Category Archives: Tending the Soul

Growing spiritually usually doesn’t just happen. It takes time. It takes community. It takes intentionality.

Tending the Soul’s Garden

Tending the Soul’s Garden
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail. 

Isaiah 58:11

I keep it no secret that although I enjoy gardening, I am no master gardener.  In fact, any plants that go into my back yard are mostly on their own once they go into the dirt. I occasionally water.  I don’t fertilize. I rarely prune & groom. And…my garden looks about like you would expect!

And here’s the deal.  Our faith is very similar. You get what you put into it!

Image result for small flower garden

Nope. This image is definitely NOT from my garden! 🙂 Photo copied from Pinterest.

If we only occasionally attend worship, and especially when we expect or even demand to be entertained or inspired, then chances are we are anticipating a bountiful crop from an untended vine.  What I’ve noticed for myself, too, is that when I walk away disappointed with a particular worship service, I have had to admit that I have been leaning on Sunday mornings to be my only spiritual nourishment.

It’s just not enough.

Experiencing the Holy, noticing Divine synchronicity, feeling spiritually grounded happens when we actively tend to our faith.

This means in addition to attending worship that we commit to a daily spiritual practice like intentional prayer time (not just praying on the fly, which has it’s own value but doesn’t enable a deeper time with the Holy).  We read a devotional each day that offers words of wisdom that may find their way into the day in unexpected ways.  We listen to religious or spiritual music as a wonderful way to nourish the soul and reflect on our faith.  As I’ve written before in the past, even seeking a Holy message in secular music can be satisfying, if not a surprising way to tend to ourselves. And equally important, we spend time with other spiritual sojourners (in a prayer and share group or Bible Study). Often God speaks to us through their witnessing, their prayers, their understanding of scripture. As we receive encouragement and support in our own walk and can, in return, provide the same to others on their own spiritual journey. We grow together!

So…How’s that tending the soul going in your life?  Is your spiritual garden in need of some TLC…some weeding or watering or fertilizing?

What I continue to learn in my work as a hospice chaplain and in my own life, is that when our faith is tended to, when time is being spent in prayer, and study, and fellowship, there is a resiliency, a core strength that grows, enabling us to endure the hardest of times and delight in the best of times.

And with that I say, “Let’s get going!”

Put on those gardening gloves, get into your spiritual garden, and start tending to it.

You will be grateful you did!

 

What Imprisons You?

What Imprisons You?
prison doorHere’s something I love about scripture. 

The characters are 1000’s of years old, and yet, for better or for worse, they are still very relatable.

In Acts 16:16-34 we find a slew of authentic characters.

We meet an enslaved woman, driven by a spirit to predict the future.  We come across Paul and Silas, servants of God, who only out of annoyance heal this fortune teller who has followed them for days announcing their role in the salvations of her fellow citizens.  Her owners take the stage, angered that their source of income, this now-healed woman is no-longer a cash cow predicting the future.  They, of course, drag Paul and Silas before the magistrates for their transgressions whereby drawing a crowd into the drama. And finally we read of the jailer who is so devoted to the law that he is willing to execute himself for slipping up on his duties to prevent the prisoners from escaping after an earthquake opens the prison doors.

Today’s scripture speaks of a variety of prisons.

Paul and Silas are not only physically placed in a cell after performing their exorcism but are initially imprisoned by impatience.  They cured the fortune teller only for their own sake, annoyed by her constant predictions, lacking compassion or concern for her and without thought of the impact their miracle-working would have on her livelihood.

The woman is enslaved by her owners who exploit her for their own gains.

These so-called businessmen are controlled by their greed and hope of making more money at the cost of others.

The crowd is on the chain-gang of mob mentality.

The jailer is entrapped by the perimeters of duty, unable to see that he has not failed and that the prisoners did not escape under his watch.

And so my questions to you are this:
What imprisons or enslaves you?
What keeps you chained down, behind walls, or isolated?
What restricts your freedom?
And more importantly, who or what has helped you to break free?

 

For myself, I typically dwell in the cell block of anxiety. For much of my life I have been bound by its power to restrict me from taking risks, or confronting others, or being driven and focused.

Co-dependency is another prison that has often blocked any freedom from unrealistic expectations, leaving me trapped in the vicious cycle of considering the faults of others while downplaying my own.  In this prison I have found it far too tempting to fix problems that weren’t mine to solve.

I am very grateful for the Twelve Steps of AA for giving me the tools to free myself from both anxiety and co-dependency.  I am also certain that my faith and the teachings of Jesus keep anxiety at a minimum (when I practice my faith and walk the walk!!) and moves me to being more compassionate and less controlling of those around me.

Take time today to acknowledge the walls around you. 
Pray for the pathways to freedom. 
And embrace a new way of being!

 

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For the Lord to whom they could turn is the spirit of the new agreement,

and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, [people’s] souls are set free.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Phillips

 

From Secular to Sacred

From Secular to Sacred

forest road 2

A favorite worship practice we experienced while living in Tucson was the regular use of secular music. My kids easily identified with many of the popular songs shared and when we’d hear that song again on the radio, they’d remember our worship time.

Brilliant.  Truly brilliant.

It taught me, and hopefully planted spiritual seeds within my son and daughter, that faith and daily life should be inseparable.  Messages of hope, or solace, or inspiration are all around us.  We simply need to pay attention.

Our move to Oregon three years ago had a rocky start.

I came up a month ahead of my family to prepare the way–to find housing and have it up an running by the time they arrived.  And I did just that.  Well… half of that.  I found a house and after a very quick tour, rented it.  I would discover, only after picking up the house keys three weeks later, just a few days before my family with all our belongings were to show up, that the home was mold-infested.   My family arrived Christmas Day to the news that we were temporarily homeless.

A very stressful week followed, a far more expensive rental was found, and our lives began to take on a new rhythm.  For a few month at least. And then my husband’s job abruptly ended.  Higher rent, less wages.  Not exactly what I had planned for my family and me.

And a song, which I’d heard dozens of times before, struck me with new meaning one dreary morning on the way to work :

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Suddenly I was being serenaded by God.

I’m going to make this place your home…”  I needed to hear that. I needed to be assured that I had not made another mistake by once again uprooting my family.

And then these words followed.

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place

(Song title: Home,  co-written by Drew Pearson and Greg Holdensong)

The overwhelming negative thoughts were certainly filling me with fear.  I was running scared, afraid to face another day of uncertainty.  “Settle down,” whispered God’s spirit in that familiar melody, “it’ll all be clear.”

As we rapidly approach our third anniversary here in Eugene, we have indeed made this place our home. It was a rough and tumble first year but we are making our way.  I am ever grateful for the many ways God whispered “You are not alone.  Keep the faith, be at peace, and have hope” in the times when I languished and longed for such assurances.

As I think about my children whose young lives are unfolding, it is my vision that they will have a faith so imbedded in their very beings that they too will constantly sense in the midst of the Secular that which is Sacred and be carried by this Presence through the easiest and hardest of times.

In the End, It’s all Grief

In the End, It’s all Grief

Lately I’ve been working on a theory that under all the emotional baggage we carry—the regret, anger, control issues, fear, resentment, and shame—there actually lies grief or sorrow.  I experienced this first hand recently.

I was cleaning out my files and came across the summary of a church survey from 10 years ago.  The survey had been the beginning of the end for me as pastor of that congregation.  Even before the unsanctioned survey was sent to church members, my anxiety had been through the roof, my health was deteriorating, and my attempt at doing it ALL (from full time ministry to parenting two small children to managing our home life) was failing miserably. It was such a painful, difficult time for me.

As I read the comments in my kitchen, both positive and negative, the emotions came flooding back:  the regrets in all that I did not accomplish; the deep shame in having let people down; the resentment of those who spoke critically of me; the fear of failure and rejection I carried into the jobs that followed. Regret, shame, resentment, and fear.  Powerful emotions. But in the end, all I could do was quietly weep. Until seeing that survey summary, I had no idea that grief had been buried so deep. I had dealt with all the other emotions, but grief—she had lain dormant.

And so it is with much of life.

We move through it often numb to the losses we have experienced, oblivious to the ways our emotional baggage weigh us down. I’m grateful for those kitchen tears and pray I continue to grieve the many losses experienced in that ministry.  More than that, I am moved to remember all of the blessings that came out of that time—the incredible landscape and seasons of Vermont we experienced, the life-long friendships gained, the lessons learned, the spiritual growth attained.

No longer remain in denial about the baggage you, too, are carrying. 

Open those boxes, duffle bags, backpacks, steamer trunks—any and all emotional baggage—and unpack the fear, regret, shame, anger, control, and resentments.  And when it is all said and done, grieve.  Weep for all that has been lost, all that cannot be changed.

But do not stop there.  Remember that in the midst of the sorrow, joy will appear.  She may come in unexpected ways, but she is promised to us nonetheless:

From Jeremiah 31:13 (The Message)

Young women will dance and be happy,
    young men and old men will join in.
I’ll convert their weeping into laughter,
    lavishing comfort, invading their grief with joy.

So grieve and lament…and trust that, in time, joy will come rushing in!

Preventing Mass Shootings by Going Back to Kindergarten

Preventing Mass Shootings by Going Back to Kindergarten

I have recently been using Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered by Martin Copenhaver in the Bible Study I co-facilitate for parents of school-age children.

compassionThe second chapter of this book speaks of Compassion and the act of truly seeing someone. Honestly, it did not resonate with me when I first read it. It seemed rather mundane. I remember thinking, “Yeah, okay. Notice people. Pay attention to the stranger. Show compassion to the outcast. Blah, blah, blah.”

It felt a bit basic, like Kindergarten Christianity.

By the end of the week, however, this chapter eerily struck home. On that Thursday our local and national news channels broadcasted word of yet another mass shooting. This time the tragedy unfolded at the Umpqua Community College just over an hour south from where we live in Oregon. With my own 18 year-old son having just started at our local community college, I felt a deeper pit in my stomach when the names and especially the ages of the victims were read.

It is still unimaginable.

Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks a Pharisee who has generously dumped judgement on a woman who crashed the Pharisee’s party and proceeded to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Simon, the host, while busy labeling the woman a sinner had himself neglected to show such hospitality to Jesus (Luke 7:36-50).

Do you SEE this woman? Do I?

Copenhaver argues in Chapter Two that Jesus’ question comes with risks. If we choose to see the woman, really see her, we might “need to move beyond the stereotypes and preconceptions“. We might “have to stop simply labeling her a sinner,” “relate to her as a person, as one soul to another,” and “respond to her with compassion” as Jesus did.

Do you see this woman? Do you see this man? Do you see these people?

In a recent report about the Umpqua shooter, it is suspected in part that he carried out this heart wrenching, violent act to gain notoriety and be seen. In a since-deleted internet comment he left regarding the August shooting in Virginia he concluded, “Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”

He is not the only one who ever sought the limelight.

Let’s face it.

So many of us long to be seen, to be noticed, to be valued and deemed worthy.

We post our selfies to Instagram, share inspirational memes on Facebook, and tweet our daily comings and goings in an effort to be seen and validated. I have realized for myself that too often I am more interested in how many people liked or commented on something I shared than in what others have posted.

Blame quickly followed the reports of this mass shooting: too little gun control; not enough guns in each law abiding citizens’ hands; too many attacks on masculinity by too many feminists; too little mental health services. I even read vaccines and medications to be the ultimate culprits.

I, however, can’t help but believe that this horrific attack was due in part to the missing sense of community in the life of shooter, Chris Harper-Mercer. Who were the core people who truly saw him and related to him as a human being, “one soul to another?” Where were the individuals with the Christ-like vision to see him with compassion?

I would wager that such people in his life were few and far between.

Sadly even in the wake of his death, most are unable “to move beyond the stereotype or preconception” of him as autistic, or mentally ill, or bi-racial, or a loner, or the child of a single mother.

loserWe prefer to label him a loser, as I’ve read in many on-line comments, or lay blame at the feet of his mother for her failures in raising him better or his father for not being a bigger part of his life.

Simon, the Pharisee, could only identify the woman who tended to Jesus as a sinner. He was unable to see her with compassion. He wanted nothing to do with her loser-self and was annoyed that she was usurping Jesus’ attention. It was all about him.

And today 2000 years later, nothing’s changed.

Individual needs seem to trump what the community would benefit from as a whole. On most days I see a society that is leaning more and more toward division, public shaming, disrespect, and disregard.

We would never dream of seeing mass shootings as a communal problem.

It is too difficult or impossible to consider the impact or consequences of how we treat one another. We can’t bother to compassionately see one another, especially the outsiders or outcasts. I’m questioning these days if we even know how. We fire off our personal world-wide-web opinions with no regard for the targeted people involved. (A reason, I believe, Donald Trump continues to lead in the polls. He channels and personifies this growing attitude of disregard and disrespect.)

I listened to Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk, The Price of Shame, yesterday as she addressed our 21st Century problem of cyber-bullying. She spoke of being one of the first to endure it and how today, even more so,

We need to return to a long-held value of compassion—compassion and empathy. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit, an empathy crisis.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Maybe my initial thought of Copenhaver’s chapter on compassion as being Kindergarten Christianity wasn’t too far off or wrong. Perhaps as a society that has developed a compassion deficit and empathy crisis we need to go back to the basics, the kind we learned in kindergarten.

KindergartenPatti Ghezzi, in her article on Kindergarten Social Changes, admits that Kindergarten has become more about 5 year-olds being academically prepared for 1st grade.

Still,” she writes, “a primary intent of kindergarten is to teach children to work together, share, accept each other’s differences, solve problems by communicating, and enjoy playing with each other.”

Let’s hear that again class:

A primary intent of kindergarten is to teach children

to Work together,

to Share,

to Accept Differences,

to Solve Problems by Communicating

and Enjoy Playing with Each Other.

Come on people!

As a society we must acknowledge our current compassion deficit and empathy crisis and face down this destructive emotional epidemic by returning to the Kindergarden basics of cooperation, sharing, acceptance, communication, and play.

To embody more compassion and empathy requires we return to a more tender time, as children eager to embrace the world, open to the power and possibilities of community.

Let us then intentionally choose to truly see one another—

the so-called saint and the presumed sinner,

the liberal and the conservative,

the neighbor and the stranger,

the Muslim and the Christian,

the Citizen and the Immigrant,

the socialite and the loner.

May we rise above “the stereotypes and preconceptions” we have for the Other.

Let us refrain from the habit of slapping labels on people and instead relate to each other as human beings, “as one soul to another,”  as we compassionately and empathetically engage one another in the world.