Spiritual Practice: Listening to Music

In the eight or so years I’ve been blogging about spiritual practices, I can’t believe I’ve never mentioned music. I imagine this is because listening to music is not my “go to” spiritual practice, but it sure is my husband’s. Music is magic to him. It brings me great joy to watch him unwind at night with his headphones on, or cry with a moving piece from Les Misérables, or happily follow a rabbit trail on the computer about how a rock band ended up with the exact song it did. I realize this love of music is true for many people.

I’m not sure why it’s not for me. As my honey would tell you, I’ve got millions of random lyrics in my head from the 50s to the mid 80’s, but my catalog stops there (except for every show tune known to man). The mid 80’s is when my children came along and the last thing I wanted was more noise in my life.

But lately, with all the pain in the world, music has again been ministering to my soul. In December when I retired, I gave myself the gift of a virtual pilgrimage to Ireland and Scotland with Christine Valters Painter. It was amazing. Along the way there was a Scottish musician, Simon De Voil, that led us through his music, much of which came from Christine’s poetry put to music. I was lucky enough to win a drawing of Simon’s, Canticle of Creation CD. It tells the story of St. Brighde, St. Gobnait, and St.Columba, plus other contemplative offerings. I start many mornings just listening to this beautiful music. It is somehow healing my soul.

Simon de Voil’s Canticle of Creation

So maybe music is already a healing practice for you. Maybe you listen, or sing, or play an instrument. Maybe you dance to worship songs in your bedroom. But perhaps, like me, you’ve forgotten the power of music to heal. I suggest if it’s been a while, you give music another try. Perhaps your tastes have changed over time, and you need to try something new. Perhaps a live concert will restart your love for music. Things are opening up again, so this might be an option.

I’d love to hear how you feel about music. Is it part of your spiritual life? What gives you joy – a blast of Queen, or a symphony? What music do you recommend I try?

Music is a gift to the world and the world needs all the creativity we can give it right now. Thank you, Simon, and all who bring this gift to us.

  • Photo of girl with earbuds by Marcelo Chagas on Pexels.com
  • Photo of mom by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Uncovering Your Birthright Gifts

          Parker Palmer is one of my favorite authors. I’m currently reading his book for a class I’m teaching on discernment. It’s called, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. In his book, Palmer talks about how we are all born with Birthright Gifts, which get covered up by all the expectations of others and the pressures of our culture. This is a Quaker concept, but also to be found everywhere, in different language.

“Biblical faith calls it the Image of God in which we are all created. Thomas Merton calls it the true self. Quakers call it the inner light, or “that of God” in every person.  The humanist tradition calls it identity and integrity.” Pg. 11

So, how do you uncover your Birthright Gifts when they are frozen in calcified ideas of who you are meant to be? One idea he offers is taking a look at your life and thinking about both the things you were drawn to as a child, and the things other people said you should do, and then looking for the kernel of truth about who you are in those things.

Here’s an example from my life:

Pippi was not exactly an orphan but you get the point.

My earliest ambition was to be an orphan. Not because I hated my family, but because in the books I read (The Box Car Children, Anne of Green Gables, Annie, Pippi Longstocking…) the orphans had all the adventures! That kernel of independence and adventure seeking is still in me, which is why I long to travel and explore new places.

At one point in my childhood, I wanted to be a Lawyer. I believe it was because of the show Perry Mason (I just aged myself). But thinking about it, he was a man that fought for justice and helped people. The seeds of my advocacy and activism were already there. I would have made a terrible lawyer by the way.

When I was five, I charged friends a nickel to see the “plays” I wrote and performed. The seeds of my storytelling as an author were there.

I could go on, adding what others thought I should do, and then looking for kernels of my true self there, but you get the point.

When we identify those parts of our true selves, it gives us the freedom to live into our Birthright Gifts and break off the expectations of others that don’t fit us. These expectations generally come as “oughts.” We ought to do this or that. We ought to conform to society or the opinions of our parents.

As we live into our gifts, we naturally grow closer to the one who made us, and we bring those gifts to the world to help others.

“…the ancient question ‘Who am I?’ leads inevitably to the equally important question ‘Whose am I?’” Pg. 17  This is reflected in the greatest commandment from Matthew 22, “Love God… and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Finding our true selves leads to freedom and joy and helps us bring light and life to the world. As Fredrick Buechner said, we need to find where our “… deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

I’m finding this book really helpful, and I’ve just started it! I’d love for you to try this exercise to uncover your Birthright Gifts. I hope you can do it sooner than I did. How freeing that would be to find your true self in your twenties instead of in midlife. But I imagine it’s a life work.

Let me know if you try this and what you discover about yourself.

  • Photo of presents by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com
  • Pippi google images
  • Photo or rubix cube by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice – Being Sad

I’ve written in this space about Lament as a spiritual practice. I’ve written about The Welcoming Prayer, as a way to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Right now, I just want to tell you it’s okay not to be okay.

These last years we have seen so many sad things. Covid has ravaged our world. Russia is ravishing Ukraine as we speak, and the supreme court is ravishing healthcare. This of course affects the poor, the marginalized, and people of color the most.

Yep, it’s okay not to be okay. Because things suck.

As an “enneagram two,” I generally know how everyone is feeling but me. It takes me a while to get in touch with my own feelings, and this weekend, I have. I’m grieving.

I went to yoga, which generally makes me feel better, but instead I was crying within minutes of starting. Why? Because I had finally stopped moving long enough to feel my own feelings. That’s when the darkness came crashing in.

I have voted, written, called, protested, and given money, and I currently feel utterly helpless. It’s time to focus on what is in front of me. Activists need to take care of themselves too. So, what have I done this week to feel better?

*I went to yoga; this helped me get in touch with my sadness.

*My son was creating a chalk art mural and invited my husband and me to participate. It felt great to do something tangible and creative to bring some beauty into the world.

*My friend and I took a walk around the marina early one morning and spent the time pointing out beautiful birds, flowers, and trees to each other.

*My husband took me to frozen yogurt and I smothered mine in hot fudge sauce.

*We daydreamed about moving to Portugal.

*I went to see Top Gun Maverick.

*I took the dog on a long walk.

*I’m booking a trip to my retreat center for some time alone with God.

*I’m doing whatever comes to me each day and trying to do it well.

*I mentioned to a teenage friend that I didn’t feel much like celebrating the 4th this year. He said, “I don’t feel very patriotic either, but I’m helping myself by instead trying to celebrate all America can be, so that helps a little.” This wisdom from a fifteen-year-old gives me hope for our future. 

That’s all I have right now. I just wanted you to know that if you’re sad, you’re not alone. We will get through this together. Women are devastated, my rainbow family is terrified. We will fight. But today, it’s okay to rest and be sad.

How are you dealing with these troubling times?

A Kirkus Review for Tree Singer

I don’t know if you know Kirkus reviews but they are worth a million dollars in street cred and it’s risky to get one because 1. They are expensive and 2. They are honest. So if you get a bad one, the world will know. I got some grant money so I decided to take the risk on Tree Singer and WOW! It was sooooo worth it. Enjoy!

“A teenager learning to communicate with trees must search for the blight that threatens them in this YA fantasy.

Fifteen-year-old Mayten is an apprentice tree singer. While she has previously only chatted with trees—confiding in them as if to a sympathetic aunt—when she completes the Leveling Ceremony, she will be expected to take her profession more seriously. Mayten has started to feel distress emanating from the oaks and pines. Something is amiss in the forests surrounding her village and farther afield in the kingdom. The teen and her best friends, Tray (an apprentice traveler) and Cather (an apprentice healer), along with the surly Adven (a master traveler), good-natured Hunter (a woodsman), and Mayten’s loyal dog, Anatolian, must journey to the king’s castle and then onward to discover what is ailing the land. Mayten feels out of her depth (“She was expected to do a job she wasn’t qualified for”). Surely her mother—a master tree singer—should have gone in her place. Making matters worse, Adven’s attitude toward her is positively hostile, and people outside of her village seem to distrust and even loathe tree singers. Can Mayten uncover the dark history of her craft and save her beloved trees? Turner writes in the third person, past tense, from Mayten’s point of view, delivering a polished blend of inner thoughts, dialogue, and narrative descriptions. The fantasy world is well realized, with clear attention having been paid to its logistical underpinnings. At the same time, this information is imparted naturally and never in quantities that might overwhelm readers. Mayten is a relatable protagonist. She displays inner strength and determination but also suffers from common teen anxieties. Her quest functions as an allegory for growth and coming-of-age yet is perfectly enjoyable in its own right and pleasingly self-contained. The story moves swiftly and holds nothing back, not yoking itself to a sequel (although one would be welcome). The other characters have depth and personality, and Turner’s depictions of families—both Mayten’s and the king’s—prove a highlight. While the quest and its resolution turn out to be relatively slight, the human element is such that readers will fully immerse themselves in the story. A direct and engaging quest tale with a delightful focus on family.”

So, incase you want to check it out, click here. There is a print, eBook, and audio version.

Spiritual Practice: Letting Your Mind Wander

I’m not great at centering prayer – where you sit in silence for twenty minutes trying to quiet your mind. I think being a creative person is part of the problem. The monkeys in my head keep having pillow fights.

Thankfully, finding a spiritual practice that works for you does not involve “Have-tos or shoulds.” There is no blame, guilt, or shame around spiritual practices, and no legalism. Shame off you, folks. Shame off you.

Spiritual practices are about finding a way to connect with God, yourself, your body, others, and/or nature. I enjoy guided meditations to connect with God. I use some apps for that, mainly Lectio, Pray as You Go, and The Insight Timer. I use time in trees or on walks to connect with nature; I use Yoga to connect with my body; and I enjoy time around the table to connect with others.

Long ago my spiritual director gave me a practice that helped me connect to myself. She said, “Try sitting for ten minutes with no agenda.” No agenda? Those were the most freeing words I’d heard. With a mind like mine, sitting and letting it wander is like permission to just be me. I can actually enjoy my monkeys instead of trying to tame them.

An interesting thing happens when I give myself time to sit and ponder, wonder, and drift on the currents of my thoughts. I do eventually settle. Often, I’ll remember things I’ve forgotten that need doing, like unanswered email. Or, people will come to mind that need prayer, or an encouraging text, or a card. Sitting makes me a better friend.

This exercise also helps me connect with my emotions. As an enneagram two I can tell you how every other person is doing, but I have no sense of how I’m doing. Sitting quietly can bring up feelings and it is a good time for me to let myself acknowledge them, welcoming them to the table, and hearing what they have to say. I talked about this in The Welcoming Prayer blog.

I also find this time helpful in clarifying my priorities. Lately, I’ve been asking myself the question, “What is most important to do today?” It might be something I need to do, like buy food, or something I want to do, like spend time writing. It might be something I love to do but have forgotten to put into practice, like inviting a friend for coffee.

Our CFDM,NV graduates

A couple of weeks ago we took our spiritual direction graduates on a retreat to our favorite retreat center. The director of the center upgraded my room to the Hermitage, a beautiful little duplex with a living room that has full glass windows along the back that look out at grass and trees. I think I spent all of my free time sitting on the couch and gazing out at those trees, letting my mind wander. I was reminded of being in that room about five years ago when I looked out at that view and thought “What if there was a girl that could sing to trees and help them grow?” My book Tree Singer was born on that very couch.

I had no profound ideas this time, it just felt incredibly restful to be in that space after two years of pandemic shutdowns. I was so thankful to be there, in that beauty and with those people who had spent two years together online, now meeting in person. What a gift.

Not everyone can take a weekend away at a retreat, but anyone can spend ten minutes letting their mind wander and see what comes up. So, if you haven’t tried it, give it a go, and let me know how it is for you. Or, if you don’t like it, what spiritual practice is giving you life and joy right now? I’d love to hear about that.

Spiritual Practice: Lament

My heart is broken. We are all lost. We are all grieving. Our nation weeps. How do we survive these dark times?

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, children being gunned down, loss of our national unity, our failure to end racism, the slaughter of innocents in the Ukraine, I could go on for hours.

 What would it be like to lament that together? Might that be a starting place for the healing of our nation?

Here are some prayers, and poems to help us help us Lament together:

Hymn For The Hurting by Amanda Gorman

Everything hurts,

Our hearts shadowed and strange,

Minds made muddied and mute.

We carry tragedy, terrifying and true.

And yet none of it is new;

We knew it as home,

As horror,

As heritage.

Even our children

Cannot be children,

Cannot be.

Everything hurts.

It’s a hard time to be alive,

And even harder to stay that way.

We’re burdened to live out these days,

While at the same time, blessed to outlive them.

This alarm is how we know

We must be altered —

That we must differ or die,

That we must triumph or try.

Thus while hate cannot be terminated,

It can be transformed

Into a love that lets us live.

May we not just grieve, but give:

May we not just ache, but act;

May our signed right to bear arms

Never blind our sight from shared harm;

May we choose our children over chaos.

May another innocent never be lost.

Maybe everything hurts,

Our hearts shadowed & strange.

But only when everything hurts

May everything change.

With broken hearts, we stand with the mothers and fathers and all the loved ones grieving the children and teachers whose lives were brutally taken at school in Uvalde, Texas.  We stand with the community of Uvalde, who must bear this tragic burden and loss.  We grieve, but not as those who have no hope.  And we pray because we believe there is another way for us to live, a way rooted in love, in faith, in nonviolence, and a way that holds all human life sacred and holds all communities beloved.

Even as we offer solidarity through lament and prayer, we refuse to accept a world in which thoughts and prayers are offered without meaningful policy changes to address the crisis of gun violence in this country.  While we grieve alongside the families and community in Uvalde and those still grieving in Buffalo, we renew our call on state legislatures and Congress to enact more comprehensive laws limiting access to deadly weapons. 

In Mercy,

Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americans


This world. 



We are brought to our knees. 

God, today, there is no true north.

And when I last checked, 

the sun did not rise at all. 

Today, the innocent still suffer,

teachers still risk their lives,

families still grieve.

A world has ended without 

any reasonable fanfare. 

And we are sold the fantasy that nothing can be done. 

Help us to know what to feel – rage, grief, sorrow.

And what to do – advocate, protest, lament. 

Blessed are we who let reality in,

though our bodies shudder.

Blessed are we who ask and wait, and ask again

for the courage to change our culture 

whose laws and complicity subsidize death.

God, give us hope that seems hard to find.

That’s all I have. I have no words of my own. But if you have words for your grief, please share them here.

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?