A young chaplain, exhausted and frazzled by her job in a busy hospital during this time of COVID and tending to her own young family, met with me online. She wanted to know why she simply could not do the self-care things that she encouraged others to do, especially during a time when she really needed them.
I said, “Well, there were times when Jesus was exhausted, too. So if he was, you will be, too. And your soul probably doesn’t want anything else to do! Want some help in discovering what it wants instead?”
Experiencing relief simply by being reminded that Jesus experienced exhaustion but also intrigued, she said yes and I had her go get a piece of paper and a pen.
There’s a simple practice I developed for a silent retreat years ago that I still revisit with those in leadership or caregiving positions whether inside or outside the church. A cup or glass and a Sharpie are also an option but a journal and pen were easier for her. Note: You might want to stop reading and grab paper and pen, too!
Then I walked her through these 3 Steps for Discovering Your Soul's Thirst:
She was surprised. First, by how quickly her cup filled up (she didn’t think she offered that much!) and more importantly, what she circled had nothing to do with another thing to do! Instead of another item on her to do list, her soul was craving the gifts of “presence” and “being seen.” This led to reflecting on her week and a guided prayer with Jesus.
“Where have you been invited into or even experienced ‘presence’ and ‘being seen’ this week?” I asked her. She quickly realized that it was not in her times of trying hard to do self-care or connect to God during a formal service or quiet-time, but an out-of-the-spotlight interaction with two people in a hospital room had brought a deep feeling of connection, presence, and being seen. It was a holy moment being offered to her to savor once more.
After a few moments, I asked her if she was interested in meeting with Jesus by the well that she’s been passing out cups of Living Water beside. She said “yes” and we moved into a time of guided prayer based on an interaction at a well between a Samaritan woman and the Jewish Jesus as described in John 4:4-10. When walking groups through this prayer, I offer a little more context that I didn’t need to do with the chaplain but will briefly offer here.
In the story we discover that Jesus is physically tired and thirsty. The Samaritan woman is spiritually tired and thirsty, though she hasn’t admitted it yet. He asks her, a woman and enemy of the Jews, to help him with his physical thirst, later saying he can help with her spiritual thirst.
He begins with his own vulnerability, his own parched soul.
In so doing he reveals himself as a Friend of her Soul and promises he can give her Living Water that can become a wellspring within her, deep and lasting. She can draw from it at any time.
This same promise is offered to our thirsty souls today. We don't have to wait for another time in the future, we don’t have to wait until chaos or external need subsides.
Jesus is already waiting at the well, in the heat of the day.
He begins with his own thirst which offers an invitation for another to be honest about hers.
When we pause from passing out cups in Jesus' Name, we can hear with the Samaritan woman His words, “If you only knew what God is offering...you would have been the one to ask for a drink, and he would have given you living water.”
Shall we ask for a drink?
As you close your eyes, imagine the well you've been passing out cups of water beside. It may be a literal well or a metaphorical one, like your place of work. Whichever it is, you find Jesus waiting for you there. You might greet Jesus and allow him to greet you. Take in the scene with all of your senses (what do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch?).
Be there a while and become aware of your thirst. What does your soul thirst for in this moment? You may have circled it on your cup.
Trust, be curious, remembering that Jesus is a Friend of your Soul. Ask him for a drink of this water he's offering that deeply renews and restores.
What is Jesus' response? Perhaps he offers a word, action, expression, instruction, or maybe he simply wants to be there with you...
Allow the scene to unfold. You might continue a conversation like the Samaritan woman did or take a refreshing drink, or simply rest there, whatever your soul needs at this time. Be there with Jesus, drink deeply. I'll close with a prayer.
Says the prophet Isaiah, “Yahweh will always guide you, will satisfy your needs in the scorched land; he will give strength to your bones and you will be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring whose waters never run dry.” Says Jesus, “The water I shall give you will become in you a spring of water, welling up for eternal life.”
Friend of Our Soul, may we drink deeply and discover within our own lives the ways you invite us to care for our souls even as we care for the souls of others. Amen.
At the end of our time, the young chaplain, calm and with a smile on her face, said, “Just what I needed. I’m still physically tired but my soul is invigorated. I can be both. That feels so good.”
How many of you are giving, giving, giving? Or producing, producing, producing?
Years ago, a Spiritual Director offered me a great image after hearing my story of burnout as a youth pastor. She said, “People in ministry often stand by the Well passing out cups of Living Water to others and forgetting to drink from it themselves!”
I was so busy being productive and constantly giving of my time and energy that I had neglected my own soul. I mistakenly thought my stamina and ability to be productive was soul food because after all, it was in service to God! My subsequent burnout said differently. EVERY area of my life was impacted…physical, emotional, mental, relational, & spiritual. No area was left untouched because all areas are interconnected.
We have a tendency to separate the body and soul, but according to the Hebrew language, there is no division between the soul (“nephesh”) and the body. So, YOU DON’T HAVE A SOUL YOU ARE A SOUL! You may have heard this before, but it’s true. You are a living, breathing, physical being, A WHOLE MADE UP OF MANY PARTS. Any of those parts can be trying to get your attention and tell you the truth.
My own dualism 20 years ago, viewing my body as separate and of lesser importance than my soul caused me to not listen to the wisdom my body was offering me. My body became a hurdle to my spiritual work and this was a major reason I burned out.
Over the years, I’ve met with countless pastors, ministry leaders, those in nonprofits, and care-givers of all kinds who come to Spiritual Direction in a similar state…weary and parched from trying so hard, giving so much, and on the verge, if not in the middle, of burnout.
What were their indicators that their souls were parched? Here are some…
Any of these sound familiar?
How about you, what are the indicators that your soul is parched?
I know Thanksgiving is coming up, but what if you stop giving to others just for a moment?
Offer a cup of Living Water to yourself by listening. Are there any parts of you (or your life) that are trying to get your attention? Do you need help listening? Or help stopping?
Spiritual Direction is a great place to stop and listen for the wisdom within your own life, your own body. I promise, these parts of you are eager for you to listen to the wisdom they hold. They are only a moment’s notice away—and will give thanks when you finally pay attention!
Next week we’ll take a look at what your soul is craving (& it's more than pumpkin pie!).
“Must be hard being 10 and already going through dark night of the soul,” 14-year-old, Lainey, said as the two of us drove back from her fencing lessons.
Her comment about her brother caught me off guard.
As a Spiritual Director, I companion adults going through Dark Night of the Soul, but I had not considered how children may, too. I know that children suffer depression which in adults can coincide with Dark Night, but I had not seen Dark Night through a child’s eyes (even though our most memorable moments with God often happen when we are children).
For those not familiar with the concept, Dark Night is a stage in the spiritual journey that Saint John of the Cross experienced and wrote about in the 16th century. He gave words to the “spiritual crisis” that occurs for those seeking union with God or to embody Perfect Love.
Whether happening gradually or initiated through a tragedy or hardship, Dark Night can be felt as emptiness and dryness. Our go-to spiritual practices no longer “work.” Those activities and places of belonging that once brought us enjoyment, no longer do so. We suffer disappointment, doubt, disorientation, discomfort, disillusionment, and even the utter disintegration of our thoughts and feelings about God, ourselves, and life. In experiencing this loss and grief, depression can occur.
We ask questions like, “Who am I?” “Who and where is God?” “What’s going on?” “Why can’t things go back to ‘normal’?” “What is normal anyway?” “Will this ever end?”
This liminal space is entered into many times in our lives as we find ourselves in places and situations we would rather not be (like in a pandemic!). We are in that “in-between” of who we were before and who will be after…it’s definitely uncomfortable. My 10-year-old joins the rest of the planet in this communal Dark Night of the Soul.
He’s asking, “Who am I?” “Who are my friends?” “Do I even have friends anymore?” “Will friends recognize me when I do go back to school?” “Is virtual school even school?” “Will I ever play baseball or basketball again?” “Will I even love sports again?” “Things are too stressful in the world right now, is it always going to be like this?”
Now here’s what makes Dark Night different from depression. When depressed, it’s a good idea to seek counseling and/or receive medication which hopefully helps us emerge from the darkness of depression with great relief. And while there may be inner relief from the suffering (which is something to celebrate), there may not be inner transformation. One may be grateful to simply return to oneself.
During a Dark Night, rather than seeking a way out of the darkness, we are led deeper into it (a Spiritual Director is really helpful in the dark!). This is the place where God loosens our attachments to all we may mistake for God, life, and our true selves.
It can be painful to have these attachments revealed and painful to let go of them. After all, we might really love being known as the athlete, whether spiritual or baseball! We might cherish the feeling we get in imaging and relating to God in a certain way.
However, when we emerge from Dark Night, we not only find relief but we are also transformed. We no longer see or exist in the world in the same way we did prior to the darkness. In other words, we do not return to ourselves, but are a new, truer Self!
An expanded heart is the fruit of the Dark Night. We see God, ourselves, and the world in deeper and wider ways and we are free to love God, ourselves, and the world in deeper and wider ways.
A different 14-year-old girl shared an image that came to her during our Girls’ Group-time of listening to the instrumental song, Unfolding. It offers a beautiful and striking image of what it’s like to come through Dark Night of the Soul:
I saw a newborn fawn.
The fawn had outgrown the only world it knew and she was witnessing the moment of it breaking free of the old and opening its eyes in the new one. As her words convey, the birth process is messy--so is being “born again” into a new way of being and seeing! This is my hope for our world. In the words of Matthew Fox, “A pandemic is a terrible thing to waste.”
In the meantime, we have the birth pains.
Last night I talked with my son about his struggles and the possibility of counseling. With his permission, I share what he said: “Mom, I don’t think I need counseling right now, I have no problem discussing my feelings with you and Dad. And yeah, I’m learning new things about myself, but I’m mad and nothing helps. I hate sports right now. Lainey’s discovered a sport and mine are gone. I can't do anything right. I don’t know when it will end, maybe it never will. But I don’t need any other voices right now, what I need is you.”
At 10, he’s being led deeper into the dark and I’m going to sit with him there, as a Spiritual Director and Mom. Together, in this womb-like darkness, we’ll wait and trust that the God we cannot see or feel, is truly Emmanuel, “God-with-us.”
Anxiety. Anger. Heaviness. Headache. Nausea. Nerve-pain. Tension. Tears.
My 14-year-old woke up way too early this morning and as we met in the hallway both of us bleary-eyed, she said, “Ugh, I’m feeling everyone’s collective stuff.” “I hear you,” I replied.
This is normal. We are all interconnected so you’re not alone today if you are feeling more than your normal share in this liminal space. Jesus felt his people’s collective pain. He shares in our suffering.
However, at this point, unlike Jesus, we often go searching outside ourselves for a remedy that can only come from a deeper place within. Understandably, we want a quick fix. We want to feel better and we want others to feel better.
So we are apt to compulsively scan the horizons of social media, news, books (even the most holy ones!), and other people (even the most holy ones!) looking for “good news” or at least a reminder that we are not the only burden-bearers. But no amount of memes, quotes, or conversations can offer what that pit in our stomach is crying out for.
It knows something, that discomfort, that pain. It has stories to share (for our bodies hold memory). You actually don’t need any new insights, you need to trust the ones you already have! So what do you already have? What do you know in your depths? I trust you know something to be true in your bones. What is it?
Here are some additional ways to listen to the wisdom within (God’s own Spirit dwelling within your own being, your own story, your own body).
By the way, when I asked my daughter what she knew to be true in her bones, her worried brow immediately softened as perennial wisdom rushed from the depths to the surface. She sang, "Don't worry about a thing. 'Cause every little thing gonna be alright."
Bob Marley, Julian of Norwich, Saint Paul, and Jesus, would all agree.
Today I facilitated a time of meditation and guided prayer for the Vanderbilt Divinity School community during their online worship. Since we're all in this 2020 boat together, I'm offering the same to you!
Mark 4:35-36 (NRSV)
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.
Mark 6:31-32 (NRSV)
31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
After days full of crowds and constant activity (& sometimes during days full of crowds & constant activity!), what did Jesus and his disciples do? They climbed into a boat.
The boat offered refuge—it was a safe place to teach from, to take a break from the pressing crowds, to find rest.
It was also a safe place to wrestle—to struggle with and against the waves, to puzzle with what had just been learned or witnessed.
And it was a threshold place—floating on the surface of the deep unknown, in-between where they’d come from and where they were going (which also meant into the unknown). It was a vehicle of both transportation and transformation.
If we were to continue on with our particular Scripture passages we would know what they didn't know. They were about to face a furious storm (although it wouldn't disturb Jesus' sleep which would disturb them even more!) and their plans for their place of rest were going to be thwarted.
Boat-time was liminal space for them, kind of like 2020 is for us.
The boat itself was a liminal place for them, kind of like Vanderbilt is for many, kind of like this worship time is for us.
So what might happen in this time of liminality? Will we discover an invitation to rest in the middle of the storm? If we loosen our grasp on our plans for the future, what will we do now? Let’s climb into the boat for some guided prayer and find out!
I invite you to close your eyes, maybe raise your shoulders and sigh deeply allowing your shoulders to drop and other places of tension in your body to begin to release. Giving yourself permission to continue to be here rather than the task or place you’re headed to after worship. As you allow for some slow, relaxed breaths, let each one draw you to the present, this place where you experience the Sacred Presence.
Now in the quiet, listen to Jesus speak the same words to you that he spoke to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” (2x)
Imagine yourself leaving whatever or whoever has kept you busy, worried or even excited today or whatever or whoever is presently keeping you preoccupied, imagine leaving it, leaving them, and climbing into the boat with Jesus.
Take a moment to notice what the boat and your surroundings look like (they might be old or modern day). You might notice where you choose to sit, who else may be in the boat, just take in the scene with all of your senses, what do you hear, see, touch, taste…
What is the weather and water like in this moment? What time of day is it? What state are you in—mind & body?
While you’re looking forward to going to a place of rest, you don’t know what will be waiting for you in the future, all you have right now is this boat and this moment.
What do you need and what is being offered to you?
Let the scene unfold. Maybe you voice your need to Jesus and a conversation happens, or maybe there’s an opportunity to rest awhile in the boat just as you are, or you might become aware of wisdom being offered you in regard to something you’ve been wrestling with. How is rest being offered to your body, mind, and soul, right here, right now?
After a few moments in the silence you'll hear music playing and once it ends I'll offer a Benediction.
May you continue to climb into the Boat wherever you are with your situation however it is, and in this liminal space, may you find rest for your body, mind, and soul.
In and through Christ and all our names for God, Amen.
I was supposed to be traveling today to Saint Meinrad Archabbey for a yearly 4-day Silent Retreat.
It's one of my favorite places. I am always excited about facilitating this deep dive into the gift of Silence. Words don't do it justice.
BUT the pandemic threw a wrench in my (& everyone's) plans. So, I decided that even though I won't be facilitating a retreat, I can share with you the theme that I picked out for it last year and we can enter into it wherever we find ourselves.
We can still pray:
"Make me an instrument of your peace."
If there's ever been a time to pray this prayer that was written in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi, 700 years after his death by Father Esther Couqerel of France in 1912, it is now!
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
"Blessed are the peacemakers," said Jesus, "for they will be called children of God."
To be a peacemaker does not mean:
To be a peacemaker means we not only pray and enjoy peace, but we actively work for peace. For everyone. Not just ourselves. However, receiving inner peace enables us to extend outer peace...hence, the silent retreats.
Silence offers an opportunity to slow down, to quiet the outer voices that we may look within and discover the inner voice of the God of Peace.
Will you join me in reflecting, meditating, walking, dancing, stretching, playing, singing, resting, and working with this prayer over the next 4 days?
Praying it first for yourself and your internal world:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace toward myself...
Then praying it for those outside of yourself. Praying it on behalf of not only your family and nation, but the whole world.
Praying to embody the words as you come in contact with the world--from those in your own house to the grocery store and social media.
Let's breathe in and out the words of the "Prayer of St. Francis" and in so doing, may we become instruments and children of the God of Peace.
As a Spiritual Director, I’m on the lookout for “fake Jesus.”
Whether during the very first session or sometime later through conversation, Ignatian contemplation or other kinds of guided prayer, the Jesus that a person has internalized arises.
Remember, a person doesn’t have to be a Christian to have an image of Jesus that dwells within them, impacting the way they think about or view anything Jesus-related.
Our image of Jesus, like our image of God, matters.
This image is often pieced together in childhood. Early paper cutouts with fuzzy backs stuck to flannel boards, the voice and actions of a parent, pastor, or Sunday School teacher, experiences in Vacation Bible School, childhood books and pictures...
In fact, it appears that even the Gospel writers may have pieced together a “Jesus” that didn’t always align with the authentic Jesus. Stephen Mitchell in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers, reveals how the early church writers included not only words and actions that Jesus likely said and did (since he didn't write anything down himself), BUT they also included words and actions they and their community needed him to say or do to fit their own beliefs!
If what “Jesus” says is in opposition to the authentic Jesus’ main teachings (especially loving God and your neighbor as yourself), there’s a good chance the writer is making Jesus in his own image. This same “making-Jesus-in-our-own-image” and having him align with our own beliefs is on blatant display this political season!
Now rather than being threatened by Mitchell’s idea, I find it’s helpful in developing skills in discernment. Remember, Scripture is “living” which means it “speaks” to us as we wrestle with it (which is to join in the lineage of the literal name of Israel!). It changes as we change and grow. Try living with a particular text, a story, a single Scripture for a month and notice how it changes (& how it changes you)! There is no end to new and deeper insights.
Back to our images of Jesus…these images are rarely questioned.
When an internal voice is associated with Jesus, a person automatically thinks it’s Jesus!
So rather than simply agreeing with them, I listen to the person describe their interaction (always keeping in the back of my mind Jesus’ authentic teachings and his nature as revealed by his authentic teachings). Sometimes I’ll hear them say things like “Jesus has to knock me upside my head to get my attention.” If during a guided prayer, a door or a place of darkness often appears, “Jesus” will tell them not to look or go through it, to only focus on the light.
Curiosity is helpful here. I’ll ask, “Whose voice does Jesus’ remind you of?” or “Why don’t you go back into your imagination and simply observe Jesus for a moment, what do you see?”
Every single time, there is surprise.
The response is often:
“My whole life I thought it was Jesus’ voice I was hearing but it was actually my father’s!”
"Oh wow, now that I'm looking closer, He looks like a flannel board Jesus. Kind of flimsy, not able to open the door.”
“Jesus doesn’t really have much substance, he’s ghost-like, but as I watch he’s becoming more human.”
And when Jesus becomes more human, more of his authentic self, they experience His great tenderness and strength. In doing so, their own tenderness and strength is called forth.
With this Jesus, they find they are able to open doors and enter into places of darkness they never thought they could. With this Jesus, they are able to love the parts of themselves and the people they never thought possible.
In other words, in coming in contact with the authentic Jesus, they are able to love their neighbor as they love themselves!
Everywhere I look
there is clutter
Whether inside or outside
Yes, inside or outside
Do you work
to contain, clean,
remove and improve it?
Or do you accept
such a state?
all I see is
A couple of weeks ago, I walked into the bedroom, closed the door, and collapsed on the floor in tears.
I was done in that moment. My inner storm clouds were too heavy and calling for release.
There's a lot going on in our world, isn't there? For many, there is a lot going on in their personal world as well.
Adding virtual school to my mix and constantly hearing, "Mom!" so many times that I've begun to hear it even when no one's calling, was my breaking point.
Conversations with others who are feeling the weight of the world and going through their own personal crises have revealed a "grin and bear it" attitude. Trying hard to ignore the tension and anxiety they continue on even as they feel the inner storm clouds growing more and more each day.
One thing I've learned from my indoor cat is that if she doesn't get her playtime in, she doesn't get her anxiety out which leads to other issues (i.e. not using the litterbox). She's got to release the tension of the day through leaping, running, and chasing.
Following her lead, I've tried to be mindful about moving anxiety out of my body, too—shaking, squeezing, twisting—through at-home Zumba, barre workouts, and yoga. This release is helpful but one thing is missing...cleansing.
Crying is physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually cleansing.
It needs to be added to our personal self-care practices. It already is an ancient spiritual practice for individuals and communities called lament (though you may hear of few congregations who practice it).
It's as natural for us to cry as clouds to rain. So why do we often "hold it in"?
When I offer Distance Reiki, in the majority of my sessions, I have tears come to my eyes at some point. As parts of a client's body release, I feel a rush of energy in my own body, causing the common "lump in my throat" followed by tears. What was released inside is ready to be released outside. Upon mentioning it to the client afterwards, they always shake their head, "yes." For they either began to cry during the session or felt the lump in the throat, knowing they need to give themselves permission for a good cleansing cry sooner than later.
I once had a client that wept and shook mightily during an in-person Reiki session (with eyes remaining closed but tears streaming). Afterwards they had no idea they were shaking so much but said they weren't surprised, for they came desiring long-held trauma to leave their body and it had.
So is it time for a good cleansing cry for you? Or will you continue to hold it in and put it off?
Imagine clouds getting heavier and heavier and refusing to let go and rain...can you feel those clouds in your body?
After a rainstorm, everything feels lighter.
That's what happened for me. An hour after light crying with intermittent gut-level sobbing, my head was clear, my body relaxed, I felt at peace. I opened the door, now ready to walk out and tend to whoever called, "Mom!" first.
It’s what we tend to do. Most Christians have an entire theology built on it. Someone/something must pay for others’ sins.
Sin is burdensome, whether it’s our own or the world’s!
It can’t be ignored (at least not forever). If ignored, it will still be felt in our physical bodies or relationships. The more it's ignored, the greater the natural consequences from the unacknowledged harm to ourselves, others, and/or the created world. So it’s no surprise that people have been trying to figure out what to do with the problem of sin for millennia.
We are a ritualistic people. In Leviticus 16 found in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), it was a ritual with an actual goat (hence the term, “scapegoat”) that helped relieve the communal burden. The impurities of the community were transferred to the goat through the “laying on of hands.” Then the goat was beaten and released into the wilderness to take away the sins of the Israelite people. The despised goat symbolically took on their sins and carried them away from the community. In the New Testament, the writer of the book of John records John the Baptist pointing out the role of the scapegoat being taken on by Jesus when he proclaims, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
It’s human nature to look for a scapegoat, especially when we do not want to or do not know how to deal with sin. Watching small children (as well as our current politicians) will make that apparent quite quickly. Their mantra: "Make it someone else’s fault!"
It’s especially natural if we’ve grown up with a theology that espouses it. It’s too easy to believe that when Jesus takes away my sin, I no longer have to deal with it or the consequences of it (someone else has paid the ultimate price after all). The danger of this theology is that it can shift the focus to worshipping Jesus because of his offering of “fire insurance” for the life to come rather than following Jesus as a disciple in this one.
If we happen to be Christians who believe Jesus paid the price as the ultimate scapegoat (which made him the last needed scapegoat), why do we still continue to scapegoat others?—Democrats, Republicans, Black people, Indigenous people, White people, LGBTQ people, police officers, protestors, teachers, certain members of our families…
If Jesus is the ultimate scapegoat, that means we are now freed from scapegoating others!
We are a ritualistic people in need of a new ritual. If we don’t have anyone to blame or transfer our sin to, what happens next?
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.