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.

 

Butterfly Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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!

 

Swing Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com
Trees Photo by Brady Knoll on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practices: Archetypes – The Fool

stFrancis

My next few blogs will look at twelve archetypes as described in the book, Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics, by Christine Valters Paintner.

If you would like to get the book and read along, that would be fabulous. I think it’s a really fun read. It has fun and interesting features, like Icons, Scripture and mandala art — and there is no way I can cover all that in this blog, so you might enjoy checking it out. I also think this book would be fun to discuss in an in-person group and I might try that later too. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on the introduction and the first chapter.

Archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi)

They are useful in spiritual practices because they help us get in touch with different parts of ourselves that may be previously hidden to us but can be helpful when revealed. It also helps us get in touch with the shadow sides of ourselves that might be keeping us from living from our true selves.

I have never studied archetypes, so this book is a revelation to me. When I saw the first chapter was entitled, “The Fool,” I thought, “I’m not like that at all.” Boy was I wrong. I’m glad that the author chose St. Francis as the Archetype for The Fool as he has always been a favorite historical mentor of mine. He is most often depicted with birds and other creatures around him, as he loved all living things. He left a wealthy Italian family, gave all he had to the poor and wore a simple brown habit. He lived among and ministered to the marginalized. The church, at that time, was all about money, so he was living in a way that seemed foolish to those in power. He challenged the status quo and began a whole new movement of like-minded followers.

The world could use some more Fools right now, right?

I so relate to St. Francis and the archetype of The Fool. “He described nature as a theophany, a place of divine encounter and intimate relationship.” (pg. 3) If you’ve been following my blogs for any time you know I feel the same way. The “thinnest” places for me are out in the middle of a forest or by the ocean.

It’s only been within the last six years that I’ve identified with my inner Fool. When I aligned myself with my friends in the LGBTQIA community, I was called many things, ”foolish” among them. It was painful to have been an influential teacher, trainer, and speaker, in the evangelical community, and suddenly become “suspect,” and rapidly uninvited to places of influence. I had not changed, people’s perspective of me had changed when I started speaking my truth.

The Fool is like a prophet sometimes, telling the truth by standing on the outside of traditional thinking and seeing things differently. Truth-telling, done with love and humor, can be a subversive act. It can also be painful and lonely, so you have to find other fools to stand with you. St. Francis started a movement of Holy Fools that had a profound effect on the world, then and now.

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Each archetype has a high side and a low side, a true self and a shadow self, much like how we talk about the Enneagram. The shadow side of The Fool involves hurting others by using humor to tear them down. I have definitely done that and it grieves me terribly. Once you say something flippantly, to be funny, no matter how many times you apologize, it can’t be unsaid. Another shadow side of The Fool is cynicism. When I was in college I was often referred to as “guileless.” Unfortunately, that is not true of me anymore. The world is such a difficult and hurting place that I’m often given to cynicism and despair.

So, for me, The Fool challenges me to weigh my words, speak the truth in love and not use humor to hurt. Also, I want to keep hoping for a better world and not give into cynicism. When I need strength to stand against injustice, I need to channel my inner Fool. And, The Fool is fun! The Fools energy helps us to not take ourselves so seriously.

Do you relate to The Fool? I’d love to hear about it. There are many archetypes so there may be some we relate to more than others, but I bet we can find some of each one in ourselves and I think the goal is to bring all of their voices and wisdom to the table to be strong, complete persons. Remember this started as an exercise to find out what it means to be our True Selves. “The self that arrives is the self that was loved into existence by Divine Love. This is the person we are destined from eternity to become – the I that is hidden in the I AM.” David G. Benner

Spiritual Practice: Listening to Trees

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What do you mean, Jacci, trees don’t talk! Well, even though new scientific research is showing that trees actually do communicate, that’s not exactly what I’m referring to.

I’m talking about sitting in nature: listening, observing and being in awe of creation. We forget, in our busy lives, just how much nature is good for our souls.

If we live in cities, or in my case the desert, it might be hard to find a beautiful place to sit and reflect. This calls for some creativity, but most cities have parks, marinas or protected areas like wetlands and arboretums nearby. It’s time to investigate your area!

tree hugger

So, once you find a tree, how do you listen? I suggest if it is possible, laying on the ground underneath it. I know, you have to throw your dignity out for this one. But, looking up into the beauty and the structure of a tree is amazing. If you can’t do that, just find a good spot, even if it is from inside, and then be quiet.

Turn off your cell phone, quiet your mind and just look and listen. Trees are amazing. They have seen and heard and experienced years of history. The bigger the tree, the more they have seen. If you can get to an old growth of redwoods, prepare for a holy experience; some of these trees have been around since Christ walked the earth. Can you imagine what they have been through? Fires, storms, births, deaths, wars, love.

Many trees are connected through their root system and live in family groups, holding each other up through storms and floods. Aspen trees grow in groves and all share the same DNA! Ponder the deciduous trees that lose their leaves every autumn. They understand birth, death, growth, starting over, pain, dormancy. Let the trees speak to you about your life. Listen to their wisdom.

Tree Singer (1)

I’d love to hear how you feel about trees. Is it just me? Am I crazy to get such life from being among them? One day I was sitting in a cabin I had rented for this purpose, looking at trees out of the window, and the idea for my book Tree Singer, was born. If you’d like to follow it you can see the available chapters here.

Also, in book news: I got this stunning review of my new book, Snapped! Give it a listen. It is for young adults aged 11 and up. It’s about cyberbullying and empowerment. This review makes me cry every time I listen, and she says the book “changed her life!”

Spiritual Practice: Thin Places

beauty

Have you ever encountered a place where heaven/God felt particularly near? I think of these as “thin” places. For me, I feel that groves of giant redwood trees are thin places where the Holy feels practically near. I’ve had the same experience sitting on a rock while ocean waves crash around me. I’ve also felt it at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting I visited once — the definite sense that God was present.

That’s not to say that other places are “thick,” or that God is not always near; it’s just that there are times or places that seem to draw us into the presence of the Holy.

John Phillip Newell, in his book, “The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle For New Beginnings,” speaks of the Island of Iona, Scotland, “Iona and other sacred sites of pilgrimage, and healing throughout the world, are like sacraments or living icons through which we glimpse the Light that is present everywhere.”
Why is it important to seek out thin places? The world can be a hard place. As I write this, we have experienced one of the roughest summers I can remember: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, mass shootings and fires have ravaged our world. If we are called to be people of light to a dark and hurting world, then how are we to replenish the light within us that gets drained away by this kind of rampant despair?

redwoods

I believe we need to go to places of light to do so. Many find these, “soul recharging stations,” in churches, in fellowship with friends, in prayer, and in compassionate action. I’d also like to encourage you to take a bit of a pilgrimage to a thin place, outside of your normal experience. Get out in nature, hug a tree, listen to the wind. The Creator would love to speak to you through creation. I promise it will recharge your soul battery!

Have you found places that are particularly “thin” for you?” I’d love to hear about them.

*If you enjoyed this blog please check out my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It is available now for pre-order in paperback!