Set the World on Fire

“Set the World on Fire” – The Reverend Brian F. Linnane, S.J., Ph.D.

Graduation Day!! I had looked forward to that day since my very first class at Loyola and what a glorious day it was! Sharing that celebration with so many of my classmates added to the joy. Even with such great emotions there was also a sense of uncertainty. What happens next?

President Brian F. Linnane had a suggestion: Set the world on fire!

He made this statement during his closing remarks and those words still resonate with me. As graduating students our time at Loyola has been an incredible and enlightening experience. Yet if it only remains an experience, a moment in time, then I believe that we have not fully embraced what has been taught. We went through this experience so that we could change ourselves and also assist others in the process of positive change. Whatever theory you use, from CBT to Adlerian, positive change for the client is the goal. Well your client is the world and it is in need of some positive change!

Many of us will move on to different parts of the country and in some cases, even the world. I hope that we resolve to do our part to make the world a better place. It may sound like a cliche’ or a song lyric, but that is the goal. It may be through an incredible counseling session with a client or sharing an encouraging word with a stranger. Whatever the case, know that, as graduates, we are being sent out into the world to make a change. And I am confident that we will. (You can contact Dr. Ralph Piedmont for the exact probability within one standard deviation, but trust me it is high!) We have endured reading the equivalent of the Library of Congress, we have used United Nations level cooperation to make group presentations, we have written papers of biblical proportions, and have meticulously prepared APA citations. In addition to all of that, we have also completed years of clinical internships. And we have not only survived; we have thrived.

The world needs our hope, our faith, our service and our presence. It has been my honor to have shared this journey with you, my fellow classmates. I have been enlightened by your conversations and encouraged by your lives. You are truly wonderful and exceptional and I am excited about the great impact that you will have on others. So to echo the words of President Linnane: Set the world on fire!

New Beginnings

By David Gosling

Two weeks ago I served as a volunteer “buddy” at Camp Me Too, a wonderful weekend event that brings bereaved children into community. Each of these kids lost a family member to disease or tragedy in recent years. Although I was assigned to work with a single boy, I quickly found myself bonding with most of the campers in one way or another. In my experience, they seemed very much like normal, happy children. It was only later on in the weekend—as the staff and buddies encouraged them to open up about their experiences and emotions—that these remarkably resilient boys and girls spoke about the ordeals through which they lived at such an early age.

Listening to their stories, it occurred to me that most of these kids didn’t know just how remarkable they were. To lose a father to the violence of the streets, or a mother to drugs, or a sibling to disease…and then spring back into the full joy and vivacity of youth in such a short time…I had a very difficult time imagining my ability to conjure a similar response in their place, even as an adult. It was a humbling and valuable lesson to learn.

As spring finally bursts forth after a long and arduous winter season, it is the time for new beginnings in our lives. I pray that we may each harness the energy of these children in our own lives. May we, too, find that beauty of simplicity in our daily routines. May we, too, face each new day with courage and optimism. May we, too, learn to laugh in the face of adversity, knowing that the Provider of All Things will eventually bring each and every one of us Home.

Coming Out of Winter

by Rev. Shelly M. Mohnkern

“A second characteristic of the process which for me is the good life, is that it involves an increasingly tendency to live fully in each moment. I believe it would be evident that for the person who was fully open to his new experience, completely without defensiveness, each moment would be new.”

Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person, 1961

This winter has left me with a curious habit; one that I assume will fade as spring takes a firm hold. Each morning when I get up, I immediately go to the window, and peek outside to make certain that winter is actually staying gone. There has not been any white on the ground in over a week. Check. The temperature is staying above freezing, even at night. Check. The daffodils are starting to open. Check. Breathe deeply, and relax.

Never was Carl Rogers more right about new moments than this past winter. No matter the forecast, no matter the previous few days’ temperature, no matter the date on the calendar, one could wake up to a white wonderland and a houseful of homebound children. There was little the authorities could do to predict the actual event. They could guess, they could speculate, they could even look at the data of the past, and project. But weather is still not an exact science, and sometimes it will simply go in ways that surprise us, for ill or for good.

For me this has been a parallel to what I am learning about the fascinating subject of mind-body-heart interactions, and what we, as humans, do with them. We are not an exact science either… we embody Spirit, and through Spirit, we are Mystery. There is not a way to categorize us down to base predictable mechanisms. We cannot fully know what the next moment will bring, for ourselves or for those we attempt to help and care for. All we can do is Be, and Be With.

It is first important to Be. We need to be present and aware, of ourselves and the world around us. We must learn to take in as much as we can, and experience it. We may not understand it all, but we can take it in. We can learn and adapt as things change, and store and reflect on the things we did not understand, and learn from them as well. We can become aware of our own Mystery.

Then we can Be With. As counselors, we learn the importance of empathy. It is mentioned in almost every class we take. We can Be With our clients, even when we are not 100% sure what is going on with them. We can reach out with our understanding, and be there with them, gaining knowledge from every work, every movement, and every silence. We can make them feel accompanied, no longer alone in their own understanding or confusion about their condition. We can share somewhat in their Mystery, and share a bit of our own.

We can move out of winter and into spring. We might still have to look out the window for a while, to assure ourselves we are moving forward, but eventually, Spring will arrive.

May all of you enjoy this season of rebirth, and awakening, and find your own amidst the Sacred. Blessings!

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!

Falling In Love and Finding God

by Dayna Pizzigoni

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.” Pedro Arrupe, SJ

 

If you know how that quote continues, you know Fr. Arrupe’s wisdom. My experience of love and God, however, would be better expressed as such:

Nothing is more practical than falling in love, than finding God.

When I met my husband at Loyola, I was not searching for love or God. Mid-way through summer, I happened to be in a class about Imago Therapy, a model for Couples Counseling, with my now-husband. After class a few of us decided to drive to DC for a Theology on Tap. Conversation during that car ride, by the campus lake, and at my church after a movie about monks and social justice stirred up my interest in this friend. As God would have it, he found himself locked out of a parking garage in Baltimore city after the aforementioned movie. I happily found myself showing this friend around Baltimore for the day.

The thing about being in the single-discover-yourself-lifestyle is that you can risk vulnerability slowly with deliberate choice.  I chose to trust the words he spoke without analysis. I chose to stay grounded in reality and got to know him as he was, not as the future-him I predicted he could be. I also recognized the future to be a mystery with or without him. Most importantly, I walked with my fear of vulnerability while remembering that I was whole already and God was with me. Then, I fell in love and found God.

When I say I found God, I do not mean that I had a conversion experience. It was more like a slow spiritual awakening. I had a new, profound emotional experience of God’s love for me. You could say my God image was shaped in a new way.  When we talk about God image in our field, we are describing an internal working model of God as a divine attachment figure (Davis, 2013). God image is not about our beliefs, but our experiences. People we become close to or develop an attachment to can influence our God image (Davis, 2013). I discovered a new part of God through falling in love and being loved by my husband.

Arrupe is right. When we find God as if we are falling in love, our faith embraces all the practical pieces of life with a glow of being in love. The reverse is also true. I fell in love and the practical pieces of life (even data analysis) twinkle with a glow of being in God. Let someone love you this Valentine’s Day and experience something of God.

 

Happy Holidays

by Nicole Snyder

On Black Friday a quote came through on my News Feed on Facebook.  It was attributed to Ohiyesa (Charles Alexander Eastman) a Wahpeton Santee Sioux.

“It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome.  Its appeal is to the material part, and if allowed its way, it will in time disturb one’s spiritual balance.  Therefore, children must learn the beauty of generosity.  They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving “.

Given the source, I cannot be certain the quote is correctly contributed.  Nonetheless, the quote speaks to my inward struggle at this time of year.  I want to be a part of the cultural celebrations.  Yet, I also want to celebrate in a way that honours my “spiritual balance”.  In a culture that celebrates materialism and consumerism, I find it very challenging to actualize my intentions.

When I lived in Ireland, the holidays were about family and friends.  It was a time set aside to spend time with people, usually accompanied by good food and drinks.  Any gifts that were exchanged were done by businesses thanking customers or were for the children.  When I try to explain the differences between there and here, it’s hard to put into words.  The differences are in the spirit of the celebrations, in the attitude, and therefore intentions of the people.  It makes me incredibly aware of how much the environment surrounding me impacts me.  As much as I might try to recreate the spirit of the holidays here, as it was there, it is astonishingly hard to translate.

How do I honour my “spiritual balance” in the place I am today in the midst of cultural expectations I resist?  When was the last time I gave away what I prize most merely because I knew the recipient would enjoy it?  Have I learned the beauty of generosity?  How do I reconcile these thoughts and my intentions with the season that is upon us?  I don’t have any good answers yet.

I know I will continue to struggle with finding my spiritual balance in the midst of culturally encouraged consumerism.  I will continue to explore what spiritual balance means to me.  I know I will continue to struggle with finding the balance for my son between him celebrating the holiday and not being consumed with what he is getting.  I will continue to struggle with all of these things.  My hope is that my struggle and the thoughtfulness of my choices will eventually find me a way through.

Love What it Loves

by Kate Gerwin

“You can’t have my heart and you don’t own my mind but, do what you want, what you want with my body.” –Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is a singer whose shock value tends to come more from her over the top ensembles than her lyrics; her latest song however, struck a chord with me.

Undertones of sexual assault aside, the lyrics aren’t any more sexually provocative than others you hear on any pop radio station and Gaga has every right to decide what she wants to do with her body.

What upsets me is the fact that the song speaks to a larger cultural attitude towards the body; one in which the body is at best, a vehicle to further the needs of the “real” parts of us (the heart and mind) and one in which it is, at worst, treated with apathy and abuse.

Gaga is not the first or the only one to voice the belief that the body is “less than” the other aspects of the self; turn on the radio or the television or peruse social media and it is not hard to see that Gnosticism is alive and well in modern day America. As a culture, we are conflicted masters of our bodily selves, oscillating between stringent contempt and debilitating over-indulgence.

On the one hand, we judge our bodies for what they are not, restrict them, deny them the basics of what they need (food, sleep, rest, touch, nature, play), push them beyond healthy limits and then chastise them for not working “like they should.” On the other, we abuse our bodies with over-indulgence and addiction. Even the arguments made for healthy living tend to come back to looking better and living longer, implying that the only two things that the body has to offer are attractiveness and longevity.

Religion and spirituality are often in on it too. Whether it is through the condemnation of sexuality, harsh ascetic practices or even just the subtle implication that “real” spirituality lies beyond our embodied selves, spirituality can proliferate the belief that the body need not be as valued as our hearts or minds.

What about a view of the body that cherishes it just as much as one would cherish a child? What about a view founded on acceptance, curiosity, appreciation and joy? One that celebrates the body not just as an essential part of the self, but as the true meeting place of self? What about a spirituality that understands that holiness or enlightenment is an embodied process? A view that tells us, in the words of the poet Mary Oliver:

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert; you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Leaning In to Those Awkward Moments

By Kathleen Gerwin

For those of you who have spent any time around teenagers, I’m going to wager that you’ve heard this sentence uttered more than once: “Oh my God, that’s SO awkward.” As a high school teacher, it’s a phrase I cannot seem to escape and one that seems to be applied to just about everything, from a parent’s overly enthusiastic greeting, to public speaking, and everything in between.

Some of this is just part of growing up. In adolescence, as your body and mind are betraying you, developing in new and strange ways, it’s difficult to not view things through the lens of awkwardness. Who among us can forget those painful adolescent moments when it felt as if the room was closing in on us and melting into the floor seemed like the best possible outcome?

What worries me about teenagers today, however, is twofold.

First, the fact that many normal, developmentally appropriate situations are being painted as awkward. For example: on a recent service trip with my students, I was driving a group of seniors from our Habitat worksite to the Church that was hosting us for dinner. Our GPS had taken us off-course, so I asked one of the girls to call the Church to inform our host that we would be a few minutes late. From the look on my otherwise extremely extroverted, socially adept student’s face, you would have thought that I had asked her to run through the parking lot naked. “Ms. GERWIN,” she cried, “That’s so AWKWARD!” The rest of girls chimed in, agreeing that calling a stranger —even for less than a minute to convey information—was in the 7th Ring of Awkward Hell.

The second, and potentially more troubling fact, is that this generation of teens seems to have far more ways to avert or avoid those awkward moments: texting has made it so every response can be edited and reviewed by a jury of peers; silent moments at dinner can be filled with time on your phone or the drone of the TV; in a photo-shop, Facebook-centric world, pictures and profiles can be cleaned up so only the most “acceptable” self has to be presented to the world. The danger is that rather than having to sit in those awkward moments, teens—and perhaps all of us—never have the chance to come to the other side of those uncomfortable situations and realize that they won’t, in fact, kill us. Awkward moments, like adolescence, are periods of growth—often far from pleasant, but necessary if we are to develop properly.

The gift of sitting in awkwardness is the realization that there is a Self within us that goes beyond feelings, situations, or judgments. And that is certainly nothing to feel awkward about.

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

When the person in the client’s chair is you: Validating the 20-hour personal therapy rule

“I don’t want to be here, but I have no choice.” I have heard similar statements from clients; however, in this instance, those were my unspoken thoughts, as I reacted to Loyola University’s mandatory 20 hours of personal mental health counseling or psychotherapy, for Pastoral Counseling students. In retrospect, that experience as a client has made me a better counselor.

It was difficult sitting in the client’s chair. As much as I theoretically recognized the value of counseling, I was not comfortable. My therapist patiently listened as I selectively shared thoughts without allowing interruption. At the end of the session, she gave me homework which I accepted, but ignored once I left her office. While I am not proud of my behavior, nor do I encourage others to emulate it, it helps me to empathise with the clients who I now serve.

In their work The Practical Counselor (Brooks/Cole Publishing, 1997), Philip Lauver and David R. Harvey stated “you get to practice piano in private and perform when you’re ready, but in counseling, the practice is the performance.” This cannot be a comforting statement for a newly-minted counselor; however, having experience as a client, does help to alleviate some nervousness that new counselors face.

In my situation, I resisted even as my therapist displayed genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and empathy. Eventually she talked me down from the ledge of arrogance and anchored me in the client’s chair. That was when my work began. I learned to reflect the qualities she presented as I released my defenses, recognized my biases, and addressed my fears.

During that time, I realized the importance of trust, not only in the counseling process, but also in myself. And, I finally understood what Irvin Yalom meant when he wrote in The Gift of Therapy, that the therapist’s own self was his/her most valuable instrument, and that valuable instrument had to be well-tuned and kept in good repair, so as to be effective. Sitting in the client’s chair provided me that opportunity.

Today, I have my own clients, many of whom do not volunteer for therapy. They present similar defenses as I did when I was a client, selectively sharing their thoughts without leaving room for interruption, and rarely doing homework. I offer genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and empathy, as I prepare a therapeutic space where healing can begin.

I finally realized the value of the 20 hours of counseling that Loyola requires, reiterating Dr. Yalom’s statement that personal psychotherapy is the most important part of psychotherapy training.  It is also fundamental to ongoing maintenance of that valuable therapeutic instrument, viz. the therapist’s own self.