Spiritual Practice: Stage One-Two of Spiritual Development

In preparation for the release of my latest book, Tumbled People: Deconstructing and Reconstructing Your Faith, I thought I’d lead us through the stages of faith development. When I wrote about this topic before, they were my most shared set of blogs. I think it was because these concepts give us words for our experience, which is something very important to me, leading me to write this book.

Saint Teresa of Avila, Father Richard Rohr, R. Thomas Ashbrook, and many others have written about the stages of spiritual development. These stages are universal across cultures and religions, as well as with nonreligious people. They mimic Erikson’s stages of social development in the field of psychology. Six or seven stages (Rohr includes eight) are generally listed for spiritual development. These stages are unique to each person, and one stage is not better than another, nor are they always linear, as we can bounce back and forth between them. Sometimes we take one step forward and two steps back, as Rohr would say.

Children are wonderfully open in their faith and experience of God. I myself was that way and my own children were likewise. Children move naturally through the first and second stages of spiritual development, but the stages do not always correlate with age.

James W. Fowler is a seminal figure in the psychology of religion. In Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, Fowler calls this first stage of faith development intuitive-projective faith. My mentor, Catherine Gregg, writes of this phase as beginning with an experience of trust: “You have to be in a relationship where trust and bonding are established.”

Bonding to God and others is important. If bonding with our parental figures is interrupted by abuse or neglect, it can hinder our relationship with God. If our God image is of a punitive, neglectful, or otherwise warped deity, it’s easy to get stuck in the early stages of faith development until those false images can be healed.

As we move into stage two of faith development, it’s a time of mythic and literal faith. This is why, suggests Catherine Gregg, “in Sunday schools across America, we tell children the mythic stories,” such as David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions’ den, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. This is when we develop the black and white, good and bad, dualistic categories necessary to know what is true and what is false in the world.

This stage is perfect for children, but as you can imagine, sometimes adults with unhealed childhood wounds can get stuck in this stage of spiritual development, and it’s not pretty. Black and white, us/them thinking is a huge problem in our world today. It separates us, rather than unites us. And unification is the ultimate goal of spiritual development – unity with God and with each other.

Most of us can look back on our childhoods and see this kind of faith development. In my book, I go through each stage and tell stories from my own life about my own development. The book also contains spiritual practices to try as we move through the stages. It also has journal pages to help us process what we are learning. It will be available for pre-order in mid-April, and then be released in mid-May. I’m so excited.

I’d love to hear what memories you have of your childlike faith, or how you might have been kept from moving forward to stage three, which is a wonderful stage full of belonging and growth, which I’ll talk about next time.

Let me know what you think about these concepts. Are they new? Do they make sense? I’d love to hear your stories. Also, if you’re interested in being an ARC reader for Tumbled People, please send me your email address and I’ll get an e-copy to you. An ARC reader reads the book before it is published and writes an honest review.

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Spiritual Practice: Honoring the Forward Thinking

We rightly honor the forward-thinking who paved the way for important sociological movements, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for equal rights. Yet, it is easy to forget to honor those foresighted individuals who fought commercial development to preserve our land and give us the beautiful parks and unspoiled wilderness we can enjoy today.

Of course, we must first honor our indigenous brothers and sisters who cared for the land, before it was snatched away by colonizers, and continue to do so. I have much to learn about that. I’m reading a daily devotional guide called, Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth, by Randy Woodley. He gives short historical lessons and practical ideas for reconnecting with the earth. I’d encourage you to join me in that.

But today I’d like to talk about those who stood against rampant consumerism to help save the earth.

When I’m walking in the old-growth redwood trees of California, I often think of John Muir, who is known as the father of our National Parks. In an age when the redwood forests were being slaughtered to build San Francisco (and then rebuild San Francisco again after the earthquake/fire) he lobbied, wrote, and inspired the conservation of these beautiful mountain wilderness areas. Today, because of John and others like him, we have Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.  Thank you, John.

People like John are often thought of as odd. I mean he did decide to walk from Kentucky to Florida, and then he lived in the Sierra mountains alone for years, but he also saw things most of us miss, and for him, he knew the mountains and trees were worth saving.

Last weekend my husband and I went to another amazingly beautiful area, Monterey Bay. In the nearby town of Pacific Grove, we found an interesting historical figure that is often overlooked. Julia Platt was a scientist, a naturalist, and even had a PhD from Germany, because as a woman, she wasn’t allowed to get one in America in the late 1800s. Yet,  when she came to Pacific Grove to work at the marine biology center, she could not get a job. Undeterred, she continued to work and eventually became the first female mayor of the city at age 74. By then, the beautiful bay was overfished and polluted in both air and sea by the canneries. She wrote the city charter to include parts of the bay and eventually got the state to approve the plans, thus securing for the future the beginning of the rebirth of the bay.

People didn’t like Julia; she was a strong-willed single woman with no interest in convention. But that didn’t stop her from fighting for what she knew was right. Strangely, we only found one nod to Julia in the town (not in the museum, nor the visitors center, nor from anyone we talked with). This single acknowledgment was a plaque on Lover’s Point that was placed by her adopted son. I think it’s time we honored her.

Other forward thinkers came after Julia to secure the area that is now a beautiful and protected bay full of otters, whales, kelp, abalone, and all the life that had previously died out. Thank you, Julia.

Here’s where to find the story of Julia and those that came before and after her:

Whom do you know who has been forward-thinking enough to make our world a better place? What might you do today to leave the world a bit healthier when you’re gone?

  • Here are some ideas to begin with:
  • Plant something and watch it grow.
  • Visit a National Park
  • Google John Muir or Julia Platt and read their stories.
  • Try reading Becoming Rooted
  • Put a bird feeder in your yard.
  • Hug a tree.
  • Play in a tide pool.
  • Gaze at something beautiful and be thankful for those who protected it.
  • Give money to an organization that cares for the earth.

I’d love to hear your ideas because this is something I’m trying to work on myself, and as we know, we are better together. 

Great News Update!

Dear writers, readers and Spiritual Friends. I’ve got some exciting news to share today. First, for the women (sorry guys) is the upcoming Women in Publishing Summit. It’s my favorite online writing conference and I get to speak on Plotting for Pantsers. I’d love you to join me. There will be over 40 speakers and you get to watch the replays until Decembers.

The Women in Publishing Summit is a 4 day virtual event, running March 1-4, 2023, packed with workshops, Q&A sessions, networking opportunities and more.

Audience: this event centers on women who are writing books, publishing books (for themselves or others) editing, marketing experts, book designers – basically, it’s a place for everyone involved in the industry of books to come together and network, learn together, and grow together!

Sponsors! Companies like PubSite, Your Book is Your Hook, GracePoint Publishing, IngramSpark, Lulu, BookBaby, and so many more are coming to share their knowledge, tell you about their companies, and give you discounts!

It’s an event you don’t want to miss!

Don’t delay! Learn more and get your ticket here. Don’t’ forget to use the coupon code 50OFFWIP23 before February 15th for fifty dollars off the early bird price. Click here to register.

I’m happy to be part of a celebration of women who are absolutely rocking it in the publishing industry, and I hope you’ll be a part of it, too!

Second, check out my upcoming book!

the cover reveal. I couldn’t be more excited about this cover. It is so beautiful. This book is different from my usual fare. It’s a non-fiction book about spiritual topics. It’s a workbook that takes you through the stages of spiritual development and the contemplative practices that help sustain each stage.

The book is written for people who have become dissatisfied with their faith, church, or religion, and are looking for new ways to experience God. It’s also good for those in spiritual burnout, such as activists, burned-out ministers, or missionaries. Please let me know if you’re interested. It will be a zoom experience, and I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for all the love and support, Jacci

Spiritual Practice: Take Naps and Eat Snacks

I’ve been spending some time in 1 Kings chapter 19. Elijah was a Jewish prophet who had just gone head-to-head with the prophets of Baal and won. Well, God won to be exact. But then Jezebel threatened his life, and he took off for the wilderness, depressed and exhausted.

He sat down under a brush tree and basically said, “I’m done, God. I might as well die now.”

Have you ever been that exhausted? That discouraged or depressed? I have.

But what is interesting is what happens next. There is no rebuke from God for Elijah’s feelings or his whiny, woe-is-me attitude. This makes me happy because I can get very whiny and woey. But God sends an angel with snacks and lets him take a nap, TWICE!

Here’s the thing. Many of my friends and readers are exhausted. It has been a rough three years. Many have been spending themselves on behalf of the poor, their students, their employees, bosses, or family members. They are done-in! We are done-in.

So, what do we do? First, apparently, we are allowed to throw a pity party. Go ahead, invite your friends, they’re all feeling the same way. Then, eat some snacks and take a few naps. This is a very important thing to do before we move on to the next step. In fact, I want you to stop reading right now if you need a snack or a nap. Go on. Get what you need, I’ll wait.

Once you’re rested and nourished – this could take months or even the whole year, because we need it – then read the rest of chapter 19.

Elijah went into a cave and found out God was not in the drama (wind, earthquake, fire). God was not in the political drama, not in the social media drama, not in the family drama…God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice.

Sometimes, we need to get away from the noise to hear that voice. Turn off the news, and the phone, and take a break from the people in your life that cause drama. Sit. Wait. Listen. Reflect. Redirect. Then move forward from that place.

Elijah was given new marching orders, which included anointing someone to take his place. Those of us who are older might need to think about this. How can we pass on what we know? How can we bless the next generation? Let’s look for ways to do that. But don’t be in a hurry, take your time. You might need a snack or a nap first. Or two.

Let me know how you are dealing with this difficult time. Let’s hold each other up until we get strong enough to stand again.

Spiritual Practices: Preparing for the New Year

I have a way of both processing the year behind me and preparing for the year ahead that I’d like to share.

First, when I have some time, I take out my calendar and go through the year jotting down significant events. I have to do this because I can’t remember what happened yesterday, let alone a year ago.

From this list, I make two more. One includes the hard things that happened, and the other has the good things that happened. Seeing them on paper helps me process them. I can mourn the hard things and be grateful for the good things. It gives me perspective to think about the new year.

When it comes to the new year, I can look back and see what was missing. What do I need in the new year that will help it be a better year for me? When I did this recently, I realized what I’ve missed for the last few years are in-person gatherings. I have plenty of zoom meetings, but I miss seeing people in person. I wrote that down as a goal for the new year.

In the past, I’ve picked a word or phrase to pray into for the year. But I’ve noticed for the last few years that I’ve forgotten the word about three months in. That’s my aging brain, I guess, or just too much going on in my head to hold on to. Anyway, I was meeting with my spiritual direction peer supervision group, and we were all talking about the angst of the new year. It’s hard to be hopeful after the last three pandemic years. And someone suggested that instead of grasping onto what we want or hope for this year, we keep our hands cupped gently open, flexible to whatever God wants to do in us.

That image made a lot of sense to me: two hands open and gently cupped, I think I can remember that. It’s a good image for me for 2023 when nothing has gone according to plan for three years. We’ve all had parties, trips, concerts, conferences, and appointments canceled because of sickness, weather, or whatever. It’s the new norm.

So, I’m going to try and hold things loosely this year. I hope for more in-person gatherings, but I’m holding that loosely too.

Let me know how you prepare for the new year and what you are hoping for this year, so I can hold it with you.

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Spiritual Practices: Reading Good Books

I love to look back on the year via the books that stood out to me as favorites to recommend to others. I’m always reading at least three books at once. One or two non-fiction (usually spiritual) books in the morning, an audiobook in my car (this could be whatever takes my fancy), and a novel at night (usually something young adult or middle grade to keep me current with my writing).

My audiobook favorite of 2022:

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelly Van Pelt
How can an older woman, a young adult, and an octopus make up a story that will capture your heart? Trust me, they do. This book was so good I’ll probably listen to it again! Then I found out it was the author’s debut novel and I almost cried.

My favorite morning books:

Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites Us into the Sacred by Victoria Loorz

Those who follow this blog know I find increasing peace and spiritual refreshment outside in the presence of trees. Apparently I’m not the only one, as this book talks about a movement of people who are taking church outdoors where they can listen better to God in the presence of creation. Loved every page.

Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth by Randy Woodley.

A friend gave me this devotional and the pages are short and readable, with indigenous wisdom about taking small steps to care for the earth. I’m really enjoying it.

Let your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer
I assigned this book to the discernment group I was leading. It is short and extremely readable as Parker Palmer always is. Very helpful about thinking about vocation/calling/ by listening to your true self.

Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction:

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince is the first of a trilogy that I read quickly. Fairies are making a comeback in young adult fiction and many of the books border on fairy porn. This one does not, but it has a little spice. The world and the story were exceptional. I enjoyed it.

The Peculiar Language of Llamas by Carol Ann Shaw

I listened to this book on audio, and I must say I laughed out loud many many times! It’s about a fourteen-year-old boy who ends up living on a small island in Canada with his dad, and the voice of the boy, as narrated by Steve Quinn, was perfect. I think any older child, but especially boys aged 12 and up, would find this book delightful.

Yep, those are my favorites. No heavy hitters this year. In a year like this, we sometimes need to read lighter fare in order to stay afloat.

May I also remind you that my own book, Tree Singer, came out on audible this year, and the reader, Barbara Bond, did such a good job I found myself laughing and crying over a book I wrote! She is amazing so if you have the credits, give it a listen!

I’d love to hear what books made you laugh, cry, lose yourself, or strengthen your soul this year. Books are so important when life is hard. Have a wonderful holiday season!

Spiritual Practice: Resting When Sick

After almost three years of dodging the bullet, I got covid this week. Apparently, this version of covid comes with little men that slice up your throat with their knives for three days. That, and a full-time clearing of my sinuses pretty much sums up my week. But as I binge-watched the first two seasons of Bridgerton and ate super soft chocolate chip cookies, ice cream, and soup. And drank the most delicious blackberry brandy a friend dropped off for medicinal purposes. Then, I had an epiphany (it may have been the brandy, but I don’t think so).

When a person gets covid, no one expects them to leave the house. In fact, they are begged to stay home! Don’t come to work, to the party, to the concert; rest up and get better. That is the mandate. And it dawned on me that in the first 63 years of my life, no one has ever said that to me before, nor had I ever said it to myself.

“Americans are stupid.” Was one of my German exchange student’s favorite retorts. And, about this, I must agree. Why do we feel we must keep working when we’re sick? Why does every teacher I know have about a year’s worth of sick leave in the bank because they never use it? I can say the same for state workers too.

The other day I went into a store and the clerk was wearing a mask. I must have said something because she replied, “Oh, I have pneumonia.” I just nodded. Why didn’t I say, “Helen, go home? They will find someone else to stand at this cold doorway and check my Costco card.” We are NOT that indispensable.

Why is it not okay to rest when we are physically or mentally exhausted? Many jobs not only do not provide paid sick days but also pressure their employees to work when they are sick.

I can only guess it is some misguided value in our culture that places production over people. And covid has come along to teach us something different.

One way for us to think about self-care is to think of how we would respond to someone we love who is sick. This week, all my friends said things like, “Heal well,” “Don’t overdo it,” and “Rest up.” If we want those things for someone we love, we must want and champion those things for ourselves when we are physically, mentally, or emotionally frazzled.

I’m sorry it took me this long to learn that it’s okay to rest when I am sick. I hope you learn it younger than I did. I’d love to hear what you are learning about caring for your body and mind. In the meantime, I’m going to take a nap.

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Spiritual Practice: Psychedelics?

“What, you might ask, do psychedelics have to do with Christianity?”

Good question. The short answer is, apparently quite a bit. Before I decided to retire as a therapist almost a year ago, I was hearing a lot about the use of psychedelics in therapy. Specifically, Ketamine, as it is already legal for use medically. At first, I was skeptical, but I kept hearing stories about clients who’d suffered from debilitating depression, OCD, eating disorders, PTSD, and even substance abuse, who made dramatic progress in their healing after only one guided Ketamine treatment.

Recently I’ve found that the use of psychedelics is having a renaissance in the religious world. Of course, some indigenous peoples have always used things like peyote in their religious practices. But Episcopal Priests, Catholics, and Evangelicals as well? What is happening here?

The Netflix Documentary, “How to Change Your Mind,” follows researchers who are investigating the history and resurgence of the healing uses of Mushrooms, MDMA, LSD, and Peyote. In the ’60s, MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, was then known as Empathy, and it was commonly used in marriage counseling, as it produces a lack of defensiveness and the ability to listen without judgment for yourself or for your partner. In fact, many of these psychedelic substances were used in therapy.

What changed? When Nixon’s “war on drugs” started, all drugs/medicines that were being used recreationally were outlawed. Unfortunately, these included MDMA, psilocybin, and peyote, which were previously used for healing and/or spiritual quests. But now, these drugs/medicines seem to be showing up in a new way, in university research programs and in guided “retreats,” for spiritual people who want to get closer to God through the use of psychedelics. Many of these retreat participants have been pastors in traditional Christian churches.

How do mushrooms or ecstasy get you closer to God?

Here is what I’ve discovered.

First, the practitioners/therapists who monitor and guide the person using the drug/medicine emphasize both “Set,” and “Setting” in the non-recreational use of these drugs. “Set” is your mindset. You are taking this “trip,” to be closer to God, to experience psychological healing, or to bring clarity to questions you might be asking. You come in with an intention to trust God or your Inner Healer to guide you with what needs healing. The “Setting” is also important. You need to be somewhere safe, with people you trust, who know exactly what they are doing and where they are getting these substances. Those who are guiding the experience are trained therapists/practitioners. For every participant there is a period of preparation, then the trip, then some debriefing.

Many who go through these experiences describe them as incredibly healing and emotional. They encounter themselves in a way that removes their resistance to hearing the truth about themselves. They can face their addiction, fear, or whatever keeps them from moving forward and being healed. There are often tears, and a lot of processing afterward, sometimes for months, to mine the depths of what they have experienced.

Using this kind of “medicine” does not appear to lead to addiction and many people receive all the healing they need from one experience.

So, how is this becoming a thing in Christian settings? Many people who have been going through healing in medical research environments, report religious experiences. For instance, finding their “ego” dissolving and becoming one with everything mirrors experiences described by many Christian mystics. This leads to great hope for the world. Many find it enhances and heals their relationship with God.

It follows naturally that if this is a religious experience, religious people will begin facilitating it. In a podcast on the Harvard Religion Beat, Paul Gillis-Smith talks about how you wouldn’t want a religious expert giving medical advice or a priest telling you how to fix your car. You’d want a spiritual person taking you through a spiritual experience. These kinds of experiences are popping up all over the world in every religion, guided by practitioners within that religion.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Have you heard of it? Have you tried it? What do you think?

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  • Netflix pic
  • Just say no sign
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Spiritual Practice: Accepting a “No”

Have you ever been disappointed when you wanted something, and the Universe handed you a big fat “No?

One time I got the news I had not been chosen for a writing mentorship that I was really excited about. I was disappointed. However, I was not depressed, disillusioned, or despairing. I did not spiral into all the reasons why I suck. Why? Because you can’t live to sixty-plus years old and not learn some things about disappointment.

I remember one of my first big disappointments. I had a three-year-old and a brand new baby and I had decided it was time to go to graduate school. I hadn’t just “decided,” I felt it was what God wanted me to do. I’d prayed about it; I was ready, and I was excited. The problem was I was also naïve; I didn’t know you had to apply before signing up for a grad school class, and when I went down to register, I found out I’d already missed all the deadlines to apply. I was devastated.

Disappointments are often best understood in retrospect. At the time, David and I were working with a student ministry. Each year we trained a group of student leaders and they, in turn, ran the fellowship group on campus. We called these student leaders our “exec team.” The year I didn’t get into grad school, our ministry was going strong. We had a great exec team locked and loaded, ready to start the year with BBQ’s, weekly large group meetings, etc.

Then, suddenly, all but one of the leaders quit. This left David and me to pick up the slack until new leaders had been trained. If I’d been in grad school, this would have been impossible.

Here are three things I’ve learned about disappointment:

  1. Sometimes a “No” is saving your butt! What I learned that year was that the Universe knew what I didn’t. I couldn’t know that our leaders would bail, but God did, and God protected me from being overwhelmed when I needed to pick up more ministry slack. One bigger than I had the bigger picture. Sometimes when we don’t get what we think we want, it’s because God can see down the road and knows it’s not the best timing for us to receive that desire
  2. Sometimes the “No” we receive is temporary. I did get to start grad school, one semester later. I loved it and it was perfect timing. Our student leaders were up and running and I could concentrate on school and babies.
  3. Sometimes a “No” is because there is a better “Yes” coming that we can’t see yet. When I didn’t get into the writing mentoring program it freed me up to trust myself and since then I’ve written eighteen books, fourteen are published, and I learned by doing it myself and attending all the classes and training I could find.  

Now I’m more at peace when life brings me a “No.” I’ve lived long enough to trust the Divine for the bigger picture and to know she has my best interests at heart.

How have you dealt with disappointment? Have I forgotten something that has helped you? Are you facing any big disappointments now?

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