Spiritual Practice – Encountering People

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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!

Photos by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice – Entering the New Year with Intention

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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 Practice: End of the Year Reflection

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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.

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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

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Tribe

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When I say tribe, I’m not referring to a group of people you were born into, as in a Native American tribe, but in the popular understanding of the word: a distinctive or close-knit group, a group of kindred spirits, people you feel safe with.

Sadly, these are not always the same people as the tribe you were born into, though it is for some lucky folks. Also, your tribe will change over time depending on where you live, work, play and grow as a person. Sometimes, a change in beliefs or political understanding will move you from one tribe to another. Sometimes a job promotion or increase/decrease in your standard of living will propel you from one group to another.

The important thing is, we all need a tribe — people that “get us,” people that are safe. I recently met a young woman who had developed a great group of friends. Later, something happened that showed her they were not her tribe. They betrayed her deeply and gossiped horribly about her. She was devastated and is now having trouble trusting anyone else. That is a hard thing; betrayals can stick with us causing us to withdraw and put up walls of protection around our hearts.

My husband and I went through a tribe change when we started standing with the LGBTQ community. Our faith tribe, some family members, and many friends could not understand this decision and we felt exiled from that tribe. It was a very painful thing. But it was also freeing. We had been tiptoeing around on eggshells, trying to avoid rocking the boat in our tribe, and when we left, we could walk more freely. Suddenly, it was as if we could breathe, we could be ourselves, and we could advocate for justice. We remained close to many of our longtime friends, but it felt as if our tribal allegiance had undergone a seismic shift. Eventually, we found likeminded people with whom we could be more candid with about topics that were previously difficult to discuss. It took a while but we are now enjoying exploring a new tribal identity.

 

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How do you find a tribe?

  1. Look for people who might have the same interests as you. Perhaps in a church, community organizing group, book club, hiking group or political action group.
  2. Look for people you feel comfortable around.
  3. Try sharing a bit of yourself and see how that part of you is handled by others in the group. Are you welcomed or held at a distance?
  4. Not everyone you meet will fall into the category of tribe-worthy. We all have friends, acquaintances, and family members that we love, but that does not automatically make them part of your tribe. Don’t put all your energy into forming a tribe at work. Jobs can disappear and your tribe along with them.

Why do we need a tribe? Life is hard, and we are all busy. Having a small group of people you can be yourself with is important. You don’t have to agree on everything to be part of a tribe. The best tribes can challenge and disagree but continue to love and be connected. The best tribes can bring in new ideas and expose each member to new things. But tribes don’t just happen, they need to be cultivated. Meeting with people regularly is the only way to develop a tribe. Weekly or monthly gatherings, dinners, or any event where you can talk deeply with one another can lead to a tribe. You must take risks to form a tribe. Tribes can be healing. As we share our pain in the safety of a tribe, we can heal.

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When we left our former tribe, we started a new one called “Shalom.” It was to be a place of healing for people from the LGBTQ family who had been hurt by the church. This became a tribe of safety and love, but it took over a year before we could all trust each other. After five years we officially dissolved the group, not because anything bad had happened, but because it had met its purpose. Everyone in Shalom, including us, had found safety and healing, and life had gotten better and busier for everyone. Everyone agreed it was time to stop our meetings which had gone from weekly for three years, to monthly for the last two. We will still be friends, but it was time to let the tribe scatter.

How do you know it’s time to move on from a tribe? Sometimes it is just natural as life and priorities change. But tribes can also become toxic, as what happened to the young woman I mentioned. If there is gossip, lying, or intolerance of who you are, it might be time to leave. If you find yourself avoiding the folks in your tribe, you might need to reevaluate. A tribe is somewhere you are not just tolerated, but celebrated.

Do you have a tribe? How did you find it? Have you ever had to switch tribes? I’d love to hear your stories.

 

 

Photos: Top pic 

Man in shirt pic

Women laughing pic

 

Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Calling

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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: Seeking Wisdom

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Let’s be honest, when push comes to shove most of us go to other people for wisdom. We ask friends for advice, we read books written by experts, we search the scriptures and holy books, but we often forget that wisdom lies inside each of us.

Why is it so hard to believe that we have wisdom inside? Why is our own inner voice often the last place we look for advice? It is partly because it takes more time, more effort, and more silence than most of us westerners are comfortable with. We want the quick fix, the fast food, the easy answers.

But, if we believe like the Quakers and the Benedictines do, that the holy resides within each of us, then it would be logical there is great wisdom within us just waiting to be sought. One of my favorite verses from the Bible says, If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5.

So, how do we listen? How do we get still enough to hear the wisdom within? Here are some easy steps.

I know I sound like a broken drum about this, but first and foremost, we must cultivate a life that allows for times of silence. Sitting in silence allows the dust to settle and clears away the noise, helping us to hear our God-given wisdom.

And this is the harder part: Wisdom comes from the school of hard knocks. Christine Valters Paintener says,

 “Wisdom comes through navigating life experiences that stretch us, push us to our edges, all the while staying as present as possible without running away.” (pg. 117 Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics).

Let me highlight the line, “while as staying present as possible without running away.” This one is tough. Most of us want to run as fast as we can away from hard times and difficult feelings. We want to numb those painful events with drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, denial or whatever works. Wisdom comes from the maturity to stay present and learn from the experience. Yikes!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We learn about this concept in yoga when the instructor says to “stay in your breath,” through a difficult pose. This is a tool we can take with us when things get hard and we are tempted to run. Just breathe.

Spiritual practices will keep us centered and growing in wisdom. This blog is full of practices, but I also enjoy some help with my spiritual practices. I meet monthly with a spiritual director, whose purpose is not to give me answers, but to help me find them within, by listening to God’s voice inside me and by trying new practices. You can find a director through Spiritual Directors international.

So next time you need wisdom, resist the urge to run to a friend, authority, or book. Try seeking the wisdom within and let me know how it goes!

 

Photo credit, top

Spiritual Practice: Pilgrimage

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The idea of Pilgrimage is an interesting one to me. Four of my friends have completed the El Camino de Santiago, which leads to the traditional burial ground of the apostle James. People take pilgrimages to seek wisdom, find God, or visit a thin place where earth and heaven seem very close to each other. There are three principal Christian pilgrimages: Jerusalem, Rome, and El Camino.

I have made only one of these pilgrimages: Jerusalem. Many people go there to “walk where Jesus walked,” and for those that can’t go there, the stations of the cross were created. The stations take you through Jesus’ path to the cross, and you don’t even have to leave home to do it.

I still consider my summer living in Tel Aviv, Israel, one of the highlights of my life; but I think it had less to do with the location and more to do with displacing myself into another culture, where I didn’t know the language or customs. That kind of pilgrimage sort of breaks open the walls we build to keep ourselves safe; we come face to face with our shadow side, and we have an opportunity to heal.

Displacement is a shortcut to this kind of growth and healing, and you don’t have to leave town to displace yourself. Just immerse yourself in a different cultural group. Hang out with people in a church, synagogue, or community group that is different than yours.

The idea of pilgrimage goes deeper than traveling somewhere to visit a holy site. In her book, Illuminating the Way: Embracing the wisdom of Monks and Mystics,” Christine Valters Painter suggests that we each have an inner Pilgrim —

“The part of ourselves drawn to make long voyages in search of something for which we long. This inward geography of the journey, one where we may physically travel only a few feet or miles but where the soul moves in astronomical measure.” (pg. 100)

We are all pilgrims, trying to find our place in the world, in the universe. We look for wisdom, and we search to know God. How can we do it?

  • Travel to a holy place; it doesn’t have to be sacred to your religion, displace yourself into someone else’s holy place and see what you find of God there. I would desperately love to go to the Island of Iona, a thin place in Scotland; it’s on my bucket list.
  • Try walking with Jesus through the stations of the cross. As a non-Catholic, I find this an enlightening exercise. Many churches and Catholic retreat centers have these open to the public, or you can google one to try online.
  • Take yourself on an inner pilgrimage without leaving home. Many good books will lead you into a deeper place you long for. You might follow Phileena Heuretz on her pilgrimage to El Camino in her book “Pilgrimage of the Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life.”
  • Take a pilgrimage into your own emotions. We generally want to flee from difficult emotions like anger, fear, or sadness. Instead, welcome them, sit with them, explore them, and see what they have to teach you.

I’d love to hear about any pilgrimages you have taken and how they have affected you!

Photo Credit Top Pic.