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 – 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?

Spiritual Practice – Embracing the Divine Feminine

I hope my male readers don’t skip this one, because we females have been embracing the male divine for millennia! We don’t want to replace the divine masculine; we just want to explore what life would look like with a balanced view of God’s self as male and female — as each of us has characteristics of both.

And, the consensus among mystics seems to be that the world is in desperate need for the divine feminine right now. We are in a global pandemic, everything has been shaken, the earth is dying, and our national sin of racism is front and center, to name a few of the unprecedented challenges we are facing. HELP! We have been cracked open and many feel the divine feminine energy is what we need to bring us back into balance, healing, and unity.

Growing up in the evangelical world I had no concept of even where to start seeing God’s feminine side. There was pretty much only one nod given to the divine feminine in the churches I attended. Genesis 1:27 says,

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

This verse implies that God is both male and female (yet note the pronouns)! It was the only verse mentioned in most of the churches I attended about the female side of God. When women read the Bible, we read all about a male God, with male pronouns, and very few feminine images. Scriptural references to God, which are gender neutral, are often translated as He. Our churches are full of male images, patriarchal structures, and worship music that only speak of God as He. How do we even begin to press into the female side of God?

For me this journey usually begins with reading. Sue Monk Kidd wrote a book over twenty years ago that followed her journey from her years as a Baptist who began to deconstruct her patriarchal view of God. This book covers years of unlearning and relearning and exploring. She finds female names for God, female images for God, and ultimately a balanced view of God. That book is called The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.

In this book I learned many things. For instance, did you know that in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, the word for the Holy Spirit is a feminine word? In Greek the Wisdom of God is referred to as Sophia and represented as female. Even the personal name of God, Yahweh, is a remarkable combination of both female and male. The first part of God’s name in Hebrew, “Yah,” is feminine, and the last part, “weh,” is masculine.

After reading Kidd’s book I watched a discussion she had with Elizabeth Lesser. Lesser recently wrote, Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes. In it she tells the Greek Myth of Cassandra who was so beautiful all the men wanted her. She was a mystic. Apollo wanted her and promised her the gift of prophesy which she greatly desired. She didn’t know his gift came with a catch, that he wanted sex in return. He gave her the gift but she refused the sex. So, he spit a curse into her mouth that she would have the gift, to know the future and tell it, but no one would believe her. If this hasn’t been the curse of women for all time, I don’t know what it has. Lesser tells the stories of women from their perspective and suggests it’s time for women’s voices to be unstoppered. We must speak our truth; the world needs our wisdom.

Last week I attended the Shift Network’s Mystic Summit. The host was Mirabai Starr, is a gracious and loving woman. She wrote Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics.

That book is now on my list to-read as well. The summit had many speakers who brought up the need for the divine feminine to arise and heal our land, our nation, and our communities.

This movement of the Spirit is becoming too important to ignore. The need for feminine wisdom is bubbling up in the zeitgeist; the very air we breathe is calling out for the female side of God to be recognized, heard, and heeded.

What do you know of the feminine side of God? Do you have images of the divine feminine that work for you? Names you use? I’d love to hear your opinion on why this is happening in our world right now.

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The Story Behind – TREE SINGER

Hint: There’s a hidden theme in the book!

I used to, pre-pandemic, take monthly trips to Auburn, California to stay at Mercy Center’s retreat center. It’s a beautiful Catholic retreat center amid a small forested area. Once when I was there, the rooms were full, so I stayed in their hermitage, a lovely duplex nestled in the oaks and redwoods. I looked out at the enormous trees from the living room, and it was there, as I contemplated the beauty of trees, that Tree Singer was born.

This idea came to me about the symbiosis of all living things. It came to me in the form of a “What if?” question, as most of my book ideas do. What if there was a girl who could help trees grow by singing to them? And my imagination was off to the races! Tree Singer is a book I worked on for about four years. It encompasses many themes: a girl finding her voice, using and growing her gifts, and having quite an adventure in the meantime. The theme of the unity of all living things is paramount to the book. But — there is also a hidden theme.

Here is what the back cover says:

Fifteen-year-old Mayten loves training as a tree singer, an esteemed position among her clan. But when she feels pain coming from the trees, she finds herself on an unexpected quest, one so dangerous she might never return home.

Now Mayten must use her unfinished training to face betrayal, fear, and a deadly foe. Is she a match for the ancient evil attacking her trees, or will the entire kingdom fall to ruin?

You won’t find the secret theme there. Nope. You won’t notice it at all unless you’re a student of St. Teresa of Avila and have read the Interior Castle. Or if you’ve done some training on the stages of spiritual development, which you can read on my blog starting here.

Mayten goes through several stages of learning to listen to the trees, and these I based on the idea of our stages of spiritual development. The ultimate stage, and the one we may never experience, being unity.

So, if you’re interested in trees, nature, an exciting quest, and hidden spiritual themes, give Tree Singer a try today!

You can pre-order an eBook Copy HERE. You can enter to win one of 100 free eBook copies HERE. And the print book will be available on Valentines Day! Can’t wait.

Thank you for your support! Jacci

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Spiritual Practice – Cherishing the Real

As Americans, prior to 2020, we have been insulated from much of the pain and suffering others face in our world daily. We have busied ourselves with overwork, material possessions, technology and substance abuse to the point we often forget what is real and what is important. 

Now all our comfort and predictability are being stripped away. We have more time than most of us know what to do with. Acquiring possessions has lost its shine and everyone is getting sick of staring at screens, although I imagine substance abuse is at an all-time high (pun intended).

What are we learning about ourselves? Hopefully we are learning to BE with ourselves, and face the sometimes-hard reality of who we are. I used to take students on a week of camp to focus on different spiritual practices. Our one day of silence and solitude scared them to death. A whole day without talking to each other, or using their phones was frightening. Yet, it was the day they loved most. It was a day to listen to themselves and to God; a day to be in nature; a day to rest and be restored; a day to face truths about themselves — sometimes difficult truths. but always deeply healing. Don’t miss this unique time in history to reevaluate your life, your decisions, your use of time and money. Don’t forget to BE.

I hope we are learning not to live in FEAR. There is so much to be afraid of right now. I could get the virus. My father could die if he gets it. All you have to do is turn on the news and your blood pressure will skyrocket; fearmongering has become a national pastime. I find the fear flowing from Christian sources especially disturbing. We are told to “fear not” 365 times in the Bible (that’s one for every day of the year!) and in 2 Timothy we read 1:7

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 

We could use some sound minds about now. We cannot live in sustained fear. It’s been a year now; our adrenal glands can’t take much more of it. So how do we let go of fear? We learn to cherish the real. What is real?

People and relationships are real. Christmas this year was especially precious. I saw it all over Facebook. People were saying how Christmas was small but oh so special because they got to be together with a small group of loved ones. It felt that way at our house. Everyone was so careful the two weeks before so we could be together. My children hadn’t seen each other since March. We laughed, and talked and opened presents made by small businesses and local crafters. It was simple and fun and unrushed. I hope it is something we can keep. If you haven’t already, make spending time with those you love a priority this year. 

Pets are real. Our dog Rosie is keeping us grounded. She gets us out of the house every day for a walk. She cuddles with us as we watch TV at night. She loves us unconditionally and she is right there when things get so hard one of us breaks down to cry. In fact, when my husband and I recently had a spat, Rosie ran back and forth between us until we made up! She’s a marriage therapy dog!

Nature is real. Now, even in when it is cold, we need to get outside. Trust me, we have very cold mornings here but we bundle up and get out and walk and it is always restorative to our souls. 

Work is real. Hopefully you are able to continue to work. Work is hard right now. It’s not the same to work from home. It’s not the same if you go in. But work is important. We have to face the reality of doing work differently and pray for the grace to do our jobs well and with a good attitude. Sometimes I find I’m praying through the whole day of work. 

Pain is real. People are dealing with incredible pain. Life is full of pain. Things are hard. But this truth has always been with us; we’ve just been able to mask it. Now it’s time to face it. How? Try the Welcoming Prayer. Sit with your difficult feelings, let yourself really feel the sadness, anger, fear, or whatever it is. Don’t push it away. Denying hard feelings won’t make them leave, it just makes them come out in your body as headaches, stomachs aches, or back aches. Welcome them. Feel them. Then ask them, “What do you want me to know?” and listen. You will learn something important if you allow yourself to cherish even the hard things. There is wisdom inside us if we will listen. 

Creativity is real. I’ve loved seeing people press into creativity during this pandemic. My husband picked up a craft he hadn’t tried in 25 years and made beautiful Christmas gifts for our whole family. It has given him new energy and joy and we have all benefited. Creativity is lifegiving. Allow yourself the freedom to try something new this year. Don’t worry if it doesn’t turn out perfect, Fail Forward. No one cares and it’s fun. 

How will you be cherishing the real this year? What have you learned about yourself that has fed your soul during this difficult year? 


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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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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?

Cornucopia Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Rock Carin Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Monastery Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

Gandhi Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com