Writing to connect

by Andrea Noel
Journaling is about recording looming questions and instinctual
responses about life. Spiritual journaling is a more thoughtful record of insights, responses, experiences, and feelings about the spiritual life. Journaling, as a regular spiritual practice, can develop deeper awareness; create childlike wonder; permit radical vulnerability; invite unapologetic honesty. The speed and demands of society encourages us to ignore or forget our feelings moment-to-moment. Intentionally setting aside time to pause, recall, feel and write experiences down, allow emotions to surface and the body to release.
When our emotions begin to surface we are able to feel sadness, joy, peace, fear, anxiety, love, pride, anger, or compassion. Our bodies subsequently release stress, toxins, endorphins, adrenalin, energy, pain or pressure. In this view, journaling is a method of getting in touch with self, God and life. Additionally, the pages of a journal are an apt battlefield for the constant struggles experienced between faith and intellect; belief and reason; supernatural occurrences and logic; God and science. I attest that journaling will not solve the problems posed from these struggles, instead helps to create space for noticing our perceptions, projections and preferences regarding these struggles. This spacious awareness, stimulated from practicing regular journaling, invites us to willfully explore the world, letting everything in the world touch our hearts, minds, and spirits. When we allow ourselves to be touched, we can again connect to self, God and life.
Here are just a few tips on keeping a spiritual journal[1].
  1. Begin with silence. Give yourself a few quiet moments before writing, be still, and listen to the sounds around you. You can say a prayer before you begin or simply read scripture.
  2. Keep track of your entries with dates. This can be helpful if you revisit your journals in the future.
  3. Write. Write everything! Note your feelings, insights, questions, images, or dreams. Be open and allow yourself to be creative. Spiritual journaling can be expressed in a variety of ways, for example, photography, drawing, collaging, or playwriting.
  4. Try not to edit. There are no mistakes during spiritual journaling. Say “Goodbye” to your inner critic.
  5. Some journaling techniques that could help include:
    1. Recalling your entire spiritual journey, identify where you were 5 or 10 years ago and notice where you are now.
    2. You could consider your spiritual life through images or metaphors.
    3. Read books to stimulate spiritual awareness or openness and note what ideas you agree or disagree with.
    4. Similarly, you can consider the previous method with sermons, lectures or conversations had with others.
    5. Scripture is a common resource and useful way to begin spiritual journaling.
    6. Lastly, listen for God’s voice and what God wants to say to you.
    7. Be gentle. There are no right or wrong ways to practice spiritual journaling. Be tender as you explore what works best for you.

[1] Haywood, A. (2003). How to keep a spiritual journal.
Retrieved from: http://home.earthlink.net/~haywoodm/SpiritualJournal.html

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.

I AM Resilient!

I attended the Pastoral Counseling Department’s Retreat on Resiliency.  It’s my last retreat as a Loyola student. The sense of community found at Loyola is unique. We are so different, yet we are one.

I LOVE St. Anthony’s Shrine. I went to Loyola’s Self-Care Retreat last spring and wrote Shake Pray Love, one of my first blog articles. I come full circle writing this blog article likewise inspired.

I never thought I was resilient. To me, resiliency was a quality for those who have been through severe crises or hardships. It takes courage and resiliency to attend graduate school later in life, to complete a master’s program, to graduate, and to make a career change — all of which I have done.

I forgot what I always tell my spiritual directees, “Don’t judge your life.”  I judged my life story to be not particularly resilient. I was wrong. During the first break out session, we told our stories to each other. It was so healing and exhilarating to tell my story, to be heard, and to hear another.

I now see that I am resilient. I’ve gone through hardship, and not merely survived, but thrived! No longer do I judge my life. I embrace my cracks now, loving them for making me who I am today, and for the Light (God) that they let in. I want to shine that Light upon others.

While on retreat, we explored Post Traumatic Growth, and the APA’s Ten Ways to Build Resilience.

Through experiential exercises, I tapped into my resiliency to face graduation and everything else that lies ahead for me. It was great to reflect on my life, to celebrate my resiliency, and to realize that I can face whatever the future holds.

I now feel empowered. I know my resiliency. How are you resilient?

Rounding the Learning Curve and Meeting in the Middle

Unlike pastoral counselors who use a therapeutic method based on a theory such as: Adlerian, Freudian, Person-Centered, Gestalt, or Cognitive Behavioral, spiritual directors are much more free-form. We generally do not give homework to our directees, nor do we set goals for them. We are taught that the directee sets the agenda.  Our job is to listen for the Holy Spirit, discern God’s action, and to assist in cooperating with it. The Holy Spirit is the actual spiritual director.

We say things like: “What do you think God is inviting you to in that situation?”  “Where is evidence of God acting there?”  “Have you prayed about it?”  “Why do you perceive that God is not responding to you?” and “What do you discern when you pay attention to your interior movements?”

During my spiritual direction internship, we (my spiritual directees and I) had an education process to go through and a steep learning curve.  Some of them discontinued the process, and others never were really engaged in it at all. Perhaps spiritual direction was not what they expected?  Analogous to when Vernon Ware lamented about his counselees in his excellent article “The Nerve of Some Clients,” perhaps my directees had one idea of what their experience of spiritual direction should be and I had another.

I am in my last semester in the M.A. in Spiritual and Pastoral Care program on the spiritual direction track.  I am in the throes of writing my professional seminar paper and working out how I will respond to resistance in spiritual direction . . . more to come on that subject in an upcoming blog article.

I am far from having all the answers, but what I do know is that I want to meet my spiritual directees in the middle somewhere so that we can take each others’ hands, and together navigate that sometimes arduous journey of the spiritual life. I want us all to one day see God’s loving face smiling back at us.  After all, isn’t that the purpose of why we are here in the first place?

Appreciating Death’s Role in Life

The universal reality of life is death.  Everyone must die; it is a natural phenomenon and a necessary part of the normal life cycle. Yet, even with this understanding, rarely is the western world prepared to accept death, especially the death of a loved one.  The focus of this writing is not on sudden or tragic deaths, but on those which allow time for preparedness, and occur as a consequence of illness and/or aging.

As universal as death is, the way it is viewed differs among cultures and religions.  Death is treated with dignity by some, or it may be feared by others.  Certain cultures respond to death with elaborate rituals, while others see it as simply transitioning from one life to the next.  However, what is usually present, regardless of specific traditions, is grief.  Grief, like death, is a universal experience,and it is also personal.  It is what Stephen Levine describes in his book, Healing into Life and Death, as “the rope burns left behind when what we have held to most dearly is pulled out of reach, beyond our grasp.”

The analogy of “holding on” is most present when caring for someone with a terminal illness.  It is difficult caring for a loved one who is not expected to survive.  It is sometimes hard for the dying to let go, which increases our grief, and invites guilt.  However, when faced with such circumstances, we can look to scripture for comfort.  What did Jesus do as he awaited his own death? At first he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me.” (Luke 22:42).  So often we pray for a miracle.  We try to reason with God, making promises, seeking answers, none of which provides peace.  But Jesus continued, “still, not my will but yours be done.”  He handed over his anguish to his father in heaven and found peace and strength to continue his life’s journey to the cross.  We can, too.  In the presence of death, we can turn to our God in prayer, for peace and strength.

Finding peace does not negate grieving.  The rope burns eventually go away, but until then, we grieve.  Where do grieving people go?  Some turn to their religious institutions for solace.  Others are comforted by family.  Some find consolation in silence, and some seek support from professionals to help them normalize their lives.  Pastoral counselors are among members of the helping professions who are prepared to meet clients in their grief, and help them to gain respite from the pain and guilt that they feel.  Graduates of Loyola’s pastoral counseling program are trained to apply traditional therapies with a spiritual approach.  It is our spiritual approach that better prepares us to assist clients who have met death on life’s journey.

Death provides a deadline for what we can accomplish in life.  It is an important deadline since it propels us to live a more vibrant and richer life while we have the opportunity.  Irvin D. Yalom, M.D., stated that if we tune in to our clients’ narratives, we will recognize that they are subtly sharing death concerns.  As therapists, we must be prepared to hear them. As pastoral counselors we are uniquely prepared to address them.  Although we grieve when our loved ones die, we can be mindful of Dr. Yalom’s acknowledgement of death as “the condition that makes it possible to live life in an authentic fashion.”

Deb Calhoun’s God-Led Path to Chaplaincy

(Deb Calhoun is a distinguished 2012 graduate of the Pastoral Counseling Department’s M.A. in Spiritual and Pastoral Care. She won the John R. Compton Integration Award for her pastoral presence and ability to practice pastoral integration in her work.)
 

Deb Calhoun

JoAnn: How did you find your calling to Loyola?

Deb: While working with a special family – members of my Unitarian Universalist congregation – I learned pursuing pastoral care with greater commitment was my path. My minister recognized it before I did. When I thank her, she denies that she deserves the credit. At first, I could not use the word “calling.” I kept saying “no” until finally I couldn’t any longer. I stumbled upon Loyola’s program. It was the perfect fit for me.

 
JoAnn: What is your lasting impression of Loyola?
 
 

Deb: Spiritual and Pastoral Care with Fr. Kevin Gillespie shaped me as a caregiver. He taught us Care of the Entire Person or Cura personalis and – “where there is a story, there is hope.” Being present to someone listening to their story is the foundation of how I do pastoral care. When you are really attentive to the story, the heart of the matter is revealed. That is where God is! I come to it with the skills that I need and God does the rest.

JoAnn: How is God found in your work?

Deb: When I have the right words for someone that aren’t mine – during a baptism a Scripture verse comes to me that I didn’t even know I knew, or miraculously I run into someone and events just fall into place so that I am able to meet a need.

JoAnn: How do you use your education in your work?

Deb: I draw a lot on Loss and Bereavement and Crisis Intervention. A one-day seminar on suicide prevention came back to me when I dealt with someone who was considering suicide.

JoAnn: Since graduating from Loyola what have you been up to?

Deb: Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE).  I did one unit each at the Hebrew Home, Sinai Hospital and now Johns Hopkins. I have had different supervisors, groups, and clinical components and learned a variety of skills. Typically, someone does a full-time chaplaincy residency in the same place for all four units.  It is 60 hours a week – physically and emotionally intense. That was not the correct path for me. I have Muscular Dystrophy and I was not sure that I could handle it physically.

JoAnn: In your work in CPE, have you worked with people of various faiths?

Deb: Yes! My current supervisor is a ṣūfī, my supervisor-in-training is Episcopalian, and I had a Jewish Rabbi supervisor. I am comfortable praying with people of all faiths. I am leading the worship service at Johns Hopkins every other Sunday, and it is a surprise to me how much I love it.

JoAnn: Do you like your work?

Deb: Oh yes! I am where I am supposed to be. People ask: how can you do it? It is so sad to see people suffering. I think how lucky am I to be able to do the work that I do!

Deb Calhoun receiving John R. Compton Integration Award from Dr. Tom Rodgerson

Since our meeting, I learned that Deb Calhoun has been accepted to Earlham School of Religion to pursue her MDiv. We wish her well.

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.

Experiencing God’s Grace One Client at a Time

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40

It might have been my first year in the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola University Maryland, when a professor asked what type of client we would not want to treat. I thought for a moment, and then proceeded to conjure up the most depraved type I could imagine. Several of us raised our hands to share our opinions. I do not recall any answers being validated, and as the class progressed, it occurred to me that it was a trick question. As counselors we are called to be healers, and it is not our role to determine who might be worthy of counseling. What a valuable lesson I learned that day.

Many other lessons were learned since, some tangible, and some not. Among them was the manifestation of God’s grace in the counseling environment. As a pastoral counselor, I have the added benefit of incorporating spirituality in my work. This is not an alien concept, especially since many clients have a spiritual foundation, even if they are not actively involved in a faith community. In my experience, incorporating spirituality in my work enhances the healing process. It also allows me to experience God’s grace through my clients.

Even as I offer the thought of experiencing God’s grace, I realize the intangible nature of this statement. Grace is a gift that is freely given by God. We cannot earn it, and we cannot claim to deserve it. We also cannot touch it or present it concretely. It manifests as awareness, and I have found it to be present in the therapeutic environment. Each client has her own special manifestation of grace. It might be the hope she feels at the end of a particularly intense session, or it can be a feeling of peace that accompanies sacred silence during counseling. Each manifestation is unique.

I have wondered who benefits from God’s grace during therapy, and I realize that both client and counselor do. God provides what is needed when we acknowledge Him in the counseling environment. He supplies the counselor tools to facilitate healing, and offers the client the ability to receive and integrate the treatment. Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling program encourages and expects its graduates to invite God into the therapy room. In so doing, we should have no reservations about treating all clients with respect and compassion, regardless of who they are, and what their circumstance is.