Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Tribe

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

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

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

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

 

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How do you find a tribe?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Photos: Top pic 

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Spiritual Practice: Being a Light

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I have a dear friend who is often housebound by one of those horrible autoimmune diseases. She told me that once in desperation, she cried out to God, “What can I do for you, I can’t even leave the house?” God answered, “Be a sunflower.” The image of being a sunflower, of turning your face toward the light of God is beautiful and doable. She thought, I can do that!

Poet Mary Oliver, in her poem, The Buddha’s Last Instruction, suggests the Buddha’s last words were, “Make of yourself a light.” Mary Oliver’s poem is about the sun coming up and filling the land with light. In one stanza she writes,

“And then I feel the sun itself

 as it blazes over the hills,

like a million flowers on fire –

clearly I’m not needed,

yet I feel myself turning

into something of inexplicable value.

 

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The light does this to us. It shines on us, in us, hanging and healing us, so that, as the Buddha says, we can be a light to others.

John Donohue, a beautiful writer, and prayer of the Celtic tradition of Christianity wrote,

“May the light of your soul guide you. May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart…May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and renewal to those who you work with and to those who see and receive your work.”

When Quakers pray they say, “I’ll hold you in the Light.” I think that is beautiful.

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It seems clear to me that our job is to be a sunflower, turning our face to the light of God’s love. As God’s love fills us, it guides us, blesses our work with love and warmth. Then, it does as the Buddha suggests, it makes a light of love and healing to a hurting world.

How have you experienced the light? How does light flow through you to others?

 

Photo credit: Sunflower Lantern FestivalSunrise  

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: Pilgrimage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit Top Pic.

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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