Or maybe both.
Whatever length, from 90 minutes to 4 days, I always offer these words at the beginning of a silent retreat: "Some of you have come here to rest, some to wrestle. You will probably end up doing both and both are holy."
Many people think the purpose of a retreat, especially a silent one, is to rest. And that's true...but sometimes what brings rest doesn't feel like it at first.
The pace of life can leave little time to slow down or stop for a while. A silent retreat offers one an opportunity to do just that...there's nothing one has to do. There is no food to prepare, no lawn or children to take care of, no work-related tasks that need to be done...ah freedom! Slow walks, naps, sitting by a pond, taking time while eating, these can be a welcome change of pace.
But the pace of life can also leave little time to tend to feelings of grief and anger. A silent retreat offers on an opportunity to do just that...there's plenty of space in your schedule to welcome what has not had time (or permission) to surface.
For those who have been in survival-mode from one day to the next, whatever the cause, a cleansing cry may bring the kind of rest most needed. A prayer walk or talking to a spiritual director about one's anger rather than continuing to hold it in may bring the freedom most desired. And where better to wrestle than a safe, quiet, and beautiful place of prayer?!
One retreatant pointed out how the word "rest" is found within the word "wrestle." Fascinating. We do not need to fear wrestling, for within it we find rest!
Is it time for you to come away to a quiet place by yourself to rest and wrestle?
I've got an opportunity for you! A couple of rooms have become available for October 28-31, at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, IN. Scholarships are available. Register here.
"Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace" is this silent retreat's theme. And peace may just begin with some wrestling!
writes Mary Oliver at the start of “If You Say It Right, It Helps the Heart Bear It” in Evidence.
Language is important.
Every area of life has its own language whether the world of science or business, music or 12-step groups, the same is true for the world of spiritual direction.
One of the first things people notice when coming to spiritual direction is it offers a new kind of language.
For those suffering from religious abuse, the language itself can be a balm for the soul. After her first session of spiritual direction, a woman said to me, “The words ‘deep permission’ and ‘invitation’…I’ve just never considered Jesus offering me those, it feels extravagant. But I feel such relief to think that God would be giving me permission and inviting me into something so healing…those words alone have been a revelation today.”
No language is perfect, but it helps convey something of essence or experience. Words like hospitality, authenticity, curiosity, allowing, and stirring, offer a different way of entering into a conversation about God and with God.
A youth and children’s pastor started using this language of invitation and curiosity during spiritual direction. He has come for a while so has become familiar with thinking about and entering into the spiritual life in some different ways. Hearing him talk warmed my heart, because I knew he was integrating this language of the soul into his work with children and teenagers.
As we enter more deeply into these words and find them life-giving, we cannot help but integrate them into our own vocabulary where or when it seems right. However, the irony in all of this, is that spiritual direction isn’t about words at all!
We spend a lot of time helping people befriend Silence and the One Who is Beyond All Words. When we and others do speak, the words can be very powerful because they begin with God in Silence. And they can be equally powerful when we do not speak the words, but embody them.
I’m reminded of a woman who told me she saw a symbol of another religion in her adult daughter’s home that made her cringe. Usually she would have spoken her mind right away. As she felt her daughter’s eyes on her, she resolved to bring the matter to spiritual direction instead.
“Way to go!” I told her, “Way to wait and take it into the Silence with God!” By the end of our session she exclaimed, “Praise God, I’m so glad I didn’t react because it would not have been the right response but one full of fear and judgement. Instead I want to invite her to tell me about it. I want to hear her story.”
“And you may learn something really interesting!” I added. Then she asked if there was anything she could read in order to expand her own thinking. After suggesting a book, I said "What a beautiful conversation this is going to be with your daughter! I can't wait to hear about it!"
What a wise mother of an adult daughter she is!
So words can welcome and invite connection, and words can help us name, describe, and discover even more. But there is no final word—whether it be about God, ourselves, each other, or spiritual direction. We're always growing and expanding...and that’s part of the fun!
Our life experiences color the lenses through which we see the world, including words!
When seeing the words “simplicity” and “settling,” my friend, Norman, could not help but reflect on his work-life. Having been in the military, then working internationally and later on in ministry with an itinerant system, his life was anything but simple or settled!
Upon deeper reflection, he saw the positive sides, or wisdom, in both words. He offered me a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to explain (I'm including a longer version of it for context):
“A man can hold his own here only if he can combine simplicity with wisdom…To be simple is to fix one’s eye solely on the simple truth of God at a time when all concepts are being confused, distorted and turned upside down…The wise man is the one who sees reality as it is, and who sees into the depths of things. That is why only that man is wise who sees reality in God…There is no true simplicity without wisdom and there is no wisdom without simplicity.”
Within this quote I, too, saw wisdom in both “simplicity” and “settling.”
And I was reminded of the Benedictine vow of “stability.” There’s a literal vow of stability for the Catholic men and women who commit to enter into, and be faithful to, a particular community in a particular place. It is fascinating to hear the stories of those who have been in a particular monastery for 40 years or more.
However, this literal vow to a place may be an impossibility for many of us as it was for Norman during his working years (though it is much more of a possibility during his retirement years!).
There is also a metaphorical or figurative vow of stability which is remaining focused on the Kingdom of God or what Bonhoeffer calls the “simple truth of God” wherever one finds oneself.
This does not mean ceasing to question or doubt, both of these can deepen faith (as working through questions and doubts in a marriage can deepen the relationship). In fact, settling our eye on the simple truth of God frees us to question and doubt!
One could say that "settling" in this context invites one's gaze to "rest and remain" on God.
So for Norman (& for us), “settling” does not have to be a negative word meaning a life-draining “giving up” or “resignation” and “simplicity” is not something that only occurs in retirement!
Instead, both can be the foundation for a creative life with God as we allow ourselves to see “reality as it is” by diving deeper into “simplicity” and “settling” as ways of Wisdom.
Spiritual Direction is a wonderful place to explore "simplicity" and "settling" in your own life.
Our self-talk can be mean.
In clients young and old, I notice how they often beat themselves up for not living up to their spiritual ideals.
In their voices I hear the longing to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). And I also hear the guilt, self-blame, and even name-calling that result when falling short.
I listen with empathy. Why? I resonate with the 1 on the Enneagram (those who can be perfection-driven and overly familiar with an inner critic) and I grew up in a culture expecting high-level morality as a reflection of being a "good girl" and following Jesus, so I get it.
One of the reasons I love being a Spiritual Director is the experience and wanting others to experience the gift of new eyes to see.
For instance, we will always fall short and give the inner critic plenty of fodder if we read that scripture in Matthew in terms of moral perfection rather than wholeness or “shalom.”
Shalom is Hebrew (the language of the Jewish lineage of Jesus) for “peace, wholeness, & completeness.” The Greek language used in the writing of the New Testament chose "perfect" as the translation of "teleios." Another look into the original language reveals that it has multiple meanings—“perfect, whole, & complete.”
Reading this same line from Matthew, substitute, “perfect” with “whole” and notice your inner response:
Be whole as your heavenly Father is whole.
Being whole includes our imperfections (which, like the Chinese symbol of yin & yang, includes both darkness and light to complete the circle).
God is fully with us in both. The Psalmist discovered this in wondering if he could hide from God's Presence, but finally declared, "for darkness is as light to you" (Psalm 139:12). The prophet Isaiah, went a step further with God proclaiming that “I form the light and create darkness” (45:7).
We humans often do not know which is which and not seeing from a deeper, nondual, perspective, label one good (light) and the other bad (darkness). The natural world can teach us how light and dark are interrelated, complementary parts of Creation. Be outside on a blistering hot day without any shade and you will long for the goodness of darkness and bemoan how too much light is bad.
In the same way, we rush to label our own imperfections as “bad.”
But Saint Paul had a different experience, he saw an inseparable relationship between his imperfections and God’s strength. In II Corinthians 12:9, he exclaims “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
More times than I can count, I have experienced God working through my weaknesses and failures. Looking back I can also see how God was present with me in darkness, though I may have been unable to see it at the time. As I recall these stories, I soften toward myself and my self-talk reflects the gentleness of the Spirit of God.
I imagine the same is true of you. As you look back at times of darkness, weakness and failure, what goodness can you find that came from it or occurred right in the middle of it?
Perhaps you are being given new eyes to see how the Spirit has been (and is) working in and through every part of you—that’s wholeness. That’s the perfection of God.
And knowing this, perhaps you soften toward and speak to yourself with gentleness—and experience “Shalom.”
Sometimes it takes the gentle guidance of a Spiritual Director to help you see your own story and the Sacred Presence in a new way. To find out more about Spiritual Direction, go here.
is the heart of Spiritual Direction
A holy welcome saying,
"Your soul is safe here."
Free of judgement or agenda
Suspending disbelief and storylines
at the Table within
for the wild, unpredictable Spirit
Who certainly knows you
better than I know you, and even
better than you know yourself
Who has always been
and yet is always being sent
To companion, comfort, heal,
grow, and guide
Helping you notice and taste
goodness and truth
in, around, and through you
That you may learn to trust
(maybe be surprised by!)
and the invitations of
this Inner Voice of Love
Who brings good fruit
from the Wisdom Tree
to the celebration of
your Authentic Presence
who knows what you need
in this moment
at the Table
of Divine Nourishment.
Spiritual practices, like meditation and even church-going, can become spiritual bypass—ways of bypassing reality both outside and inside of us, dissociating from wounds within and without, ignoring the healing work that needs to be done in our inner and outer world.
But spiritual practices can also be vehicles for transformation of both ourselves and our world.
How?—by giving us new ways of seeing and being (which is the whole point of authentic spiritual practice).
Let’s take a look at a few practices...
Conscious Breathing: With as little as 10 slow, complete exhales and 10 full, relaxed inhales, we can calm the fight, flight, freeze survival impulse, allowing us to move from a reactive, closed off, defensive place to a receptive, open, deeper place.
Centering Prayer: Through daily practice of 20 minutes of silent surrendering to God’s presence & action, we let go of our ego-drivenness and receive inner healing of compulsions and soul wounds. Not only does this bring personal freedom but it releases us from projecting our compulsions and wounds on others and passing them down to our children.
Lectio Divina: Spiritual reading allows a word or phrase in a small portion of inspired text, whether sacred Scriptures like the Psalms or a poem, to speak to us. Rather than bringing what we already know or studying it, we allow the text to study us! As we bring our story, our lives, to it, we humbly listen for the wisdom and guidance being offered (which may be encouragement to see a counselor or write a letter to your senator!).
Awareness Examen: Looking over our lives at the end of the day through the eyes of God helps us become aware of God’s life-giving presence and action (and the times throughout the day when we were unaware or resistant). The patterns of what is life-giving and life-draining help us discern who we are and what we are to offer this world.
Silent Retreats: Extended time in silence and solitude creates space for our souls to rest and play which opens us to better hear the “still, small voice” which may be drowned out by the external noise of daily life or the internal noise of comparing ourselves to others.
There are so many practices I could list here but the point isn’t the practice itself, it’s the “fruit.”
Seated meditation may not fit you. You may desire some kind of moving meditation, like dance or qigong. Or you may prefer to spend time in nature or doing art.
What practices have you found that cultivate love in you? What helps you have eyes to see and tend to the suffering both inside yourself and in others? Which ways of wisdom help you discern what is yours to offer this world (not out of compulsion but compassion)? A Spiritual Director can companion you on this journey of discovery of spiritual practices.
But remember, it’s not necessarily the practices, it’s the humans who are transformed by these practices, that this world needs. What do spiritual practices like Centering Prayer offer a hurting world?—YOU!
I did not think I could do spiritual direction without my dog.
She had been there from the beginning with her soulful eyes. She knew when to sit on a directee's lap, cuddle up beside them, or stay on my lap looking and listening. Her presence and gaze was the topic of conversation during many spiritual direction appointments.
"It's like she's looking into my soul!" one young seminary student exclaimed.
"In my vision, it was your dog that helped me have courage and assured me that I would not fall into darkness; how did she know to come sit with me at just that moment?!" a stay-at-home mom said with wonder-filled eyes.
When asked to sum up what God had been offering him through spiritual direction, the aerospace engineer who cultivated a Zen garden in his backyard, replied, "The image is Annie, your dog. God has shown me grace through her."
My miniature dachshund and I were partners. So when faced with sitting with people by myself, I did not think I had what it took. I was convinced it would not be as powerful of an experience for people. I relayed my fears to Father Carl Arico while on a Contemplative Outreach retreat in Sewanee, Tennessee. And while he believed I would be just fine, he suggested I set out a photo so that she would continue to be with me during the time of spiritual direction.
It was then that I understood how God had companioned me through her during my beginning stages of being a spiritual director. She had modeled ways of listening and discernment, showing me it was not about what I knew, or about any kind of performance, but how I was with people that mattered most. Through her, God had been present to me.
Countless times since then I have met with people whose best (& many times only) experience of the unconditional love of God has come through their dogs. Because of my own experience of how a dog can be a vessel of the Divine, I pay special attention to the relationship people have with their pets. And I integrate this relationship into prayers and spiritual practices, because the love they give counts.
So maybe you are one of the people who need to hear that the way your dog loves you is God loving you through your dog. If that's the case, a spiritual practice for you is spending more time with your dog!
I know a woman who has three precious dogs, I call them her visible Trinity. Being with them is so life-giving, filling her with such love, that she is able to be in the world and interact with people differently than before the time with them. Her dogs usher her into the mind of Christ and is that not what the best spiritual practices do for us?
Years ago, I read George MacDonald’s 1879 novel, The Baronet's Song (also titled, Wee Sir Gibbie).
It’s about a young, mute, Scottish boy raised, then orphaned, by an abusive, alcoholic father. Gibbie finally ends up being adopted by an elderly couple and the old woman, Janet, becomes a mentor to the pure-in-heart boy. Seeing the face of Jesus in him, she teaches him everything she has ever loved about Jesus (which was very different than the hellfire and brimstone being preached in the churches!).
Writes MacDonald, "So teaching him only that which she loved, not that which she had been taught, Janet read to Gibbie of Jesus and talked to him of Jesus, until at length his whole soul was filled with the Man, of His doings, of His words, of His thoughts, of His life. Almost before he knew, he was trying to fashion his life after the Master. Janet had no inclination to trouble her own head, or Gibbie's heart, with what men call the plan of salvation. It was enough to her to find that he followed her Master."
Prayers of salvation and baptism (so he would not go to hell) were of no concern to Janet. She simply shared with him the life of the One who taught her how to walk in the way that leads to Life.
I finished that novel and began reading more novels of George MacDonald's, The Curate's Awakening, The Musician's Quest, The Lady's Confession, The Poet's Homecoming, The Fisherman's Lady, The Marquis' Secret and more...amazed at the way his characters experienced and trusted in (& their lives reflected) an unrelentingly kind and tender God. Each time I would say to myself, "I want to trust God and speak of Jesus in that way." And slowly like Janet had done for Gibbie, George MacDonald did for me.
Sometimes what we have been taught or picked up on in regard to salvation does not lead to the freedom or life of which Jesus spoke. It does not cause the heart to long to know and trust that God more.
Says Meister Eckhart in Daniel Ladinsky's Love Poems from God,
"How long will grown men and women in this world
When you think of God, does the image that comes to your mind make you sad or fearful?
Or is it an image your heart dearly loves?
If you prayed the prayer of salvation or were baptized, what was that like for you?
What motivated you to do so? A welcome into and communal acknowledgement of following Jesus on the path of Life? Or wanting to be saved from hell and eternal punishment?
If both rituals initiated you into living a life of Love, I am so very glad for you (my baptism was very meaningful to me). But if either were fear-motivated, perhaps it is time to recognize any grasp it still has on you, especially if fear-based theology continues hissing in your ear.
Stories around salvation and baptism reverberate throughout one's life, for better or for worse. And fear-based theology can offer nothing (no matter how convincing!) but fear-based lenses to view one's self and the world.
Maybe it's time for a trip to the library to spend time with George MacDonald's characters.
Maybe it's time to come to Spiritual Direction and experience the God of Wee Sir Gibbie.
Maybe it's time to pick up your crayon and draw a different image in your coloring book.
Honestly, I don’t.
As a Spiritual Director, I’m looking and listening for spiritual “fruit” in your life rather than whether or not you’ve checked off or formalized any religious rituals or beliefs.
And while both can be meaningful, they are not requirements for relating to (& being loved by) the Sacred Presence. In other words, your spiritual life happens with or without them.
While they can be meaningful, they can also be areas of spiritual wounding.
Let me give examples from my own life because saying a “prayer of salvation” does not appeal to me for three reasons:
Maybe you have had a wounding experience around this as well. If so, I am sorry.
There is nothing “saving” or “sacred” in manipulating people into believing what you want them to believe (even if well-meaning, it is still manipulation!).
Plus, it’s simply not creative. Jesus did not have one way of being with people and inviting them into freedom and wholeness. Methods and "laws" often by-pass the sacredness of relationship by making people projects that need saving.
Years ago, a woman once bemoaned in spiritual direction how she had tried to “save” her brother but feared he was not “saved” before he died. I asked her tell me more about their relationship. She told me about his disdain for God and the ways she had still loved him through the ups and downs of his life. It was clear that she had loved him well and he knew it. Her kindness in caring for him, especially while he was dying, was evident.
I looked at her and said, “Wow, I am amazed by your care for your brother! You do know that the way you loved him means more to God (& your brother) than any of the beliefs you shared or any prayer he could’ve prayed. Plus he had good reason not to pray it and he did not need to, you were the face of God for him and he loved you.”
I want to explore this a bit more next week. But if you desire Spiritual Direction, know that you do not have anything to prove and I certainly do not want to manipulate or burden you. Instead, I will listen to the ways you have been spiritually wounded. And together, we will look for the fruit already present in your life, already waiting to be tasted and tended to. It has nothing to do with whether or not you've said the right prayer or done the right ritual.
Honestly, I really don't.
As a Spiritual Director, I'm listening and looking for life.
For some this looks like a daily time set aside for reading Scripture and praying with words (whether silently, written, or spoken). This can be a very grounding and growing time.
Or it can be a burdensome box on the spiritual checklist marked by guilt-if-I-don't-do-it.
Even worse, it can be a time to grow the ego (rather than the mind of Christ).
Reading the Bible and memorizing Scriptures are not a guarantee that one is on the path of and toward Life. Some things may have the appearance of life but underneath we find superstition or pride in disguise.
However Spirit is in the process of utterly transforming our hearts (which impacts the lenses through which we see the world, including Scripture), that is what I am looking and listening for when I sit with a person in Spiritual Direction.
Let me give an example:
One person felt guilty because they did not want to do a one-year-Bible study initiated by their peers. I affirmed their resistance which was telling them the truth--should they say "yes" out of obligation, they would only grow resentment, not life, in their relationship with God and others.
As I continued to listen, it became clear that this person would step out of their particular compulsions and into a deeper place the more they spent time in Nature (God's first revelation) and working with wood. Nature and Beauty were of utmost importance in growing in Love and Life. Their year would be better spent outside and in their workshop.
There is no one-size-fits-all contrary to what you may have heard as a child, young adult, or a newbie to tending to the spiritual life.
Having regular, uninterrupted time on the couch with a cat or dog or sharing a peaceful and delicious meal with one's partner, both are life-giving, love-growing practices. Others may find that silent meditation or reflecting on a poem expands their soul. Working with a dream from the night before, puzzling over a vision, wrestling with a spiritual question, painting, gardening, playing with children...the possibilities for spiritual practice and experience are endless because God is endless.
It also does not have to be either-or when it comes to spiritual practice...either I read the Bible or I spend time in Nature. You might read the Bible in Nature. Spending time in Nature may give you new eyes with which to see the Bible when you do read it next (or you might discuss different ways to read Sacred Scripture with your Spiritual Director).
So how do you know if your "daily quiet time" or spiritual practice is life-giving and growing?
Reflect on the practice after you've engaged it for a length of time, at least a month. Any given day can feel like a slog and the fruit of the practice may show up outside of the time itself! For instance, after time in Nature, you may be calmer, less reactive, and more patient with others.
Here are some questions to discover the fruit your practice is bearing (or not):
If you come for Spiritual Direction, I'm not going to give you Bible verses to memorize or critique your spiritual life. I'm going to listen for life within your life so that you may walk in the way that leads to Life (which is what the Bible encourages us to do!).
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.