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? 


Top Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

Photo of girl with flowers by Gabby K on Pexels.com

Photo of girl in mask by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

Photo of people with dog by Burst on Pexels.com

Photo of broken mirror by Thiago Matos on Pexels.com

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Visioning

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I have often been skeptical of visionaries. I once worked with a youth group at a church where several young women came to me privately, confiding that God had told them they were to marry a certain young man. Unfortunately, they all named the same young man! I’m pretty sure hormones were speaking and not God.

Yet, I have experienced God speaking to me and others through dreams, visions, and intuitions as well. And, there are people who are particularly in touch with what God is doing in the world; they are careful observers, who can see what the rest of us might miss. We call these people prophets or visionaries. They are people who see beyond the status-quo.

Yet I believe we can all be in line with what God wants to do in the world if we just give ourselves time to listen. As in most spiritual practices, the ability to vision starts with quiet listening.

Here are some exercises you might try to begin a visioning journey:

Caution: If we get stretched too thin, we will not be able to stop and listen to God without falling asleep. Regular contemplative spiritual practices prepare our heart, mind, and soul to receive what God is trying to tell us. But, if you try to listen and get drowsy, honor your body by taking a nap. I believe we live in a chronically sleep deprived world. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is sleep.

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Take a walk in nature:

Getting out into nature is also an important way to listen to the heartbeat of God. God’s creation speaks or creates an atmosphere for us to hear things better. Visionary Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was what they call a “landscape mystic.” Christine Valters Paintner talks about Hildegard in her book, Illuminating the Way, “that the geography of her world was a means of ongoing revelation into the nature of God.” I’ve found this to be true for myself. Getting out into nature, whether it’s a walk in the desert with my dog, or a trip with my honey to the ocean or forest always restores my soul, clears my head and helps me hear God better.

Make a visioning board:

Gather some magazines, glue and, scissors. Think about what things are most important to your true self and are in line with your values. This is not a wish list for material possessions or fame, but a chance to clarify what unique dreams, personality, and purposes God has given you. It could be goals, dreams, or desires. It could be things you don’t see in your life right now that you would hope to see in the future. Or it could be things you already see but want to continue experiencing. Begin to look for pictures in the magazines that represent those values. When you find them, cut them out glue them in any way you want on a paper or canvass. Keep your vision board near you to remind yourself what is important.

When I did this exercise, the things I noticed that were important to me were: time with my family and friends, traveling adventures with my husband, writing meaningful books, helping people grow spiritually, and empowering women. Three years later, this board still reflects my basic values and has been a way to say “no” to things that would take me away from things that are not life-giving.

Your board will reflect what is important to you. Let me know if you try any of these practices and connect with your inner visionary.

When you feel you have heard from God it’s always good to run what you’ve heard through spiritual friends you trust and the holy books you treasure. God is good and loving and wants you to be involved in your own healing, the healing of others, and the healing of the earth. The things you hear will line up with the loving nature of God.

Spiritual Practice: Assenting to Change

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Most mornings I walk in the high desert. I’ve noticed that after one of our rare, intense rains, the landscape of the trail changes dramatically.  Large rocks, previously hidden, are uncovered. Smaller rocks washed down slopes, make the trail tricky to navigate. In some places, fine sand washes down to cover the trail in a delightfully soft carpet.

Our interior landscape also changes when the storms of life descend on us. The loss of a loved one, a job loss, or the onset of a chronic illness will forever alter the landscape of our lives. These major changes have the ability to make us bitter and angry people or soft and loving people. The difference is whether we are willing to assent to the changes that are happening to us. We don’t have to like them, welcome them or look forward to them. Change can be really hard! But, it is also inevitable. Therefore, we can choose how to respond to it. Can we see change as God’s grace to help form us into more loving people? Can we look for the good or the gift in the change?

Large boulders, exposed by the rain, are like those parts of us previously unexamined. which in times of stress now rise to the surface. Our fears, insecurities, and stubborn bitter roots are exposed for all to see. Do we try to cover them up, or can we be honest with ourselves and others so that healing can begin?

The rocks that cover the path are like the myriad decisions we have to make after a huge storm. These take careful navigation at a time when emotional resources are low. Do we hide from the enormity of these decisions or ask for help from our trusted soul friends?

The soft sands which have washed across the path are like the unexpected graces that surprise us: the support of friends, the sudden brilliance of a sunset, or a double rainbow. These glimpses of beauty are reminders that we are not forgotten in our pain. We do not walk alone.

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There are also beautiful landscape changes in the desert after a storm; new life springs up almost at once. Desert flowers bloom afresh and small creatures, their numbers previously diminished by drought, are born in abundance.

This same hope for growth and life are ours in times of landscape renovation. They are a reminder of the God who is known for recycling ashes into beauty, turning mourning into joy, and exchanging the spirit of heaviness for garments of praise. All that God asks is our assent to the transformation.

These are the markers of hope to look for as we walk the now altered trail. What new insights will we receive? What new skills will we learn? What adventure is ahead…just around the bend?

Change is not easy, and I have faced more than my share, so if you need someone to walk with you, let me know in the comments below.

 

Photo credit:

Erosion, wildflowers

Lead me to a Rock that is higher than I

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Often times when I’m stressed by many concerns, I’m comforted by Biblical images: God as a hen, sheltering her children under the safety of her wings. God as a strong tower, a refuge, and then my favorite, “God is a rock that is higher than I.”

Generally, when I picture the rock image I see it high above the stormy seas of life, safe from the foaming current below. But last week that changed for me. I had the privilege of spending five days at an oceanfront house on California’s northern coast.  I grew up near the ocean, but my beaches were sandy and flat, perfect for a swim or some light body surfing. This coast in no way resembled the ocean of my youth. This coastline was lined with cliffs that dropped down into a raging rock-strewn sea. It was powerful, beautiful, terrifying.

At one point my friends and I ventured down a cliff to the sea at high tide. I found a rock that was just at the edge of the waves and climbed up on top. It wasn’t a huge rock, maybe eight feet tall, but it was higher than I. The experience of sitting on this rock was in no way related to my biblical images of a tall rock above the fray. This rock was IN the fray. Huge waves came rolling in, one after the other. They all felt powerful and threatening. They broke before they got to me, but not before I clung to the rock in frightened anticipation that they wouldn’t.  I have never experienced the roaring sound, the rushing water, the huge power of the surf so close.

And I was reminded of that plea from Psalm 61:2, “Place me on a rock that is higher than I.” It made more sense than my previous image. When we face difficult times, we often feel that our head is barely above the water, that we are threatened on all sides, scared to death that we might not make it out alive. But we do because we ARE on a rock that is high enough. Perhaps we’d like a higher rock; I know I would. I would love a huge rock far above the rough water. But I guess the Psalmist knew that just a small rock, just high enough, would keep him safe.

It took me a while to trust that rock that day on the beach. To see wave after wave break before it, aware it was high tide, I realized the waves weren’t going to get worse than they were. I could relax and take in the power and the beauty of the fight around me, resting on the rock. It was frightening, thrilling and beautiful.

Sometimes our rocks are all we have to cling to during difficult times. As I sat on my rock, I was reminded of my friend Edie. She was fighting a losing battle with cancer and her daughter-in-law, a fantastic artist, painted a picture of her clinging to a rock that was just above the thrashing storm.  Sometimes we can only cling. And sometimes we are still carried over to the other side clinging to our trusted rock.

It’s not a safe, calm picture, but it is a realistic one. The Rock will hold us. Carry us. Sustain us. Even if it is the last thing we do.

Are you being tossed by waves right now? How are you finding purchase on The Rock?  

What is helping to sustain you as you weather the storm?

The Female Side of God, Please!

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In the front of my prayer journal (the one beginning June 2014), I wrote, “Something new is happening in my life…Spring”

Well, these last eight months haven’t felt like spring. They have felt like the longest, coldest, hardest winter ever. Losing my mom, losing the job I loved, and with it my InterVarsity family.

As I walked the labyrinth at Mercy Center last week, I reflected on Spring: re-birth and birth. When you’re in labor you have to go through “transition” before you give birth.  Transition is ugly. You turn mean. You say horrible things to people that love you. You swear.

I’m in transition. I’m mean. I hurt those I love. I swear. I’m in pain. I’m grieving.

Will I give birth in the spring?

I know I can’t rush the birthing process. No one hopes to give birth to a premie or a stillborn child. Growing new life takes time — patience. I’m not ready to give birth.

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I walk the soft curves of the labyrinth, turning toward and away from the womb. That’s what I need right now. Not a hard, masculine side of God with bared chest and bulging muscles. I need a soft female side of God, with large round breasts and fleshy arms to hold me tight and suckle me. A soft place to land. A warm place to hide. I’m tired of the tomb, I want the womb – like my childhood caregiver, Lillian, who swept me into her arms every day after school and held me close and safe to her fluffy goodness. My own mother was small-boned and wiry. She smelled of smoke and had a hard time holding still. Lillian was warm and soft and available.

Twice now, girls have come up to me on the playground when I’m on yard duty and asked for hugs. I love to wrap them in my arms for just a moment before they run off to play. For just a moment they feel safe. Because the world is a hard place. One of the girls has a chronically sick sister that makes her life unbearable, and the other is as smart as Einstein but has the social skills of Joaquin Phoenix and gets made fun of a lot. And I get to be a soft place for them to land.

I need a soft place to land. But just as the labyrinth pushes me out of the womb and back into the world, this birth will happen eventually.  What will it look like? Will it have ten fingers and toes, or be weak and sickly? Will it live? Am I ready?

Thankfully it’s still winter, at least in Reno, although California is showing signs of life. I have time to rest before moving forward. I will wait, quiet and nested in the womb of my God.