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?

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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)

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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.

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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?

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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.

 

 

Winter scene Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com
Person sitting alone Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com
 Cairn Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Truth Speaking

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Warning: This is not a “how to win friends and influence people” post. You may actually lose some friends by speaking truth, but you might also gain some new and very interesting friends.

I’m not talking about truth-telling as in pointing out to your friend that she has lettuce in her teeth. That is a common courtesy, although awkward, depending on the depth of the friendship.

And I’m not talking about a fundy, stick your nose in my business, “Just speaking the truth in love, brother, you shouldn’t be dating her.”

I’m talking about the kind of truth-telling that happens when one looks at the world, at the dominant culture, and realizes that “we” have gotten off track. Telling the truth in that situation is much harder. People don’t like to hear that kind of truth because we don’t like to admit we’re hurting people with our words, actions, or laws. But that is exactly the kind of truth we need to tell in order to get back on track. It’s a prophetic voice.

*In his book, The Prophetic Imagination, theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, the dominant culture, now and in every time, is grossly uncritical, cannot tolerate any fundamental criticism, and will go to great lengths to stop it. It is the role of the Prophet to help “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and a perception” alternative to the dominant narrative.” 

I had this experience when I began to align myself with my LGBT brothers and sisters, which cost me my job with a large evangelical ministry. I was not trying to be a prophet or rattle any cages, but the very act of standing with my rainbow family was apparently enough to challenge the power structures of the dominant Christian culture. Once you see an injustice, you cannot un-see it and the way the “church” was treating my gay friends was clearly wrong. I felt called to stand up against this injustice and consequently was booted from my spiritual tribe. This was an excellent opportunity to know what it feels like to be a gay Christian. In the aftermath, I gained a wonderful, supportive rainbow family, and found a new spiritual tribe among affirming churches, parents of LGBT children, and others standing with them.

 

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Our job as truth tellers is, to tell the truth, then stand in that truth. My spiritual director once told me that staying in a difficult place was a form of intercession. The good news is, we are not responsible for the outcome, we are just called to stand firm. It can be hard and it can be lonely, but it is always worth it. Here are some ways to sustain your energy during times of truth-telling.

  1. Give yourself radical rest. This in itself is a statement to the dominant busy, consumer culture we live in. It is a radical thing to choose to stop and rest. Rest, Sabbath, silence, and solitude will restore your soul and sustain your activism.
  2. Meditation/prayer/yoga: These things help connect your body, mind, and spirit which can get burnt-out and disconnected during times of cultural upheaval and chaos.
  3. Dance with your friends. I love to watch Grey’s Anatomy, where the characters model a “dance it out,” way of dealing with stress. We also see this modeled in scripture. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, away from slavery and into freedom, his sister Marion whipped out her tambourine and led the women in a dance. When David returned with the Ark of God, he ripped off his clothes and danced. Dancing in the midst of pain, heartache, and push-back is a testament of hope, a celebration of battles won, or a prophetic statement that we believe they can be won despite evidence to the contrary.

What has helped you in your quest to speak the truth? I’d love to hear about it or stand with you as you find your voice against injustice.

 

*This quote and many of these ideas are from Christine Valters Paintner in Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics

 

Photo credit: protest

 

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: Self-care

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*If you’re looking for the book study on archetypes see the note below.

Self-care is getting a lot of press these days, but in my experience, a lot of people struggle with it, especially Christians. For some of us, the idea of taking time for ourselves feels selfish. I have felt guilty for even taking a nap. Yes, we are to love and serve others, but we can’t do so from an empty well. Burn out will always result.

So how do we develop self-care as a spiritual practice? First, we need to remember that God came up with the whole self-care idea. Remember the, “cease from work and take a nap day” idea? I feel like Americans especially have a hard time unplugging from work. Now that we are attached to our phones, work can find us no matter where we are. And when we are off work, we often let our brains vegetate in front of the TV because we are so worn out. The universe knew of our need to rest, and hence the idea of the Sabbath.

Next, it’s important to know that you are worth taking care of. Often, we worry about everyone else’s needs and put ourselves last on the “take care of” list.

Women are famous for this. The reality of the situation is if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. Actually, it’s no one else’s job. Your kids won’t do it, and your spouse shouldn’t have to. You need to take care of you. You are important.

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So, what are some ways we can care for ourselves that don’t involve spending a ton of money at the spa? (My boss gave us a spa day for Christmas and I now know why people like to go there)!

For me, the most important thing I can give myself is time. Time away from other people, from my responsibilities, from my work, kids, and spouse. Why is that important? Am I super introverted? Nope. Actually, I’m an extrovert. But I’ve learned that we all need time alone in order to sort out our thoughts and feelings and to get ourselves realigned with the universe or God, or however, you think of your higher power. It’s like plugging your body into a battery charger. Even sitting alone for ten minutes with NO AGENDA can be life-changing. This is where our strength and wisdom come from. This is where direction and ideas have time to formulate. This is where the magic happens. Start with ten minutes and see what it will do for you.

I’ve expanded this concept for myself. I try to give myself an hour a day to reorder. I spend some of that time reading, writing, praying or meditating. I have a couple good apps I use for this time. The Insight Timer app has guided meditations for many topics as well as a timer you can set for any length of silence you want to try. And the Pray as you Go app has a short scriptural mediation that I’ve been enjoying lately.

I also try to keep Tuesdays as my Sabbath, as a day I do fun things to restore my soul. For me, that can mean sleeping in, going to the library to write, taking the dog for a hike, attending a yoga class, watching shows with my daughter, or any number of things.

Then, once a month I go to a retreat center for 24 hours of silence. I usually take a couple friends. That way we can talk as we drive the two hours to the center. We share what is happening in our lives and what we need from our alone time. At the center, we are in silence until dinner, when we talk about our time alone so far. On the way home, we debrief. Having friends along is fun and makes it a community experience, but I also enjoy going alone. While I’m at the center I meet with my spiritual director, who is a spiritual source of help and encouragement. I try to have NO AGENDA while at the center. They have beautiful grounds to walk around, a labyrinth to enjoy, and a little forest to stroll in. I almost always take a nap and a long walk too.

If you live in Northern California or Northern Nevada, you can join me for a weekend retreat this summer.  It will be a guided silent retreat and you can learn more here.

You might think this all sounds like I’m spending A LOT of time on myself, and I know that might not be doable for you, depending on your life phase or financial means. But truthfully, the discipline of spending time alone, with myself and with God, has brought the most significant change to my life. When I skip any of those opportunities to be alone, I really miss it. My husband definitely sees a difference in my attitude when I return from time away. I’m more patient, loving, creative, and calm when I take the time to care for myself.

Self-care involves more than just silence and solitude. Exercise, eating right, getting adequate sleep, and working on inner healing are all a part of self-care. But I think the first place to start is with ten minutes of silence each day. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

*I decided to let go of the book study on Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics by Christine Valters Paintner, because I was losing readership and even though many people said they wanted to do the book study and follow along with the blog, very few people commented. So, I will continue the study on my own and if you are still doing the study, feel free to email me at Jacciturnerauthor at gmail.com, and we can continue the conversation there.

Photo credit: candle

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Spiritual Practices: Archetypes – The Healer

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We continue to explore our true selves through the window of archetypes, using as my guide, the book: Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics by Christine Valters Paintner. You can join us in reading the book or just follow along with the blog.

Archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi) Today we will look at the archetype of The Healer.

“The Healer is the one who helps us to overcome inner divisions of body, mind, soul, heart, and spirit…the Healer is the one who helps us to welcome the stranger and find reconciliation – perhaps even gratitude for the parts of the self that have for so long vexed us.” pg. 87.

I find the phrase, “even gratitude for the parts of the self that have for so long vexed us,” quite intriguing. In my last blog, I described my experience as an adult child of an alcoholic.  When I was in graduate school, I took a Drug and Alcohol class. I clearly remember asking the teacher, “When will I ever be able to heal from the experience my family’s substance abuse issues?”

She said without a beat, “When you get to the place you can be thankful for them.”

I replied right away, “Well, that will never happen.”

Yet now I find myself thankful for the experiences that made me who I am. I am a much more loving, compassionate, and non-judgmental person than I would have been without these hard lessons. But there were many years of hard work with my inner Healer, and with healers on the outside: therapists, friends, fellowship groups, and spiritual directors. I understand that healing is a life work. A transformed life is a continual conversion; it never ends.

The idea of “Holy Pause” or “statio” in this chapter was new to me and so helpful. To take a break between one thing and another, to pause long enough to sift through what we learned from the last thing before starting the next, was a novel concept. I’m particularly interested in the idea because my husband and I have recently both experienced the unexpected pain and beauty of it.

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He recently retired and his goal was to go from “doing,” to “being.” After two years of absolutely loving this time of rest and reflection, he began to get restless.  Just as this shift occurred, a small but eternally significant job was offered to him, helping foster children graduate from high school. It is perfect. He used those two years to sift through the first thing before he was ready for the second.

I had a less chosen rest. After leaving the hospice agency I worked for, I expected to have a few months off, but this turned into seven long months of unemployment. I was restless, depressed, and bored. But looking back, I see that that time between what was and what is, was time to rest, nap, read, pray, play, and visit friends. I watched lots of movies and laughed a lot with friends. It was time with my inner Healer to process what came before and put back the pieces of who I am now, a changed, and hopefully better person who can take that change into my new counseling practice. We need to pause in order to synthesize our experiences before moving on to the next one. It’s as fascinating as it is true.

It’s just like the idea of “liminal space,” the time between times, the now and not yet, where cool things happen. In the quiet work of the desert, or the tomb, or even in the cocoon, there is new life being born. You can’t see it, but it’s happening.

Paintner’s icon of Brigid of Kildare was interesting. Brigid of Kildare took her healing to the poor, with milk from her cow and a supernatural healing fire that was often depicted as flames in her palms. We are encouraged to take our healing to others also, wounded healers (as Nouwen says), though we may be.

The shadow of The Healer is very interesting to me. It includes the charlatan healers offering miracles, often for a price. I feel the world of writing is full of them. “Ten easy steps to making $100,000 writing your book.” “Take my free webinar,” which always ends with a hard sell to buy a program. It wears me out. I’m skeptical of folks who offer easy solutions to hard problems. And if you are sick, or poor, or not healed, or don’t make $100,00 on your book, then it is somehow your fault. I see this in some, “name it and claim it,” types of Christianity and other self-help groups that promise you will prosper if you say the right words, but it is somehow your fault if you don’t. These are lies and will poison your soul. Beware of quick fixes, and do the hard work with your inner Healer.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Healer Archetype and how it has been helpful or unhelpful in your life!

photo credit: Top Pic

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Spiritual Practices: Archetypes — The Mother

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We are continuing our study of archetypes as a spiritual practice through the book, Illuminating the Way, by Christine Valters Paintner. You’re welcome to get the book and follow along, or just enjoy the blog and comments. This week we are in the third chapter, the archetype of the Mother.

To review from my last blog, Archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi) “The Mother, in the fullness of her form, is the source of all life and nourishment, of unconditional love and care, the generous flow of abundance and grace.” (pg. 38)

Boy, I thought the Sovereign was a rough chapter. The archetype of the Mother has brought up all of my own mama drama. I had to read the chapter twice.  Mothers are complicated. My own mother was incredibly beautiful and fun and adventurous. She was also a workaholic during the day and an alcoholic at night. As you can imagine, trying to work through the shadow issues I may have inherited from my own mother has been a painful, lifelong work, some of which I’ll share here.

But first, the good stuff. I think it is interesting to look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an icon of this archetype. As a non-Catholic, I have not spent much time thinking about Mary, save the yearly Christmas story. I loved the idea that she was there for Jesus birth with her brave YES, and she was also there at Jesus death, with a gut-wrenching NOOOOO.

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The idea that the inner Mother helps us call forth a YES to birth new things, new ideas, and creativity, while also holding us during our loss and grief was very comforting to me. I grew up with a very masculine idea of God and I’m eager to press into the feminine side of God. I understand thresholds, having navigated, and helped others navigate, both physical births and deaths, as well as other kinds of thresholds. I love the idea that the Mother is there to help lead us, comfort and guide us over those thresholds.

I was intrigued that our inner Mother is to be a source of stability for us. She helps us stay in difficult places and feel our hard feelings. She gives us love and compassion and shows us the gifts that come from staying in those liminal places of unknowing. I need that right now. Even though I’m older, I’m in a very “what am I supposed to do with my life” space. It is difficult and uncomfortable.

My own mother was a seven on the Enneagram. She craved new experiences like a junkie craves drugs. She worked as a nurse, a dental assistant, a hairdresser, a real-estate agent, and she owned two different beauty shops. We moved every three years whether we needed to or not, and difficult feelings like sadness or anger were not welcomed in our house. As a sensitive child, I was labeled a crybaby and I learned at a young age to stuff my hurt feelings.

Sorting through these patterns has been a life work for me; to stay with hard feelings and not run from them. I’m learning to practice the welcoming prayer and acknowledge that these feelings are a part of me and learn from their wisdom and pain. I have worked with my husband to create a stable home for my children, ignoring the internal clock that tells me every three years that it’s time to move, change jobs, or run away.

As I did the imagery of sitting in the presence of the Mother, I felt that she wanted to hold me. I was reluctant but as I allowed myself to be held, I received a mother’s blessing, calling me out of my shell to risk again. She called me to create boldly and to hold my head high, walking in the confidence of my sixty years of wisdom, love, and acceptance of others.

I loved this prayer at the end of the chapter,

“May you be blessed with a yes on your lips and in your heart to the holy invitations that come your way. May you find yourselves in intimate partnership at all of the times of birth that you are called to labor through, and may you know yourself held through a thousand losses and times of grief. May the Mother nourish you with lavish generosity.” (pg. 48)

I’d love to hear how you relate to the archetype of the mother in your own life, or how your own mother gave you grist for the mill of your own growth. Feel free to share in the comments below.

Photo Credits. The Mother, Mary Mother of Jesus