Listening to our Lives: Spiritual Direction

bookstore.jpg

Bookstores and libraries are perennial favourites of mine. 

Almost twenty five years ago I was in Oregon to visit my Aunt and Uncle. Gracious and generous people, they took me on a little trip to visit a favourite bookstore of theirs in Portland. Powell’s City of Books. Oh my goodness! 

We barely scratched the surface, but I left with a few books. 

In the process my Uncle shared his love for Frederick Buechner’s non-fiction works with me by quoting from memory the passage that follows.

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

Frederick Buechner, Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation

These words have danced inside me over and over and over again. 

I want to listen to my life. The parts that are glorious and beautiful. And also the parts that are tender and shy and angry and tight. The moments of triumph over fear, emotional paralysis, awkward kindness and snotty blubbering are all spaces for questions and clarity and grace.

They have so much to share with me. So much to seed in me.

As I listen to my life, having a companion and a community has helped me to not get stuck.

I want to listen to my life. I want to have my life listened to in safety by people who can help me wind through the pathways and not get lost. And I want to listen with you to your life too, if you will invite me in!

Clarity. Healing. Transformation. 

Those are the things that are coming for me through the long work of being companioned by a Spiritual Director who has given me set aside time to listen, to question, to support and to offer a compassionate presence. 

Through the years I have had a number of official Spiritual Directors. I have also had many spiritual conversation partners. And the abundant gift of teachers in the form of those who sought me out as a Spiritual Companion, Guide or Director.

The process of listening to our lives and finding where the spaces of joy and sorrow, boredom and pain, lead us is a gift! 

Everyday there are pieces of life that can be gathered up. And as we collect those pieces in conversation with another, they can be placed together towards energy, peace, wholeness and healing.

Healing and transformation have come for me through the process of listening to my life in Spiritual Direction. 

Spiritual direction is a sacred space for listening to our lives. With attentiveness and skill, in an environment of compassion and non-judgement, we can become people who are free to be our truest selves.

Becoming our truest selves! 

Our world, our communities and our families need us! 

Deeply loved. In process. Present. Becoming our truest selves.

Listening with you,

Jennifer

*******

As you think about your most recent day, are there any parts of it that draw your attention? Were there strong emotions or repeated thoughts? Were there glimmers of peace, flickers of sadness, flares of anger?

What stories have you encountered lately that are touching you?

How do you process the experiences of your days?

Have you ever seen a Spiritual Director (Companion, Guide)? What was that like for you?

Removing the burs...

Burs 2018.jpg

“Forgiveness is to let go of our hope for a different or better past.” Richard Rohr

The other day a dear friend texted me and welcomed me into a conversation that has been stirring within me ever since. The idea that forgiveness is not to let another person off the hook for what they have done. Or even to let myself off the hook for what I have done.

Forgiveness is to let go of the what ifs and the blame and recrimination and let the past rest.

It makes me wonder what I might do if I allowed hope and vision to be for the future rather than using them up on the past…?

For some time burs have been my physical image for the work of forgiveness. Removing burs from my shoe laces and fleece jacket sleeves requires attention and focus. I take off one bur at a time and put it carefully into the garbage so that I do not seed more burs.

So with the forgiveness conversation and the image of burs dancing inside, I headed out to my children’s summer camp for a fall retreat with some folks from our local faith community. We took along our fluffy, (formerly) white dog who snuffled around in the leaves and brush and found the most prickly burs I have yet touched. It was almost as though he was a magnet for these prickly seeds.

Trying to pull these burs from his fur was painful for the fingers, uncomfortable for the dog and a pretty constant reminder of the work that it is to let go my hope for a different past.

Yes, it is work. Yes, it is painful. Yes, I would rather be doing something — almost anything — else.

Yet, having removed the burs and contained them in the safety of the garbage, those same burs did not come back to hurt the dog or me again.

We managed to find new burs every time we went outside.

That might also speak to the truth that having let go of the hope for a different or better past in one part of our lives, we may have to let it go again, and again, and again. With the way that I have been living, it would not surprise me if I have let my un-forgiveness, blame and hurt seed many generations of plants with prickly seeds that have yet to be found, removed and let go.

Having conversation partners from spiritual companions, through to a Spiritual Director, and ultimately conversation with the Divine Family, makes this forgiveness process do-able.

*******

What does it mean to you to forgive?

Where are you at in the process of forgiveness and healing? Where would you like to be?

Does Richard Rohr’s definition of forgiveness stir something inside you? Does it bring a feeling of release? Or does it ignite more questions?

What might it look like in your life to do the work of forgiveness in small, burr-sized pieces?

Who will you invite into a conversation about your ideas and feelings?

Heart 2 Heart Family Grief Retreat

hot air balloon.jpg

I spent today with an amazing group of participants and volunteers at a day long Family Grief Retreat. As I left the air was calm enough for a beautiful hot air balloon. It seemed so big and drew my attention so sharply. In the photo it seems so small, but I assure you it was big. Beautiful. And a welcome ending to a day full of connection and grace.

I had the honour of bringing a message of hope during the memorial service honouring those who have died and their impact on our lives. These are the words I shared:

We have had such a day together! There has been time to give focus and attention to our feelings, time to do some things for our self care, time to build relationships. There have been tears and moments of laughter. Wonderful moments of being sprayed with the hose from the fire truck. Broken pottery that with the help of many hands was pieced together, never the same, but brutal and beautiful and meaningful nonetheless. There has been nourishment for our bodies, our minds, our hearts and our spirits.

Take a moment to look around you.

Breathe deeply. Let the experiences of the day seep deeply into your being. We honour and acknowledge the people, who have shared their hearts and their stories today.

It is good to be reminded physically that we are not alone.

There are, at least, these hundred people with whom we have shared a special experience of non-judgement, encouragement and hope.

In this community today we have honoured the stories of those we love who have died and we have explored how they inhabit our lives and nothing can take that away.

As we keep on learning to live in our new selves, learning to sort out what it’s like to have a relationship with someone we love who is no longer physically with us, as we keep on doing the work of acknowledging our person, our people, our grief, and asking for help, we are doing the work of mourning.

And I think that there is no way out of this wilderness except through.

Alan Wolfelt sometimes uses the imagery of wilderness for our grief. Vast. Inhospitable. Mountainous. Uncertain. Though the path isn’t straight forward, or orderly, there is a pathway. And there are touch stones along the way that help us to move through the wildness, the wilderness of grief, to heal, to feel our feelings and respond, to keep on looking for hope or finding people who can help us find hope on days we struggle.

As you go out from this sacred space where we have remembered, where we have had the gift of time and people with whom to share this safe space, we will be given a package of stones as a keepsake.

When you take those stones home and sit with them, the experience of getting still and holding them in your hands may speak to you.

You may not take them out of their bag. Ever.

You might choose to take them out.

Because your experience of grief is your very own, you may find nuance and depth that we cannot even touch in our brief time here today.

You may notice the weight of these rocks. Perhaps the ways they are the same and the ways they are different.

I wonder if they can represent our time in the wilderness and the ways it might change us.

I wonder if these stones might speak to us of the hope that we will move from carrying this weighty stone of grief that is sharp, to still carrying a stone of grief that either gets less heavy with time, or that we get stronger to carry.

I wonder if we might ponder how jagged rocks, tumbled together, rub the sharp edges off one another. They bring….

I wonder if we might hear the call of hope, that over time, we might find healing.

May your experiences here today be part of rubbing off the sharpness of grief. May you be encouraged in the work and play of mourning.  And may your experiences become smooth, touch stones that mark the path through the wilderness toward healing.

So, you might want to go out and find at least two stones. One sharp and rough and one smooth. And listen to what those stones might have to tell you. 

Feel free to send me a note to let me know!

Birthdays

IMG_0903.JPG

The other day would have been my Grandpa’s 99th birthday. This is the first of his birthdays that we’ve observed without him physically being present. For many years, we’ve gathered on his birthday and headed out to the restaurant of his choice. Every year since his 90th birthday bash, he would comment that he wasn’t sure how many more of these birthday parties he would come to…

He has been a big part of my life and my family’s life. 

The morning of her Great-Grandpa's birthday, I came to the table to find our daughter busy with markers and paper to create a birthday card. And then with her creativity and leadership shining brightly, she organized us all to create a card and collection of birthday wishes. 

I sent a photo of the card to my family through our family chat. A conversation grew about all the birthday celebrations we had shared together and then a wonder about getting together to observe Grandpa’s birthday in his honour.

While we were together we laughed about Grandpa’s likely meal choice (steak!) and remembered the ways that his life impacted all of our lives. Maybe we’ll meet yearly to celebrate. Maybe the ways that we live and love and grieve will change as the years pass.

Every relationship is so different. Every process of grief so different. 

How have you honoured the birthdays of people you care about who have died? 

How have you cared for yourself on significant days that remind you of the change in your relationship with important people?

New connections

February in Saskatchewan.jpg

A week ago today I was in Saskatoon.

It was cold, as February in Saskatchewan often is. The cold was only outside!

Almost 50 people from across the province met to take another step towards helping the people of Saskatchewan, near and far, have better access to a palliative approach to care.

Good, general skill in palliative care in all the communities and networks across our province will allow people with life limiting illnesses to be whole people -- body, mind, emotion and spirit -- and to have the supportive care they need.

And building the connections, providing the spaces for insight and education, means that good generalist palliative care providers in the communities (nurses, doctors, pharmacists, social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, spiritual care providers, care aids and all the others I didn't list) can have relationships with specialist palliative care teams for those times when there are questions  arise. For the times when symptoms of disease and distress are challenging to manage. 

A thousand thanks to Kim Martens and the rockstar team at Pallium Canada,

...and to Elisabeth Antifeau and Lori Teeple, Master Facilitators in name, heart and action,

...and to the waves of champions (new and experienced) for a palliative approach to care in Saskatchewan! 

Working alongside each one of you is a privilege.

Jennifer

Navigating the holidays

IMG_0844.jpg

During the holiday season, we can become acutely aware of our losses and griefs, of our sadness and pain.

On the one hand we can feel pressured to pretend everything is happy-clappy. On the other, the awareness of who and what is missing in our lives can increase.

There's no one "right way" to make it through this experience.

Being clear about what matters most to us can help. Do you most want quiet? Do you prefer small groups of people close to you? Do you prefer to have someone with you as often as possible? Do you want to repeat favorite traditions or create new ones?

Sometimes we do not know the "right" way until we walk several steps in the "wrong" direction. Learning our new selves and coming to our new normal might take many tries. Let's be gentle with ourselves as we explore what it means to be ourselves in today's reality.

One of the practices that is helpful to me is to attend a small gathering that acknowledges the mixed nature of living the holidays. All of our lives have circumstances that are different than we want them to be. When we gathered the other night we lit candles, shared our stories of loss, read comforting words and sang songs that focused on hope even in dark times.

Acknowledging what is real, bringing the darkness out into the light, helps me. Sharing the truth with trusted people reminds me that I am not alone.

What has helped you to navigate the holiday season given the realities of your circumstance? How are you taking care of yourself in the midst of the expectations of this season? What are your plans over the next few weeks?

If you are in a place of health and peace at the moment, what would you have offered yourself as words of grace in another holiday season of grief?