  Walking in Trees

Spiritual Practice: The Enneagram

Enneagram-2

 

When first exposed to the Enneagram, many think it is just another personality test, like the Myers Briggs Personality Indicator. They might find an online test and take it, looking at the nine Enneagram numbers and trying to decide which one they are.

But the Enneagram is much deeper than that. It is an ancient tool for helping you distinguish your true self from your false self, or your “shadow side.” I’ve been learning from the Enneagram for the last ten years and I still feel like a novice. So, full disclosure: you will not be finding your Enneagram number by reading this blog. But, I hope to give you a slight overview and point you in the direction of how to do so and I want to encourage you to investigate the Enneagram for yourself.  It is worth the work because the Enneagram is a truly life-changing tool of personal and spiritual growth.

The Overview: The diagram of the Enneagram can be the first thing that turns people away, especially Christians. For us, it looks to similar to a pentagram. But, it’s good to know that the spiritual mothers and fathers of our faith have been using this tool for centuries and that the diagram is made of interlocking triangles is NOT a satanic symbol.

 

There are many levels to understanding the Enneagram, but here are a few:

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  1. Finding your number
  2. Understanding that that number is not prescriptive but descriptive; it is a starting point from which to grow. Your Enneagram number has a light side (grace) and a shadow side. Often when you have a hard time finding your number, it is the shadow side that is the tell. We DO NOT like to be confronted with our own shadow. But, as we acknowledge this side of who we are, we can bring it into the light, ask God to heal us and become more self-aware when we are operating from our shadow. The goal is not condemnation; the goal is healing, health, and love.
  3. Each number has a number to either side. For instance, a #9 is bracketed by the number 8 and the number 1. Most of us lean into the attributes of one of those side numbers or “wings.” But both wings are important to understand.
  4. There are also numbers we “go to” when we are stressed or when we are happy. These are important to know and to either cultivate or avoid.
  5. The numbers are in set of three that have some commonalities 1,9,8 are called the “gut” triad. 2,3,4 are called the “heart triad,” and 5,6 and 7 are called the “head triad.” These triads have some common strengths and pitfalls.

 

Obviously, there is a lot to know about the Enneagram, and this overview won’t leave you feeling like you understand what it’s all about. So, lest you feel overwhelmed, let me tell you one story about how understanding the enneagram helped change my life.

When I first learned that my Enneagram number was Two, the “helper,” I was so distraught about seeing my shadow side that I spent a week on the floor crying in despair. I didn’t want to believe that I had a bossy side. My husband, however, lovingly pointed out instances when my desire to be “helpful,” became overbearing, when I was helping others who weren’t asking for help. Once, when we were on a stressful trip, and I started ordering everyone’s food for them. This was not helpful. Seeing this tendency in myself has helped me to grow; now I catch myself more often or feel it coming on and can stop myself by repeating, “They haven’t asked for help,” or “This is not my responsibility.”

On the other side, when a two is happy, we go to the high side of the number four, which is creative and romantic. When I realized this, I understood that I had not made any room in my life for creatively. I used to be involved in theater, but found that it took too many hours out of my life. That is when I decided to set aside one day a week to create, to write. And ten years later, I’ve published nine books, with two other manuscripts awaiting a publishing home. That’s eleven books in ten years, all because I realized I needed to give room for creativity in my life. Thank you Enneagram wisdom!

the retreat

Check it Out! 

So, what is the best way to begin this great work? The simplest and most straightforward book I’ve read on the subject is called: The Essential Enneagram

the essential enneagramWhat’s great about this little book is that is really helps you get through steps 1-5 listed above. That being said, it is helpful to do this with a friend. My husband and I read this book together and we tried to come up with a archetype of someone we knew who exemplified each number. That helped us get a handle on each number, which helped us find our own. Think of this book as “dating the enneagram;” try on different numbers and see what fits.

Now, if you’re ready to go deeper, here are some other helpful book to take you there.

Hot off the press:

Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram, Paperback – August 15, 2017 by Alice Fryling (Author)

I just finished Alice’s book. She is a Christian mentor from my youth and this is an excellent guide with good stories and Bible Study reflections for each number.

The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth, Paperback – September 5, 2017 by Christopher L. Heuertz  (Author), Richard Rohr (Foreword)

I pre-ordered this one as Chris is someone who, along with his wife Phileena, leads the Gravity Center for contemplative activism. Time with them inspired my most recent book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening, which touches briefly on the Enneagram. I can’t wait to read this book as I respect Chris and his spirituality a great deal.

And, for those who are ready to go in greater depth, these authors have several books to help:

Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery Oct 29, 1996 by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

Another way to learn about the Enneagram is through a retreat or seminar, which is how I got my first taste. You can google “Enneagram training near me,” and see what you can find.

I hope you join me in this grand adventure as we bring our shadows into light and find grace there to heal us. Let me know about your journey with the Enneagram.

 

Photo Credit: Colored Enneagram

Black and White Enneagram

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Reading

 

books

Sometimes the best spiritual practices are the ones that we don’t even notice because we do them naturally. Reading is like that for me, although I was a reluctant reader as a child. One day my best friend, Julia, introduced me to “horse books.” It was all I needed to become a lifelong lover of reading!

Fast forward twenty years and I had moved with my new husband to Reno, Nevada and it was like moving from a spiritual ocean in California to a spiritual (as well as physical) desert. Before, I had an abundance of older men and women who were mentors to me, but in Reno those folks were hard to come by. So, I fell into being mentored through books. Hundreds of fantastic authors were right at my fingertips, and reading as a spiritual discipline is a practice I continue today.

Asking me for a favorite book is like asking me who is my favorite child, Instead, I’ll just mention the non-fiction books I’ve been reading in the last few months that have been spiritually significant to me:

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by Desmond Tutu and The Dalai Lama.         

The book of joy     

This book is put together from a week of interviews where the two men, in their eighties, sit together and talk about joy. It is fun (especially on audio) because you get a sense of their personalities as well as their profound spiritual depth. This depth has sprung from lives of suffering, and yet their pain has somehow blossomed into incredible joy for both men. In the back of the book, many examples of spiritual practices are listed for you to try (and you know I like that!).

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, by Henri Nouwen.

The prodigal son

I may have mentioned this in two blogs already so I won’t belabor the point except to say, READ IT! It is easy to read but hard to live out. It is based on Rembrandt’s painting of the story of the prodigal son from the Bible and it is deeply moving.

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr.

falling upward

Richard is not an easy read, more like a seven-course meal than fast food, but worth the time. Thankfully our spirituality grows and changes over time and God just continues to get bigger and more inclusive. This little book gives me words for what is happening to me and it tells me I’m not alone.

The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, by Phyllis Tickle.

the great emergence

This is another book that gives words to my experience. Phyllis says that every 500 years, God has a ‘yard sale.’ All the old religious systems are tossed out to make way for a new move of the spirit. She shares the history and the cultural factors in each 500-year shift and points out why our current faith and culture are in such turmoil now. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s good news folks! Again, not a light read but worth the effort.

Lastly, what am I reading right now?

Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram by Alice Fryling.

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I will do an entire blog on the Enneagram as a spiritual practice next time, but let’s just say that if you are interested in learning more about this ancient tool that will give you incredible insight into your true and false self, and help you grow toward your true self, this is the book for you. It is easy to read, full of helpful stories, and demonstrates great insight.

So, pick any book that promises you spiritual growth and dig in. You might not agree with all of it, but the exercise of thinking through deep topics, will stretch your spiritual muscles and help you grow.

As always, if you are interested in a FICTION book to help you grow spiritually, please check out my latest book. “The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.”

Until next time, let me know what you’re reading! Jacci

Bookcase Photo Credit

Spiritual Practice: Hospitality

christ-the-redeemer1

Well, I failed miserably with the fasting practice I chose for the last two weeks; I just completely forgot about it. I guess that happens sometimes, life encroaches and then there was Harry Potter World, and butter bear, and the beach… but, anyway, it’s all about grace, right?

This week I wanted to talk about the spiritual practice of Hospitality. It’s funny, I used to be really into those, “spiritual gift tests,” and when I took them, the gift of hospitality never came up for me. Still it has always been a value of our family’s, and very much modeled by Jesus, whom we follow. He talked and modeled welcoming children, the marginalized and he told many a parable about the importance of hospitality.

Once I asked my adult children what was most memorable thing about growing up in our household and how our faith had impacted them. They both talked about the people we invited in: the pregnant teens that lived with us, the international students who came for all the holidays, the exchange students we adopted. These were memories they cherished and values they wanted to continue.

You can see why moving from a 2200 square foot house with a large dining room and two-family rooms, to a 1200 square foot house with no dining room and one small living room led to some mourning on my part. It changed the way we do hospitality. We’ve had to scale down. My daughter now hosts the large gatherings we love and we have smaller groups of friends over. But, hospitality is not all about food and parties.

I’m again struck by the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32. In Nouwen’s book by that title, he talks about the father’s welcome of the son, saying that the father, welcomed without question and blessed without condition. Isn’t that a fantastic definition of hospitality? The son had taken the father’s money and gone off to squander it on wild living. But, when he came home the father didn’t ask one question about any of that. I would have wanted at least an ounce of blood and a tearful confession. The father just welcomed him home and threw a party. He blessed him as a son and gave him the full benefit of that blessing as if nothing had ever happened; it was completely unconditional! I would have been all, “You can come home but you’d better shape up mister! “

rembrandt-prodigal-son-detail2

What would the world look like if we went about welcoming people without question and blessing them without conditions? We would be hospitality, not just do hospitality. And the world would be a kinder, gentler place. That’s what I’m going to try for the next two weeks. Hopefully I’ll do better this time! Want to join me?

 

For more spiritual practices check out my book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.

Photo Credit: Christ the Redeemer,  

Prodigal Son Blog

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Fasting

Hand holding fork and knife

 

To fast is to step away from something you normally do for a span of time, in order to pray, or free up time, or cleanse your body or soul.

I’ve tried many kinds of fasting over the years. I’m not good at it, but I keep trying, which I guess it important. Here are the fasts I’ve tried:

Food:  I can usually fast food for two meals a day. Not sure I’ve ever made it to three. It’s good for me to do this occasionally because I love to eat. So, when I do fast from food, it’s usually when something is very heavy on my heart and I want to be reminded to pray about it. Food fasts remind me to pray every time my stomach growls or every time I want to reach for food.

Sugar: This is a toughie. Like any addiction, fasting from sugar will mess with you. I broke my sugar addiction and now I can taste the sweet in regular foods, my cholesterol is much better and I’ve lost weight. Fasting from an addiction, like coffee, cigarettes or sugar comes with a period of depression as the body tries to find a new normal. It is important to have good support for this kind of fast.

Technology:  I also have a really hard time fasting from technology, but I think it’s good for my soul. If I can unplug myself from my computer and phone I can settle and let my thoughts wander and generally get clarity. This is a beautiful fast that I try once a month. My fingers twitch to my phone and occasionally I cheat, but when I succeed, it is marvelous.

Talking: The first time I tried to fast from talking I about went stir crazy. I’m an extrovert, you see. But, I’ve learned to appreciate this kind of fasting which I call “silence and solitude,” and I have found it quite enjoyable. When you stop talking you can listen, to your heart and mind, to great books, to nature, to God.

Behavior: I’ve done fasting from behaviors, like gossip and negativity. This can be fun, but it’s hard for me to remember day-to-day. So, some sort of reminder like post-its around the house and in the car, can help.

breaking-chains

For a year or so, on every Wednesday, my husband did something he called, “Peace Fast;” he based it on a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures: Isaiah 58: 6-8

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

 

What would it mean to do THIS kind of a fast? At this time in history I think this is the kind of fast we need. For the next two weeks, I’m going to read this passage every morning and try and look at the world through this lens. Perhaps I will discover a new kind of fasting that will help make the world a better place or at least make me a better person. Who’s with me?

*For a fun way to learn more spiritual practices check out my new book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. 

 

Photo Credit: plate, chains

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.

Photo credit Top

Photo Credit Bottom

Spiritual Practice: Quaker Clearness Committee

clearness committee

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.

 

Photo Credit

Spiritual Practice: Ignatian Discernment

Discernment+Web_banner

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