Spiritual Spring Cleaning

by Dayna Pizzigoni

Spring cleaning was not a tradition in my family growing up. We did all our cleaning and work around the house on Summer Saturdays. Spiritual spring cleaning, however, is a tradition in my faith community. Each year during Lent the Catholic community engages in a searching and fearless moral inventory – to borrow from 12-step programs. As we contemplate Christ’s journey to his crucifixion, His deepest and most loving gift, we examine our spiritual journeys and notice what may be keeping us from experiencing God’s love. We clean up and re-energize our spiritual selves to gain strength and receive all the joy of grace in our lives. I offer the following spiritual spring cleaning tips in a non-theistic way for anyone who needs to shake off some spiritual dust and feel alive again.

  • Notice the light and joy-filled places in your day.

In the winter months we may have found ourselves just trying to keep it moving and get through our days. Now, stop. Breathe in deeply. Reflect over your past day or week and notice where there was light; where you felt lighter; where you experienced joy. Any of these cues are doors into sacred moments. (St. Ignatius would name these as consolations. This practice is part of the Ignatian Examen.) Sometimes we pass right by the love and goodness in our days. Notice it. Celebrate your light and joy. Feel the goodness of life.

  • Be curious about the dark or heavy places.

Resiliently moving through or past hard times can be helpful, but it can be a poisonous pattern. Pause for a moment and be curious about the heaviness on your heart or the tension in your chest. Do you need to slow down; make a change; or let go? Where does it feel dark in your life? Check it out. Bring the gentle, calm candle of your self-acceptance and courage into those dark and heavy places.

  • Stretch yourself and reach out to help someone.

Anxiety and stress create unintentional, worried self-centeredness as we try to “manage” our lives. Do one kind thing today with no strings attached… especially if you don’t feel like you have time to do it. It is a healthy reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around you. This fact eases stress, creates humility, and enhances our ability to show compassion to others. Serve someone today.

  • Practice gratitude.

Write down five things you are grateful for every day this week. No repeats. If you can’t think of anything go back and practice tips 1-3 again.

Happy spiritual spring cleaning!

An Advent of Humanity – No Cape Necessary

by Dayna Pizzigoni

What does it mean to have a God that was born in a manger and died on a cross? About five years ago I wrote this question in an untitled notebook on a page without a date. As my spiritual community closes our liturgical year with Christ our King on the cross and begins our celebration of Advent, I ponder this question and its personal meaning in my faith journey again.

The reality of a God born in a barn and murdered after healing the sick and feeding the hungry means that Jesus was not a super hero. He participated in the messiness of humanity. I need to remember that if God did not step into the world as a super hero then She probably doesn’t expect me to be a super hero (despite how fun it might be to have super powers as a doctoral student).

I am a human being. God does not expect me to be perfect. He intentionally did not give me a super hero cape. My humanity, like my need for rest and play, is not a flaw. The most significant joy I will celebrate, pain I will suffer, and contribution I will offer the world will be done cape-less-ly as a regular human.

Now it must be said that sometimes we, as humans, do put on wonderful capes of determination and resilience. Single fathers, abuse survivors, refugees, and struggling students probably have made good use of metaphorical capes. It is beautiful how we can survive, stretch, and grow, but this strength becomes a liability when our expectations for ourselves become too high. We are not made to be “on” and heroic all the time. Following Christ is not about being a super hero. It is about being fully human.

There is nothing as tempting as a doctoral program to make me wish I could be a super hero; however, doctoral classes are not crises. I do not need a cape for my courses. I need to plan for adequate time to do my work and trust my intelligence. My studies call me not to heroism, but to humility with which work and be ever grateful for the privilege of higher education.

This Advent I hope to contemplate the beauty of our limited humanity. I can honor the holiness of my humanity and humbly invite Christ into the Bethlehem of my heart this Advent. Jesus will be ok in the messiness of my fragile humanity. After all, He was born in a manger and died on a cross.

Young Adults and Contemplative Spirituality

by Andrea Noel

Today, millennials are investigating themes in spirituality more willingly than formal religion. Across many religious traditions absentee young adults are no longer an exception. They have become the norm. I suppose this shift exists because young adults express disappointment in relationships with families and institutions. More than ever, young adults are alive to the inconsistencies that occur between what they are told to do and what they are shown to do by example. Furthermore, with millennials, dissociative behaviors are customary. This new way of being could have several influences: parenting styles, non-traditional familial structures, technology, social pressures, and or mental health issues.

Additionally, post-modern, global situations have millennials searching for deeper meaning, beliefs, values, and relationships that can offer greater support for self-integration in this convoluted world. Young adults do not only want to cope with the realities of post-modernity, but seek opportunities to thrive in it.

Contemplative spirituality can help enhance the spiritual lives of young adults. Practices in the contemplative tradition offer young adults a path toward prayer, depth, and awareness of the presence of God. When young adults regularly engage practices within the contemplative tradition they can:

  1. Discover and understand their distinct relationship with the divine.
  2. Empower themselves, draw out and build up their overlooked innate strengths and spiritual resources.
  3. Help themselves notice what encumbers and sustains their awareness and reaction to the divine.
  4. Cultivate their spiritual lives through these practices and communal worship.
  5. Interpret or simply be present to their lived experiences of the divine.
  6. Be a witness to the transformation of their perceptions, responsiveness, and overall ways of being in the world.

Since 2009, I have engaged young adults with practices from the contemplative tradition. While I prayed, listened, and responded to the presence of God among young adults, I witnessed how contemplative practices breathed energy into their spiritual lives. Some practices included: meditation, lectio divina, labyrinths, examen, journaling, chanting, collaging, body prayer, group and individual spiritual guidance.

My hope is that exposing young adults to these practices invites them to a deeper encounter of God. I want to empower them with the ability to see their intrinsic value, strength, and connection to God. Contemplative spirituality allows young adults to express their own lived experiences of the divine without judgment, qualification, and with genuine freedom. I believe these practices help to cultivate a regular prayer life, encourages self-discovery, and knowing self in relation to God.

St. Ignatius and Kim Kardashian: Really Finding God in All Things

By Kathleen Gerwin

Over spring break, I did something I never usually get a chance to do (or admit to doing). Dressed in my most impossibly soft pair of sweats, with chips in hand, I plopped down on the couch, flipped on the TV and spent a couple of hours watching junk food for the mind, also known as Reality TV.

What is it about reality TV that’s so intoxicating—or so repulsive—to so many? It certainly evokes strong reactions either way—people may love it unabashedly or love it guiltily; they may find it vapid, deeming it worthless trash and never deign to watch, or find it vapid and just not be able to look away. No matter what the reaction, one can’t deny that Reality TV has firmly planted itself in our collective psyche. The question is: Why?

St. Ignatius Loyola may have some insight for us. One of Ignatius’ core teachings is the practice of Finding God in All Things. I think the operative word in the teaching is “finding”, meaning that while the pearl of wisdom might not immediately be apparent, all experiences are an invitation to go deeper if we are willing.

But surely Ignatius wasn’t anticipating a world populated by the Kardashian sisters or the Real Housewives of Atlanta—or was he? Perhaps one answer is that these shows embody parts of ourselves that we are unwilling to admit are there—parts of ourselves that scare or repulse us so much that we need them to be externalized, embodied by someone else. That way they stay safe and “other” and never really demand us to see them as part of us.

If I have decided that Kim Kardashian is vapid and superficial and feel just a little bit better about myself because of it, I never have to look at the ways in which I, too, am vapid or superficial. If I am outraged that there is a mom who would put her 2-year-old in a beauty pageant, I never really have to acknowledge the part of myself that is insecure about my parenting because I have such a clear example of a “Really Bad Mom.”

In therapy or spiritual work, one of our jobs is to befriend those parts of ourselves we would rather reject and embrace those parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of. To do this, we must be brave enough to acknowledge that these parts of exist. I’m not saying that you should swap your meditation practice for a Jersey Shore marathon, but we can begin to see all of life as an invitation to do just this. It could be really fun.

Loving and Forgiving

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano

 

As I knelt in prayer after communion one Sunday morning, I became aware that my praying had been subliminally replaced by the words of the hymn being sung by the choir.  It was a sweet melody, and the lyrics had grabbed hold of my soul:

  

Loving and forgiving are you, O Lord,
slow to anger; rich in kindness,
loving and forgiving are you.

(You Tube: Psalm 103: Loving and Forgiving)

I stayed on my knees savoring the significance of the words, realizing how blessed I was to be the recipient of God’s love and forgiveness.  The hymn ended, but the lyrics continued to demand my attention. I imagined myself to be loving and forgiving, slow to anger, and rich in kindness. I thought “how awesome that would be.”

The themes of love and forgiveness are not new to Christians.  They echo through religious writings, and occur often in the Bible.  In Colossians, Chapter 3, we learn that “if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.”  In that same chapter, St. Paul reminds us to put on “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (v. 12), and “over all these things, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (v. 14).

Practicing love and forgiveness is usually associated with spirituality, but it does not reside there alone.  If not in our personal lives, as pastoral counselors, we encounter clients whose health and/or relationships are compromised by an inability to forgive and love.  Oftentimes they believe that expressions of love or forgiveness might be misinterpreted for weakness.  Therefore, our initial task might sometimes be to help our clients release themselves from bondage by practicing forgiveness.  We help them recognize how challenging it is to love when filled with rage and resentment. Forgiveness offers them freedom to love.

What happens when one refuses to forgive?

If you’re unforgiving, you might pay the price repeatedly by bringing anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience.  Your life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present.  You might become depressed or anxious.  You might feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs.  You might lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others. (Mayo Clinic)

We can reverse those symptoms.  When we love and forgive we imitate Jesus, who with his dying breath asked his heavenly father “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  We must strive to love and forgive as our heavenly father loves and forgives us.  “God never gets tired of forgiving us; it is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness” (Pope Francis I).

WWJP: What Would Jesus Practice?

Vernon WareWho is someone that you look up to as a counselor? Adler, Frankl, Freud, Perls (yes, Fritz and Laura), Ellis, Beck, May? The list of names goes on and on, but I wanted to suggest one name that you might not have considered. Jesus. One of the many titles that is conferred upon Jesus is “Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:6) and I would hope that at least being “good” counselors is something that all of us have as a goal. So with that in mind, I wondered this simple question, WWJP? What Would Jesus Practice? Can we look at the life of Jesus and detect a partiality to a specific theory of counseling?

Would Jesus be considered a proponent of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) when he counseled a rich young ruler to consider giving up all of his riches to the poor, so that he could truly be fulfilled?

Would Jesus’s time with his disciples be considered a very intensive Reality therapy session since Jesus asked them to make the choice to be in relationship with him and the other disciples to change their lives?

Would Jesus be considered a proponent of Person-centered therapy because of his brief group therapy session with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) and the men who accused her, where he asked very few questions but changed the behaviors of both the men and the woman?

Would Jesus be considered an Adlerian because of his transformative meeting with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9)? Jesus met with someone who was hated, even by himself, and in one conversation changed his thinking about himself and fostered Zacchaeus’ social interest so much that Zacchaeus said that he would repay those he had cheated four times over.

Jesus broke many of the conventions of that time: working on the Sabbath, having conversations with women and having connection with Gentiles, just to name a few.  So could we conclude that he was a proponent of the Existential approach since he championed the freedom of persons to choose their own direction in life?  

And while it is uncomfortable for me to put Jesus and Sigmund Freud in the same sentence, I do have to admit that Jesus did have a skill at getting through other’s Ego-defense Mechanisms.

There is obviously much more that can be said on this topic and I hope that you will respond and do just that! I would love to hear your feedback and get your answer to WWJP – What Would Jesus Practice?

Disordered Affection: Finding God in all the wrong places?

The phrase “disordered affections” captured my attention while I was reading James Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. St. Ignatius of Loyola first described disordered affections in his Spiritual Exercises as whatever keeps us from being free. It is an “affection” because we find it appealing. We are drawn to it. It satisfies a hunger – a need within us, and, after a while, it becomes an “attachment.” We think we cannot live without it. Thus, it is “disordered” because it is not “life giving.”

As I chased down its meaning, I uncovered how I use disordered affections in my life to distract myself from my path and growing closer to God. In pastoral counseling, it is easy to identify the disordered affections and attachments that are obviously not “life giving” and cause harm: substance abuse, alcoholism, hoarding, obsessive-compulsive disorder. But what about those disordered affections that are seemingly harmless like watching television, the Internet, reading, exercise, work, and, um, chocolate?

So, I did a little research and found a definition on This Ignatian Life :

 “Disordered attachments are those things (objects, experiences, activities, even other people) who become the focus of our desires and, consequently our time on this earth, rather than seeking the will and companionship of God.”

Hmmm. This might mean that my job qualifies as a disordered affection . . . but we’ll deal with that later. Here are some questions This Ignatian Life recommends we ask to identify disordered affections:

  • Does the object of your affection distract you from your focus to be closer to God? (Only after lunch and only when it involves chocolate.)
  • Is more of your time spent attending to these affections rather than the work you need to be doing? (No, I can eat chocolate and answer e-mail at the same time.)
  • Do you have a fear of feeling empty if you do not attend to your affections? (Darn it . . . yes! Only chocolate will fill that emptiness!)
  • Is your time spent trying to accumulate more time with or material objects surrounding your affections? (Hmm. I purchased the party-size bag of M&M’s® and carry it with me. At first, I thought I would just carry a serving size but what if it was not enough and I want more? It doesn’t make sense to BUY more when I already have $11.99 worth at home.)

Interestingly, St. Ignatius offers a way to overcome disordered attachments that might sound a little familiar to pastoral counselors:

  • Begin by naming the disorder. (Chocoholism.)
  • Admit that the disorder impacts your life and relationships. (Sigh . . . see the 3 out of 4 “yes” answers above.)
  • Remember your desire to move closer to God and your commitment to serve others. (St. Ignatius also reminded me that my desire is also God’s desire to be closer to me, and I never share my M&M’s® with anyone.)
  • Seek the grace to be strong and committed to your path. Rather than completely deny the object of your attachment, seek only to hold it openly, in ways that free your soul from fear. (I was inspired to purchase an M&M® dispenser and place it on the desk in my office. Now, people trickle in for a handful of candy and stay and chat for a minute or two.)

Ignatian spirituality calls for us to find God in all things. Even within a disordered affection, if I seek to find God and His grace, I will find my freedom and perhaps a few other souls along the way.