Spiritual Practice: Reimagining Lent

 

afterglow backlit beautiful crescent moon

I did not grow up in a church that celebrated or marked the Christian liturgical calendar. Well, I did not grow up in a church at all, but later, when I did attend church, it was one of those big box non-denominational churches that didn’t pay attention to the church calendar. In fact, we skipped right over Lent and Good Friday and went straight to Easter. It was Happy Clappy Christianity, baby. But life is not all roses and it’s good to have time to mourn, grieve, and contemplate change.

When people talked about Lent, it was a mystery to me — still is a bit. It just seemed like a difficult time when people gave up chocolate or alcohol and were miserable. When I first tried lent, I gave up sugar, just in time for a week at camp with college students who were happily eating sugar all week. I. Was. Miserable! And, worse, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it.

christian year

So, let’s break it down and re-imagine what Lent can be. Here is a handy picture of the church year, aka the Christian calendar. On it, you’ll see that Lent is the forty-day period of time when we contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus and prepare our hearts for Easter resurrection. During that time, Jesus knew he was heading to the cross and he was saying the things he most wanted us to hear and remember. “Love one another, serve each other, share food with your enemies…” It’s a good time to re-read those last words.  My pastor, Kris Gallagher, calls Lent, “Christian Spring Training.”

People fast during lent as a reminder of the season and to identify with Christ’s forty- days in the wilderness. It is a time to reflect, review your life, and perhaps prepare to make some changes. It is the season of spring where new life is about to break forth in the earth; we need to be prepared for new growth in our lives too.

If we are giving something up for Lent, Pastor Kris encourages us to ask, “what for?” If you are giving up chocolate or coffee, what is it for? If you eat a lot of chocolate or drink a lot of coffee, you can take that money and give it to someone who is struggling. That’s a good “what for.”

fasting from pope francis

You can also think of adding something to your Lent instead of merely giving something up. Or both, as in the above list from Pope Francis. Try adding a season of gratefulness or thank-you note writing, or make a commitment to listen deeply to someone each day. I love the idea of adding something new during Lent instead of giving something up. Whatever you choose, it can be a mindfulness exercise to keep you present to God, to yourself, and to others during this season. Who wants to join me in trying something new for Lent this year?

Let me know what Lent means to you and how you are trying to reimagine it this season.

 

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Spiritual Practice – Seeing God In All Living Things

beautiful bloom blooming blossom

 

I’m just back from a weekend with John Philip Newell, a Celtic Poet, Peacemaker, Minister, and Scholar. He’s the author of one of my favorite books, The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings. When I read this book my heart rejoiced, saying, “These are my people!” The words he wrote spoke deeply to the kind of faith my faith has evolved into. I didn’t know this, but apparently, it’s a Celtic faith. Early Scottish Christianity was a holistic and valued caring for the earth and acknowledging the divine in all people. This kind of faith was eventually opposed and suppressed by the church that had founded the Scottish church, the Roman Catholic Church.  Now, this ancient Celtic Christian stream is reemerging at a time we need it most, as care for the earth has never been more important.

john philip newell

The Celtic Christians say we see God in all things. I’m not talking about pantheism, I’m talking about pan-en-theism: Not that everything is God, but God is in all living things. It’s about the very light that spoke the universe into being existing at the heart of all created things. Newell says we all know this; we just need to be reminded. At the heart of all living things, is light and love and divine spark.

Here’s a practice you can try to get in touch with that of God in everything. Find a place outside, sit and look at something, a tree, a flower, a blade of grass. Then say, I’m here God, I’m listening. Then be present to that thing, ask yourself what do you see, what do you notice, what might you learn from this created thing?

We did this during my weekend with John Philip. I found an oak tree, gnarled and unruly, with branches stretching up in many directions. I felt drawn to get as close to it as I could. I climbed up, studied the branches, felt the texture, admired its rough bark, sniffed it and the soft lichens that lived on it. It stood next to a beautiful tall and stately pine tree, but I realized that I was much more like the oak. My life had taken many twisted paths, not a straight and beautiful one, but much more interesting. I wasn’t beautiful anymore, but strong, sturdy, full of life and providing a safe place for others. There was even an empty nest at the top of that oak tree. I felt the tree was as happy to be with me as I was with it, and I remembered my childhood of climbing oaks and the wonder and joy of it all.

me in tree

One of my granddaughters likes to be in my lap. She’s nine years old and very tall, 4’8” already. She is all elbows and knees, but she wants to be as close to me as she physically can. She balls into my lap and presses her cheek to mine as if she just can’t get close enough. I treasure this because by next year she might not be interested in sitting in Nana’s lap. But that is how I felt with that tree, like I just couldn’t get close enough. It was beautiful.

Each person at the retreat had some kind of loving interaction with the life around us. It’s so easy to go through life with blinders on, not seeing the beauty of the clouds, the wonder of snow on the mountains, or wildflowers in a field.

Try that this week. Take your blinders off. Walk slowly. Sit, if you can, and listen. Look for that divine spark in all living things and let me know how it goes.

 

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Spiritual Practice: Trying Things

woman wearing grey long sleeved top photography

I know some young people are so stressed about “not having a plan” after high school that they become unable to move forward in any way. AFTER HIGH SCHOOL!!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person changes jobs 10-15 times and careers seven times over their working years. I wish everyone could understand you don’t have to know when you’re 18, 22 or even 65, what you want to be when you grow up! Very few people know that right out of the shoot. For most of us, it’s about trying things.

Job’s I’ve had: babysitter, burger flipper, house number painter, hair cutter, charm school teaching assistant, grocery bagger, airline front desk, art class model, waitress…and those were all before I graduated from college! I could go on but you get the point. You have to try a lot of things before you find something that gives you joy or at least pays you enough to find your joy outside of work. I changed my major four times in college and when I graduated with two majors, I didn’t work in either field. Now I work as a therapist; I write, and I train spiritual directors.

It took me a long time to figure out what kinds of work gave me joy, and it’s still not just one thing.

In the church world, we talk about spiritual gifts. It’s a similar idea. I’ve worked in the church nursery, set up chairs, taught Sunday school, led a creative team, been on the missions committee… In the end, I found I most love helping people grow spiritually.

Trying things helps us know what we love and what we don’t — what feeds our soul and what drains it. When we figure that out, we can work smarter, not harder. I don’t have to run around like a chicken trying to be all things to all people. I can say no to boards and committees and childcare because they aren’t in my giftset. I can say yes to teaching a spiritual formation class because it is something I do well and enjoy. Trying things helps us prioritize our time and energy, making us more effective for the greater good.

woman walking on a log in the forest

Some tips for trying things:

  1. Don’t be afraid to try a job for which you aren’t fully qualified. Men tend to take a job they are semi-qualified for because they know they can learn the rest. Women tend to take only jobs they know they can do. Stretch yourself by taking something a bit out of your comfort zone, having faith you can learn the rest.
  2. My motto: “I’ll try anything once.” This goes for food and adventures. Although I do draw the line at bungee jumping. And also raw oysters — sorry, they make me gag.
  3. Christians often feel they have to wait for God to speak directly to them about something without moving forward. I always liked the saying, “It’s hard to steer a parked car.” My husband says he likes to gently kick a lot of doors and see which ones open. Move in some direction and guidance will come.  I believe that God will be with you whatever path you choose all are opportunities for growth and learning.
  4. Don’t let fear keep you from trying new things. I remember reading, “The Year of Yes,” by Shonda Rhimes. She challenges you to say “yes” to new and risky things for a year. My daughter and I did it and had fun. Full disclosure: the next year we chose, “the year of no,” for our theme. We were tired.
  5. One summer my husband and I did what I called “Groupon dating.” We didn’t have money for a vacation so we just tried all these weird groupon adventures. Some of them were great, but most of them were extremely disappointing, like the “wine and cheese steam engine train ride” that lasted about 20 minutes and served a thumb-sized bit of wine in a plastic cup. People started to riot, chanting “We want wine!” Or there was the horseback “trail ride” where the gal led us around the inside of a fenced field. But oddly, the disappointing dates are the ones we still laugh about today. Make some memories by trying things you wouldn’t normally try.

Can you see trying new things as a spiritual practice? We have a big God and a big beautiful world. Let me know what kinds of things you’ve tried and what they taught you. I’d love to hear your stories!

 

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Trees Photo by Brady Knoll on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice – Encountering People

person with body painting

If you’re like me you tend to go through life with blinders on. I’m so task-oriented that I often don’t notice people at all.

Recently I’ve been reading, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor. A thought in her chapter on The Practice of Encountering Others caught my attention. She said,

“What we have most in common is not religion, but humanity. I learned this from my religion, which also teaches me that encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get – in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing – which is where God’s Beloved has promised to show up.” (page 102)

As we go through our day, she suggests we look at people, really look. We don’t have to engage with everyone and ask their life stories, but just notice, perhaps say hello to the person bagging your groceries. Perhaps they look tired, or kind, or sad. You might feel led to say something encouraging like, “Thank You,” “Have a nice day,” or “You have a pretty name.”

This goes nicely with the Quaker teacher George Fox when he said,

“Walk joyfully on earth and respond to that of God in every human being.”

What a great thing to practice this can be. I need the reminder daily. We live in a fast-paced world and the practice of being with people is especially hard with the draw of the cell phone. What a discipline it is to put it away, to put it on silent and truly be present to someone. I feel the draw to check my phone constantly. Keeping it on silent at least keeps me from being interrupted constantly with vibrations or distracting tones.

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If you do have the time to be with someone, try turning off your phone and putting it away; give that person your full attention. When my granddaughters were old enough, my husband rigged up some old cell phones so they could play games on them when they came over. This quickly became an obsession for both of them. Gone were the fun interactions we had previously enjoyed. Finally, my husband locked the phones up in the safe and said, “no more.” The girls were disappointed about it but soon got over it. Now they are much happier to sit in our laps for reading books together or playing silly games with us. I’m thankful for this time with them. They grow so quickly that soon they will be on to other interests.

Joan Chittister says “There are no gifts as precious as the gifts of time and listening.”

I agree. As a therapist and a spiritual director, I believe I’m offering that gift to others daily. What a healing thing it is to be heard and understood at a deep level. When I meet with my spiritual director, I’m often clueless as to how I even feel. But though her patient listening, gentle questions and observations, clarity slowly comes to me and I can connect with myself and God. This helps me feel more grounded and able to connect to others.

So, give this a try:

  1. Notice those you pass by today; perhaps say, “hi” or send up a quick prayer for them. Everyone is going through something that could use prayer.
  2. If you do have the opportunity to be with someone, look for that of God in them. Despite our differences in age, politics, social economics, religion, or culture, we can see God in each human and it is our connection point. I love that!
  3. Put away the phone, give that person your full attention and see what happens.

I imagine it will be a thin place, a holy encounter with a beautiful soul who is loved by God.

Let me know how it goes!

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Spiritual Practice – Entering the New Year with Intention

woman dream portrait happy

 

We’ve spent the last two blogs looking back at 2019 and now it’s time to look forward to 2020. I usually pick a word or phrase to pray into for the new year, but a friend says the universe likes specifics, so this year I’m trying to think more specifically and set intentions that I can observe. Let’s look again at our categories:

Body, Mind, and Spirit, Emotions, Work, Relationships, and Fun/Creativity.

Body – As I turn sixty-one this year, I see my friends having increasing health issues. I cannot magically avoid this with intentions, but I do believe I’m stronger for working the last three years with a personal trainer; more flexible for doing yoga; and less heavy for using intermittent fasting each day. These very specific intentions will come with me into 2020. I used to get very bad lung infections every winter but have not for the last two winters. I believe my immune system is stronger because of the exercise, and I hope to keep it that way. What specific intentions do you have for your body in 2020?

Spirit – My spirit has gone through many changes in the last decade. From finding its home in the evangelical tribe to finding its home in a broader, progressive Christian family. I want to continue to learn what it means to see “That of God” in everyone, as the Quakers say. Or in the words of my pastor, who gives the same homework every week,

“To go out and love everyone you meet, even those you don’t think are worthy, because God thinks they are.”

What specific intention do you have for your spirit in 2020?

me and roy

Emotions – I used to be a 10/10 on the extroversion scale, but I have become much more introverted over time. I feel happiest alone in my room with a good book, but this does not help those I love to feel loved. I want to connect emotionally with my husband more in 2020 to keep our 36-year marriage strong. What intentions do you have for your emotions in 2020?

Work – I have three jobs. I work two days a week as a therapist, I run a non-profit that trains spiritual directors, and I write books and blogs. My intention in 2020 is to try and give equal attention to all three jobs, even though the one that pays the bills isn’t as fun as the two that don’t bring in much income. What is your intention for work in 2020?

Relationships – My friendship circle has grown smaller, probably due to the introversion thing. That’s okay, but I do want to invest time in the relationships I value and not let them atrophy. My 2020 intention is to be more intentional with the small group of friends that I have. What’s yours?

Fun/Creativity – I’d like to get back to who I was as a child when my confidence was unlimited, my creativity high, and magic was real. If I can let my mind revisit that time, I think it will positively impact my writing. This is my most sincere intention, to get back to the creativity of my youth. For fun, I love to travel and to learn. I’ve got two fun trips planned already for February, and I want more, more, more in 2020. How about you?

I’d love to hear how you go into the new year. Do you make resolutions? Do you choose words or phrases? How do you stay present in the midst of the craziness of this world?

 

 

Photo top: Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

The second pic is mine. Me and my man!

Spiritual Practices – End of the Year Reflection (part two)

brown tree with snow

The end of the year is a good time for reflection. If you’re a Christian, Advent will help guide you into reflection. The advent story features a harried and oppressed people, under the boot of an unjust government, finding hope in a radical new call to a life of love and action. Isn’t that what we all need this year?

In my last blog, we talked about reflecting on what we might need to savor, grieve, let go of, and learn from. This can open up a time of dreaming and goal planning for the new year. We looked at the categories of Body, Mind, and Spirit; today we will reflect on our Emotions, Work, Relationships, and Fun/Creativity.

Set aside some time before the month ends to journal some thoughts on the last year/decade, and what you want to see in the next!

Emotions: For me, when someone asks how I’m feeling I honestly have to stop and think, even though in the language of Meyers Briggs Temperament Indicator, I’m a Feeler. I’m often out of touch with how I feel. Looking back at 2019, however, I see a glaring period of depression. A job I loved ended the previous July, but my grief was postponed by the anticipation of our planned trip to Denmark, Scotland, and Ireland in October. That was fantastic!

The problem started when we returned. First, we had an endless winter Seriously, for a town that generally has over 250 days of sunlight, we were overcast for months on end. That, combined with the job I thought I was coming home to vanishing, and then the job I eventually got taking months to materialize, led to some dark times. I am not unfamiliar with depression, but I must say it always surprises me with its lethargy and lack of energy. I’ve learned not to fight it, but to go easy on myself during those times and lower my expectations. I generally re-watch the Harry Potter movies to help lift my spirits. Healing came with the summer sun, and from about June on I was back in better spirits, ready to enjoy some family fun. I learned that seasonal affective disorder is real and that I tend to tie my identity to what I am able to produce.

person wearing red hoodie sitting in front of body of water

How were your emotions this last year? What can you learn from them?

Work: My work this year transitioned from my beloved hospice to a part-time private counseling practice. The first few months, as I mentioned, were extremely slow and frustrating, with new computer charting to learn, and rather rusty counseling skills. But now my days are full and I’m enjoying the work. Apparently, I’m becoming a sought-after trauma therapist and am training in EMDR to enhance that work. I learned it’s never too late to learn new things and that age does bring wisdom!

How was work for you this year? Are you happy? Do you need to make a change?

Relationships: Relationships have always been important to me, but when I look closely, I have many people that I love and just a few I spend time with regularly. I cherish my husband, my kids, and grands, and I marvel that friendships shift with new ones moving up in importance and others moving to less frequent interactions. I made two new friends this year and I’m so grateful for both. Good friends are a surprise and a joy.

Have you made or lost friends this year? Who are you thankful for? Are there relationships you need to grieve?

amazing balance blur boulder

Fun/Creativity – I put those two together but they might be separate for you. For me, I have the most fun when I’m creating. Although my writing has been slow this year (see the section on depression), I’ve published all of my eleven books over the decade! But now I’m slowing down, taking my time, not afraid to rest. Looking back, the most fun I had this year was attending two writing conferences with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators — one in Las Vegas and the other in Los Angeles. I felt truly encouraged at those not to give up. Our world often seems dark and our creativity can bring much needed light. The writing itself has been a bit of a slog and I’m grateful for a critique group to hold me accountable.

I’m also happy anytime my husband and I can take a road trip. We had fun this year going to meet the biggest Sequoias, exploring caves, and traveling to southern California to see family. We did a tad of camping and got to watch the grandkids frolic in the water in several locations.

Did you remember to have fun this year? Did you spend any time creating? If not, it might be important to add some in for next year.

Thanks for taking a look back with me on your Body, Mind, Spirit, Emotions, Work, Relationships, and Fun/Creativity. Next time we’ll look forward into the new year/decade and set some goals and dreams for what is next!

I’d love to hear how your end of the year reflection is going.

 

 

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Person sitting alone Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com
 Cairn Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: End of the Year Reflection

silhouette photo of person standing in cave

I love December for many reasons: the winter weather, Christmas lights, festive parties; but I also love it as it brings the end to one year and the promise of something new in January. This year is especially fun as it brings a close to a whole decade and opens up a new beginning in 2020.

At the end of each year, I enjoy reflecting back, to see what I might need to savor, grieve, let go of, and learn from. This can open up a time of dreaming and goal planning for the new year (which we can do in a later blog).

Today we will look at the categories: Body, Mind, and Spirit, and next time we’ll tackle Emotions, Work, Relationships, and Fun/Creativity.

Body: Thinking back on 2019, how did you feel about your body? I don’t mean, were you thin or fit enough, I mean, were you at peace with it? Do you try to be an integrated person who honors, loves, and accepts your body? If so, how did you do it? Where did you fall short?

This year I grew in loving my body. As a post-menopausal woman, this has been a challenge. My stomach, which has always been a small part of my body, has become distended and refuses to regain its shape. I work with a personal trainer twice a week and have been enjoying getting stronger. But I believe that yoga has done the most to help me love and accept my body the way it is. The practice of yoga, breathing and stretching together, works to reestablish balance in our parasympathetic nervous systems. These systems get out of balance with stress, and yoga helps us realign. When I’m practicing yoga, I often find myself grateful for my body and sending it love.

How about you? How is your relationship with your body?

Mind: For me, reading is always the best way to improve my mind. I also listen to podcasts, attend lectures and enjoy interesting conversations. Looking back on the year, I’d like to share two books that have been stretching my thinking.

the body keeps the score

First, the book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D. has helped me understand how Trauma affects the body. I’ve been working with trauma personally, and in my counseling practice for decades, and this book synthesis all the things I’ve learned into one helpful package. I’ve signed up to become an EMDR practitioner just so I can learn to help the traumatized even more. I highly recommend this book if you or someone you know has experienced trauma. Caution: It can be triggering, so it’s best to read and discuss with a trusted friend or counselor.

the great spiritual migration

The second book that is giving words to my experience is called, “The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian.” By Brian D. McLaren.

I’ve felt that old ways of thinking of my faith aren’t working for me anymore but not sure what that means for the future. Don’t get me wrong, I still love God and Jesus and my faith is stronger than ever, but it’s different. The old forms don’t fit. McLaren gets that and he has vision, hope, and direction for renewing or reinventing our faith “for the common good,” as it was originally meant to be.

How have you grown your mind this year? What helps you stretch your thinking?

How about your spirit? This year my spirit has been happiest in helping others grow spiritually. I’ve been leading a spiritual formation class where we try different spiritual formation contemplative practices together, such as Lectio Divina or praying a labyrinth. That has been a blast! But personally, I feel a bit restless or maybe lethargic in my spiritual self. I feel weary. I’m still taking my monthly retreats of silence and meeting with my spiritual director, but I have a hard time just being quiet, settling in. That is something for me to reflect on for the new year/decade. What do I need to unplug from so I can settle? Maybe I need less time on my phone and more time in the trees.

How about your spirit? How are you nurturing that part of you that needs time in nature, time in silence, time in fellowship?

Thanks for joining me in part one of reflecting on the year. Tune in next time for part two where we will reflect on Emotions, Work, Relationships, and Fun/Creativity. Then get ready to create some dreams and hope for the new year. Let me know how you best sort through a year and plan for the next.

 

Photo Credit: Snow cave: Photo by Maël BALLAND on Pexels.com