Spiritual Practice: Stage One-Two of Spiritual Development

In preparation for the release of my latest book, Tumbled People: Deconstructing and Reconstructing Your Faith, I thought I’d lead us through the stages of faith development. When I wrote about this topic before, they were my most shared set of blogs. I think it was because these concepts give us words for our experience, which is something very important to me, leading me to write this book.

Saint Teresa of Avila, Father Richard Rohr, R. Thomas Ashbrook, and many others have written about the stages of spiritual development. These stages are universal across cultures and religions, as well as with nonreligious people. They mimic Erikson’s stages of social development in the field of psychology. Six or seven stages (Rohr includes eight) are generally listed for spiritual development. These stages are unique to each person, and one stage is not better than another, nor are they always linear, as we can bounce back and forth between them. Sometimes we take one step forward and two steps back, as Rohr would say.

Children are wonderfully open in their faith and experience of God. I myself was that way and my own children were likewise. Children move naturally through the first and second stages of spiritual development, but the stages do not always correlate with age.

James W. Fowler is a seminal figure in the psychology of religion. In Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, Fowler calls this first stage of faith development intuitive-projective faith. My mentor, Catherine Gregg, writes of this phase as beginning with an experience of trust: “You have to be in a relationship where trust and bonding are established.”

Bonding to God and others is important. If bonding with our parental figures is interrupted by abuse or neglect, it can hinder our relationship with God. If our God image is of a punitive, neglectful, or otherwise warped deity, it’s easy to get stuck in the early stages of faith development until those false images can be healed.

As we move into stage two of faith development, it’s a time of mythic and literal faith. This is why, suggests Catherine Gregg, “in Sunday schools across America, we tell children the mythic stories,” such as David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions’ den, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. This is when we develop the black and white, good and bad, dualistic categories necessary to know what is true and what is false in the world.

This stage is perfect for children, but as you can imagine, sometimes adults with unhealed childhood wounds can get stuck in this stage of spiritual development, and it’s not pretty. Black and white, us/them thinking is a huge problem in our world today. It separates us, rather than unites us. And unification is the ultimate goal of spiritual development – unity with God and with each other.

Most of us can look back on our childhoods and see this kind of faith development. In my book, I go through each stage and tell stories from my own life about my own development. The book also contains spiritual practices to try as we move through the stages. It also has journal pages to help us process what we are learning. It will be available for pre-order in mid-April, and then be released in mid-May. I’m so excited.

I’d love to hear what memories you have of your childlike faith, or how you might have been kept from moving forward to stage three, which is a wonderful stage full of belonging and growth, which I’ll talk about next time.

Let me know what you think about these concepts. Are they new? Do they make sense? I’d love to hear your stories. Also, if you’re interested in being an ARC reader for Tumbled People, please send me your email address and I’ll get an e-copy to you. An ARC reader reads the book before it is published and writes an honest review.

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Spiritual Practice: Honoring the Forward Thinking

We rightly honor the forward-thinking who paved the way for important sociological movements, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for equal rights. Yet, it is easy to forget to honor those foresighted individuals who fought commercial development to preserve our land and give us the beautiful parks and unspoiled wilderness we can enjoy today.

Of course, we must first honor our indigenous brothers and sisters who cared for the land, before it was snatched away by colonizers, and continue to do so. I have much to learn about that. I’m reading a daily devotional guide called, Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth, by Randy Woodley. He gives short historical lessons and practical ideas for reconnecting with the earth. I’d encourage you to join me in that.

But today I’d like to talk about those who stood against rampant consumerism to help save the earth.

When I’m walking in the old-growth redwood trees of California, I often think of John Muir, who is known as the father of our National Parks. In an age when the redwood forests were being slaughtered to build San Francisco (and then rebuild San Francisco again after the earthquake/fire) he lobbied, wrote, and inspired the conservation of these beautiful mountain wilderness areas. Today, because of John and others like him, we have Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.  Thank you, John.

People like John are often thought of as odd. I mean he did decide to walk from Kentucky to Florida, and then he lived in the Sierra mountains alone for years, but he also saw things most of us miss, and for him, he knew the mountains and trees were worth saving.

Last weekend my husband and I went to another amazingly beautiful area, Monterey Bay. In the nearby town of Pacific Grove, we found an interesting historical figure that is often overlooked. Julia Platt was a scientist, a naturalist, and even had a PhD from Germany, because as a woman, she wasn’t allowed to get one in America in the late 1800s. Yet,  when she came to Pacific Grove to work at the marine biology center, she could not get a job. Undeterred, she continued to work and eventually became the first female mayor of the city at age 74. By then, the beautiful bay was overfished and polluted in both air and sea by the canneries. She wrote the city charter to include parts of the bay and eventually got the state to approve the plans, thus securing for the future the beginning of the rebirth of the bay.

People didn’t like Julia; she was a strong-willed single woman with no interest in convention. But that didn’t stop her from fighting for what she knew was right. Strangely, we only found one nod to Julia in the town (not in the museum, nor the visitors center, nor from anyone we talked with). This single acknowledgment was a plaque on Lover’s Point that was placed by her adopted son. I think it’s time we honored her.

Other forward thinkers came after Julia to secure the area that is now a beautiful and protected bay full of otters, whales, kelp, abalone, and all the life that had previously died out. Thank you, Julia.

Here’s where to find the story of Julia and those that came before and after her:

Whom do you know who has been forward-thinking enough to make our world a better place? What might you do today to leave the world a bit healthier when you’re gone?

  • Here are some ideas to begin with:
  • Plant something and watch it grow.
  • Visit a National Park
  • Google John Muir or Julia Platt and read their stories.
  • Try reading Becoming Rooted
  • Put a bird feeder in your yard.
  • Hug a tree.
  • Play in a tide pool.
  • Gaze at something beautiful and be thankful for those who protected it.
  • Give money to an organization that cares for the earth.

I’d love to hear your ideas because this is something I’m trying to work on myself, and as we know, we are better together. 

Great News Update!

Dear writers, readers and Spiritual Friends. I’ve got some exciting news to share today. First, for the women (sorry guys) is the upcoming Women in Publishing Summit. It’s my favorite online writing conference and I get to speak on Plotting for Pantsers. I’d love you to join me. There will be over 40 speakers and you get to watch the replays until Decembers.

The Women in Publishing Summit is a 4 day virtual event, running March 1-4, 2023, packed with workshops, Q&A sessions, networking opportunities and more.

Audience: this event centers on women who are writing books, publishing books (for themselves or others) editing, marketing experts, book designers – basically, it’s a place for everyone involved in the industry of books to come together and network, learn together, and grow together!

Sponsors! Companies like PubSite, Your Book is Your Hook, GracePoint Publishing, IngramSpark, Lulu, BookBaby, and so many more are coming to share their knowledge, tell you about their companies, and give you discounts!

It’s an event you don’t want to miss!

Don’t delay! Learn more and get your ticket here. Don’t’ forget to use the coupon code 50OFFWIP23 before February 15th for fifty dollars off the early bird price. Click here to register.

I’m happy to be part of a celebration of women who are absolutely rocking it in the publishing industry, and I hope you’ll be a part of it, too!

Second, check out my upcoming book!

the cover reveal. I couldn’t be more excited about this cover. It is so beautiful. This book is different from my usual fare. It’s a non-fiction book about spiritual topics. It’s a workbook that takes you through the stages of spiritual development and the contemplative practices that help sustain each stage.

The book is written for people who have become dissatisfied with their faith, church, or religion, and are looking for new ways to experience God. It’s also good for those in spiritual burnout, such as activists, burned-out ministers, or missionaries. Please let me know if you’re interested. It will be a zoom experience, and I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for all the love and support, Jacci

Spiritual Practice: Take Naps and Eat Snacks

I’ve been spending some time in 1 Kings chapter 19. Elijah was a Jewish prophet who had just gone head-to-head with the prophets of Baal and won. Well, God won to be exact. But then Jezebel threatened his life, and he took off for the wilderness, depressed and exhausted.

He sat down under a brush tree and basically said, “I’m done, God. I might as well die now.”

Have you ever been that exhausted? That discouraged or depressed? I have.

But what is interesting is what happens next. There is no rebuke from God for Elijah’s feelings or his whiny, woe-is-me attitude. This makes me happy because I can get very whiny and woey. But God sends an angel with snacks and lets him take a nap, TWICE!

Here’s the thing. Many of my friends and readers are exhausted. It has been a rough three years. Many have been spending themselves on behalf of the poor, their students, their employees, bosses, or family members. They are done-in! We are done-in.

So, what do we do? First, apparently, we are allowed to throw a pity party. Go ahead, invite your friends, they’re all feeling the same way. Then, eat some snacks and take a few naps. This is a very important thing to do before we move on to the next step. In fact, I want you to stop reading right now if you need a snack or a nap. Go on. Get what you need, I’ll wait.

Once you’re rested and nourished – this could take months or even the whole year, because we need it – then read the rest of chapter 19.

Elijah went into a cave and found out God was not in the drama (wind, earthquake, fire). God was not in the political drama, not in the social media drama, not in the family drama…God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice.

Sometimes, we need to get away from the noise to hear that voice. Turn off the news, and the phone, and take a break from the people in your life that cause drama. Sit. Wait. Listen. Reflect. Redirect. Then move forward from that place.

Elijah was given new marching orders, which included anointing someone to take his place. Those of us who are older might need to think about this. How can we pass on what we know? How can we bless the next generation? Let’s look for ways to do that. But don’t be in a hurry, take your time. You might need a snack or a nap first. Or two.

Let me know how you are dealing with this difficult time. Let’s hold each other up until we get strong enough to stand again.

Spiritual Practices: Preparing for the New Year

I have a way of both processing the year behind me and preparing for the year ahead that I’d like to share.

First, when I have some time, I take out my calendar and go through the year jotting down significant events. I have to do this because I can’t remember what happened yesterday, let alone a year ago.

From this list, I make two more. One includes the hard things that happened, and the other has the good things that happened. Seeing them on paper helps me process them. I can mourn the hard things and be grateful for the good things. It gives me perspective to think about the new year.

When it comes to the new year, I can look back and see what was missing. What do I need in the new year that will help it be a better year for me? When I did this recently, I realized what I’ve missed for the last few years are in-person gatherings. I have plenty of zoom meetings, but I miss seeing people in person. I wrote that down as a goal for the new year.

In the past, I’ve picked a word or phrase to pray into for the year. But I’ve noticed for the last few years that I’ve forgotten the word about three months in. That’s my aging brain, I guess, or just too much going on in my head to hold on to. Anyway, I was meeting with my spiritual direction peer supervision group, and we were all talking about the angst of the new year. It’s hard to be hopeful after the last three pandemic years. And someone suggested that instead of grasping onto what we want or hope for this year, we keep our hands cupped gently open, flexible to whatever God wants to do in us.

That image made a lot of sense to me: two hands open and gently cupped, I think I can remember that. It’s a good image for me for 2023 when nothing has gone according to plan for three years. We’ve all had parties, trips, concerts, conferences, and appointments canceled because of sickness, weather, or whatever. It’s the new norm.

So, I’m going to try and hold things loosely this year. I hope for more in-person gatherings, but I’m holding that loosely too.

Let me know how you prepare for the new year and what you are hoping for this year, so I can hold it with you.

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Spiritual Practices: Reading Good Books

I love to look back on the year via the books that stood out to me as favorites to recommend to others. I’m always reading at least three books at once. One or two non-fiction (usually spiritual) books in the morning, an audiobook in my car (this could be whatever takes my fancy), and a novel at night (usually something young adult or middle grade to keep me current with my writing).

My audiobook favorite of 2022:

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelly Van Pelt
How can an older woman, a young adult, and an octopus make up a story that will capture your heart? Trust me, they do. This book was so good I’ll probably listen to it again! Then I found out it was the author’s debut novel and I almost cried.

My favorite morning books:

Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites Us into the Sacred by Victoria Loorz

Those who follow this blog know I find increasing peace and spiritual refreshment outside in the presence of trees. Apparently I’m not the only one, as this book talks about a movement of people who are taking church outdoors where they can listen better to God in the presence of creation. Loved every page.

Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth by Randy Woodley.

A friend gave me this devotional and the pages are short and readable, with indigenous wisdom about taking small steps to care for the earth. I’m really enjoying it.

Let your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer
I assigned this book to the discernment group I was leading. It is short and extremely readable as Parker Palmer always is. Very helpful about thinking about vocation/calling/ by listening to your true self.

Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction:

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince is the first of a trilogy that I read quickly. Fairies are making a comeback in young adult fiction and many of the books border on fairy porn. This one does not, but it has a little spice. The world and the story were exceptional. I enjoyed it.

The Peculiar Language of Llamas by Carol Ann Shaw

I listened to this book on audio, and I must say I laughed out loud many many times! It’s about a fourteen-year-old boy who ends up living on a small island in Canada with his dad, and the voice of the boy, as narrated by Steve Quinn, was perfect. I think any older child, but especially boys aged 12 and up, would find this book delightful.

Yep, those are my favorites. No heavy hitters this year. In a year like this, we sometimes need to read lighter fare in order to stay afloat.

May I also remind you that my own book, Tree Singer, came out on audible this year, and the reader, Barbara Bond, did such a good job I found myself laughing and crying over a book I wrote! She is amazing so if you have the credits, give it a listen!

I’d love to hear what books made you laugh, cry, lose yourself, or strengthen your soul this year. Books are so important when life is hard. Have a wonderful holiday season!

Spiritual Practice: Resting When Sick

After almost three years of dodging the bullet, I got covid this week. Apparently, this version of covid comes with little men that slice up your throat with their knives for three days. That, and a full-time clearing of my sinuses pretty much sums up my week. But as I binge-watched the first two seasons of Bridgerton and ate super soft chocolate chip cookies, ice cream, and soup. And drank the most delicious blackberry brandy a friend dropped off for medicinal purposes. Then, I had an epiphany (it may have been the brandy, but I don’t think so).

When a person gets covid, no one expects them to leave the house. In fact, they are begged to stay home! Don’t come to work, to the party, to the concert; rest up and get better. That is the mandate. And it dawned on me that in the first 63 years of my life, no one has ever said that to me before, nor had I ever said it to myself.

“Americans are stupid.” Was one of my German exchange student’s favorite retorts. And, about this, I must agree. Why do we feel we must keep working when we’re sick? Why does every teacher I know have about a year’s worth of sick leave in the bank because they never use it? I can say the same for state workers too.

The other day I went into a store and the clerk was wearing a mask. I must have said something because she replied, “Oh, I have pneumonia.” I just nodded. Why didn’t I say, “Helen, go home? They will find someone else to stand at this cold doorway and check my Costco card.” We are NOT that indispensable.

Why is it not okay to rest when we are physically or mentally exhausted? Many jobs not only do not provide paid sick days but also pressure their employees to work when they are sick.

I can only guess it is some misguided value in our culture that places production over people. And covid has come along to teach us something different.

One way for us to think about self-care is to think of how we would respond to someone we love who is sick. This week, all my friends said things like, “Heal well,” “Don’t overdo it,” and “Rest up.” If we want those things for someone we love, we must want and champion those things for ourselves when we are physically, mentally, or emotionally frazzled.

I’m sorry it took me this long to learn that it’s okay to rest when I am sick. I hope you learn it younger than I did. I’d love to hear what you are learning about caring for your body and mind. In the meantime, I’m going to take a nap.

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Spiritual Practice: Calming Anxiety

Today I had the opportunity to work with some young people from difficult backgrounds on the topic of anxiety. Each has experienced anxiety and even panic attacks. They are in a job training program, and we practiced breathing and grounding techniques they can use when they get stressed on the job or in other difficult situations.

First, I explained what anxiety can do to our bodies, releasing cortisol and keeping us in a freeze, flight, or fight state, which is not good for our long-term health. Then I asked them to identify where they felt anxiety when it was happening in their body. Several said their stomachs, and some identified their chests. It is important to know where anxiety starts in your body so we can use it as a signal to start breathing.

When we’re anxious, we tend to breathe quickly in shallow breaths, keeping our bodies in a fear state – lowering our blood oxygen and making it nearly impossible to relax. So, we learned the following two breathing techniques to keep the oxygen flowing and to help us feel more relaxed.

  1. Smell the flower and blow out the candle. This one can be done at work, and no one will be the wiser. Breathe in through your nose (smell the flower) and out through pursed lips (blow out the candle). Do this a few times and your body will relax.
  2. Breathe in a square: on each of the four sides, count to four with one inhale, hold for four, exhale for four, and rest for four. Like this:

Then we talked about grounding. If you are having an anxiety attack it is best to try grounding yourself in the present.

  1. Count five things you can see.
  2. Count four things you can touch.
  3. Count three things you can hear.
  4. Count two things you can smell.
  5. Count one thing you can taste.

Grounding yourself in the present is useful when we are worried about the future as most anxiety is future-related.

Lastly, we talked about those crazy ruminating spirals we get in when we’ve had an argument with someone – or anticipate having one. My spiritual director told me the best thing to do when I’m in a thinking spiral is to ask myself, “Where are you right now, what are you doing, and why?”

I might be washing dishes and say to myself, “Right now I’m in my kitchen. I’m washing dishes because I have food that I fed to my family. I’m thankful to have food because not everyone does.” Getting our minds on the present and finding something in the present to be grateful for, can break the cycle of intruding thoughts.

Time will tell if this training helps those students. I hope it does. But the world is so scary right now, I thought we all needed a reminder on how to care for ourselves when we feel anxious. Any of these practices can help us if we are having trouble sleeping as well.

What works for you when you are anxious. How are you coping with all the crazy?

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Spiritual Practice: Letting go of Adult Children

Once I thought of writing a book about parenting adult children. I decided it would have one page in it. That page would have two words in large, boldfaced font, “Let Go.”

Letting go is the hardest part of parenting adult children. Letting go of their decisions, their whereabouts, their lifestyle choices — so much to let go of!

The hardest part is that, unlike when they are young, their choices have such HUGE consequences. They might be on track for college and end up sidelined by pregnancy. They might choose to drink and drive and end up killing someone and spend the rest of their young adulthood in prison. They might try extreme sports and end up paralyzed from the neck down. I have friends that have faced all three of these scenarios with their kids. It’s heartbreaking, it’s tragic, and it’s life. And we parents want to spare our kids this kind of pain, but we can’t.

My own kids have made some decisions I wanted to protect them from Choices I was scared might ruin their lives. These were their choices, not mine. And you know what – they are both okay. They have both survived their choices, learned from them, grown and become rather impressive individuals, if I say so myself. Because navigating life is what we all have to do, it’s how we grow, learn, and develop.

So how do we parent adult children? A friend recently told me a wonderful story that mutual friend and author, Alice Fryling, shares. It’s about the story in the Bible where Jesus is off praying and sees his disciples out on a boat in a storm. He walks out to the boat and calms the sea. Alice was contemplating this story and her role as a parent of adult children. “What can I learn from this?” she asked.

“The first and most obvious answer is to pray for our kids. Nothing, and I mean nothing, has taken my prayer life to the next level like having kids. I don’t know how people that don’t pray survive the stress and worry of parenting. It is the one thing I can do when I can do nothing.”

But Alice then realized there was something else she could do. She could sit in the boat. Just be there. Be available during the storm.

She shared this insight with her adult daughter and her daughter replied, “Yes! I want you in the boat. Just don’t try to row.”

“Don’t try to row.” That is it in a nutshell, isn’t it? That is the art of parenting adults. Be in the boat and don’t pick up that oar. Don’t splash around where you’re not invited. Be present, be available. And, sometimes: They might. Even. Ask. For. Help. Or advice. Then you can give it, but only then.

That’s what I’m learning about parenting adults, how about you? Any tips from your experience as a parent of an adult? Any tips from an adult child on how to or not you’d like to be parented?

letting go


To let go does not mean to stop caring, it means I can’t do it for someone else.

To let go is not to cut myself off, it’s the realization I can’t control another.

To let go is not to enable, but allow learning from natural consequences.

To let go is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.

To let go is not to try to change or blame another, it’s to make the most of myself.

To let go is not to care for, but to care about.

To let go is not to fix, but to be supportive.

To let go is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.

To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes, but to allow others to affect their destinies.

To let go is not to be protective, it’s to permit another to face reality.

To let go is not to deny, but to accept.

To let go is not to nag, scold or argue, but instead to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.

To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires, but to take each day as it comes and cherish myself in it.

To let go is not to criticize or regulate anybody, but to try to become what I dream I can be.

To let go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.

To let go is to fear less and love more.

Remember: The time to love is short.

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