Spiritual Practice: Preparing for the New Year

            Well, 2020 is winding down, and now is an excellent time to reflect and prepare yourself for a new year. I mentioned this to some friends, and they looked at me blankly as if 2020 has been such a dumpster fire there was no way to switch gears and even think about a new year. But alas, the new year is upon us, so first we need to process 2020, then perhaps we will have the capacity to prepare our hearts for something new in 2021.

Give yourself some time to think about or journal these questions. You might need to open your calendar to remember anything positive.

Thinking back over 2020; what new things did you learn?

For me, one thing I learned was Glennon Doyle’s mantra, “We can do hard things.” This has been hard! Zooming constantly for work, not being with people we love, finding out how to work from home — hard things. Yet, we did them, and we will continue to do them.

Thinking back over 2020, what are you proud of?

I’m proud that I decided to use the pandemic to get serious about my health to give myself a fighting chance if I did get COVID19. I started Weight Watchers and lost thirty pounds. I exercise almost every day. This makes me happy, and I feel stronger than I have in a long time. I don’t share that to make anyone feel bad. Most folks gained the “Covid 19,” which is what they needed to do, but it is a huge win for me.

Thinking back over 2020, what do you need to grieve?

Oh, so much, but not as much as those who lost people they love, or jobs, or health. Not as much as those essential workers who never stopped working and were exposed every day. The things I grieve are temporary. I grieve traveling. I grieve not being able to go on my monthly spiritual retreats. I grieve getting hanging out with my friends and hugging people. Others have faced crippling loss, and I recognize that.

Thinking back over 2020, what are you thankful for?

I’m thankful for the world to slow down, for nature to have a chance to recover, for me to keep writing because I have a wonderful critique group to hold me accountable. I’m grateful to have started two new spiritual direction training cohorts and to be able to do my work from home. I’m thankful to be well and that my family is well.

Thinking back over 2020, what else comes to mind that you need to get off your chest?

For me, it’s the election and the train wreck of our country, and the extent of the racism that is remains in our nation, and the deaths of so many. Oh my, I could go on.

Thinking back over 2020, what has helped you the most?

I’d have to say the Memes have been fantastic. Humor really helps, and streaming services like Netflix offered some great shows, allow us to relax and blow off steam.a As a therapist, I can see this pandemic tends to make or break a marriage. I’m grateful that my husband and I still like each other. This New Year’s Eve will be our 37th anniversary! I’m glad I married my best friend.

Writing about these questions will help clear your mind to begin to think about the New Year.

What word or phrase might you want to press into for 2021?

I’m thinking mine will be related to teaching others some of the things I’ve learned. I’ve enjoyed teaching writing classes and spiritual classes. My fifties were the best decade ever! I learned not to care as much what others thought, to stand in my truth against tremendous pressure to conform, and to tell my stories. Now I’m on the cusp of 62 years old! I want to share more about what I have learned.

What dreams do you have for 2021?

I’m hoping and praying for a vaccine so we can all live without fear. I long for a sane government to restore humanity to whole of Washington. I long for racial healing to move forward and the recovery of our environment to be taken seriously. And, I’d love to travel and see more of the world, and publish more books.

What fears must you face about entering 2021?

For me, it’s that the dreams I’ve listed above won’t happen, that we will continue in this polarization and ridiculousness. But I’m not going to dwell in that place. I want to look forward with hope.

What else do you hope for 2021?

I hope to release a new book by the end of January. I’ll keep you posted on that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on 2020 and what you are hoping, praying, and working toward in the New Year.

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Photo 2021 by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Faithing Over the Lifespan – Stages Five and Six

As we’ve looked at the stages of faith development, we’ve moved from the early stages of black and white thinking (stages 1-2), to the stage of belonging (stage 3). Then we generally “hit a wall” of some kind, which leads to stage four, a great time of spiritual disorientation.

Stage five is a time of reorientation and tremendous spiritual growth, like stage three, but with very different parameters.

As I mentioned in the last post, in stage four it’s as if the “God Map” we’ve built from our earlier experience has been blown apart. Suddenly God gets much bigger, less definable, and yet more all-encompassing. The image of using a larger basket to collect spiritual understanding is helpful. We find we relate to truths found in other religions and become less about “us-them” and more about “we.”

In stage five faithing we learn to talk less and listen more, especially in prayer. Words become less critical, and being present to the Divine and to others becomes profound. Contemplative practices begin to feed the soul more than those in stage three faithing, where Bible Study, Worship, and Church attendance were the primary means of spiritual growth. Now growth comes from silence, solitude, and contemplative faith practices.

Just a bit of history here: Contemplative faith practices (as those written about in this blog) are not new, or New Age, as some say. In fact, the early church was known for them. If you look at the Bible, you will see these kinds of practices in both the old and new testaments. Elijah hid in a cave, where he found God was in the still, small voice. And Jesus often went to a lonely place where he prayed. God did excellent work in deserts, wombs, and tombs.

What changed? Christianity became the state religion after Rome’s ruler, Constantine, ended the persecution of Christians. And whenever you mix faith and politics, things go sour. (This has never been more evident than now). So, after Rome got involved, the state church became corrupt, and many believers fled into the desert to be alone with God and try to reclaim their faith. They became known as the desert mothers and fathers, and they taught the way of contemplation. These desert communities grew into monasteries, and the practices of contemplation got trapped there, available to only those who lived inside.

During the reformation, the protestant churches threw out the contemplative practices baby with the Roman bathwater and only trusted spoken prayer, Bible reading, and preaching. In Catholicism, the contemplative practices stayed mostly inside the monasteries, unavailable to the congregations.

But, every five hundred years, as Phyllis Tickle says in her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, God throws a garage sale to get rid of all the barnacles that have calcified our faith and bring something new. We are in the middle of that kind of cosmic shaking right now. This shaking has allowed these ancient spiritual practices to reemerge.

And, people seem to be coming to these practices sooner. Perhaps because young people are experiencing much pain early in life, or maybe it is time for something new to come to the church. I hope it is the latter.

Whatever it is, stage five is a lengthy exploration of a new relationship with God. People in Stage Three might look on someone in Stage Five and assume they have slid down the slippery slope into “liberal Christianity.” I know I used to think that way. Now I understand it is actually a place of deeper faith and increasing love of God, not less. This is where we will probably spend the rest of our days, exploring the ever-increasing depth and breadth of God—finding the Divine in all people and all sentient beings, often feeling closer to God in nature than in church. However, I still believe that being part of a congregation is important. Most of us will not move beyond stage five faithing.

So, what of Stage Six? I imagine few people get there. It has been described as a Oneing with God. Some people are so united with the Divine they care only for others. Think of Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., or Gandhi. These were not perfect people but people whose whole lives were to serve others and eventually died in that singleness of purpose.

What happens to what we learned in the previous stages? It is not lost; it is integrated into us as we continue to grow. We are not to disdain the things we believed in the past, but to honor them and hold them as foundational to what we have now. This is not a linear progression either. We can revisit previous stages at any time.

The goal of understanding faithing over the life cycle is not to box people into stages but to make us more compassionate to others on their own journeys and give us words for our own experience as we go through these passages.

I’d love to hear what you think of the idea of stages of spiritual development. Does it make sense? Does it help? What have you found to be true in your experience?

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Rock Carin Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Monastery Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

Gandhi Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com