A week ago, Steve had an experience of God at the 4 day silent retreat at St. Meinrad Archabbey that he will never forget. Here's his story in his own words...
"It wasn't that I ended up or happened to be at the retreat, it was the retreat ended up happening to me!
I have a past that I hadn’t been able to deal with, in fact I let it define who I was. As a result I struggled with how God could love me. I read about His unconditional love in the Bible, it was preached from the pulpit, but I could never let it into my soul.
During four days of silence and total disconnect from daily life along with Spiritual Directors as God’s conduit, I surfaced deeper sins I had refused to look at and became aware that all these sins were not who I was, but something I did. Remove what I did and I am still the child of God He created.
In my silence focusing on listening to God I heard Him speak,
“Steve, I love you.”
And I melted. I cried. I felt lifted up.
My spiritual awakening could not have happened without the silent retreat and spiritual direction. It created the environment where I could actually hear God speak to me. I have been so blessed.
A couple of days later I awoke at 3:30 am giddy with life like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning."
The power of Silence and Spiritual Direction!
Many thanks to Sally Sharpe for joining me to provide spiritual direction at this silent retreat.
Note: Steve started to befriend Silence through Centering Prayer and a silent day retreat. You're welcome to join me online any Friday from 9am-10am CT for a Centering Prayer group. Beginners always welcome! Contact me for the Zoom link.
“I’ve always known God to be the 'God of Surprises'!” the twinkly-eyed 80-year-old woman said after I asked her to tell me about her relationship with God.
“Take you for instance,” she went on, “I woke up in the night a few weeks ago and heard God say, ‘Spiritual direction would be good for you,’ and I said, ‘Yes, Lord, I’m listening, who do you want me to see?’”
She paused then said, “And immediately your face came to mind! I remembered you and it didn’t even matter to me that you weren’t Catholic!”
I didn’t know her too well and hadn’t seen her since before the pandemic began. In fact, I was amazed she even remembered me at all!
“But then you told me you had no openings,” she said incredulously, “So I said, ‘Well, Lord, I’ll trust you anyway.”
Her eyes lit up as she said, “And now here you sit!”
Three days after I told her I had no openings, I wondered what spiritual director would be able to go see her as she no longer was able to drive. As I thought about who lived close to her, I realized that she lived near the place my daughter took fencing lessons, so I actually did have space in my monthly calendar when I could go see her!
We laughed and I said, “God of Surprises for sure!”
She told me that while it had been close to a decade since she’d seen a spiritual director, God had always brought the right ones to her at the right time. “Every single one I have connected with and they have become dear to me,” she reflected.
Then I asked her where she grew up (it's not a question I usually ask but I did that day).
She leaned forward (as to let me in on a secret), “A little town called, Pick-way, O-hi-o!”
“You grew up in Piqua, Ohio?!” I said laughing, “Not only do I know where that is, but that’s my hometown, too!”
“God of Surprises!” we both exclaimed.
We reminisced about Piqua, the streets we lived on and schools we attended. I told her that my parents still lived there and also had a tiny cottage up on Lake Loramie. “Do you know where that is?” I asked her.
“Of course! It’s on State Woot 66 and the reason I say "Woot" is because I had a coach for a teacher who had a speech impediment—”
I leaped forward in my chair, interrupting her excitedly, “You had Coach Heil!”
“What?!” she exclaimed, “You knew him, too?!”
“I did because he was my Health teacher AND my Drivers’ Ed instructor! Wow, you had him when he was a young pup in his 20s at Piqua Catholic and I had him when he was in his 60s at Piqua High School!”
“God of Surprises!” we gleefully shouted in unison, now both of us suspecting we were part of a Divine secret.
We sat in silence for a few moments just marveling, shaking our heads.
“I tell you, I would never have guessed in a million years that I would be sitting here in Nashville, Tennessee, talking to you about Piqua, Ohio, and Coach Heil!” I laughed.
“I know it, God of Surprises, I told you, it's always been true!" she responded, "I need to call my sister in Ohio because she is never going to believe this!”
Believe it or not, there were even more surprising revelations of connection that she shared with me that first session!
The hour came to a close and we hugged. I could tell I had already become dear to her and she had become dear to me. There was no doubt the Holy Spirit was the true Spiritual Director!
I crawled into my car and couldn't help but cry tears of gratitude all the way back to the fencing club, full of wonder and awe at the God of Surprises.
As I was sitting in silence with someone in spiritual direction, a rendering of St. Francis of Assisi by Daniel Ladinsky, came to mind. I reached over, found the little poem and read it. A smile grew on my directee's face and tears of gratitude began to flow. After ending the silence she said, "Kasey, how did you know I needed that old squirrel?!"
Maybe you need Saint Francis and the old squirrel, too!
I once spoke to my friend, an old squirrel, about the Sacraments--
he got so excited
and ran into a hollow in his tree and came
back holding some acorns, an owl feather,
and a ribbon he had found.
And I just smiled and said, "Yes, dear,
-St. Francis of Assisi,
rendering by Daniel Ladinsky,
Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West
As I stepped on the shovel, I couldn't help but smile.
On Sunday, I joined other members from Wisdom Tree Collective as we partnered with Blessed Earth Tennessee, to plant 12 trees at Jones Brummett Elementary School. Why?
Wisdom Tree Collective is a nonprofit that I helped co-found this year (after 3 years of planning!). My main branch of WTC is its School of Spiritual Direction and our very first cohort of students just started their third month of a 2-year online training program to become fulltime Spiritual Directors or bring a Spiritual Direction lens to their current callings.
I continue to be amazed by those who are going through the program (from around Middle TN; Joplin, MO; and Tacoma and Seattle, WA) and the Spiritual Directors who are mentoring them!
While it's a lot of work this first year, as I am developing both the content and rhythm, to say it's exceeding my expectations would be an understatement. Already I can tell you that I will whole-heartedly send people to each one of our current students for spiritual direction next year.
Back to the trees...
Part of Wisdom Tree Collective's commitment is to give back to the Earth by honoring our namesake and the ways we have experienced and continue to experience Divine Wisdom through trees. How have trees been a gift to you? Do you have any early childhood memories associated with trees? To read some of ours, go here.
For every person who participates in our training program, classes, or retreats, we will plant a tree in their name. This year we planted 12 trees—9 for each of the students in the spiritual direction program and 3 on behalf of the 3 founders, the 6 spiritual direction mentors, and the Triune Dance of Love in which we find ourselves!
And Heather Bennett of Blessed Earth Tennessee, found us the perfect location for our first tree-planting day—a brand new school in the Lebanon Special School District here in Wilson County, TN. She had no idea how much symbolism there was in planting trees around a new school's playground.
As we dug the holes and planted the Sycamores, Sweet Gum, Tulip Poplar, Red Maple, White Oaks, Live Oak, and Southern Magnolia, I felt a sense of awe. Both of us are in our first year. A new elementary school has been planted in our community and trees have now been planted by the new Wisdom Tree Collective's School of Spiritual Direction.
Looking up at the playground I smiled as I recalled all the times over the years I have talked about "the playground of God" or "the playground of the Holy Spirit" during classes and in spiritual direction. What a holy surprise! Clearly God was joining us in celebration on this crisp and sunny day!
Are you interested in joining me for the 2022 fall cohort? The Certificate in Spiritual Direction Application can be found here. And be on the lookout for both online and in-person retreats and classes offered by Wisdom Tree Collective next year!
By the way, if you're in the area, let me know if you drive by Jones Brummett Elementary and see our trees.
To learn more about Blessed Earth Tennessee, go here.
And for more information about Wisdom Tree Collective, go here.
It had not even been 24 hours since she got the news her cancer was back.
Whenever I have a cancellation, I contact those who are on my waiting list to see if anyone wants the spot.
In October, a person I had not seen for a long while got in touch with me saying she just had a feeling she needed to begin spiritual direction again. I had no openings but promised I would contact her when one became available.
A couple of weeks later, I happened to have a cancellation and she was able to arrange her schedule to meet with me later in the week. She had no idea when we set that appointment that she would be sharing news about the return of cancer.
Last week I wrote about friends who have terminal illnesses and wake up happy and grateful. But when the news is fresh, that’s probably not how you’re going to wake up.
Scared and angry is more like it.
During our session of Reiki and guided prayer, I asked her if she could let God be angry with her about the news she had just received.
“God doesn’t get angry,” she said.
“Well then you haven’t read the prophets,” I replied.
“Really…” she said with a mix of surprise and sarcasm.
“Yes, really, I imagine God damning this prognosis to hell. I want to yell: God, damn it!”
She smiled wryly. And then her imagination began to unfold and tears mixed with words flowed, as she let God into her anger.
Sometimes we wake up happy and grateful. Sometimes we wake up scared and angry. God can join us in both.
Both can be holy as we allow God into every part of our lives.
Even though we may know God is always present, we often live as though God is far off and we are on our own. Or we might think that God expects us to be hopeful and happy so will wait until we have a bit more gratitude before joining us.
This simply is not true.
The Creator who endowed us with the full-range of human emotions, expects us to express them. And every single one of them can be pathways to prayer and to the very heart of the One who made us.
Rather than running and hiding through self-sufficiency, self-loathing, or a smile, when the Divine Presence asks, “Where are you?” let’s be honest.
“Here I am!” we can say and then name where and how we really are—angry, sad, scared...
Let God in, for God knows it’s not good for any of us to be alone.
Two people in my life are facing a terminal illness. And here’s what else they have in common: gratitude.
Every time I talk to them, whether a simple conversation or in spiritual direction, I am amazed at the depth of their gratefulness.
Their faces light up.
It is like their diagnoses gave them new eyes to see life. And they are overwhelmed by the beauty right in front of them. Even more so, they are overwhelmed by the peace of God inside of them. The windows of their souls reflect it in such delightful ways.
“Every day I wake up so happy!” one exclaimed to me (without a single relationship or situation changing in their life).
How is this possible?
Much of it is pure gift. Grace.
And some of it, I am sure, is because both have done inner work in the years leading up to this moment.
They learned how to listen deeply to God and how to listen deeply to others. They entered into meditation and mindfulness. They learned to play and be playful. They sought out spiritual direction and a precious few others to accompany them along their inner journey.
Now their outer journey reflects what they cultivated within. Awe. Humor. Peace. Kindness. Joy. (Just to name a few)
I am honored to be a witness. They are teaching me a lot.
One of their gifts is reflected in the Sufi poet, Rumi's words, “I saw grief drinking a cup of sorrow and said to it, ‘Tastes sweet does it not?’ Grief confessed, ‘You’ve caught me and ruined my business. How can I sell sorrow when you know it’s a blessing?’”
If you have no idea how sorrow can be a blessing and if you do not wake up happy, maybe it is time for an inner journey of your own. There is so much to be grateful for in this life.
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.
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.