Spiritual Practice: Aging Well

Aging

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging lately because, well, I am aging. I don’t feel any older inside, but the years keep adding up.

How do we look at aging as a spiritual practice?

I’ve watched my husband wrestle with these questions as he turned sixty-five and the warranty on his body seems to have expired. Suddenly he needs cataract surgery and hearing aids. With his spiritual director, he has come to a “letting go,” and “embracing of,” stance. You gotta understand. My husband is tall, handsome, with a full head of brown hair. He gets flirted with constantly and is often confused as our granddaughters’ father. These aging issues should feel like a personal affront to him, yet he is choosing to let go of what he has no control over and embrace the process of aging, looking for its gifts. And for him, these gifts are well worth the losses of aging.

This attitude seems to be the key in the books I’m reading on aging. Also, growing older does not mean stopping living.

parker plamer

Parker Palmer, in his fantastic book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, writes a series of essays about the aging process. I love this book for his warmth, honesty, and humor. One of my favorite quotes from the book is this:

“Old age is no time to hunker down unless disability demands it. Old is just another word for nothing left to lose, a time of life to take bigger risks on behalf of the common good.” Pg.2

Palmer speaks a lot about the importance of gratitude and the ability, to tell the truth in love, no longer needing to posture or pretend. That is beautiful. He also says we need to embrace everything inside us, our true selves and our shadows, with grace and love. This leads to our wholeness.

falling upward

That reminded me of a book by Richard Rohr, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,” in which he describes one of the main tasks of the second half of life as sifting through the first half and making sense of it, learning its lessons, facing our shadows.  Rohr says this process is not necessarily about aging but after suffering a loss, any of us can begin this process of facing the difficult truths about ourselves, though some choose not to. As we do, we become wise instead of bitter. Parker agrees, saying these traumas can either break our heart apart or break it open to love more.  (pg. 161)

women rowing

Another book that has helped me is, “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.” In this book, Mary Pipher uses case studies describing how different women have navigated the aging process. She writes a lot about gratitude and the inner work of aging:

“This may be the most important thing – that we learn to grant ourselves mercy. That we forgive ourselves, that we accept our pain, mistakes, and vulnerability, and somehow manage to love ourselves and our own lives…It is only when we grant ourselves mercy that we can extend mercy to others.” Pg. 158

What I’m learning so far is that aging is about grieving and letting go of the physical losses we can’t control and working hard on the things we can control. Processing our lives, integrating our lessons, and being honest with ourselves about ourselves in grace and love. As we do this difficult inner work it frees us to give back to the world. It allows us, as Parker Palmer says, to “take bigger risks for the common good.”

What are you learning about the process of aging? Are there books you’d like to share?

 

 

Photo credit

 

 

 

A Tribute To My daughters On International Daughters Day

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I have five daughters. I gave birth to one, and the other four came along later and claimed my heart.

Sarah, my firstborn, is my lioness. She is strong and a fierce protector of her tribe of children, pets, friends, family, and those on the margins. People look to her to lead.

Natalie is my koala bear. She longs to create a warm and loving home, full of light, beauty, laughter, and creativity.

Stephanie is my owl. She is wise, observant, quiet, pondering, and thoughtful. When she talks, we listen because her insights are compelling.

Camilla is my beaver. She is industrious, busy, smart, and competent. People rely on her to keep order in the chaos of life.

Susie is my fox. She is shy, with a quick mind that can solve intricate problems and a loyal heart. She has good boundaries as she makes a life with my son, and a playful side that delights her nieces.

This is the thing: All five of my daughters are brilliant, creative, kind, and beautiful. And, all of them have experienced trauma, disappointments, or devastating losses in their young lives. I wish this weren’t true. I wish we were handing them a world which is an easier, kinder, safer place, but we are not.

I know each of you is strong and resilient, but I wish you didn’t have to be. I don’t have much wisdom to offer you, but you know how I feel about trees, so I give you this one. Look at it; its beauty stopped me in my tracks and took my breath away. For me, the world is also like this tree, beautiful, strong, breathtaking, and wise. It will stop you in your tracks, take away your breath, and give you the strength you need to go on. So, here are some things I’ve learned, and I wish for you.

Rest, under the tree, like a lioness. You all constantly give to others, take time to rest, play, and create.

lioness

Cling, to the tree like a koala. Cling to your values, your loved ones, your faith in humanity, in God, in yourself. Being rooted in a community will carry you through every storm. Relationships are important.

photo of gray koala bear hugging tree

Sit in silence, like the owl. We live in a crazy busy world, and you all have over-full lives, but there is so much wisdom in silence. I hear you protesting, “When?” But, take five minutes to settle yourself, sift through your priorities, then make decisions about your day.

brown owl on tree branch

Hide behind the tree, like the fox. In a “just say yes” world, we need to learn to say, “no.” We need boundaries around our time, our energy, and our souls. It’s okay to say no, and don’t forget to play. Life can be serious. Find a way to belly laugh.

black and brown animal

Work with the tree, like the beaver. Find meaningful work that enlivens you instead of drains you. You all work hard. If you can work from that place of rest, silence, safety, and boundaries, your work won’t burn you out, and you might even find that elusive quality we are always looking for, that is, balance.

Beaver with stick

Know this, my daughters: Know that I think you’re amazing. I find you endlessly fascinating, and I enjoy spending time with each of you. Know that I am always on your side and that you always, always have a place in my home and my heart.

Mom

 

 

Pictures from WordPress Pixel except for beaver which has a link and the tree is mine.

Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Calling

improve-spanish-listening

 

I used to think that “calling” involved a specific word from God about your life. As if there was only one thing on earth you were called to do. For instance, when I was in full-time ministry, I thought that was my calling. But what happens if, like me, you leave the ministry? Are you suddenly “out of your calling?” Are you, “between callings?” This led me to a lot of questions. What if I’m working in a gas station, is it a calling? What if I’m housebound by illness? Is there still a calling?

Recently I’ve been reading, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old by Parker Palmer. I love Parker Palmer; he is warm, engaging and funny. My copy of his book is now marked with smiley faces where he has made me laugh. In this book of essays, he brings up the topic of calling or vocation. In it he says,

“The way I’ve earned my keep has changed frequently, but my vocation has remained the same: I’m a teacher-and-learner, a vocation I’ve pursued through thick and thin in every era of my life.” Pg. 85

This thought rocked my world. I was feeling “calling-less” until I read those words. Then, the lights came on. Learning can be a vocation??? Oh my, that is me; I LOVE to learn. Learning something new is what drives me to get up in the morning. It’s why I read, it’s why I write, it’s why I listen deeply to people. I love to learn. I didn’t understand that calling was more about who you are than what you do. It’s more internal than external.

But, unlike Parker Palmer, teaching was not my vocation. I had to think hard about how to describe the other part of my calling. I realized it’s communication, and, specifically, communicating hope. The tag line on my website is “Infusing Reality with Hope.” Hope is in all my books, it is reflected in how I do counseling, it’s in my spiritual direction practice. It’s evident every time I speak, teach, or train. It’s just who I am.

parker plamer

So, my calling is learning-and-communicating hope. What is yours? Here are some ideas to consider when trying to discover your calling:

  1. I think most callings have an inward and outward expression.
  2. I think these callings are innate within you already, from the time you are born. They are part of your inborn personality, or as the Quaker’s say, a birthright gift.
  3. I think they are evident no matter what you are doing for a job. You’ll be able to see these gifts across your lifetime whether you’re scrubbing toilets, teaching kindergarten, or living as an AIDS worker in Africa.

Why is it important to find your calling? For me, it was a freeing exercise. Once I left the ministry, I felt “calling-less,” and I tried to think of my next jobs as callings, but they just didn’t fit. Realizing that your calling/vocation is about who you are, relieves a lot of pressure on the things you do for a living. I like to write, but if writing was my calling, it would feel very weighty and it would lose its lightness and fun. If I put the burden on something I “do,” it feels heavy. If my calling is something I “am,” it feels natural. So, what is your calling? Let me know if you think you find it. This should be fun!

 

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Being a Light

Lantern-Light-Festival

 

I have a dear friend who is often housebound by one of those horrible autoimmune diseases. She told me that once in desperation, she cried out to God, “What can I do for you, I can’t even leave the house?” God answered, “Be a sunflower.” The image of being a sunflower, of turning your face toward the light of God is beautiful and doable. She thought, I can do that!

Poet Mary Oliver, in her poem, The Buddha’s Last Instruction, suggests the Buddha’s last words were, “Make of yourself a light.” Mary Oliver’s poem is about the sun coming up and filling the land with light. In one stanza she writes,

“And then I feel the sun itself

 as it blazes over the hills,

like a million flowers on fire –

clearly I’m not needed,

yet I feel myself turning

into something of inexplicable value.

 

sunrise

 

The light does this to us. It shines on us, in us, hanging and healing us, so that, as the Buddha says, we can be a light to others.

John Donohue, a beautiful writer, and prayer of the Celtic tradition of Christianity wrote,

“May the light of your soul guide you. May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart…May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and renewal to those who you work with and to those who see and receive your work.”

When Quakers pray they say, “I’ll hold you in the Light.” I think that is beautiful.

sunflower

It seems clear to me that our job is to be a sunflower, turning our face to the light of God’s love. As God’s love fills us, it guides us, blesses our work with love and warmth. Then, it does as the Buddha suggests, it makes a light of love and healing to a hurting world.

How have you experienced the light? How does light flow through you to others?

 

Photo credit: Sunflower Lantern FestivalSunrise  

Spiritual Practice: Lectio Divina

One of my favorite spiritual practices.

Spiritual Practices 101

little-churchReview of Body Listening: How did it go for you? I’m glad to say that my eye twitching resolved in about three days — so grateful. My break from Facebook was key so I’m glad I listened.

Today will talk about one of my favorite Spiritual Practices, Lectio Divina, which is Latin for Divine Reading. This practice comes to us from the Benedictines. In its traditional form, Lectio Divina has four separate steps: reading, reflection, response, rest. It’s more about listening than reading. You can use this spiritual practice with the Bible or any holy book, or even with poetry. To demonstrate I’m going to use a beautiful poem by ee cummings called, I Am a Little Church.

You can google Lectio Divina and find a lot of ways to do it, but I’ll share an easy and fun way. You can do this in a group or…

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Spiritual Practice: Body Listening

One of the simplest and easiest to forget spiritual practices!

Spiritual Practices 101

improve-spanish-listening I invite you to continue with me on a journey of spiritual awakening as we try different spiritual practices together. Every two weeks, I will blog about a different spiritual practice, we can try it together and discuss how it is or isn’t working for you! Ready, set, GO!

Review: Silence and Solitude – How did the silence go for you? On my last spiritual retreat, I added Body Listening to my silence. I was experiencing post-election stress when I met with my spiritual director and she helped me with a body listening exercise. It was very helpful so that is what we will focus on today. I had the rest of the 24 hours to sift through what my body was telling me.

Body listening is something I generally forget to do until my body is screaming at me in some way, but it’s better if you don’t wait…

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Spiritual Practice: Silence and Solitude

My favorite Spiritual practice!

Spiritual Practices 101

 

165298_10150358430390184_519450183_16532533_3409311_n.jpgAs you may know, my newest book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening, is out on Harper Legend. In light of that, I invite you to join me on a journey of spiritual awakening as we try different spiritual practices together. Every two weeks, I will blog about a different spiritual practice, we can try it together and discuss how it is or isn’t working for you! Ready, set, GO!

Review of the Examen: This discipline had a surprising effect on me. As I reviewed the places I’d seen God at the end of the day, I started noticing those places more during the day. How was it for you?

Silence and Solitude

This is one of my favorite spiritual practices. I used to take college students to a week-long camp on Catalina Island to practice different forms of prayer. The one they were most terrified of was…

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