Post-Election Spirituality

What will we do with ourselves now? There?s no more elections outcome to dread or hope for, there are no propositions or questions to debate with neighbors, and we?ll have to go back to car and antiperspirant ads on TV.  With as much build-up and rallying of fear and desperation as we?ve all been courted into, I fear for us in the aftermath. Can we get our brains out of the fear and paranoia pathway and into?.I don?t know, something else?

Part of the fear for people of faith building up to this election seemed to be around the idea that if the wrong president was chosen, that God either could not or would not work with the resulting system. In the Bible, there is evidence that God works through whichever systems that we humans choose. The nation of Israel complained that they wanted a king to lead them against God’s advise. So eventually, God said OK and gave them a long series of kings. There were periods of blessing and periods of disaster, but God hung in there with them throughout even though the system was not the original hope for Israel. In the context of having kings, characters in the Bible were both on and off course and often mixed up all together! I wonder if there is something to be learned from this story in our current context. A wee bit over half the nation thinks we?ve signed up for a period of blessing and a wee bit under half the nation thinks we?ve signed up for a period of disaster. But I wonder if we could rather just assume a couple of things:

1?We are a mixture of off course and on course all at the same time.

2?God is working with us in the system of our choosing (I mean this in a broader sense that this election, per se).

If we can hold these assumptions, we might be able to approach life as the context of God?s current redemption rather than the colossal mistake from which there is no redemption. If we can?t figure out some kind of reframing, I fear that cooperation and growth in our world’s critical problems will be continue to be stymied. Half the country will just be waiting for the next election to repair the damage and the other will be frustrated by the naysayers. If we can learn from the past, it seems clear that solving our nation’s problems requires more than an election. We need a serious reframing.

What will be best for you to keep in mind for your own post-election spirituality?

Check out this NY Times article on what is needed now, post-election. Be sure to read to the end.

Hurricane Sandy’s Rats

The rats were one of the hardest things about Hurricane Sandy?s wrath from one Manhattan resident?s perspective. Millions of rats that were visiting the surface to escape drowning in the flooded, Manhattan underground. Rats. Yikes. Puts my own complaining about a temporary power loss in perspective. And makes you realize that there is a whole lot of something underground that we?d all prefer would just stay there.

Everyone in Manhattan knows that there are millions of rats underground. There?s an arrangement, they stay down there, for the most part, and the people stay above, for the most part. But when a storm comes, an unwelcome mingling takes place. I can?t help but think of how we have similar arrangements with parts of ourselves. My jealousy, neediness, and selfishness are all there, but they stay in the tunnels, for the most part. I remain on the surface; open, kind, and moderately generous, for the most part. You know what brings all those tunnel dwellers to the surface? Storms. And, in this case, I mean that literally.

With the devastation that this storm brought, I was really focused on the ways I was expecting to be inconvenienced. I fully expected to be without power for five days like the last two storms, but power was restored here in a mere 12 hours. In the midst of it, so many friends expressed their concern and offered help and prayers and I was face to face with how petty my needs were. My inconvenience was short, but as I see how awful the storm was for others, I can see that my rats were coming to the surface more than I?d like.

What storms bring your rats to the upper floors? When does the tacit understanding?you?re down there, I?m up here?get overturned? And what is God?s invitation when it happens?

If you want to contribute to Hurricane Sandy relief, consider this reputable organization: Samaritan’s Purse

Ordinary Time

In the Christian Liturgical calendar, there are distinct periods of celebration and preparation and then, in between those seasons, there is what is called, ?ordinary time?. As I watch my Jewish friends, clients, and colleagues in their holiday preparations in the last weeks, I?m even more aware that for me, this is ordinary time. There aren?t many big parties or events to plan or look forward to right now. It?s not only that it isn?t Christmas or Easter, the rest of life is rather ordinary too. Kids are playing sports, but there isn?t a tournament or playoff situation yet. There is music, but no recital around the corner. We?re in the rhythm of school, but there are no big exams just yet. All the push that comes in universities and schools starting has subsided and now, there?s the ordinary.

How do you experience ordinary time? I find myself getting a little anxious. If there is something ahead that is consuming or exciting, it distracts me. Ordinary time can leave me feeling a little off; not that it lacks busyness, but the busyness lacks focus. Like having a low-grade fever, life in ordinary time can feel like living with a perpetual question in the back of my mind. ?Am I missing something? Is there something I ought to be doing?? How sad that seasons of relative quiet can be so?disquieting! Has the mundane become disturbing? Have I lost my comfort with generalized life? Or, ought I ask, have I lost comfort with myself?

The irony is that during the non-ordinary times, I long for the ordinary times! I cannot wait for the freer schedule, and the absence of planning and anticipation. But once it is upon me, I?m not always sure what to do. It?s funny to wish the label ?contemplative? for myself and then be forced to acknowledge a discomfort with life without adrenaline.

So what to do with myself? I?m trying to be more curious about the anxiety that comes with ordinary time for me. I?m letting it be the subject of my prayers and wonderings, open to discovering something new and deeper in my disquiet. As always, the invitation feels important to heed, and so, I am attempting to press in and discover how I lost my comfort with ordinary time. Perhaps that is the wisdom of the liturgical cycle. It presses us to discover ourselves anew; without distraction or anticipation.

And you? How does ordinary time sit with you?

Is Worry a Sin?

I spoke at a church group this weekend on the topic of anxiety and tried to wrestle with this verse in Philippians: ?do not worry about anything?.?. Guilt isn?t unusual with my clients who come from a Christian background. ?If I just trusted God enough, I wouldn?t worry like this. After all, the Bible says DO NOT WORRY!!?

Wonder if the writer of this verse was looking for ways to heap impossible commands on folks so they would feel like turds? That is a possibility. But it is also possible that the writer was addressing an emotional state that he knew was a present reality for his audience. The folks reading this letter were undoubtedly worried and anxious about the writer?s welfare?he was in prison and facing possible execution!?along with all the stress of being in a fledgling religious start-up; worry was most certainly among them!

Following the ?do not worry? phrase there are three interesting suggestions:

  • Present your requests to God—the practical reality of doing this would encourage the worried to isolate their spinning thoughts to specific requests. This mirrors anxiety treatment in it asks whether worry is productive or nonproductive. In productive worry, there is an answer to the question, ?can I do anything about this?? Taking this suggestion seriously might mean that the answer is ?yes, I can ask God about specific concerns?.
  • Practice thanksgiving—The practice of gratitude can be good for ANYONE who is tempted to over-focus on negatives and what ifs.
  • Figure out which thoughts to lock onto (and defuse the others)?Perhaps most fascinating to me is the long list of things that are listed as things to ?think about?. ?Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise??. This mirrors anxiety treatment in that we teach clients which thoughts to fuse with and with thoughts to defuse. If a thought is helpful towards living one?s values, then, by all means, lock on (fuse) to it! If it is unhelpful, defuse it! This is the work I often do with worriers.

Speaking to this group this weekend helped me ponder the ways this Biblical writer tried to work out what to do with worry, and I appreciate that thoughts are taken seriously in the suggestions. As I find both personally and in doing treatment with many worriers, OUR BRAINS ARE NOT OUR FRIEND??sometimes!

So, is worry a sin? Worry is so varied and textured that I think it is difficult to say. The question I prefer to ask is, “what is the spiritual invitation in the midst of this text?”  If we don?t perceive suggestions like these as invitations to something good, I believe we are missing the point.

 

Biblical quotations are taken from the NRSV. The Worry Cure by Leahy has taught me about productive and nonproductive worry and The Confidence Gap by Harris has taught me about thought defusion.

Take Your Mark…

Take Your Mark?.

Get set?..GO!

I don?t know if it is just because I have kids, but this time of year can feel a bit like putting my feet in the starting blocks and waiting for the bell to sound. Everything begins; school, piano, soccer?but more directly for me; routine, schedule, many more work and church rhythms kick into gear and overall there is much, much more sameness week to week.

Many of you may be much further from the academic cycle than me. I?ve spent my entire professional life attached to college students, and then having children myself took that fall cycle to a whole new level. It?s an awkward feeling, getting in these starting blocks because once the gun fires, there is a way in which things actually slow down. Even if there is increased activity, the routine normalizes life, as if God knew we couldn?t live forever with the lack of structure that summertime can bring.

The routine of fall opens up new possibilities. For me, there is more solitude built into my days with the kids at school. I?m looking forward to being and listening in the quiet. If I?m attentive to the Spirit and to myself, I?ll bet there is a lot of debriefing of this summer to be done!

What will the new season open up for you?

Questions From A Genius

Several years ago I knew I wanted to make a change. I felt strongly that I wanted to move more squarely into the care of souls in my vocational life, but I felt the audacious and absurd urge to pursue spiritual direction and counseling training at the same time. I sat down with my husband and a big chart.  We plotted out the reality: the time it would take, the money it would cost, the timing with the stages of our children, and everything else we could think of that made the whole idea seem utterly crazy. Without the precise words, we were asking the question: is this foolish, or is this faith?s risk? It was an important question to ponder. There were lots of ways I could have tweaked the plan: I could have pursued the two trainings one at a time, I could have done graduate school part times, or I could have put things off until the kids were older. But I had that sense that this was the plan and that the timing was right. It was faith?s risk for me at that time.

Do you have a similar story? And how do you work through the struggle of how to interpret events or challenges in your life? I recently read Journaling As A Spiritual Practice by Helen Cepero. In the final chapter of the book, she listed these brilliant questions:

  • Is this a distraction or the heart of the matter?
  • Is this a critic, or a mentor?
  • Is this being rooted or being stuck?
  • Is the foolish, or is this faith?s risk?
  • Is this a block to my growth or a challenge to grow further?
  • Is this a detour or the way home? 

I love great questions. Those moments in therapy when the question strikes just so…. it?s like the perfect chord of a symphony?. it stops you in your tracks and makes you reframe. Cepero?s questions have that potential for any of us when we are faced with conflicts, criticisms, job offers or losses, obstacles in our plans, unexpected feedback, or planned and unplanned transitions. A good question will help us pause on those things and look more closely.

I believe that most of us are prone to discount events far too quickly, without applying the discernment that Cepero?s questions may bring. We are trained to approach life at the pace of a full court press; crashing through obstacles and impediments to get to the illusive pleasantness on the other side. And what if we?re missing out on meaning in the process? We go too fast, ignore too many events, ask too few questions. If we?re honest, careful reflection can be rattling. But facing the threat that comes with it can lead to a richer life and potentially help us when we need to change course.

I?m writing these questions in the front of my journal and I plan to refer to them throughout the year. Which question feels important for you to engage right now?

To see my longer recommendation of Cepero’s book, click here.

Tale of a Crazy Therapist

Recently my daughter paid me a high compliment by selecting me as the subject of an essay about a women she considered a hero. At one point in the process she came home and asked, ?my teacher asked what kind of therapist you are? and I answered, naturally. The final product came home about a week later and the first two lines went something like this:

?My mom is my hero. She is a psycho therapist.?

I had to laugh. Ah yes, I most definitely can be a psycho psychotherapist?and a psycho mom, a psycho wife, and certainly a psycho friend. So there, in the midst of that great feeling of mother-pride, I was also contemplating what goes along with it.

Life is a mixture of awkward transformation, acute distress, and yes, ?psycho? moments. I?m often pretty intolerant of the process, I want my daughter?s essay to reveal only my strengths and talents, not inadvertently expose the reality of my life!

In the words of Teihard de Chardin:

?Give the Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you. And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.?

How well do I do with accepting that anxiety? Frankly, I don?t like being in suspense and incomplete. It?s awkward. It?s uncomfortable. At times, it can feel humiliating. I don?t like not knowing answers and not being an expert. I don?t like the bewildering feeling of being stumped or unsure. Often, I feel I ought to be past that by this point in life. But as far as being a psycho therapist?.well, staying in the anxiety of incompleteness is all a part of the human experience, no matter what your vocation.

For Chardin?s complete prayer, click here.

The Problem of Memory

Memory is a complicated thing. It has the power to inspire us and to paralyze us. Billy Cundiff has to deal with the memory of his failed field goal attempt to tie the Ravens? playoff bid for the Super Bowl. What he does with that memory will make all the difference in his future performance.

We all have the problem of memory in some way. The bad things like failures, mistreatments and accidents stick in our minds and make it hard for us to face current experiences. The old experience is so entrenched in our minds that we can?t burst out of its construct and into a new experience. I see it with anxiety clients a lot. They remember a place or experience where they had a       panic attack and they cannot bear to face the same place or the same anxiety symptoms again. They are stuck in the past so their ability to embrace present experiences is stunted.

Interestingly, positive memories can have a similar paralyzing effect. An exquisite kiss, an exceptional performance, an intimate spiritual touch?..all of these wonderful things can trap us in the past with their enticing, iconic place in our minds. Present experiences are compared to the past ones and can never quite measure up. We get stuck in the past and our present is, once again, stunted. We aren?t open to the new things happening now because we remember too well the wonderful thing that happened before.

St. John of the Cross talks about the need for a ?purification of memory? which can enable individuals to new openness to the present and fresh hope in the future. The process does not involve us forgetting the past, but rather, holding our past experiences without clinging to them or amplifying them. It also involves being able to properly mourn past experiences that harmed us and celebrate past experiences that were wonderful. The reality is that the present will never be exactly like the past and our ability to accept this reality will shape our ability to be fully awake and present to what is happening now.

Will we judge Billy Cundiff for the missed field goal, or for the way he handles holding its memory? What memories, positive or negative, hold you in the past and block your full experience of the present?

 

To read a wonderful article that inspired my thinking on this topic, follow this link to an article written by Constance Fitzgerald of the Baltimore Carmelites. https://www.baltimorecarmel.org/swf/pdf/writings/cfprophetic.pdf

Noticing Fall

I loved the fall colors this year. And I ?did? fall well.  I hiked with my family, I slowed down my car to look at stunning trees, I took my camera on jogs to take photographs, and I lay on the ground and contemplated the colors as the sun shone through the leaves.  I noticed. I paused. I watched.

Spiritual Direction is a lot about noticing. It?s about taking time to pause and turning one?s attention to watch. Being in spiritual direction has the potential to help directees develop the ability to discern the activity of God?s Spirit in their lives. It?s a way to create space for deeper watching. It often amazes me how a theme will emerge for directees that seems as clear as glass by the end of a session but was utterly hidden before. The new clarity is often found in silence, or listening prayer, or the careful noticing of a repeated word or subtle tension. It isn?t magic or spiritual tricks, it really is just noticing.

Being a part of the process of spiritual direction with people has convinced me that God really enjoys being noticed. The fall leaves create an apt symbol because their vibrant colors just beg to be noticed, as if they adore our attentiveness. God?s like that. Of course, there?s not a trace of narcissism to God?s wish for our attentiveness. When we are attentive to God, we?re more accurately living the created order of things. God acts, we notice that action. There?s a rightness to it. Things are then as they ought to be. Our trouble is that when we fail to notice we mess up the order of things. We can be tempted to think all kinds of inaccurate things: that life is meaningless, that everything happens because of our human effort, that we?re alone or forgotten. Missing God?s involvement is like sleeping through our own lives. Bottom line, we miss out?.like never enjoying a walk during the fall.

When there is a good connection between spiritual director and directee, it can be a bit like hiking with a nature lover through the woods.  Just as the leaves call out to be looked at, God?s love in activity calls out to be noticed. If you?re still and quiet long enough, I bet you?ll notice the pull of God?s invitation.

Does this description resonate? Do you have that feeling that God is inviting you to notice? I hope so.