Tag Archives: inclusiveness

Spiritual Journeying in Northern California

It was already late/ enough, and a wild night, / and the road full of fallen / branches and stones. / But little by little, / as you left their voices behind, / the stars began to burn / through the sheets of clouds, / and there was a new voice / which you slowly recognized as your own, / that kept you company / as you strode deeper and deeper / into the world, / determined to do / the only thing you could do – / determined to save / the only life you could save.                                            – from Mary Oliver, The Journey

Here’s a quick and somewhat disjointed reflection on my first week of study in interfaith spiritual direction at Chaplaincy Institute, Berkeley:

Last week at this time, the Campanile on the Cal Berkeley campus would be chiming 7:00 p.m. It would just be starting to turn cool and, from my “holy hill” window, I might see the marine layer of fog forming in the distance. The memory provides a stark contrast to the dry 106 degree weather-reality this evening, here in Bakersfield.

What a rich week of experience, learning and “being.” I wasn’t sure if I would love the course or hate it. My reaction to things like this tend not to be “in the middle”! Upon arriving at the funky, comfortable classroom – located in a section of a church gymnasium with a wood floor, large worn rug and numerous worn couches – I had the chance to encounter my fellow classmates for the first time.

We didn’t waste much time before sharing and listening to one another – practicing the skills of listening with open hearts and minds. We began to discover that our fellow journeyers were fascinating folks. The conversations that ensued falls under the veil of solemn sharing – so I won’t recount much in the way of anecdotes. But the diversity of my fellow students – from traditional Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic to Unitarian, Wiccan, Jewish, and Buddhist – was powerful. Not that such variety is unusual, but that such openness and respect from all these varied directions is rare indeed.

Each student was open to learning from the others and from the speakers who shared with us. During this first unit we heard from a Wiccan high priestess, a Daoist priest, and a Hindu Swami. As a group, we “sampled” some of each tradition so that spoken word became sacred experience. This, for me, is part of the wonder and excitement of being a part of this process.

We also, as I said, began to learn some of the skills we will employ as “spiritual directors” or spiritual mentors, and guides. I was glad to hear our instructor say that the historic and traditional term “spiritual direction” is problematic because what we do is largely non-directional. To me, that was great news!

Our time with clients is about “deep and mindful listening.” The spiritual (non-) director’s most important job is to hold space for the other person as he or she encounters the sacred or explores mystical energies. We are here to witness and accompany the other on the journey.

It was also affirming to discover that each of us seems to have gifts and experiences that have prepared us to do this. For many of us, our spiritual experience has been our lifeline through life’s challenges and trials.

By carefully opening doors and removing the barriers, we begin to embark upon this journey together. We get ourselves out of the way and let the mystical encounter begin.

I love being a part of a small group of people who have chosen to make this experience, study and practice a part of our growth over the next eighteen months. We are chaplains, therapists, hospice volunteers, clergy, artists and ordinary human beings on spiritual journeys. We are wise, foolish, whole, wounded, veterans and beginners. But we each share openness to experiencing the Divine, the sacred, the energy that vibrates through the universe. Who knows where it will take us?

May the unfolding begin….

New Beginnings

flowerAsh Wednesday 2014…

The branch that was nearly bare last week
bursts with leaves – shiny, delicate, green.
Finches and sparrows dart among moist, shady branches.
Showing off, the grass glistens with dew.
Irridescent leaves and blades
reds, greens and yellows, too –
translucent and shimmering with new life.
Opening my eyes, I am awake to beauty;
Breathing in, I am reborn, soaking in new life –
potential and possibility
in each moment.

My phone lights up with words
calling me back to tasks,
to familiar thoughts and worries.

Will I breathe this new breath
and be a bearer of new life
or return to habitual anxiety
as I reply?

Today is Ash Wednesday. I wouldn’t have remembered except for the posts on Facebook and the foreheads of various people (who I’m assuming were Roman Catholic) in Trader Joe’s this afternoon, marked with a gray cross. On the drive home, I felt a pang of displacement, of being “without a community.” As I have continued to think about it, I realize that I do have a spiritual community, it is just more diverse these days and more spread out geographically.

My local spiritual community embraces Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, and accepts a person’s freedom to walk his or her own path – with or without God at the center. In many ways it is a community which reflects my childhood upbringing – equally diverse – and my years in Twelve Step circles where members are free to define their Higher Power or God as each person understands God. Throughout my years of Christian ministry, this has always been my core. It is freeing to both return to my spiritual roots and to open new doors to deeper understanding.

Still, I honor the Christian tradition which has been my home and teacher for over twenty years. I am finding more and more – and this pertains to my thoughts on Ash Wednesday – that I reject much of the institution but I embrace the heart of the church – the life and teachings of Jesus, the wisdom of various prophets and disciples, the legacy of people learning what it means to live life in relationship with the living Spirit of the Holy.

If Lent is about death, guilt, rejecting one’s own worth and embracing only God’s worth, then I don’t think I it is my path. But if it is about spiritual housekeeping and renewal, deepening one’s relationship to the Holy, embracing each moment as a revelation of the Sacred, opening one’s heart in compassion for all living beings, letting go of ways of living that keep us stuck and which blot out light and life, then I can get with that program. That, after all, is what I am now dedicating myself to each day.

When I think of the ancient concept of Ash Wednesday as a day to meet with one’s spiritual counselor, have a heart-to-heart conversation, and commit to doing a thorough inventory of oneself in the weeks to come, I’m all for that. The intent isn’t to identify “wrong” or sin or flaws. The point is to open to the Sacred, and, if necessary, to remove obstacles to that opening.

Byron Katie defines God or the Sacred as Reality or “What Is.” She teaches us how to live in Reality. Eckhart Tolle talks about the difference between living life attached to the “pain Body” versus living life from one’s inner or eternal self or body. He teaches about the transformative quality of living in the Now. Pema Chodron, Lama Surya Das, Thich Nat Hanh and others (like the Dalai Lama!) teach about awareness, awakening – seeing our egoic mind and lower self along with our higher self, our Buddha nature. They teach ways of awakening the Buddha nature within each one of us.

Christians who are truly centered in Jesus’ teachings do much the same thing using different words and practices. They open their eyes and awaken to the “Kingdom” or Realm of God which is present for us in each moment, in every location – and become aware of the image of God, the image of Christ revealed in each person we meet.

So today, I will play in the dirt a little bit, transplanting some potted plants. As I play, I’ll reflect on the concept of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and think about the transient quality of my current reality and the eternal nature of my deepest self and its unity with the same nature in all living beings. I will light candles and blow them out.

I hope to open to joy, to the eternal, in as many moments as possible. And breathe in that life-giving breath – stretch my body, bend and release tension and fear – so that I may approach each person and creature I meet with love.

Namaste.  Peace.