Spiritual Practice: Trying New Things During Hard Times

woman wearing white sleeveless top

 

Well, the world has changed since I wrote my last blog two weeks ago. There is a lot of fear, panic, and anxiety now. We’ve added new terms to our vocabulary like social distancing, six-feet-apart, and panic buying. Our brave men and women on the front line of the pandemic are still working, but the rest of us can help most by staying home and praying for them, supporting small businesses, and giving help to those in need.

But amidst the negative, there is one thing I’ve noticed that is super interesting.  The old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” is true. People who are been confined to their homes are starting to create and share what they are doing. Sewers are making masks for hospitals, gyms are sharing workouts, singers are sharing songs, and writers are reading their books.

So, I took this question to the virtual streets and asked folks what they were trying at home that’s new for them. As for me, I’ve tried Zoom as have many of you including my friends Andy and Sharon. I was a Skype gal before, but now it’s Zoom staff meetings, Zoom counseling, and I even had a Zoom happy hour with my friends and family. Don’t be afraid to try this. It really helps you feel less isolated.

I also tried Yin Yoga online. It’s way harder than it sounds. You hold an uncomfortable position for five minutes and then switch to another uncomfortable position for five minutes. You do this for an hour. I’m not a huge fan but I’d probably try it again. There are tons of free workout options to try. Keep your body moving!

What a great time to try new things. This turns our despair into hope and our sadness into joy. Here are answers from my friends and you’re invited to add your new things to the comments below.

photo of woman cooking near her family

Cooking: I personally have not tried this but you can!

Randy: I’m making bread (Navajo flatbread came out pretty well, and I’ll be trying beer bread this week).

Julie: Made “Swiss biscuits” this morning

Whitney: Trying TONS of new recipes to use all the food that has been sitting in the pantry forever.

man in coveralls holding spray bottle

Cleaning: This is also on my list of things to do but…not yet.

Shelly: Spring cleaning, lots of dishes

Jack: Cleaning all the door handles and light switches.

Jane: Consolidating all my sample creams/lotions into one container to use them up. Making tags (using luggage tags) to label black vs navy pants on the hangers in my closet.

toddler in white hoodie during daytime

Spiritual Practices: Mine have stayed largely the same, but these are great.

Misty: I am adding a deeper level to my mediation practice. Super humbling.

Whitney: Added a daily mediation.

Rittie: Walking more. Trusting more.

Chris: News distancing.

Kim: Online church

man leaning over table using magnifying lens

Fun and Creative Things: This section cracks me up and gives me hope. Step out, create, try new things!

Shelly: Things I’m Not doing: My hair or makeup; Getting my nails done; Getting out of bed at 6am

Jodie: Drawing more

Rod:  Trying to learn Russian on DuoLingo

Whitney, Getting a Wellness Coach online certification.

Jane: Passive—letting my hair grow the longest it has been since high school.
Drawing pictures of the homes I lived in growing up in the military (at least 12), to be converted later into quilt squares for a wall hanging.
Writing a message to my grown children in case I must be separated from them in the hospital. Will form the basis for an ethical will later.

Patty and Shelly: jigsaw puzzles

Sarah: Had a zoom playdate for the kids. It was great to see them dancing together and showing each other their pets.

I’m anxious to hear more! Drop a comment below to share what you are trying to make this time less treading water and more growth-oriented.

 

 

Yoga Photo by Valeria Ushakova on Pexels.com
Cooking Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com
Cleaning Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com
Spiritual PRactice Photo by Negative Space onPexels.com
Creativity Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Loving Difficult People

man wearing white dress shirt with black necktie

 

We all have people we would not spend time with if we were given a choice. But because of work, family, or social obligations, we need to do so occasionally. How do we love difficult people?

First, I believe it’s good to know that we don’t need to “like” everyone we meet. There are people you just won’t like, and there are people who won’t like you, and it’s okay. But love is different. We are called if we are to walk in the way of love, to love everyone. What does that look like? How do we do it?

We must first love ourselves, which can be hard to do. But it is part of the greatest wisdom, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as YOURSELF (Mark 12:30-31). How do we get there?  We choose to press into our belief we are completely, unconditionally loved by God. One way to do so includes sitting in the presence of the divine while listening to and feeling God’s love for us until we begin to absorb and believe it. That work, between us and God, creates pathways for us to truly love our neighbor, even the difficult ones.

My hubby and I have been listening to the podcast for Richard Rohr’s new book, The Universal Christ. The podcast is called, Another Name for Every Thing, and it is fantastic! During these interviews with Fr. Richard, they talk a lot about this concept of seeing yourself loved by God. Within the divine gaze, there is no good or bad, right or wrong, approval or disapproval. We just are. We are loved.

woman taking selfie

We can also pray a blessing on difficult people as suggested in the beatitudes, “Love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you” Matthew 5:44.

I love the scene from Fiddler on the Roof where someone asks the Rabbi if he had a blessing for the Czar. The Rabbi replies, “Lord, bless and keep the Czar…far away from us!” And sometimes that is the best we can do. From the view of the universal Christ, it is good to remember that there is no “us or them,” there is only “we.” If we can try and put on the lens of love, we can usually find compassion for a difficult person. If they are unliked by nearly everyone, something bad must have happened for them to become who they are, right? So, we can pray for their healing, softening, loneliness.

Ultimately, when we feel triggered by another person’s actions, words or behavior, it’s probably about us. The hard work is really pressing into what buttons they are pushing in us that are making us uncomfortable. Is being trapped in a social stimulation with someone who is ranting about politics pushing your buttons because as a child you were trapped in abusive situations? It’s a good opportunity for self-reflection and it’s fodder for your time with your spiritual director or therapist.

Truthfully, it’s good to love difficult people, but it is – difficult. So, don’t beat yourself up too hard. “Failing” to be gracious and merciful toward another is an excellent opportunity to admit we are still growing and ask God for help along the way. Just try your best and do some reflection afterward — and try to do better tomorrow.

 

Have you had success in loving difficult people? I’d love to hear your stories and what has worked for you.

Photo of a man by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com
Photo of a woman by Edu Carvalho on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Reimagining Lent

 

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I did not grow up in a church that celebrated or marked the Christian liturgical calendar. Well, I did not grow up in a church at all, but later, when I did attend church, it was one of those big box non-denominational churches that didn’t pay attention to the church calendar. In fact, we skipped right over Lent and Good Friday and went straight to Easter. It was Happy Clappy Christianity, baby. But life is not all roses and it’s good to have time to mourn, grieve, and contemplate change.

When people talked about Lent, it was a mystery to me — still is a bit. It just seemed like a difficult time when people gave up chocolate or alcohol and were miserable. When I first tried lent, I gave up sugar, just in time for a week at camp with college students who were happily eating sugar all week. I. Was. Miserable! And, worse, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it.

christian year

So, let’s break it down and re-imagine what Lent can be. Here is a handy picture of the church year, aka the Christian calendar. On it, you’ll see that Lent is the forty-day period of time when we contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus and prepare our hearts for Easter resurrection. During that time, Jesus knew he was heading to the cross and he was saying the things he most wanted us to hear and remember. “Love one another, serve each other, share food with your enemies…” It’s a good time to re-read those last words.  My pastor, Kris Gallagher, calls Lent, “Christian Spring Training.”

People fast during lent as a reminder of the season and to identify with Christ’s forty- days in the wilderness. It is a time to reflect, review your life, and perhaps prepare to make some changes. It is the season of spring where new life is about to break forth in the earth; we need to be prepared for new growth in our lives too.

If we are giving something up for Lent, Pastor Kris encourages us to ask, “what for?” If you are giving up chocolate or coffee, what is it for? If you eat a lot of chocolate or drink a lot of coffee, you can take that money and give it to someone who is struggling. That’s a good “what for.”

fasting from pope francis

You can also think of adding something to your Lent instead of merely giving something up. Or both, as in the above list from Pope Francis. Try adding a season of gratefulness or thank-you note writing, or make a commitment to listen deeply to someone each day. I love the idea of adding something new during Lent instead of giving something up. Whatever you choose, it can be a mindfulness exercise to keep you present to God, to yourself, and to others during this season. Who wants to join me in trying something new for Lent this year?

Let me know what Lent means to you and how you are trying to reimagine it this season.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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Trees Photo by Brady Knoll on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice – Encountering People

person with body painting

If you’re like me you tend to go through life with blinders on. I’m so task-oriented that I often don’t notice people at all.

Recently I’ve been reading, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor. A thought in her chapter on The Practice of Encountering Others caught my attention. She said,

“What we have most in common is not religion, but humanity. I learned this from my religion, which also teaches me that encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get – in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing – which is where God’s Beloved has promised to show up.” (page 102)

As we go through our day, she suggests we look at people, really look. We don’t have to engage with everyone and ask their life stories, but just notice, perhaps say hello to the person bagging your groceries. Perhaps they look tired, or kind, or sad. You might feel led to say something encouraging like, “Thank You,” “Have a nice day,” or “You have a pretty name.”

This goes nicely with the Quaker teacher George Fox when he said,

“Walk joyfully on earth and respond to that of God in every human being.”

What a great thing to practice this can be. I need the reminder daily. We live in a fast-paced world and the practice of being with people is especially hard with the draw of the cell phone. What a discipline it is to put it away, to put it on silent and truly be present to someone. I feel the draw to check my phone constantly. Keeping it on silent at least keeps me from being interrupted constantly with vibrations or distracting tones.

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If you do have the time to be with someone, try turning off your phone and putting it away; give that person your full attention. When my granddaughters were old enough, my husband rigged up some old cell phones so they could play games on them when they came over. This quickly became an obsession for both of them. Gone were the fun interactions we had previously enjoyed. Finally, my husband locked the phones up in the safe and said, “no more.” The girls were disappointed about it but soon got over it. Now they are much happier to sit in our laps for reading books together or playing silly games with us. I’m thankful for this time with them. They grow so quickly that soon they will be on to other interests.

Joan Chittister says “There are no gifts as precious as the gifts of time and listening.”

I agree. As a therapist and a spiritual director, I believe I’m offering that gift to others daily. What a healing thing it is to be heard and understood at a deep level. When I meet with my spiritual director, I’m often clueless as to how I even feel. But though her patient listening, gentle questions and observations, clarity slowly comes to me and I can connect with myself and God. This helps me feel more grounded and able to connect to others.

So, give this a try:

  1. Notice those you pass by today; perhaps say, “hi” or send up a quick prayer for them. Everyone is going through something that could use prayer.
  2. If you do have the opportunity to be with someone, look for that of God in them. Despite our differences in age, politics, social economics, religion, or culture, we can see God in each human and it is our connection point. I love that!
  3. Put away the phone, give that person your full attention and see what happens.

I imagine it will be a thin place, a holy encounter with a beautiful soul who is loved by God.

Let me know how it goes!

Photos by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice – Entering the New Year with Intention

woman dream portrait happy

 

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?

me and roy

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!