About Barbara Kass

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From Here to There

Someone is praying me to another path.

My path at Loyola has ended its long loving curve in my life. Finding my way here was an adventure in miracles. Most of those miracles occurred behind my back and without my permission yet that didn’t stop me from grabbing the opportunities  and reaping the rewards.

One of those rewards has been this cozy little relationship with Meaning Making. When the call for writers went out, I fell all over myself sending in my submission. When Betsy Davis asked me to take over the role of editor, I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. My idea of heaven is to sit, read, talk, and write endlessly about spirituality, God, religion, faith, humans, love, and Jesus, and never stir from my laptop.

It was almost a relationship of disordered affection. What else could be more important than writing about what is meaningful in life and how to make meaning, especially during times when it appears that events are meaningless? As a pastoral counselor, I was learning to help people find what Viktor Frankl called their “will to meaning.” Frankl believed, as I do, that when humans reach for more than who they believe they are and find their meaning, they become who they truly are. I was deliriously happy to find my meaning in reading and writing.

Fortunately, my comfort zone was often challenged in the presence of other blog writers. People like Vernon, Glenda, JoAnn, Andrea, and Kate made my editorial life a dream while writing about what compels us to grow, what drives us to find meaning, and what humbles us in our humanity. In them, I found myself. In finding myself, I realized that I have to do more than mouth the witty words and write the pretty paragraphs. I have to live the lessons.

Just as I am compassionate and caring with others, I have to be the same for me. And, yet, I have learned that, no, it’s not all about me. We are the manifestations of the Divine Spirit come to physical life here on planet earth. On my journey here at Loyola, I have learned that I am seeking that which I already am. I found all of me here.

And now I am taking me out there.

Namaste.

Seeking Silence

“What you seek is seeking you.”
Rumi

Silence calls to me.

There’s an oxymoron for you.

Here’s another one: Thomas Keating says that silence is “God’s first language.”

I automatically equate language with the spoken word and this is a mistake on my part. Language occurs in so many different ways such as body movement, facial expression, feelings. Sound is not required.

Noise is easy to find in the world. Noise happens with constant abandon. I have nothing against noise. It is very necessary. Birds call to each other to find their way. A baby cries in the night to signal to mother a need to feed. Without noise, we would not hear the approaching car, the cell phone ringing, or the announcement that our dinner order is ready. Noise helps us survive. But we need silence to distinguish between the various noises in our lives to give them meaning. If we did not have those precious seconds of silence, life would just be one huge cacophony of sound and nothing would make sense.  

The Quakers believe that God speaks to us in silence. Their unprogrammed worship is conducted in silence – they gather in communal stillness. No one speaks unless he or she feels moved to do so by God.

I am seeking some spontaneous silence . . . a time where noise falls away and makes room for the voice of God. Usually, that only occurs during a power outage and that just aggravates people.

When I sought out a way to learn to speak God’s first language – silence – I found Centering Prayer. Centering Prayer is reminiscent of meditation. One chooses or asks the Holy Spirit for a sacred word as the focus of intention to consent to God’s presence. When distracted by thoughts (which also include feelings and body sensations) while in prayer, I return to the word to return to the place within me where God and I reside.

In his book, Manifesting God, Thomas Keating makes the important distinction that God is not separate from us. God is within us at all times and it is up to us to create this space, this fourth dimension within ourselves, where we can constantly communicate and live in the presence of God.

The call is not a noise or a sound. It is an urging, a pulling, a beckoning . . . like home waiting in the distance with a candle flickering in the window.

Chin up, graduated

There are a hundred thousand songs about saying goodbye . . . or not saying goodbye .  .  .  or don’t say goodbye . . .

I’m trying to keep my chin up, JoAnn, but I feel this little empty space where your words were supposed to be. I know they will be filled with Glenda’s and Kate’s and Andrea’s and Vernon’s words and thoughts abundantly rich with our spiritual and pastoral connections, but your words have made meaning in my life since the inception of Meaning Making.

I knew you and I were going to get along well when I found out your journey to Loyola included Texas where I was born. Our footsteps have shared some of the same paths like Loyola’s Spring Retreat, but you have ventured into bigger worlds.

Your last posting reached out and touched someone so deeply, that person has already been profoundly changed within. You led me to resiliency and taught me about the free-form of spiritual direction. You are not afraid to meet and greet the difficult issues. You shared your lessons about mystery, humility, and self-care.

But now you‘ve gone and graduated – a place where all of us bloggers plan to be someday. It’s not like “graduated” is a foreign country. Graduated still allows the privilege of visiting. I hope you will still come, read us and share your wisdom.

Graduated inherently implies that you are finished and complete with this particular place in your life and ready to move on. Graduated closes a door while it simultaneously opens another and brings you to a moment where you can say “here I begin anew.”

Graduated brings the coveted title of “professional.” It means that people will seek you out because they require a knowledgeable person who has wisdom to help them.

They will have chosen well.

Be happy, JoAnn. Live long and prosper.

Prayed for

Somebody must have prayed for me.

As I listen to my clients’ stories, I know I have been blessed and prayed for. I never could have landed here on my own.

My story is no more and no less than their stories, and as I look back over the half century that my breath has filled this air, that my thoughts have contained this world, and that my words have expressed my being, I know that I have never been alone. Someone else’s breath has named my name. Someone else’s thoughts have held my sanity. Someone else’s words have prayed my existence.

I know this to be true because even as my fingers find the letters to form these words, my tears find my eyes and release the divine truth that can only be felt within. This truth is unexplainable and its proof can be found in the footprints of my journey.

I never should have lived this long. I never should have created this peace. I never should have found sustenance by the energy of my creativity.

But I did. I found a path beyond confusion. I learned how life is often built on lies and that each of us has the right to find our own truths. I realized that I could make choices that took care of me and the world did not stop turning. The sun continues to meet me on schedule each morning.

Instead of a life of darkness and poverty, someone must have seen me living this life of light and abundance. Instead of a lonely life bereft of company except that of my own shadow, someone helped pray me a family and friends.

And in times of shadow, I simply have to pivot to see what is behind me and I see the divinity that is with me always.

When clients come to me for pastoral counseling and help that appears beyond the reach of human hands, I pray for their blessings and peace. Some of my clients are empty of hope. Some feel absolutely abandoned and alone with their secret horrors and bestial histories. They can envision no future without pain, no time without sorrow, no being without tears.

I will be their somebody.

Self-user friendly

“Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law. But always meeting ourselves.” James Joyce (Ulysses)

Messages come from God/Spirit all the time and they are not always delivered via a burning bush. Okay . . . in my lifetime so far, they have NEVER been delivered via a burning bush, but I get them other ways. As my friend, Deb Rollison, said “if you hear something twice, that may be Spirit talking.”

Last week, fellow blogger,Glenda Dickonson, delivered an article on counselor self-care. That same weekend, before the article was published, the question “how can I practice better self-care?” came from another friend, Stacy, who is also in our pastoral counseling program. Both Glenda’s article and my conversation with Stacy yielded valuable and practical ways to take better care of ourselves.

But there was one practice of self-care that Stacy mentioned which, at first, seemed logical and easy enough. It was “be open and friendly.” Our interpretation was, of course, to be open and friendly to others. As we continued to talk, however, we realized that the question had been how to practice self-care, and so we pondered how to be more open and friendly to ourselves.

The answer did not come easily. Days later, I am still dancing around that doorway wondering how to get inside the open and friendly way of being with myself.

I observe when I am open and friendly with others and ask: am I being that way with me? Am I treating me with compassionate honesty, authenticity, caring, kindness, and acceptance?

I imagined myself as a friend who I have known for a long time. I know all of her challenges, her failures and disappointments, and her secret successes. Parts of life come easy for her while other parts are elusive mysteries that leave her puzzled and asking. I know where anger waits with ferocity (be warned anyone who mistreats children and animals!). I know what will bring her to sudden sadness (none of your business). I ask: am I being to myself the best friend I could possibly be? Am I being as open and accepting of myself as I am with other people?

No, I am not . . . not as often or as well as I could be. For some reason, I have different rules – a set of standards that says I should be-know-act-respond better than, holier than, more knowing than anyone else. Others are allowed to be more human than I am, and therein lies the lie and the key to that door. When I open the door, I discover that the truth is I am just as human as anyone and I am worthy of my own self-love, kindness, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. The same Divine light inspired me to life as inspired you and the rest of humanity.

And every bush around me is breathing another sigh of relief.

Reflections and Resolutions: Guiding the year ahead with lessons from before

Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. Rainer Maria Rilke

I want to believe that I am consciously using every lesson I have ever learned in life in a way that supports my integration and growth as a human being. The truth of my awareness, however, speaks to the fact that I am still guided by many beliefs learned unconsciously and my conscious response to some lessons is not quite as enlightened as I wish it could be.

Regardless, my reflection of who I have become over this past year calls for a rousing cheer: I have become a better human being.

I did not get here all by myself. Other humans walked with me along my path for a time. In their shadows, I found my reflection. In their words, I found my sorrows, my hopes, my dreams, my healings. In their eyes, I saw what I meant to them. These humans are my friends, my classmates, my clients, and my strangers. They are all my teachers. They are the collective world I live in. They help me awaken and find my light.

I bring this better new me to this new year. Of course, I bring a new me to each new moment, but I love the symbolic energy associated with new beginnings: a new day, a new moon, a new year. Who am I to be in these next 365 days?

At my spiritual community, the Center for Spiritual Living, our reverend gave a sermon with the beguiling title ““Do Not Seek The Answer; Live The Question”. She went on to talk about the mystical quality of living into the questions I have of myself and life and being grateful for the lessons offered by my questions.

To not seek an answer seems counterintuitive. We are born with inquisitive minds, and our survival requires concrete answers about what to eat, where to sleep, and who to associate with. When clients come to me for pastoral counseling, they want solutions for their troubles, and I am often on the edge of my seat full of remedies just waiting to be tested.

Issues about housing, safety, and survival aside, a client’s true answer will come from his or her own insight. Clients are becoming just as I am becoming in their own human way. My resolution in this new year is to bring the gift of question to my moments, my clients’ moments with me, and, as Rilke said, perhaps we can then live into our answers.

What questions are you living this year?

Christmas: The Season for Meaning Making

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ
the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

This season is all about meaning making. Whatever one might believe, this month calls forth our need to have meaning and celebration in our lives.

As stores report record sales, and malls extend their shopping hours to accommodate the crowds, my pastor, for the second year, provided lawn signs that read “findtheperfectgift.org.” That perfect gift, as the website explains, is the sense of peace that we get from Jesus Christ, who came into this world to shine his light on our lives. It does not negate our earthly custom of exchanging gifts, for even the magi presented baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but it goes beyond the material acts. For me, the reason for the season is Jesus. As I celebrate the birth of our savior, what makes meaning in my life at Christmas, is experiencing the God-given gifts of peace and joy, and the love of family and friends.

Christmas occurs at the height of summer in South Africa. Children return home from school, it’s 100 degrees outside, and the day is often celebrated with a BBQ (braai) after church. There may be a few gifts exchanged, but the festivities center on families gathering together to share a meal with friends and neighbors. In the aftermath of Apartheid and many lives lost and shattered, coming together to celebrate God-with-us seems just right, even without an evergreen tree or snow on the ground. God’s loss is our gain and God celebrates that gift with us. Sharing this love together in the face of the world’s brokenness is the best—and most meaning-filled way—to experience God’s arrival on Earth. Blessings of Peace, Joy and Love to all!

During Advent we make our hearts ready to receive Him. Forgiveness, healing, conversion, and charity are even more important now. We pray for those most in need reaching out to them. I am touched by the outpouring of love and care I have seen in support of those encountering atrocities that no one need ever confront. We light an Advent wreath, keep a Jesse Tree, and read Scripture/pray. We view Christmas lights, bake/cook, and appreciate our blessings. Creating homemade goodies gives me joy – a part of God’s creative process. The magic of Christmas to me is the miracle of LOVE. Have a blessed Christmas. I wish love and peace to you and yours this day and always.

Not all of us feel like celebrating. It is difficult to find meaning in the aftermath of Sandy Hook Elementary. How can I be happy when those families have an immediate black hole in their lives that will never ever be filled? All over the world are people suffering, grieving, hurting, crying, and . . . hoping. Hope is where I make my meaning in Christmas. Christians celebrate the promise born on this symbolic day. My hope is the promise that my life and the lives of the 28 who died in Newtown, Connecticut, are eternal, that our lives here continue to make meaning in the lives of others, and we find the capacity to forgive and never forget.

Peace and blessings to all our readers from your Meaning Making bloggers.

Glenda Janie JoAnn Barbara

Answering Prayers 101: Angels In Training

As a child of God, I am a selfish little person. When confronted with the troubles of another, I might shoot off a quick “dear God, help that person” or “send me some wisdom here, please,” but, for the most part, I pray mainly about my troubles and generally for the good of all.

Lately, God has been tweaking me with these gentle cosmic flicks that are sending me the message that maybe I am not just on the receiving end of prayers. Sometimes, God says, you, Barbara, get to be the angel and answer someone’s prayer.

In my clinical internship here at Loyola, a client quietly smacked me across the head with her thankful words a few weeks ago. She had been referred for counseling because she was having some difficulties in her life and had been afraid that she had something seriously wrong with her. Why else, she said, would someone refer her for counseling? It had not occurred to me that anyone would be frightened of me or counseling. Another client told me she had been praying for help in the moments before I waltzed in and became her counselor. I am humbled in their presence because I am the one who shines from all of their hard work.

My halo gets a little dingy as I get caught up in my own struggles. It often sits atop my head a little dented and skewed to one side especially after I’ve had an altercation with early morning rush hour traffic and drivers who think they are special (meaning they don’t have to use turn signals, follow at a safe distance, or drive within the speed limit). As I am mouthing sometimes not-so-silent curses, someone out there is saying a prayer: let me get to work safely . . . please, someone, let me get off at this exit . . . I hope no one rear ends me with my child in the back seat.

I can be the answer to all of those prayers, too.

As a pastoral presence, we are the answer to someone’s prayer whether that prayer was spoken or silent, whether it was conscious or unconscious, and whether it was the prayer of the person sitting across from us or the prayer of a person we may never meet.  If you have asked God for help and that help is a long time in coming, be patient. Some of us angels are just now learning how to fly.

Whose prayer can you be an answer to?

Defining lives and careers: It goes both ways

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Confucius

In pastoral counseling at Loyola, students invest long hours preparing for the
diversity of clients who we will counsel during our clinical internship and afterwards in the “real” world. We learn to identify and treat depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders. We learn how humans become who they are and the dynamics of family life. We investigate the insidious disease of addiction and avenues of therapy. We choose our theoretical approach to practice and how to integrate psychology and spirituality. When I took a class in career counseling, however, I puzzled about its usefulness in pastoral care.

Then, America found itself in a recession. Suddenly, my internship was full of clients who were unemployed and looking for more than self-esteem boosters. They knew why they felt bad and what would help them feel better: a job. I turned to Loyola affiliate faculty, Deb Rollison, Ph.D., who teaches career development, for some guidance.

The people who were having the hardest time finding employment were in their late 50’s and early 60’s. For these clients, Dr. Rollison recommends:

  • Do not put dates of graduation on resumes
  • Summarize work experience that is ten years or older
  • Reframe what older means by exploring advantages: experience, loyalty, fewer sick days, wisdom, and perspective
  • Think in terms of accomplishments, including volunteer experience; list 6 to 8 PAR key accomplishment statements that show:
    • Problem – what did you face?
    • Action – what did you do?
    • Results – what happened specifically and measurably?

Exploring your clients’ accomplishments, what they enjoy, and how they effectively managed difficult times in the past is key to helping people develop self-reliance and coping skills. I encourage and coach unemployed clients to talk about what they have done and why it mattered. This helps them sell themselves both to prospective employers and to themselves. It is a constant reminder of their self-worth.

AARP’s job hunting web page is a good resource for older Americans. America’s Career InfoNet is a gateway available to everyone to explore careers, State job banks, occupation and industry information, and much more.

The longer unemployment goes on, the more strain there will be on relationships, finances, and families. If you are counseling a person with a history of substance abuse, unemployment may be a trigger or a slippery place. I have helped clients with social services, fill out forms, identify their current assets and budgets, and find the closest AA meetings.

Deb Rollison put it very clearly: Career is not just a job but a whole life – it is leisure, priorities, and purpose. In helping others define their careers and make their lives whole, my career and life as a pastoral counselor become whole.

 

 

 

Deb Rollison: When Spirit talked, she listened

Deb Rollison in her classroom

Barbara:          Deb, you are a graduate of the MS/PhD program – why did you choose Loyola and pastoral counseling?

Deb:    Since 2004, I had been engaged in the work of career counseling. As a career coach, I helped dozens of people find work that honored their skills, passions, and hopes. I worked with people once they were past the disruptive, unhappy parts of losing a job. As needed, I would refer distressed people to a counselor and sometimes see them after that counseling to help them find a new job. I wanted to apply a more holistic, broad spectrum approach to helping people, but I found myself mostly working on resume and interviewing skills.

I grew restless with the repetition.  Relying on my Catholic faith, I prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of vocations, and I asked: “Where is my own calling at this time in my life?” A friend, who is a career counselor, asked me: “Have you thought about pastoral counseling?” I didn’t think much about it at the time, but then I went to a national career development conference and listened to Richard Bolles (author of the well-know career guide, What Color Is Your Parachute?) talk about his own learning and journey following an illness. He said something to the effect, “If you hear something once, you might pay attention, but if you hear something twice, that may be Spirit talking.”

Amazing! That very morning I had had breakfast with another friend, who also suggested I consider pastoral counseling. This time, I listened. As soon as I got home, I got on the Internet, found Loyola, and knew that I had a clear calling. God led me to Loyola. I always wanted a PhD in clinical psychology, but I had to spend many years in between learning that I did not want to be a PhD, I wanted to have a PhD, so I could do important and caring things for people.

Barbara:          One of the important and caring things you do is teach here at Loyola. What is your teaching philosophy?

Deb:    My philosophy is to teach people to reach out to others in a larger way. I am your co-learner, I am alongside you, this is something we get to share. You teach me as much or more as I teach you. I feel very privileged and honored to be affiliate faculty. Teaching charges me up. I get “in the flow” and feel graced whenever I am in the classroom. What an adventure! What more important work is there than helping people create the work they were meant to do?

Barbara:          How do you incorporate spirituality into your curriculum?

Deb:    I ask students to start each class with a prayer or moment of silence. In each assignment, I invite students to reflect upon the pastoral dimensions of a theory, website, an interview, or reading. Because most of these are secular, students have to stretch their ideas and imaginations. For example, in career development, we work to relate each career theory in a pastoral way and how to adapt it in a pastoral context. I encourage students to add a spiritual assessment to every profession.

Barbara:          Speaking of professions, how can students use a pastoral counseling degree?

Deb:    I was fortunate to have Dr. Joe Ciarrocchi as my instructor in several classes. He said you can do so much with a pastoral counseling degree, and I so agree. Students learn skills that transfer in all job arenas. They get training in analytical thinking, the ability to write well, and interpersonal skills. The Loyola program enhances a student’s ability to reach out in all professions, blending technical skill with personal caring.