Several weeks ago, I had the honor of being interviewed by Susie Davis, author, pastor, mentor and host of the Dear Daughters podcast. She is truly a delightful human being and I'm certain we'd be fast friends if we lived near one another. I hope you find this conversation an encouragement and boost to your day and life!
Sabbath, for me, is a mini-vacation from responsibility and giving to others, and an invitation to be creative. So, I knew this morning that I wanted (even needed) to do something creative and the simple prompt of seeing a friend’s Face Book post on creating a mandala was all it took to be inspired.
I started this watercolor by tracing a plate on watercolor paper and beginning to fill it in with an image that was in my mind. It didn’t take long to realize what I was painting; a representation of something I’ve been thinking a lot about and trying to capture in a symbol. I will call it “our family of selves.”
In the center, the golden center—with sparks of green, dots of blue and splashes of orange—represents the core of our being; the true self. The true self is our core essence; the substance of our personhood; the unique, particular person whom God created us to be. We are not alone in this center of being, for it is where the Spirit dwells and we are stamped with the Divine image.
The next layer of vibrant orange is the body self. The body self represents our ability to think, feel and do. Each of those functions is rooted in the body, specifically in the brain, limbic system and nervous system. The body self is central to our spiritual formation and how we live out our authentic calling in the world.
The outer layer of blue represents our false self, the self we and others experience as our personality. The false self is a mask we wear, the self we want others to see us as. We begin to develop this false self in childhood in order to survive the *failure of human love and get what we believe we need most. We construct the false self by taking hold of certain traits within our true essence, exaggerating some while diminishing others. The false self is an unreal self, illustrated by the hollow center, and its purpose is to protect us from the shame of exposure, the fear of harm, or the loss of control.
The body self is the key to living authentically from our true self. When our thinking, feeling and doing are grounded in the true self, engaged in the service of our true self-in-Christ, we live out of the essence of who God created us to be. To “descend with the mind into the heart,” to tap into the rich, inner life of the true self is prayer; it is how we abide in Christ and the only way we can bear good fruit that will satisfy the needs of the world.
The body self is also the demise to living authentically when we use it as a means through which we fortify the false self. When our thinking, feeling, and doing is “ungrounded,” untethered to the true self, our thoughts, feelings and actions are either unconscious or consciously compulsive. We either disconnect from conscious awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and actions or we add commentary to our thoughts, feelings and actions and whip them up into a frenzy. The result is a reinforcement of our false self, the mask we use to hide and self-protect.
This has become an important realization to me after several months of paying attention to how I engage my thoughts, feelings and actions. When I don’t slow things down, don’t ground them in my deeper self, I often regret what I think, say and do. When I do slow my thinking/feeling/doing down, my thoughts are more discerning, my feelings genuine and compassionate, and my actions more productive and life giving. It is a much more gratifying way to live. And not only for myself, for everyone in my life.
*This does not imply that we all had unloving parents or care givers, but simply to say that even in the best of circumstances, our parents didn’t always provide what we truly needed and sometimes gave us what we didn’t need.
This year’s word of the year seems an odd one. In reality, it’s a family of words, all with the Latin root, humus. (And not to be confused with the Middle Eastern dip, hummus, made from chick peas.) The humus family consists of siblings like human, humanity, humility and even humor. It does seem like a peculiar word to choose, yet I can trace the steps clearly toward identifying it.
The inclination began as I was listening to a Liturgist podcast entitled God Our Mother. Christina Cleveland was interviewed and, at one point, explained that part of the nature of God is the quality of moving toward the soil and mess of life—like a mother. Cleveland suggested that the sacred masculine transcends, while the sacred feminine draws near. That’s what mother’s do, right? Not that fathers never change dirty diapers or wipe slimy noses, yet it was/is my quick instinct to move toward my children and now my grandchildren and do those things for them. And by example, my mom was never put off by crouching down into the dirty corners and leaning into the grimy ledges of hearth and home to scrub them clean. In similar fashion, I want to move toward the mess of another’s life and heart, as well as my own, rather than keep a safe distance. To embrace humus, I want to live close to the earth and work the soil of real life.
The second pull toward this family of words came as I was writing this year’s Advent retreat guide. I was reading a book called Fully Human, Fully Divine by Michael Casey. In it, Casey makes a convincing appeal that Jesus is far more human than we give him credit. We often airbrush his interactions and reactions because we believe that his humanity isn’t fitting with his deity. Yet I find this very human, earthy Jesus more relatable than the stoic, pristine one. Just as I’m attracted to a humble person, I’m attracted to him who is “gentle and humble in heart.” Jesus’ solidarity with me in my humanity gives me great comfort and confidence that I can be myself with him.
Finally, the last confirmation has to do with my own brokenness and need for humility. As a 2 on the Enneagram, my core sin is pride. It’s not as much the “look at me—I’m so great,” variety of pride as it is the “need me because I’m indispensable to you and your cause” version. I often have an elevated sense of my own necessity or importance and I’m sorrowfully aware of this undertone in my life. I call it an undertone because…I wouldn’t want you to see this horrid attitude, now would I? Shame always instills a reflex to hide, especially such a despicable attitude like pride. So, I’m praying for humus to work its way into me and instill humility at a deep, honest level. (Humility means to be “brought low or level,” hence to stand on level ground with all humanity and see others at eye level.)
So, as I live into this family of words, the way it works for me is to simply pay attention to occasions when this word comes across my attention. Maybe I notice it in a book, or read it in the Bible, or someone I know exhibits humility or talks about it. Because I have a heightened awareness to this family of words, I can be more open and cooperative to God’s deeper, humbling work within me. That’s the plan anyway.
One last thought: Do you picture God being humble? Seriously—take a moment and think about it. I truly believe that God is ONE HUMBLE GOD. (Please make the connection right now with Charlotte’s Web and Wilbur the pig.) Doesn’t God move toward the mess? Doesn’t Jesus spit in the dirt, scoop it up, and smear it on the blind man’s eyes? Imagining God as humble is such a beautiful gift to me. I hope for you, too, as you make 2018 a year of pilgrimage toward this ONE HUMBLE GOD.
Five years ago on June 1st, a large truck containing all of our worldly possessions pulled away from our suburban home of 17 years. We met the truck at our new home in the city, a place we’d chosen to move to begin Sustainable Faith Indy. We came with a dream of a life that we wanted to live in this gracious old home. We came with a vision to provide quiet, sacred space to those with worn souls.
In truth, neither of us was sure the idea would fly. Would people want to come for personal retreats? Would staff teams and small groups appreciate having space to gather and do good work? Would people be interested in receiving spiritual direction and spiritual direction training? Do you know how we’d answer those questions today? We do!
Going back over our calendar for the past five years and crunching numbers, this is our best guestimate of the number of folks we've hosted: 5,585! Each year we've had an increase, all by word of mouth, all organic growth. We are amazed and only feel deep gratitude for all those who've come our way and trusted us to create space for them to connect with God.
Thank you, one and all!
The Bells of the Arch Abbey
What is it about church bells that are so evocative? Or is it just me? This past week, David and I spent two days on a personal retreat at Saint Meinrad Arch Abbey in Southern Indiana. It’s one of two Benedictine Arch Abbeys in the country. You need to go, if you haven’t. You just do. One of the first things I noticed as I wandered around the grounds exploring the campus were the bells echoing over the country side from the double spire of the cathedral.
At one point, for fifteen entire minutes, the bells collided in a cacophony of sounds, calling the monks to end their day of work and gather in the church for vespers. I was walking near the Arch Abbey at the time and tucked into a court yard, leaned against the wall, and basked in the clamor of the bell’s cascading echoes. It was pure glory.
I experienced the bells as a call to Presence. Throughout the two days and night I heard them ringing a reminder to be present to God; to turn toward the Omni-present-One for whom these bells were created to acknowledge and praise. With all the golden beauty surrounding me, it was not difficult to join them in this “thin” place, thick with Presence.
I experienced the bells as a call to prayer. That is one of their chief purposes—to call the monks to leave whatever they are doing and gather in the sanctuary to pray together the Divine hours. Laud (morning), terce (midday), sext (noon), vespers (evening) and compline (nighttime) designate the points throughout the day when the community comes together to read Scripture, especially the Psalms, and pray individually and in community. It is an offering to God; a returning to God that stitches together the day and makes it whole.
I experienced the bells as a call to real time. I was amazed at how often they rang. Every fifteen minutes a single interval sounded the passage of time. On the hour they rang out the real time, chronos time, and made evident that time was of the essence. It’s not to be squandered. I felt so aware of time—in a good way. The bells helped me mark time, grounding myself in the real time of my day.
My retreat at Saint Meinrad was wonderfully restoring. And what I remember and cherish most was my experience of the bells. I suppose if I lived in the community, they might become as familiar a background noise as the sirens and traffic I hear in my neighborhood. Yet these bells have awakened a yearning to have a similar auditory cue in my day to day life that helps me attend to Presence, prayer and real time.
What is it about church bells that are so evocative? Or is it just me?
David and I just returned from Sioux Falls for Randy Reese 's Celebration of Life service. We drove, in part because flights were so expensive, but also because I had a hunch (a Randy-ism) that the twelve hour drive there and back would be good for us. I felt invited on a pilgrimage, of sorts, through the grief of Randy’s sudden and unexpected death and to gather together memories—experiences, impressions and gifts—and to re-collect them and place them into a new container. That’s what I found myself doing, both to and fro, on the long drive.
On the way home, I began to notice that there were two prominent recollections that stood out among the rest. The first was the powerful testimony of how Randy lived his life relationally. In the Vantage Point 3 (VP3) gathering, as well as the Celebration of Life service, I heard story after story of people who said essentially the same thing. “Randy always made me feel important and valued.” “He took time to be with me. And when he was, he named things in me that I didn’t know were there.” He had a priestly way of speaking and praying over our lives and anointing us with his words of affirmation, encouraging us to allow God to do what he wanted to do through us.
Randy never stopped seeing the “one” before him. He always gave priority to being with the “one” and would go to great lengths to do so. One woman on the VP3 board spoke about having lost her husband and how Randy drove 90 minutes just to have coffee with her and see how she was doing. Another man spoke about how Randy was supposed to be in Southern California next week and, of his own initiative, was going to get together with this man’s son. Just this last week, I received emails from two pastors whom I had asked Randy to reach out to—people I just knew needed to meet him and he them. I never knew if the meetings happened; but sure enough, each pastor told me how they had talked at length with Randy and found him to be a remarkable man.
Randy’s habit of focusing on the one and “particularizing” him or her was a unique feature of his life and ministry. As I’ve observed Christian leaders today this habit is a rare one. Most leaders who have growing responsibilities with organizations or churches seem to back away from people, not continue to move toward them. In order to “organize” the organization and try to maintain control, they withdraw from the lives of people. What a tragedy! Not Randy. His leadership was always relational. As Rob Loane put it, “Randy would say, ‘We’re friends first. After that, we’ll figure out the other stuff.’”
The second recollection that has equally arrested my attention is that while Randy gave himself to people, he didn’t try to live a heroic life. He wasn’t driven to prove himself; he wasn’t about building a kingdom for himself. He wasn’t ambitious in the way that I observe many leaders today, including myself. He really did believe that the work of God’s Kingdom is a slow and deep work and he was faithful to that work.
Randy’s untimely death has brought the reality of death close again. It’s reminded me that I will die; we all will die. This fact is a great equalizer and reminder that it is futile to “win the whole world” and in the process to lose one’s soul. Randy didn’t lose his own soul to an ambitious, ego-driven ministry or life. He played and laughed a lot. He hung out with his family and friends a lot and ate good food a lot—including all kinds of chips because he liked “crunchy”—and drank lots of coffee. He didn’t take life too seriously because he didn’t see himself as the end all, be all.
In this era of mega church, multi-site and the ever-expanding growth model, I often witness a different kind of drive among leaders. Many come to Sustainable Faith Indy for a safe space to decompress. The stories we hear, the weariness we witness stems from aggressive, unexamined ambition to build bigger kingdoms. But for who? This drive for more and bigger does not have the same humility and “right-size-ness” that I recollect when I think of Randy and as I consider the great equalizer called death.
These were my most vivid recollections as I drove home on I 80. At some point along my pilgrimage, I thought about the story of Elijah and Elisha (II Kings 2). After Elijah had placed his prophet’s mantel on Elisha and just before he was “taken up” to heaven (the way it felt like Randy was taken up from us), Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. I imagined Elisha feeling utterly inadequate, not wanting his mentor to leave him; wanting to preserve the spirit that Elijah embodied for the sake of God’s people. Through tears streaming, so aware of my own inadequacies and short comings, I asked God for a double portion of Randy’s spirit. I asked it for myself and for all who were deeply impacted by his humble and relational way of life.
On Thursday evening, August 11, my friend and mentor, Randy Reese, was on a run in Vancouver after leading a two-day training for Vantage Point 3. I still don’t know exactly what happened but what I do know is that he died. It’s a brutal reality that even as I write seems so impossibly true.
I was one among many in Randy’s life; many who held him in high regard, as a friend, brother in Christ, and example of servant leadership. He was one among few in mine.
Randy had such a kind, warm, gentle, calm, settled way about him. To be with him was to slow down, breath more easily and deeply. Settled within himself and attuned to you, he would lean in and “see” and “speak” words of affirmation and value.
As a Christian leader and particularly a man, I felt esteemed. He never made it weird to be friends and male and female. I suspect his deep love and respect for Susan Heeren Reese—a strong and capable woman—and their solid marriage led to his natural way of being with other female friends. When we would meet in person or Skype, he would take notes as if what I had to say was important to him and he wanted to think more about it. I can’t think of another friend who’s ever taken notes when I speak.
He had a great sense of humor and his own colloquial ways of saying things that made you laugh—turns of phrase that made him so memorable; “neck of the woods,” “grind my coffee beans,” “particularizing,” and “turd in a punch bowl,” to name a few.
Randy modeled how to ask good questions; real and important questions. As I was speaking on Sunday at our church, promoting The Journey, a curriculum that Randy and his colleague, Rob Loane wrote, I turned to our community at the end and a question automatically surfaced in me; “What do you find yourself thinking about right now?” A question Randy taught me to ask of myself and others.
As I grieve, I keep returning to memories of Randy and to the memory of his death. I touch it, as if to see whether it is still real, still true. I take in grief a sip at a time, the cup too full, too overwhelming, too much to drink any other way.
I am so very grateful to be one among many who count having known Randy an immense blessing, one of the great blessings of life. Only God could have orchestrated our meeting—a guy who lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and me who lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. And only God knows when we will meet again.
It occurs to me right now that even in Randy’s death, he is still speaking to me, to all of us. “Don’t waste a day of your life,” he says. I believe he speaks with authority.
On the heels of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, each of us are invited to consider the sensitive and critical work of forgiving. Here is an article I wrote for Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman that just posted. I hope it will provide you with the courage to forgive as you have been forgiven. PLEASE SHARE!
"We often confuse forgiveness with a single willful act rather than seeing it as an ongoing process that begins in the heart."
Why We Need Spiritual Direction—More Than Ever!
A good part of my work week is spent sitting in a chair, turned toward another, prayerfully listening to this person convey what he or she believes are the most significant movements in his or her relationship with God. It’s quiet work; reflective work. Almost always, at some point in this hour or so of offering spiritual direction, I will feel overwhelmed with gratefulness at the gift of participating in such a holy exchange.
David has compared the fit of this work with slipping on a glove. For him, discovering and offering spiritual direction is like getting all five fingers in a glove, unlike in past roles where only a few fingers fit and the others were left dangling. I feel similarly. I find this gentle work of listening and helping a directee attune to God so gratifying and enlivening. And I firmly believe that anyone seeking to deepen her or his spiritual life needs spiritual direction—more than ever!
Why? What is it about the particular demands of our lives that make spiritual direction such a vital and restorative ministry? Let me share a few reasons sifted from my own practice of receiving and offering spiritual direction.
Four Reasons Why We All Need a Spiritual Director
1.Spiritual direction helps us integrate our splintered lives.
Life today is incredibly complicated and trying to keep up is impossible. The speed of life and continual innovation of technology spewing a magnitude of information and options at us causes us to splinter. Our attention is diffused as though being pitched a hundred fast balls in a split second and trying to decide which one to catch and which ones to duck so that we don’t get smashed in the face. Entering spiritual direction, especially over a length of time, helps us SLOW DOWN and pay attention to the recurring themes, threads and patterns that help integrate the disparate parts of our lives. Most importantly, we begin to see God in the fractals.
2.Spiritual direction pulls us toward the center of our being as life draws us away.
We know what it is like to feel the pull of centrifugal force as we go about our days. The draw of work, relationships, technology, social media, going, doing, traveling and play tug at us to move out and expand more and more. Yet, little in life has the same force of power to draw us in toward the center of our being. Spiritual direction focuses our attention on the interior life; on our moods and the movement of God within our desires. We pay attention to emotions as important messengers of the truth that we possess and the potential lies that possess us. Spiritual direction offers the counter-balancing centripetal force, grounding us in our true identity as people completely known and completely loved by God.
3.Spiritual direction awakens us to God’s presence and activity in the midst of suffering.
For as many cures discovered and advances made in our day, an unprecedented number of people are suffering from the most obscure, evasive, un-diagnosable maladies. Mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, as well as physical issues stemming from allergies to food and/or the environment are disheartening those who have them and the experts who are looking for causes and cures. These elusive and perplexing conditions often contribute to an unwelcomed spiritual fog and the perceived absence of God. While spiritual direction doesn’t promise a cure or assure the return of distinguishing God’s presence, it does provide loving and supportive companionship. Meeting with a spiritual director, someone who is trained to be a compassionate listener and keep confidence, is a balm to those who need a safe place to suffer honestly and not alone.
4.Spiritual direction acquaints us with the mysterious and often surprising means of God’s formation in our lives.
It’s true that many who begin looking for a spiritual director do so in the second half of life. And it’s also true that many enter into this relationship because the construct of faith they once espoused no longer works for them. Whether toppled by unexplainable adversity or fueled by questions their old paradigm no longer answers, mid-lifers look for someone with whom to process the confusing dynamics of life on a spiritual journey. What their quest for a spiritual director suggests is the fact that we are often too close to what’s happening in us and to us that we need someone with objectivity to help us sort it all through. Through meeting for spiritual direction, many are able to recover their faith as they discover God in the midst of the rubble of their deconstruction and begin to see the mysterious and surprising means by which God forms them into their true-selves-in Christ.
What About You?
If any of these situations describe you and your present spiritual life and longings, I’d recommend that you consider seeking out a spiritual director to help you attune to the movement of God in your life. Spiritual directors actually don’t tell you where to go; they help you discover the Spirit’s direction and leading within you. If you would like to find a spiritual director in your area, let me recommend contacting Spiritual Directors International or the Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association or Sustainable Faith for a list of trained spiritual directors you can interview.
And if you find yourself curious about being trained to offer the ministry of spiritual direction, let me encourage you to find out more about the Sustainable Faith School of Spiritual Direction, offered all around North America and Europe, as well as here at Sustainable Faith Indy. For those who’ve graduated from our program, the most common response we hear is that participants have come to listen differently to everyone in their lives!
P.S. We will be hosting an informational gathering for folks who are interested in the Sustainable Faith Indy School of Spiritual Direction training on Friday evening, May 13, 2016. Contact me through our web site for more details and to RSVP.
Have you ever felt called to something that seemed of God—a good and noble aspiration—yet struggled as you carried this desire in your heart, so full it could burst, with nowhere to channel it? Here's an article I wrote for Today's Christian Woman on how to live with an unfulfilled calling. Hope you are encouraged!
Double Click to hear Beth talk about her new book, Starting Something New, and SSN Retreats.
Beth Booram is the co-founder and director of Fall Creek Abbey,as well as an author, spiritual director, facilitator of the School of Spiritual Direction and retreat speaker.
Categories: spiritual direction, spiritual formation, contemplative spiritual practices, sustainable faith