Spiritual Practice: Intentional Growth

Spiritual growth is organic; in some ways it just happens. God is good, and as we spend time in God’s presence, we grow. True. And there are things we can do to help ourselves grow spiritually.

Take my happy plants for an analogy. They all started from one plant. They were all the same size. They were given different sized pots but the same soil. Some were alone, some were put together. Now look at them, each so very different than the others. We are like that. We need room to grow, we need time, space, good soil, water, sunlight and each of us grows in our own way.

So, how do we create the best conditions for intentional growth?

When I was a teenager and I decided to be a Christ follower, that was my first question, “What do I do now?” A wise person said, read the Bible, Pray, and go to church. Those were helpful instructions for a new follower and stood the test of time for decades.

But something happened as I got older; the old ways weren’t working for me anymore. My Happy Clappy Christianity felt shallow to me. Life was hard and I needed something deeper, a place to lament, and think, and breathe. The masculine language of the Bible became a stumbling block for me; I needed other spiritual food. Prayer became less about words and lists and more about silence and listening. I needed contemplative spiritual practices to grow spiritually.

This blog is about easy on-ramp spiritual practices and I’d like to highlight the ones that have stood the test of time for me. These still feed me and help me grow. We are each different and maybe the foundational big three of prayer, Bible reading and church continue to serve you well. Perhaps, like me, you need something more. So, here are my fave five.

Spiritual Direction Meeting monthly for an hour with a spiritual director has been a part of my life for the last twelve years. I’ve had two directors in that time. Spiritual Directors usually become certified through a two or three-year training program. The name is a bit of a misnomer. They are not “directing” you but are companioning you on your spiritual journey. I often don’t even know what I’m going to talk about with my director. It’s not therapy, it’s sitting with someone who listens well in the presence of the Holy and asks good questions. She/he may make an observation or share a spiritual practice to try. If you want more information on Spiritual Direction, click here.

Silence and Solitude If you scoop up a glass of river water and let it sit for a while, the sediment settles to the bottom of the jar. Then you can see more clearly through the water.

Spending time alone and unplugged does that for me. It allows my mind and spirit to settle and things become clearer. Nothing fills my cup like being alone for an extended period. For more information on Silence and Solitude, click here.

Reading Spiritual Books Words are important to me and I especially need words for my experiences when I’m going through something new. When I’m growing spiritually, I need words for what is happening to me. If you’re like that, finding mentors through books can be extremely helpful. This can happen through podcasts and YouTube as well, and now there are many online options to hear from mentors. I like books because I can take my time with them, I can savor them like a good meal. Authors like John Philip Newell, Phyllis Tickle, Richard Rohr, and Sue Monk Kidd have been valuable resources in helping me find words for my spiritual experience. If you’d like more information on Reading Spiritual Books, click here.

Lectio Divina I used to read the Bible inductively in 3 steps — asking What does it say? What does it mean? What does it mean to me? This is a very helpful way to read with practical application. Now I like to read contemplatively. Lectio Divina means divine reading. It helps you slow down and put yourself in the story. It allows time for the words to sink in and change you. You can use Lectio with any spiritual writing or with poems or songs. If you’re interested in more information on Lectio Divina, click here.

Listening to Nature In the Celtic Christianity I’ve come to love, the natural world is equal to scripture in its ability to speak to us about God. This has become a beautiful way for me to listen. Nothing beats time in the woods or at the ocean or just observing any living thing. It fills my soul with joy, wonder, and a great desire to cherish and protect the earth. If you’d like more information on Listening to Nature, click here.

I hope this gives you some good ideas of where to start or how to move forward in your spiritual journey. If not, this blog has years of ideas for you. Click around and see what might spark your interest! To me, a spiritual practice is anything done with intention. Walking, journaling, yoga, singing, creating, the list is endless.

I’d love to hear what has helped you grow spiritually. What have you tried, especially when the old ways become stale or are no longer working for you?

Spiritual Practice: Cocooning

                I was recently in an online training on John O’Donahue, the Irish poet, priest, and prophet. The trainer talked about two kinds of time: receiving time and surface time. We live mostly in surface time, going about our business, but occasionally we take the time to get quiet, to go deep, which is receiving time. And when the trainer said those words I started crying and couldn’t stop.

            After some reflection I realized the hardest part of this coronavirus isolation for me has been missing out on the places I normally go for receiving time. My weekly trips to the library were gone, my monthly prayer retreats to the Mercy Center were gone, the road trips to the giant redwoods my husband I and enjoy were gone.

            John O’Donahue lived in the Burren in Ireland. The Burren is a large area of County Clare that is not the beautiful green we expect of Ireland, it is a barren rock-strewn area. Yet O’Donahue found beauty there. But I’m having a tough time finding the beauty in my own quarantine “burren.”

How do I develop the ability to rest and settle down during the virus when I can’t leave home? My husband and I walk the dog in the desert most days, but now there are dozens of other people joining us. I have my own room in our home for writing and reflection. But at home, I have a hard time settling as there is always the distraction of a chore that needs doing or a snack calling to me. I have a lot of excuses.

            This week I took a risk. I asked my friend if I could hang out in her spare room for the day. What a blessing it has been to be away from my home after four months of isolation. I’m just across town but it is quiet here and there is nothing else needing my attention.

            Why are times of silence and solitude so important? I’ve written much on this topic in this blog. If we look at Jesus as a model, he would withdraw to quiet places, such as a desert, a garden, or a tomb; and there the deep work was done, preparing him for what was next.

The whole world is cocooning right now because of a virus and radical changes are happening. And we “white” people now have an opportunity to dig deep, admit our racist tendencies and listen and learn new ways of being in the world. It is intense, hard and revolutionary.

            This space of solitude is called many things: the waiting room, the desert, liminal space. But I prefer the picture of a cocoon. A cocoon is a soft sanctuary and looks peaceful from the outside, but inside things are happening! A caterpillar is dissolving and its imaginal cells are fighting their way into becoming a butterfly. Cocooning is a very active period of waiting. Radical changes are happening if we allow it.

            Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by the pain in the world I physically cocoon. I curl up in the covers on my bed and picture myself wrapped in a cocoon of God’s love, safe and at peace. This allows me to refuel for the fight for justice. We all need to pause and take a breath. Contemplation must undergird activism or we will burn out.

            I’m not the only one who thinks about cocooning. I just started reading Sue Monk Kidd’s book, When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions, and I found that she also uses cocooning as her analogy for growth during periods of waiting.

“Waiting is both passive and passionate…it’s a vibrant and contemplative work. It means descending into self, into God, into the deep labyrinths of prayer. It involves listening to the disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places we live falsely. It means struggling with the vision of who we really are in God and molding the courage to live that vision.” (pg. 14)

She points out that trying to leave the cocoon before it is time can be damaging. A butterfly actually builds and strengthens its wings while trying to get out of the cocoon and “helping them along prematurely” means the wings will never grow strong enough to fly. Staying in our COVID isolation is very hard, but, leaving before it’s time could hurt us as well. We are invited to stay in, even though it feels like death. We can use this time to continue to grow, change and develop as people in ways that we cannot in surface time.

As I discovered, isolation does not equal cocooning. How can we find places to settle to where we can listen deeply?

Try one of these:

  • Open your coronavirus bubble enough to trade babysitting with someone so you can have time alone.
  • Get outside in nature, somewhere beautiful or look for beauty in ordinary places.
  • Continue to stretch yourself by reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching documentaries of people from a different culture than yours.
  • Borrow a friend’s spare room for a day.
  • Take a long drive in the car without the radio on.
  • Sit somewhere and stare at a tree for an hour. It’s amazing what will come up.

I’d like to hear how this time of cocooning is helping you to examine yourself deeply? How are you finding space for solitude? What are you learning that you will take with you into our new world?



The Burren Pic

The Carin Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Centering Prayer


Hi all,

As you know I’m doing on a series on contemplative prayer practices to help prepare for the release of my new book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening 

I really want to tell you about Centering Prayer, as it is a very popular form of contemplative prayer, but the thing is…truthfully, I don’t have a centering prayer practice of my own yet. There, I said it. But, I’m willing to try it for two weeks and see how it goes. I hope you will join me in this! I’ve asked my very own spiritual director, Joan, to guest blog. She is the source of many of my blogs (the wisdom behind most of my epiphanies) so I know you will enjoy learning from her with me. Without further ado, Joan Stockbridge.

“I was thrilled when Jacci invited me to write a guest blog on Centering Prayer. It’s the practice that has most transformed my life. And I also needed a nudge to refresh and renew my commitment to the practice! So thank you Jacci.


Centering Prayer is a contemporary expression of ancient Christian practices. It was developed by Father Thomas Keating who wanted to expand awareness of Christianity’s rich contemplative tradition.  I first learned of Centering Prayer from an article in Time Magazine! It soon became a very important part of my prayer life, gradually bringing me deep peace and a sense of God’s indwelling presence. It’s an essential part of my commitment to ongoing conversion, helping me open to God’s love while also releasing fears and obstacles to that love.

Centering Prayer sounds very simple.

  1. Choose your love word (also known as your sacred word). This word will be your reminder to yourself that you are surrendering to God during the prayer time. My word is God.
  1. Set a timer and sit comfortably, with your eyes closed. Say the love word silently to yourself as a symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
  1. As thoughts arise, let them go. This is the hard part. One teacher has said, “Be gentle with yourself. The heart beats. The lungs breathe. And the mind thinks.” It is natural to have a rush of thoughts. The practice is to gently, without judgment, notice that you are having thoughts, and then to return to the sacred word. During an introductory workshop, a participant once said to Fr. Keating, “In the last 5 minutes, I had 5,000 thoughts!” And Fr. Keating replied, “How wonderful! 5,000 opportunities to return to God.”
  1. When the timer goes off, spend a couple of minutes giving thanks for whatever has happened. Many people like to conclude their Centering Prayer period with the Our Father or another favorite prayer.

See www.contemplativeoutreach.org for a lot more information. And there is a beautiful centering prayer meditation available for free on the Insight Meditation application for smartphones. If you download the application, search for Maria Gullo’s Centering Prayer.  Her gentle voice and clear instructions are very helpful.”

Thank you, Joan! I’m ready to try it, who’s with me?

Candle Photo Credit

Spiritual Practice: Silence and Solitude



As you may know, my newest book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening, is out on Harper Legend. In light of that, I invite you to join me on a journey of spiritual awakening as we try different spiritual practices together. Every two weeks, I will blog about a different spiritual practice, we can try it together and discuss how it is or isn’t working for you! Ready, set, GO!

Review of the Examen: This discipline had a surprising effect on me. As I reviewed the places I’d seen God at the end of the day, I started noticing those places more during the day. How was it for you?

Silence and Solitude

This is one of my favorite spiritual practices. I used to take college students to a week-long camp on Catalina Island to practice different forms of prayer. The one they were most terrified of was 12-hours of silence. This was also the one they ended up loving and learning from the most.

It’s counter-cultural to be silent and alone. People (including me) are so tied to our phones that we stay instantly connected, to technology and to each other. But getting away, and practicing silence is a powerful experience.

I love the analogy of a cloudy jar full of river water. If you let the jar sit for an hour, the sediment will settle to the bottom and the water will become clear. So it is with our mind, body, and soul. If we allow ourselves to be quiet, even or an hour, we will be able to see things more clearly, hear better, and make better decisions about our lives.

The Quakers understand this. For one hour each week, traditional Quakers sit together in silence. They are listening for God to speak. If they hear God they ask themselves two questions: Is this word for me alone, or is it to share? I’ve been to a Quaker meeting where no one shared for the entire hour. Sitting together in silence is a powerful thing. Is there a Quaker meeting in your town? Maybe you could visit. I only went twice but they were very welcoming.

Silence and Solitude (being alone) is even harder. I’ve never met a generation so afraid of solitude. My granddaughter does her chores while FaceTimeing a friend. There is a lot of fear of being alone. One student, during our Day of Silence, hated the experience as being alone meant he had to face himself; he didn’t like what he saw, but eventually, this lead to some deep healing.

So here is my challenge: Take some time away, by yourself and turn off your phone. Drive to somewhere beautiful, sit by a tree or look at a lake. Let your spirit settle and listen for God. You may not hear a voice, but God can speak in many ways. One student, who had just about finished the day, and was feeling like a failure for not hearing anything, went and stood out on some rocks that jutted out into the ocean. He threw up a challenge, “Okay God if you’re gonna speak, I’m here.” Then two huge pelicans flew down and rested on either side of him. This was very unusual for the shy birds. As he stared in wonder at the birds, dolphins started doing aerial acrobatics in front of him. He was awed and humbled.


God will not always be so dramatic, but if we listen, he will speak to us in some way.

If silence is already a discipline of yours, try taking it to the next level. Book a room at a retreat center for a 24-hour silent retreat. I try to do this monthly and I can’t tell you how much I look forward to it. It’s like pushing the reset button on my psyche.

If 24 hours feels daunting, you can go on a guided retreat; most Catholic retreat centers offer them. Or you can try breaking the time into hours; every hour try something different: Take a walk, sing, take a holy nap, read, draw, eat, journal, be creative.

I’d love to hear back about how your silence and solitude day goes. Or let me know in advance if you’re going to give it a try so I can pray for you. Have fun!



Photo Credit:  dolphins