Writing to Unclutter

Spiritual practices are activities we engage (usually routinely) in order to intentionally cultivate spiritual growth.  These activities run the gamut – worship, prayer, spiritual reading, interceding for neighbors during a walk, drawing mandalas, being in nature to inspire wonder.  Our personal writing, or journaling, can also be a spiritual practice.

IMG_3057-848x461One form of journaling, commended by many, is that of writing “morning pages.”  (Not sure of the true origin of this practice but Julia Cameron [cf., The Artist’s Way] has long been a prominent proponent. )

Morning pages are written for the express purpose of clearing the clutter in one’s mind.  This kind of writing is done first thing in the morning, by longhand (a key element), in a stream of consciousness style.  The instruction is to write and write and write and write and… No stops. No paragraphs.  No concern about spelling or grammar.  No concern about where your thoughts are headed. This is a practice to help settle the heart and mind by emptying.  A page could go like this:

It was hard to get up this morning but I knew if I didn’t get up the day would just snowball on me – rolling more and more out of control.  The presentation is prepared for the team meeting today but it still keeps running in my head.  I hope my black slacks are clean because I planned on wearing them today.  It will just be good to get to lunch and know that the meeting is behind me.  Then I’ll have to get Kevin’s gift during lunch or I’ll be late to the dinner party. No time after work.  It will be good to end the day with dear friends.  They know I’ve been pressing to get to this presentation.  I’ll have to be careful not to make the party MY celebration! I do have to pick up dog food too…

Approaches vary but are generalized here:

  • Write as soon as you can in the morning.
  • Set an amount of time (20-30 minutes) or a page count as your goal and be diligent. (Allow the writing to trail off to “I don’t have anything left to write…” but keep writing, write even filler words, until the goal is met.)
  • Write without regard to structure, handwriting, or a reader.
  • Simplicity is encouraged. Write in a spiral notebook or loose-leaf paper.  (Some encourage you throw the pages away daily.)
  • The effectiveness of the practice grows with continuity. Be dedicated in giving this practice time to bear fruit.

Often, effectively expressing ourselves is all we need to help relieve the emotional stress we are experiencing.  Pen and paper can become a tangible release valve.  A more significant notebook or journal can be used for other times of writing to process a day, an event, or during a retreat.  These pages are generally separate or at least delineated as morning pages.

Morning page practitioners share that their writing helps prepare them to be productive at work, to be more creative, to be better grounded as they begin their day. This kind of mind-emptying journaling helps prior to sitting in prayer, especially for meditation or centering prayer.

Perhaps, morning pages could be an especially fruitful practice as we navigate these days which include a swirl (onslaught) of information (and opinions) on how to best live during a pandemic.  We have many decisions to make regarding what is risky behavior and which risks we are willing to take.  Even folks who don’t normally experience much anxiety can be experiencing the unfamiliar rumble of stress.  Writing about these feelings can diffuse the stress and anxiety.

Many of us have taken advantage of more time at home by organizing and decluttering closets, drawers and garages.  Decluttering our thoughts would be a helpful venture, as well.  Being present to oneself through the practice of writing morning pages is an act of self-care and self-awareness that will bear fruit in heart, mind and soul.

#morningpages #journaling #selfcare #selfawareness #interiorlife #spiritualformation #spiritualpractices

On This Feast Day of Dame Julian of Norwich: Ancient Words for Modern Times

Picture3

Icons of Julian will often feature her holding a hazelnut… and/or her cat.

Today, May 13th is celebrated as the feast day of Julian of Norwich in the Roman Catholic Church – May 8th in Lutheran and Anglican churches.

Picture4

As an “anchoress,” Julian would have lived in an anchorhold like this one — a cell-like dwelling, attached to a church, in which she could live a solitary life dedicated to intense prayer and spiritual practice.

Julian was a lay woman who, in the 1300’s, dedicated herself to God — choosing a life of prayer and meditation as an anchoress.  Entering such a life was marked by a community dedication on the day the individual was enclosed (boarded up) in a tiny addition to a church building.  Access to the anchoress (or anchorite, when a man) was gained through a small window (a “squint”) through which they received Holy Communion, gifts of food, and prayer petitions from the public.  Sometimes the cell had a door which had access to a small garden.  It was customary for the resident to be given a cat to help control mice.  Julian was known to be quite fond of her cat and, in religious art, is often depicted with her feline friend.

Julian lived in an anchorhold (like the one pictured, above) for over 25 years.  Her squint opened onto a busy road in Norwich, a seaport town, and her spirit and grace and wisdom were such that her window became a popular destination for those who sought prayers and/or spiritual counsel.

Julian lived during a challenging era in England.  The Black (or Bubonic) Plague swept through Asia and Europe in waves.  Peaking in 1347-1351, outbreaks continued to ravage the continent for several centuries. Overall, the Black Plague caused the death of 30-60% of the population (far exceeding the devastation of the CO-VID 19 pandemic) and decimated economies. It is in this environment that hopeful, faithful, and deeply loving Julian thrived as a spiritual light in eastern England.

Julian was gravely ill, thought to be on her deathbed, when she experienced extensive spiritual visions.  These are recorded in The Revelations of Divine Love which is thought to the be the first surviving manuscript of a woman in the English language.

Her most often quoted writing is “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  In what she called her “showings,” these words were said to her by Jesus as she implored him about why sin was even allowed to exist in the world.  Jesus replied (and Julian notes that this was “said most tenderly”) that it was necessary to allow for sin “but all shall be well…”

Reflecting on these words and their larger context, one overhears three great truths for us, today:

First, All shall be well leaves room to acknowledge that things are not always well.  Certainly, during our days of sheltering-at-home and a virus that puts our people and economy at risk, ALL isn’t well.  (Isn’t it uncanny to realize Julian experienced an even more devastating pandemic?)

Second, notice Jesus “tenderly” answered Julian’s challenging question about why sin was allowed.  Julian challenged her creator with how he created!  God does allow us to go “toe-to-toe” with God about what troubles us.

Finally, Julian’s encounter with Jesus calls us to consider and claim the big picture of Life and Faith — that“all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Encouraging to hear these same words being used in contemporary settings.  A dear friend’s son co-wrote the following song (and recorded it with his band, “Blue Water Highway”).  Theirs is the hope that Julian’s ancient wisdom can encourage us in our current situation.  (Click here if you’d like to overhear a little bit more about the story behind the song.)

 

 

 

Hello, My Name is Jim and I’m a Functional Atheist [in Recovery]…

HELP UNBELIEFFunctional Atheism.  Though he never formally employs those words, I was first introduced to the concept by Craig Groeshel in his book, The Christian Atheist: Believing in God But Living as If He Doesn’t Exist.  (Here, Groeshel might have given words to the notion – helping me to formally title and acknowledge it in my life and living.  Truth is, at deeper parts of my being, I “knew” it already.  It was [and is] a part of my experience.)

As an aside, I can’t help but share words from Craig’s introduction – stirring for the ways they convey the topic, startling (in this day and time) for the ways he invokes the word “pandemic”:

“Hi, my name is Craig Groeschel, and I’m a Christian Atheist.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve believed in God, but I haven’t always lived like he exists. Today my Christian Atheism isn’t as large of a problem as it once was, but I still struggle with it. Like a recovering alcoholic careful never to take sobriety for granted, I have to take life one day at a time.

You might think it’s odd for a pastor to struggle with living like there is no God. However, in my corner of the world, Christian Atheism is a fast-spreading spiritual pandemic which can poison, sicken, and even kill…  Yet Christian atheism is extremely difficult to recognize — especially by those who are infected. (Groeschel, p. 17)

Attending a Leadership Transformations workshop on “Spiritual Discernment” recently had me staring it in the eyes afresh.  Workshop leader, David Wu, gave introduction to the day with two quotes—one from the Scriptures and one from a preferred text on the topic:

 Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all.
(Proverbs 3:5-7a, The Message)

God wants everyone to know God’s will. God doesn’t withhold grace, play games, or tease us to test our faithfulness or our worthiness to be trusted with divine insight. I am convinced that God is far more prone to human revelation than I am to divine encounter. God’s will is that you and I, everyone, and our faith communities should discern and act upon God’s will.  (Danny Morris, Yearning to Know God’s Will, pp. 9f.)

Hearing/reading those words –
really taking them in,
slowly and deeply…

trust God [with all your heart],

don’t try to figure everything out on you own,

listen for God’s voice in everything [and everywhere],

don’t assume you know it all,

God is far more prone to revelation,…

Yes, reading, hearing, taking those words in
has the prayer of the old soul coming
to heart and mind and voice in me:
“I believe.  Help, Thou, my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Being a perfectionist by nature
(and an often unhealthy “one,” at that)
can have me kicking myself–
stirring up all sorts of guilt and shame.
“Jim, you ought to trust more!”
“What a hypocrite!”
“How long have you been at this?”
“Surely, you should be a lot further along in this journey than you are!”

Yes, such are the voices inside—
to which I could give more and more attention.

But, instead,
I discern
and chose
to listen
to a stiller, small voice within.
It calls me
to accept
who and where and how I am…
and to be grateful
for the Divine
Who is not yet finished with any of us.

A Meditation for “Good Shepherd Sunday”

Good Shepherd Sunday, 2020, framedThe shepherd walks right up to the gate… and the sheep recognize his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he gets them all out,  he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice.
(John 10:2-5, The Message)

The fourth Sunday of Easter (this coming Sunday, May 3) has come to be known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”—deriving its name from the Gospel reading for the day, John 10:1-10.

Stories shared by scholar-pastor Ken Bailey prove invaluable to me as I engage and enter the text:

I am mindful of the story from the early part of this century: the story of a Palestinian lad who sought the release of his family’s sheep.  The British, you see — in order to subdue an uprising and restore stability in a given village during their time of occupation and control of the Holy Land — had confiscated all the livestock  and had them put in a common holding area…  all 10,000 of them.  Approaching the sergeant in charge, the boy spoke of his family’s needs: my mother is a widow, my sisters and brothers must eat, our five goats are all we have for milk. The sergeant was human.  He was moved.  But he saw no way things could be rectified at that moment: “Why, there are thousands of goats in there.  You’d never be able to pick yours out.  I’m sorry, son, I wish I could help.”   To which the boy shouted: “Open the gate!”  And playing a tune on a pipe, his five came out in a line, following the boy down the lane to his home.

 Even today, Middle eastern herds can be seen using a host of tools: some employ well-timed, well-directed stones, many will be seen with the ever popular staff (though it seems to be used as much as a crutch to lean on as any kind of device for directing), a few enlist the help of a faithful dog…  Most, though — indeed, the good ones — depend on their unique song.  You can see them and hear them today, leading as many as 500 sheep through a valley: moving ahead of the flock, piping or singing their tune for about 8 seconds each minute.  Instinctively and unknowingly, the grazing sheep are guided to their intended destination.

 I recall the words of a Lebanese shepherd, speaking of his familiarity with his flock: “put a cloth over my eyes and bring me any sheep and only let me put my hands on his face, and I will tell you in only a moment whether it is mine or not.”  It’s clear, though, from what we’ve been saying that the familiarity is two way: not only is the shepherd intimately familiar with his herd, but they, too, are intimately familiar with him.

Given this deep familiarity and intimacy between shepherd and flock (and allusions otherwise to “Lord as shepherd” [Psalm 23] and the fallen Shepherds of Israel [Ezekiel 34]), is it any wonder that Jesus would call himself “the Good Shepherd”?

Altogether, it stirs some rich questions, deep in my soul:
…of whether I fully and deeply acknowledge my need for a shepherd,
…of whether I am fully and deeply aware
      of the many competing voices and songs
     which clamor for my attention and devotion,
…of whether I sit the feet of the Good Shepherd
     fully and deeply enough to know his distinctive, unique tune

Oh, listen, dear soul!
Can you hear it,
dear lamb of God?

There…
above the din of earthly noises,
above the bleatings of the larger flock,
beyond the tunes piped by
lesser, competing, false voices,…

There’s…
a song in the air,
a still small voice in the heart.
It calls us forward.
It beckons us
to pastures and waters,
through valleys,
to a seat at table spread,…

Oh, listen, dear soul.
Listen…
and take
your Way

Home.

 

On This Week of “Earth Day”: A Lesson from the Forest

dangerfield state park

Daingerfield State Park

Years ago I was fascinated to read Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How They Communicate The following BBC News piece succinctly depicts the way trees “communicate” and share resources – making for a most fascinating “Wood Wide Web”: “How Trees Secretly Talk to Each Other.”  I hope you’ll find the 90 seconds it takes to view the story before reading on.

The connectedness of the forest floor suggests dynamics that can go unnoticed in our own backyards. There is so much going on to which we can be oblivious — until our ears and/or eyes and/or hearts are opened otherwise.

This time of pandemic has stirred a similar dynamic in my spirit. Connectedness.

Learning the Enneagram helped me to put some language to the sensation that can sweep through me as I experience moments that move me regarding to connectedness and belonging.  These connections are sensed in the moment when I look around our dinner table and bask in the gathering of family or friends; when, at major league baseball games, we sing the national anthem (even “Deep in the Heart of Texas”, for that matter);  a moment in Greece among the ruins of ancient Delphi (in Greece, referred to as the center or “the navel of the world”) when I felt an awe at a mysterious connectedness I was experiencing to a community that no longer existed (the same in Ephesus, Corinth and the city wall of Thessaloniki); when I join in the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed and know I’m in unison with millions of voices.

Identifying as a 9 on the Enneagram, I long for and honor connectedness. (The Enneagram is a self-awareness tool that depicts nine different personality styles– reflecting aspects of our godliness as well as tempting pitfalls.)  While this dynamic of connection is just one aspect of the “9,” it is nonetheless a key part of my so identifying.

So we experience an outbreak which became an epidemic which became a pandemic.  Along with the disorientation and alarm, I am moved by (and grateful for) the “togetherness” we are experiencing.  We’ve moved from hearing about “them, over there” to truly feeling part of a global village.  No longer “them and “me”/“mine”/“ours”, it is “we” and “us.”  We’ve moved from being oblivious to being keenly aware. “We are all in this together” is not cliché but profound.

This dynamic is God-made.
We ARE all in this together –
in nature and among humankind.
God has longed for us to know this from the beginning.
Adam AND Eve.
A garden to tend.
We have a God, a self, and neighbors to love.
We are more connected than we are usually aware.

Yes, the trees
and the forest
and this pandemic
(indeed, all of life!)
offer a lot of lessons.
The lingering question
is whether we are listening
—connecting.

________________________________

P.S. If the “talk among trees” continues to intrigue you,
you might appreciate these TED talks by Canadian Suzanne Simard:


posted by Kathy Reiter on April 23, 2020