Handles for Self-Care in the “Wilderness”

wilson, wilderness survival

A mailing last week not only publicized
our most recent issue of Ruminations
(focused on “Whole-Life, Life-Long Stewardship”)
but also commended a few practical handles for self-care
which we thought might be useful to individuals and congregations
amidst this “wilderness” time and space into which we’ve been thrust.
It’s a season of upheaval, yes, but also a space and a time
possessing real potential for spiritual growth.
(Here, the February 2019 issue of Ruminations,
focused on “Desert Spirituality” may serve as a good orientation
to this concept/dynamic in the journey of spiritual formation.)

Among the practical handles we proposed for self-care?

  • affirm the value of
    spiritual direction/companionship

    The name can be misleading.
    Spiritual direction is not counseling.
    It is not coaching.
    As one person put it,
    spiritual direction is the
    “art of listening to another
    so that they can better hear
    God’s truth in their lives.”
    In our workshops, we point folks
    to a variety of sites that can help them
    find a spiritual director, including:

 “Spiritual Directors” Link at
The Texas Annual Conference

Cenacle Retreat House

Villa de Matel

Spiritual Directors International

Fellowship of United Methodist
Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders

 (As you have questions,
please feel free to contact us.)
Even as “spiritual direction”
is not your calling at this time,
the question remains:
“Who has God put in your life–
as a trusted confidant/mentor in
deeper spiritual sharing and processing?”

  • own/accept/embrace
    a “discipline of disturbance”

    A growing body of literature speaks to
    the relationship between an increasing number
    of religious “Nones” and “Dones” in our culture…
    and the Church’s failure to meet the spiritual needs
    of those in latter stages of faith development.
    Several posts on our Zoe-Life blog,
    address this connection…
    and the ways that our current situation
    might have hidden potential
    for our journeys of and ministries in
    spiritual formation:

                      “Spiritual Formation
    Through the Lens of ‘The Critical Journey’”

   “Embracing the ‘Discipline of Disturbance’”

  • be aware of and sensitive to
    your unique self-care needs as a person

    Tempting as it is to make one flat comment here,
    truth is “one size does not fit all.”
    (Some need to be encouraged to “take time off”–
    while others need the encouragement to “get up and go!”)
    It’s among the messages reflected in this graphic
    from the folks at JustMyEnneatype:
self care graphics (from enneatypes)

click on the image to enlarge

Among the gifts of the Enneagram, you see,
is its ability to reveal “blind spots” and “hot spots”
in the ways we react to life stresses.
With greater self-awareness and
openness to the stirrings of the Spirit,
we can frame more resourceful responses
(beyond these default reactions).


Whole-Life, Life-Long Stewardship

In some church circles, stewardship is narrowly defined as reduced to “that thing for the church budget.” Little wonder that “that [usually Fall] thing for the church budget” has too many times been called a congregation’s “Stewardship Campaign.”

Biblically speaking, though, while stewardship may include our money and our relationship to the material, it is much more. From the Greek, “oikonomia,” stewardship means management, oversight, or administration… often being used in relation to management of someone else’s proper-ty. For the Christian, then, “stewardship” blankets the entirety of all those “properties” God has entrusted to us. It’s an understanding reflected by each of the following voices:

“Stewardship is everything you do after you say ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ.” (Clarence Stoughton)

 Stewardship is “a worldview that encompasses all of life… including what we feel (e.g., arts, aesthetics, relationships, worship), what we think (e.g., philosophy, theology, history, science), and what we do (e.g., technology, work, finances, social action, spiritual disciplines).”  (Keith & Ruth Miller, Staying on the Road Less Traveled: Fulfilling a Vocation)

“…fully living a Christian worldview involves a Christian Steward-ship of everything in life, including time, opportunities, relation-ships, knowledge, money, abilities, resources, environment,…”  (American Scientific Affiliation, “Stewardship of Life in a Christian Worldview”)

Holistic stewardship encompasses all that we are, [and] all that we hope to become. (Alban Institute, Congregations magazine[07/25/05])

Stewardship is nothing less than a complete lifestyle, a total ac-countability and responsibility before God. (John H. Westerhoff III)

ruminations, spring 2020 image

To engage/download this most recent issue of Ruminations, click here.

While the Grace and gifts and promises
of Easter and Pentecost eclipse
our existence in this world,
they do not exclude
our co-management, with God,
of the all the stuff of earthly life and living.
And so, we dedicate
our newest issue of Ruminations
(a quarterly-season resource
of Zoe-Life explorations)
to a definition of
whole-life, life-long stewardship
as well as initial, practical handles
for the living out of a whole-life response
to the Lordship of Jesus Christ
throughout our days this side of Heaven.
(To engage or download this issue,
click on the link, above.)

The Good News of Holy Saturday… and the “Harrowing/Storming of Hell”


Gustave Dore, Veil of Tears (c. 1883)

Surveying all the Gospel texts about/for Easter,
one verse stands out above all the others
for me this year.

John 20:19 begins:
“On the evening of that first day of the week,
the disciples were together,
with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…”

“with the doors locked… for fear”

The image, the feel of a tomb comes to mind.
More precisely, a hell of sorts:

    • darkness and shadows – the heart jumping at every sound
    • disorientation
    • trapped, locked up
    • suffocating heat
    • feeling alienated from God, from others, from self
    • a sense of being eaten away from the inside out

It’s a phrase, it’s an image
that resonates with my soul at this time –
perhaps like never before.
I suspect it resonates with many.
The fear.
The sense of being locked up.
Wondering if and when life will ever return to normal.

The image seated,
the second half of the verse kicks in:
“Jesus came and stood among them
and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” 

Jesus descends into their hell!
He breathes a breath of fresh air and peace.
It’s as if the doors and windows
of the prison have been blown open!

There’s an oft-neglected, obscure phrase
in the Traditional Version of the Apostle’s Creed –
so belittled that it’s but a footnote
in the United Methodist Hymnal:
“He descended into hell.”

I had a 12-step friend
for whom “holy Saturday”
and Jesus’ descent into hell
are the key foci in his observation
of Holy Week–
every bit as important to him as
Good Friday with its cross, and
Easter Sunday and its empty tomb.
Maybe you’ve got to be an alcoholic
on the verge of losing everything
to really appreciate Jesus going to hell?

Or maybe, just maybe,
it’s something we can embrace
more fully– in our various quarantines…
robbed of some of freedoms and joys
we’ve taken for granted…
forced to remember
how unpredictable and frail and fragile life is…
stripped a little of the delusion that we are in control
(the masters of our fate).

Has me wondering and hoping
(in spite of the fact that
we can’t physically go to church),
that, maybe, we are in the best [spiritual-emotional] position
to celebrate Easter this year–
recalling the Jesus who broke out of His tomb,
welcoming the Christ who breaks into ours, even today!

The Interior Castle in Disney’s “Frozen 2”

frozenLately, I’ve been giving myself to a study-exploration of St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle – and commentaries thereof.  Hers is a variation of – perhaps, we might say, a forerunner to — current “stages of faith” conversations.  In keeping with other mystics of (and before) her time, she defines the contours of the spiritual formation journey from “awakening to God” to “union with God” — via processes of illumination and purgation.

Given my bent towards seeing spiritual themes in film and culture, an evening of watching Frozen 2 with my granddaughter gave way to a time of seeing Teresa and her message—particularly pronounced in a scene when Elsa, the protagonist in the story, advances into an ice cave (or castle) – singing the song, “Show Yourself”:

To make sure I was on target with my impressions, I asked my
(thirty-something year old) daughter, Katie, about the song and it’s meaning. Through no coaching from me, her response was confirming:
“She’s calling to her ‘higher power’ to reveal itself—
only to realize that that ‘higher power’ is within herself.”
(In other words,
as she cries
for that which she thinks is out there to “show itself,”
there is the realization that “It” is within.)

Even so with Teresa and her Castle… and her understanding of the journey of spiritual formation.  (And here, I draw a few choice snippets from a chief, contemporary translator of Teresa’s works, Mirabai Starr.)

  • There’s “a magnificent castle inside our own souls, at the center of which the Beloved himself dwells” (Interior Castle, pg. 21f.) (Is there an echo of this castle in Anna’s “Crystal Cathedral”?!?)
  • “The extraordinary thing about this castle where God lives is that it is inside of us. The journey to union with the Beloved is a journey home to the center of ourselves. The human soul is so glorious that God himself chooses it as his dwelling place. The path to God, then, leads us on a journey of self-discovery.” (Ibid)

“There has never been any serious theological quarrel with this ancient Christian understanding,” writes David Benner.  But, he continues: “it has been largely forgotten by the contemporary church. We have focused on knowing God and tended to ignore knowing ourselves.”  (Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, p. 22)

More positively, he writes:
“Christian spirituality involves a transformation of the self that occurs only when God and self are both deeply known. Both, therefore, have an important place in Christian spirituality. There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self, and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God. John Calvin wrote, ‘Nearly the whole of sacred doctrine consists in these two parts: knowledge of God and of ourselves.’”  (Ibid)

Important as this affirmation is
(i.e., that soul and God are intertwined),
it is not enough.

It’s another dimension
of Anna’s quest (and ours):
that It takes courage —
to plunge into the interior,
to be more open
to experiencing
God and self.

Embracing the “Discipline of Disturbance”

discipline of disturbanc (rotate)A recent meeting (focused on the promise and potential of disorienting-transitional moments) directed me to a book by Dr. Hud McWilliams, entitled Discipline of Disturbance: Stop Waiting for Life to be Easy.  Some title, huh?   I have yet to really dig in but early gleanings may suggest that it’s exactly what this soul needs (maybe what we a lot of us need) – not just at this juncture of Lent but at this juncture of the ”wilderness” into which we have all been plunged (during these days of quarantine and physical distancing).  (Here, I am grateful to my extrovert friend, Rev. Vickie Simons, who rightly distinguishes between “social distancing” from “physical distancing” — so that we can respect physical distancing without becoming socially distant!)

Writes McWilliams, early on…

The process of growing into wholeness is messy and brings its own discomfort. Deep in the psyche of the first-world [or American] perspective, it seems that our built-in urge to grow is stalled by the more immediate desire to be comfortable, to be safe, to be sure and certain. In other words, we want to be in control no matter what it costs us. And as we will see, it costs us dearly.

When the pursuit of comfort determines how we live, a move to grow toward wholeness will merely be tolerated and endured (perhaps in the wake of crisis). But it will not be sought out. And even when we experience a moment of genuine growth toward maturity due to loss, grief, betrayal, or some other setback, we hope the process of growth will soon be over. We want more than ever to return to the seeming ease of being in control of our life. We want to complete the process of suffering so we can put it behind us and return to the patterns and routines that pass for safety and comfort.

We are driven to resolve issues, and usually, it’s a good thing to want closure. When you sign up to take a class, you want to complete it. When you enter a race, you want to cross the finish line. However, this mindset overlooks the fact that we are alive. As long as we are alive, things can’t be finished. There is no endpoint. There is no graduation ceremony that certifies we have arrived. Living things always are growing. If they are not growing, they are dead.

Growth is a reality, while quick resolution remains a tantalizing fiction. We create our own confusion when we overlay the idea of completion on organic growth.

–Hud McWilliams, Discipline of Disturbance: Stop Waiting for Life to be Easy, (pp. 16-18)

Here, McWilliam’s words and thesis are fitting complements to some of the other spiritual formation discussions we’ve been about at Zoe-Life Explorations.

  • Most immediately, I am drawn to the [true] story of the Associate Pastor who was reprimanded for a Mother’s Day prayer (inclusive of all forms of being/having a mother and not being/having a mother) – a prayer that did not hit the mark of making everyone feel good.  (To engage that post, click here.)
  • More fully, though, “stage of faith” discussions come to mind – especially as they are illuminated by Janet Hagberg’s Critical Journey.  Among the dynamics she spotlights are the ways that – whether out of comfort or a fear of change — we can (and do) get stuck or caged at each level of our spiritual development.  It’s especially pronounced at a key juncture halfway the spiritual journey of a lot of folks called the “Wall.”  It’s not just a hard time in life that constitutes a “Wall” experience.  But, it’s a hard time in which the solutions and “answers” of former stages feel empty.  It can be a real time of conversion and renewal in a person’s life and faith – so long as they don’t run away from it.  The problem is (and here, McWilliams quote asserts itself): a lot of folks do run from the Wall.  That, or their churches are hard pressed to help people at the Wall – as they themselves perpetuate (and baptize) the cultural myth that life is all about comfort and safety and certainty.  (See related review of article from Pastor David Terpstra at Christianity Today by clicking here.)

Maybe instead of running from the “Walls” of life and living–
maybe instead of enthroning control and comfort in our lives,
we should see and embrace
disturbance and disorientation
for the things that they are or could/should be:
reminders that we are living organisms
(able to respond but not in control)
whose growth and maturation
demand change and promise “growing pains.”

instead of seeing disturbance and disorientation
(and this Lenten “wilderness” we’ve all been thrust into)
as the enemies of happiness and living,
we should see them as the standard features of life that they are–
embracing the lessons they promise to provide
to those who don’t run away.