Spiritual Practice: Suffering

It seems there is so much suffering in the world right now, and in my little world too. I have four friends who have lost their husbands, two to covid, and another dear couple whose daughter died. My mother-in-law is on hospice and I can’t even count the number of friends with chronic and terminal health issues. Hard times! Throw that on top of politics, pandemic, wars and drought and it feels overwhelming.

So, how do we “suffer well?”

First, we have to banish some unhelpful and toxic theological beliefs that cause unnecessary suffering.

The first is that “If you have enough faith, you’ll never get sick etc.…”  I call BS on this one. Nothing in the Bible promises this, but there are plenty of verses that say IN our suffering God will be with us.

Second, “God causes our suffering to teach us something.” This is also not true. We suffer because we are human and live on earth with other humans. Again, God promises to be with us in our suffering (God’s rod and staff comfort us, etc.) but not to prevent it and certainly not to cause it. Suffering, however, often leads to our growth and we can learn many things through the school of suffering which God can help us understand. God is the greatest recycler of our s**t.

Third, “Christians (or good people) won’t suffer.” Nope, not true. There are Psalms called the “Psalms of Lament” for a reason; they give us words for our suffering. There is an entire book called Lamentations. Jesus suffered big time. Happy Clappy Christianity is not helpful for those of us who are suffering. We need to be real about our pain so we can support each other not candy coat our suffering with fake perfectionism.

If a friend is suffering, what should I do? Well, here’s what NOT to do.

  1. Don’t use trite sayings to try to comfort i.e., “God must have missed your husband so he called him home.” That is not only untrue, it is very unhelpful.
  2. Don’t say, “call me if you need me.” People who are hurting won’t call. Instead say, “I’m dropping off dinner Monday night.” Or, “Can I come by tomorrow and vacuum for you?’ When my friend Mike died a bunch of our friends whet over to finish house projects he hadn’t finished. Tangible help is good.
  3. Never dismiss or deny someone their grief process. Everyone grieves differently and in their own way and time. Just let them know you love them and will be along for the journey.

So how do I deal with my suffering?

First, I’d suggest we need to change our culture so it is okay to ask others for help. I’m thankful counseling has lost its sigma, at least with young folks. It is so much a part of their culture that I recently heard a song which included the words, “my counselor says…” It’s important to seek help for any kind of suffering whether that help comes from a professional, a pastor, or a group of friends. To get help we must be willing to ask for it.

Second, allow yourself to embrace your suffering. Instead of turning the pain away, stuffing it, or denying it, allow it to be. If you stuff pain it will come back in your body as stomach issues, back issues, headaches, etc. This is bad for you. If you sit with it, listen to it, express it, even welcome it, you will heal faster. Your pain, and the feelings that come with it, are a part of you just like your joy and happiness are. They want to be acknowledged, held, and loved too.

Third, and I know I say this in almost every blog, but if you can get out in nature, it is very healing. I just had the opportunity to get out into the big redwoods for the first time in a year and a half. It was a rough year and I was exhausted. Being in the trees felt like letting my soul unfurl. Then we went to the ocean and it was peaceful and beautiful and it rained and washed away my fatigue and depression. Nature is a healing place. Try to find somewhere beautiful to sit for a while and let God speak to you through creation.

Also, sometimes a ritual can help. We attended a service for our friends whose daughter died. It was in a liturgical church with a lot of ritual and religious images around. I was surprised how comforting I found that experience. When it is hard to find words for our suffering, ritual can help. You might write a letter to a deceased loved one, bury things that remind you of a painful break-up, or gather friends to share your pain around the full moon. Create a ritual to help yourself heal.

Suffering will always be with us. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t suffered. The more we can be honest and help each other the better it will be for all of us. I’d love to hear how you deal with suffering. Prayer? Meditation? Sharing with friends? What helps you?

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Tree, mine

Spiritual Practice: Re-engaging with People

Two weeks ago I was able to attend my first in-person retreat at my beloved Mercy Center. The retreat leaders asked us to share how we felt coming into the retreat, and I said, “I’m so glad to be here, and I’m also feeling anxious. I may have forgotten how to PEOPLE.”

The fact that things are opening up a bit seems to be having this effect on many folks. It’s exciting to think of reconnecting with friends we haven’t seen in a year, AND it’s also anxiety-producing.

You go to the store because you CAN, and only half the people are wearing masks. Should you wear a mask or not? You go out to eat because you CAN, but it feels odd to be eating inside. These conflicting feelings are exhausting.

Many of us enjoyed being less busy than we were before the pandemic, and we are asking ourselves how to re-engage without falling back into the pattern of being overworked and stressed out. I want to see people, but I don’t want to see people. You get me? It’s very confusing.

I just finished listening to a book by Oprah and brain doctor Bruce D. Perry called, “What happened to you? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing” Dr. Perry talked about how our brains are wired to scan for threats. For instance, whenever we are in a new place where we don’t know folks, our brains scan each face we pass, asking the question, “Safe or unsafe.” We hold the likeness up to some imprint we developed as an infant. This is why moving to a new place is stress-producing and exhausting. We have to re-scan and relearn who is safe.

Now we’ve had a global pandemic where many who were not in our bubble for a year fell into the “unsafe” category. And the idea of getting back out there in the crowds sets off all the “unsafe” alarms in our heads. This leads to the underlying anxiety about re-engaging.

But Dr. Perry also talks about how being involved with a group of friends and family (our clan) helps us heal past trauma and live our best lives now. We just can’t get the same kind of support online no matter how much we Zoom. It’s time, folks. It’s time to re-engage.

So how do we do it?

I’d say start with the people you know best. For me personally, we were thrown into re-engagement when one of our close friends died last month from Covid. Yep, this scourge is still happening. Our group of friends rallied to host the family’s gathering after the funeral. We set up the chairs, served the food, and cleaned up, so the grieving family didn’t have to worry about anything. It was a sorrowful day, yet gathering for the first time in a year with friends felt very good (and because we were all vaccinated, we could hug)!

Do something fun! This last year was HARD. We all pulled together to make the world a safer place. So, pat yourself on the back and do something you enjoy! For me, it was going to that women’s retreat. I’d forgotten how fun it was to laugh out loud in a group. Laughing on Zoom isn’t nearly as fun because everyone is muted. You can tell people are laughing by looking at them, but you can’t hear them. Laughing releases endorphins, and doing it in a group releases more. Do something with folks that makes you laugh out loud. I promise it will make you feel better.

Get out in nature. Living in a desert, I’ve missed being out in the trees more than anything else this year. We have planned a road trip to the giant redwoods in June. I can’t wait! Nature also releases chemicals that calm our nervous systems. You just can’t be anxious with natural beauty all around you.

Pace yourself. Like a turtle, you can stick your head out and then retreat to your shell as needed. You don’t need to be out there 100% of the time. In fact, you’ve probably learned that downtime is vital to your mental health as well. I’m contemplating going back to work in person. I’ve asked my clients what they think, and more than half of them are eager to be face to face. Others want to continue online. I’m not rushing this decision for myself, and I’m not making it for anyone else. I will offer both in-person and online counseling as long as the insurance companies allow it. We each need to move forward at our own pace.

We have no idea when this pandemic will end. We may all end up back in quarantine come next winter, which is a harrowing thought. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to stretch your legs and your comfort levels to get out of the house.  Enjoy some sunshine and some people. And let me know how it’s going for you.

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Spiritual Practice: Caring for the Earth

            It’s hard to write about caring for the earth when I feel like I don’t do a good job of it. I’m not out marching against strip mining or signing climate change petitions. I have to ask myself what does it mean to care for the earth on a meta level, my level, something doable?

            Indigenous peoples have a close relationship with the earth, they pay attention, they watch, they look closely and listen. They have to as their survival is closely tied to the earth. Farmers are like that too. I often refer to my Idaho relatives who are farmers and ranchers as people of the earth. They are hard working and extraordinarily kind. They have suffered with the earth, getting things to grow and getting animals to flourish. They are “grounded.”

            But I live in a city where the earth is covered by paved roads and sidewalks. I have to drive to a place to hike “off road.” It is harder to be connected to the earth in a city. So, I will start with simple ideas that we can all try.

            Most people who are connected to the earth see the earth as feminine — Mother Earth, as it were. She is constantly giving birth, renewing life, and sacrificing for her children. Perhaps thinking of the earth as female will encourage a loving and soft appreciation for her. She is not meant to be conquered and overcome, but treasured and cared for.

            Yesterday I stepped outside after it had rained and was taken by the beautiful sweet clean smell that permeated the air. Often, I would miss this experience, in a hurry to get where I’m going, but I’m trying to stop, savor and appreciate nature. So, I stood, closed my eyes and breathed a few breaths before getting in my car.

            Since the pandemic began, I’ve been doing my counseling work from home. My “office chair” sits in front of a window. I ordered a bird feeder online. I researched the best food for small songbirds and bought black oil sunflower seeds. It has been fun to watch the little ones flutter around outside my window.

            That gave me an idea. There is an old brick planter in front of that same window with nothing in it. The afternoon sun scorches that planter and few plants can survive. But I decided to plant four sunflowers there, and guess what, they are thriving. They like the sun. This way when they are done growing in the fall, they will become natural bird feeders for the winter.

           

My next big hope is to plant some trees. Trees are being slaughtered in our world and they are the number one way to save our planet. They clean the air, remove pollution and provide oxygen. They provide shade and homes for birds and insects. They are lovely to look at and produce chemicals that make you feel good.

If you are interested in learning about how trees communicate using the wood wide web, try reading, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from A Secret World,by Peter-Wohlleben. It’s a fun, easy to read, book I’m finding fascinating.

            Here are a few more ideas. Take a WOW walk. Go somewhere with plants and trees and look, listen, watch. Then, notice the beauty of a flower, the activity of an ant, the majesty of a tree and say, “Wow!”

            Start composting. If you have any place at all for a garden, you can compost unused food scraps and yard trimmings so that it will recycle them into great soil for you to grow something. This may take a year, but if you start now, you can have some rich soil by next growing season. We just started ours, I’m excited. Now if an apple goes bad before I can eat it, I don’t feel as bad as I did when I just threw it away; it goes in the compost pile.

            Recycle. This is easier in some areas than others. Ours has become very easy with single stream recycling. Everything goes in one container. Our recycle bin is now bigger than our garbage can!

            Try writing a poem or a Haiku about the earth. I like Haiku because they are short (five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables). Writing about something makes us more aware of what a treasure it is.

Walk in dappled light

Breathe in the fragrance of spring

The earth rejoices

In fact, I recently published a whole book with one major character being the forest. If you’d like to wander through the forest with me and enjoy a world where the people are especially connected to the earth, please read Tree Singer.

If we all add our small drop to help our earth, it can become an ocean of healing.

 I’d love to hear how you are trying to love and care for the earth.

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Spiritual Practice: Sitting Still

After viewing the Academy Awards this year, I decided to watch The Sound of Metal. It’s about a man named Ruben, a drummer in the world of heavy metal who loses his hearing. He goes to live in a deaf community and is mentored by a man named Joe. Joe tells him that each day he must go into a room and try to sit quietly. If he can’t do that, he can write his thoughts on a pad of paper. The goal is to get to a point where he is able to sit quietly. Joe says,

“But for me, those moments of stillness: that place, that’s the kingdom of God. And that place will never abandon you.”

I remember my first silent retreat at a catholic retreat center. I felt the same way Ruben does in the film. I spent the whole weekend pacing and writing all of my thoughts in a letter to my friend. Now it’s my favorite spiritual practice! I talk more about this here.

Why is it so hard for us to sit still?

For some of us, we were raised in a family that never sat still. My mom was the energizer bunny, and if she wasn’t at work, she was cleaning the house or working in the garden. Even in her later years, if she was sitting, she was beading jewelry, painting, or doing cross stitch. I can’t remember her ever holding still for long.

For some of us, it’s the fear of being alone. We are so connected to our devices it is easy not to deal with the “truth” that surfaces when one is quiet. And yet, this is exactly what the spiritual practice of sitting still does for us — it brings us face to face with ourselves and hopefully with the loving gaze of the divine.

This is best described in a quote by Parker Palmer:

“The human soul doesn’t want to be fixed, it simply wants to be seen and heard. The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient and shy. When we go crashing through the woods shouting for it to come out so we can help it, the soul will stay in hiding. But if we are willing to sit quietly and wait for a while, the soul may show itself.”

We can’t heal our soul if we are not giving it the time it needs to surface.

This spiritual discipline comes from all world religions. Here is a small sampling:

“Be still
Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity”

― Laotzu

“Your duty is to be and not to be this or that. ‘I am that I am’ sums up the whole truth. The method is summed up in the words ‘Be still’.

― Ramana Maharshi

Silence is not for its own sake. The silence we seek is the silence that does not sin the sin of eternal agitation. It is a silence meant to help us—once healed of our anger, finally harmonious and serene—see that the world around us is a graceful and peaceful place.

―  Joan Chittister

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So, give yourself the gift of time. Try this: Set a timer for ten minutes and let your breathing slow and your mind wander. Have no agenda. See if doing this for three days helps you see things more clearly and feel more grounded. Get to know your soul, it may have many deep, painful, healing things it needs to reveal to you.

(I’ll attach a guided meditation that might help. When I have trouble quieting my mind, I often start with a guided meditation).

You can work your way up to twenty minutes or try it at various times during the day. I’d love to hear how practicing sitting still changes your life. What practices of silence do you enjoy?

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Spiritual Practice: The Examen

I originally talked about the Examen on my blog five years ago.

“The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern God’s direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience… described by Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises.”.

From the website: ignationspirituality.com


I thought it was time to revisit this practice since The Examen is an easy on-ramp spiritual practice and I’ve found a way to make it even easier. In her wonderful book, Be Kind To Yourself: Releasing Frustrations and Embracing Joy, Cindy Bunch offers a very practical examen.

It’s a simple way to check in with yourself at the beginning, middle or end of the day. Simply ask, “What’s bugging you?” and “What’s giving you joy?”

Not only have I been doing this for myself since I read Cindy’s book, but I’ve been using it in many zoom meetings I lead with my teaching team for spiritual direction or when I’m supervising spiritual directors. It’s such an easy way to focus a sharing time, which as we have all experienced, can go over-long and meandering if opened with, “How are you doing?”

The answers can be as deep as, “What’s bugging me is my friend just died from Covid19. He was a kind, loving man who was only sixty-two years old and in good health. He leaves behind a wife, three boys and three grandchildren. I’m devastated. (True story please get vaccinated if you can).

And, the answer can be as light as “What’s giving me joy is that the sun it out and it is beautiful outside.” (Also, true)

So, give yourself a treat and ask yourself — or your friends — these two simple questions. As you can see, they’d work in any kind of gathering, it is not limited to a spiritual situation.

I’d love to hear if you try this examen and how it went for you.

Also, check out Cindy’s book for lots of easy on-ramp spiritual practices.

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Spiritual Practice – Spiritual Direction

I first wrote about the spiritual practice of Spiritual Direction in February of 2017. At that time, I took you through what might be a typical spiritual direction meeting. Clink the link below to start there or come back to it later.

Since then several things have changed. First, I’m now not only a spiritual director and a supervisor of spiritual directors, but I also run a spiritual direction training program! And, there seems to be a huge openness to the practice of receiving spiritual direction that wasn’t so common when I last wrote. This is very exciting!

Spiritual direction is an ancient practice that goes back to the desert mothers and fathers in the Christian tradition, and it can be found in different forms in most religions. Basically, it’s the practice of meeting with a spiritual guide who companions you on your faith journey. Most directors go through a two or three year certification program before starting a direction practice.

The name spiritual direction is a bit of a misnomer. A spiritual director does not give you direction. Spiritual companion might be a better term. It is a person who sits with you in the presence of the divine and listens deeply.

This person might notice themes or point out repeated phrases, or ask open ended questions. There are many differences between therapy, pastoral counseling, life coaching, and spiritual direction. The biggest difference is that the spiritual director does not have an agenda for you. As a therapist my agenda is to help you heal from past trauma or places you are stuck in life. As a pastoral counselor I used to focus on training and equipping people or helping them solve problems. Life Coaches focus on setting and attaining goals. A spiritual director’s only agenda is to listen to you in the presence of the divine, and to join with you wherever you are in your spiritual journey.

People often seek spiritual directors later in life when the things that worked for them spiritually aren’t working so well anymore. For instance, if the forms of prayer they are familiar with become stale and they feel disconnected from God, they might seek out a director. Or if they are in a life transition and need someone to help them navigate it, they might see a director. Or if, as in my case, when I was being trained to be a director, I needed to have a director!

I’ve had two directors over the last ten years. I meet with my director monthly for one hour, and even though I often don’t know what I want to talk about when the session starts, I have usually figured out some things by the end. It’s a very grounding experience.

If you think it might be time for you to find a director there are several places to look. The biggest resource list is Spiritual Directors international. They have directors listed by region and directors of all faiths. Most directors are meeting virtually now so you can also find directors online via the program I run, Christian Formation and Direction Ministry in Nevada (CFDMNV). Check here to find a director who is taking new directees.

You probably want to interview three directors before you choose one, and know that you and the director both have the right to say, “this is not working for me” at any time. I’d say give yourself three meetings with your director before making a decision; if it’s not a good fit, try someone else.

Does this sound like something you’d enjoy? Have you tried meeting with a director? I’d love to hear about your experience or answer any questions I can.

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A Wonderful Tribute for Tree Singer

A wonderful book blogger did an interview with me about Tree Singer and I wanted to share it with you!

Heather:

If you know me, you know I love books. I always have a book I’m working my way through, and sometimes I have up to three going at once! There is something absolutely magical about books and I will advocate for people to read them as long as I live. 

Recently, I had the bookworm’s chance of a lifetime. A colleague and friend of mine also happens to be a fantastic author. She posted on social media looking for beta readers for her new book Tree Singer. Basically, a beta reader is someone who gets to read the book before it comes out then looks for grammar mistakes and gives feedback. I felt like I had won the book lottery!  

I instantly fell in love with Tree Singer because it transported me into a magical world that is completely detached from the pandemic and violence laden world we are currently living in. It gave me a chance to take a break from planet earth and to step into a world filled with harmony and connection. I am an outdoors type of girl, so the magical world and story centered around trees and connecting to them was right up my alley. The author’s ability to describe the spiritual connection between the main character and trees is so beautifully curated that I myself could almost feel the connection. The story is of a young girl named Mayten living in a fantastical place where she is training to become a tree singer, someone who is able to communicate with trees, when she is sent on a whirlwind journey to save her world and everyone in it. I found myself on the edge of my seat as the thrilling and mysterious plot unfolds with Mayten racing to restore the delicate balance of life as she knows it. I desperately want a sequel and I won’t stop petitioning for it. I am fully invested in Mayten’s life and well-being; have you ever read a book and felt the same? 

Since I couldn’t convince Jacci to start a sequel the moment she released Tree Singer, I got the next best thing, a Q&A! Let’s dive in: 

What inspired you to write this story?

Thanks for asking Heather,

One of my favorite spiritual practices is silence and solitude. Before the pandemic, I’d go to a retreat center in Auburn once a month for 24 hours of silence. I do a lot of my writing there. On one visit I had a view of the incredible redwood and oak trees from my window. Sitting and contemplating the trees I thought about how connected we are to the earth and I began to envision a girl who could help trees grow by singing to them. It was a whimsical thought but blossomed into the book Tree Singer.

To read the interview click here!

Spiritual Practice: Relearning History

If you’re confused about why the Asian community is calling out racism over the eight people murdered last week, it’s because you weren’t taught a full history in school. Neither was I.

If you’re white like me it can be hard to understand concepts like systemic injustice. When we went to school the history we studied left out important parts of our nation’s history that were less than flattering for white people.

Jesuit theologian Walter Burghardt once described contemplation as taking a “long, loving look at the real.” If we are to grow as lovers of God, and of people, we must be willing to take a long, loving look at what really happened in our nation’s history to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). Otherwise, we will never understand the outrage our brothers and sisters in the Asian community feel over the eight people murdered last week and how it is impossible not to see that event as a hate crime.

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For instance, we all know about the transcontinental railroad, right? There was a great race from the east and west to see who would get the railroad track to the center of the country first. Our history narrative features much talk about the rich guys who funded it and a mention of the 20,000 Chinese laborers who built the majority of it. But, did you also know that hundreds of those laborers died, and after the railroad was finished, the Chinese men who poured their blood sweat and tears into the railroad were denied citizenship?

To take a long, loving look at the real in regards to the Asian American experience, watch this PBS documentary.

In history class we learned about slavery, but there are stories we didn’t hear. Like the fact that some black women were imprisoned with white men. When they got pregnant from being raped by those men, or by their guards, their children were allowed to stay with them until they were ten years old,; then they were sold as slaves and the money went to fund white schools. Nope, I never heard that story in my history class. You can read more about that here.

And if you want a deeper dive into the problems with our prison system, how it is a racist system, and how that came to be, please watch the Netflix documentary, 13th. It is hard to watch but it deserves a long, loving look at the real.

Obviously, these are only two examples of the many ways BICOP have suffered. How do we deal with the truth that our privilege is based on other suffering of others? How do we deal with this kind of history?

  1. Face it. Take a long look. Don’t turn away. It really happened. Our ancestors did these things and our friends continue to suffer because of them.
  2. Lament. Grieve. Cry. Allow yourself to feel it. Mourn with those who mourn.
  3. Do something. Educate yourself, listen. When BICOP says something is racist, listen. Don’t argue, don’t dismiss. LISTEN. Believe them. Then act. Vote for their rights, run for office, write letters, call, march. Stand next to someone who is being harassed. Turn on your camera to film injustice.  Do whatever is in your wheelhouse so that your friends will know they are not alone in this pain.

What is the difference between Germany and the USA? After the Nazi era, Germany admitted their national shame and made reparations. They were able to heal and move forward. Until we admit our national  shame of racism and make reparations, we will not be able to move forward and begin to heal.

If we each do our part, perhaps the world can heal.

How have you been responding to the pain in our world around racism? In what ways are you learning, growing, trying to make a difference?

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Spiritual Practice – Finding Your Calling

Finding your spiritual “calling” can be confusing because of three misconceptions:

  1. The idea that a calling is to a specific thing, like a “call to the mission field.”
  2. The idea that a calling is for life and never changes.
  3. The idea that other people know what you are called to do in this world.

Let’s look at each misconception. First, the idea that a calling is a specific thing. I believe that our calling from God is to “be” not to “do.” God created each of us with a divine spark that can make the world a better place. The Quakers say that we are all born with “birthright gifts.” We bring these gifts, or that spark, into the world with who we ARE no matter what we DO with our lives. Whether we work in a call center or on a mission field, we are all equal and precious in God’s sight and worthy of using our unique calling to bring hope and healing to the world.

It always bothered me how there was a hierarchy of gifts in Christian circles. If you were a missionary, it was the top of the pile, followed closely by any kind of full-time ministry position. Then there was everybody else. This creates a false separation between sacred and secular work. God makes no distinction. ALL work is sacred.

Then there is the idea that a calling never changes. Well, if WE are our calling and we change and grow all the time, the places that benefit from our calling will also change over time. When we are young in faith, we might be trying to find our gift-set by broad experimentation. We try a lot of things — for instance we might work in the church nursery, or a campaign office, or with the homeless. Over time we learn where our true gifts lie by noticing what gives us joy and energy. We realize that working from our “flat-sides” drain us. We learn to surround ourselves with people whose gifts complement our flat-sides. In this way we hone the use of our gifts and apply them in less broad, more specific ways. We do higher quality work with less effort as we are working from our true selves, the selves we were created to be.

Third, a calling is not a conference call. There is a tendency in certain churches to have folks give “a word” or “a prophesy” over someone else’s life. This can be an encouragement and a blessing. It can also be dangerous. I caution people to take those words with a grain of salt, especially if they involve “greats,” “mates,” or “dates.” Who wouldn’t want to hear they were going to be a famous speaker, or marry a certain person, or have something specific happen on a certain date? But God doesn’t usually give us that kind of information to us in advance; hold it lightly and prayerfully. We can allow people we love and trust to speak into our lives and compare that to how God has made us and what we know of ourselves as we make decisions for our lives.

For me we are all called to the greatest commandment:

To love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as ourselves.

(Matthew 22:35-40)

THIS is our CALLING. To be who God has made us to be, gifted us to be, for the healing of the world. To LOVE others from a place of wholeness and not neediness, which takes some internal work as well. To be in relationship with God, to know and love ourselves, and give from the center of that love — that is our calling.

In what ways have you found God’s calling in your life?

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Spiritual Practice: Intentional Growth

Spiritual growth is organic; in some ways it just happens. God is good, and as we spend time in God’s presence, we grow. True. And there are things we can do to help ourselves grow spiritually.

Take my happy plants for an analogy. They all started from one plant. They were all the same size. They were given different sized pots but the same soil. Some were alone, some were put together. Now look at them, each so very different than the others. We are like that. We need room to grow, we need time, space, good soil, water, sunlight and each of us grows in our own way.

So, how do we create the best conditions for intentional growth?

When I was a teenager and I decided to be a Christ follower, that was my first question, “What do I do now?” A wise person said, read the Bible, Pray, and go to church. Those were helpful instructions for a new follower and stood the test of time for decades.

But something happened as I got older; the old ways weren’t working for me anymore. My Happy Clappy Christianity felt shallow to me. Life was hard and I needed something deeper, a place to lament, and think, and breathe. The masculine language of the Bible became a stumbling block for me; I needed other spiritual food. Prayer became less about words and lists and more about silence and listening. I needed contemplative spiritual practices to grow spiritually.

This blog is about easy on-ramp spiritual practices and I’d like to highlight the ones that have stood the test of time for me. These still feed me and help me grow. We are each different and maybe the foundational big three of prayer, Bible reading and church continue to serve you well. Perhaps, like me, you need something more. So, here are my fave five.

Spiritual Direction Meeting monthly for an hour with a spiritual director has been a part of my life for the last twelve years. I’ve had two directors in that time. Spiritual Directors usually become certified through a two or three-year training program. The name is a bit of a misnomer. They are not “directing” you but are companioning you on your spiritual journey. I often don’t even know what I’m going to talk about with my director. It’s not therapy, it’s sitting with someone who listens well in the presence of the Holy and asks good questions. She/he may make an observation or share a spiritual practice to try. If you want more information on Spiritual Direction, click here.

Silence and Solitude If you scoop up a glass of river water and let it sit for a while, the sediment settles to the bottom of the jar. Then you can see more clearly through the water.

Spending time alone and unplugged does that for me. It allows my mind and spirit to settle and things become clearer. Nothing fills my cup like being alone for an extended period. For more information on Silence and Solitude, click here.

Reading Spiritual Books Words are important to me and I especially need words for my experiences when I’m going through something new. When I’m growing spiritually, I need words for what is happening to me. If you’re like that, finding mentors through books can be extremely helpful. This can happen through podcasts and YouTube as well, and now there are many online options to hear from mentors. I like books because I can take my time with them, I can savor them like a good meal. Authors like John Philip Newell, Phyllis Tickle, Richard Rohr, and Sue Monk Kidd have been valuable resources in helping me find words for my spiritual experience. If you’d like more information on Reading Spiritual Books, click here.

Lectio Divina I used to read the Bible inductively in 3 steps — asking What does it say? What does it mean? What does it mean to me? This is a very helpful way to read with practical application. Now I like to read contemplatively. Lectio Divina means divine reading. It helps you slow down and put yourself in the story. It allows time for the words to sink in and change you. You can use Lectio with any spiritual writing or with poems or songs. If you’re interested in more information on Lectio Divina, click here.

Listening to Nature In the Celtic Christianity I’ve come to love, the natural world is equal to scripture in its ability to speak to us about God. This has become a beautiful way for me to listen. Nothing beats time in the woods or at the ocean or just observing any living thing. It fills my soul with joy, wonder, and a great desire to cherish and protect the earth. If you’d like more information on Listening to Nature, click here.

I hope this gives you some good ideas of where to start or how to move forward in your spiritual journey. If not, this blog has years of ideas for you. Click around and see what might spark your interest! To me, a spiritual practice is anything done with intention. Walking, journaling, yoga, singing, creating, the list is endless.

I’d love to hear what has helped you grow spiritually. What have you tried, especially when the old ways become stale or are no longer working for you?