The Capacity for Greatness

 

By Nicole Snyder

The winter Olympics are now here.  Watching the amazing athletes perform, I marvel at the capacity of the human body.  The Olympics remind me how far talent, dedication and hard work can take an individual.  The Olympics, however noble the accomplishment, celebrate the achievement of the one.  It is an achievement in competition, with just a few winning, and most not reaching the podium.

This month also marks Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  If the Olympics excite the imagination of the individual’s capacity, Dr. King excited the imagination of the nation’s capacity.  In his “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech, Dr. King, calls his listeners to be dissatisfied.

“Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.  Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort and the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.  Let us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.  Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family is living in a decent sanitary home.”

I worked in social services for seven years because I believe all individuals are marvelously and wondrously made.  I toiled and worked for next to nothing because I believe in the capacity of the individual to rise above their circumstances.  I have also come to see the necessity of national/cultural transformation.  If society places arbitrary limits on the individual, then the individual’s capacity cannot be fully realized.

Dr. King faced the complexity of how to inspire a culture steeped in its tradition to reexamine itself and realize its greater potential.  We no longer have legal discrimination, but I would dare to say we as a nation are still far removed from the America Dr. King dreamed of.  I see myself as a Pastoral Counselor with a unique opportunity to work at the individual level and also collaborate with others to continuously improve the greater community in order to give each client the space to become their best.

As I reflect on what the Olympics and Dr. King’s life means to me, I am reminded by his speech “A Time to Break Silence” in which he says, “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  We must rapidly shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered”.

Lighting the Winter Candle

by Shelly Mohnkern

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

Carl Jung, 1963

Winter:  The time of reflection, introspection, and thought;  the fallow time of the mind between semesters. We rest, but we are not still. We fill our days not with books and research and long hours at the library, but with family, food and fellowship. We prepare to re-engage in our scholarship by shopping for books, and supplies, thinking about our schedules, and waiting for the syllabi that will direct our efforts over the next five months. We reflect on the past year, and make resolutions for the upcoming one.

This is the time where we re-kindle Jung’s light, the light that will shine through us for the rest of the year.

I find myself looking inward, seeking that light within me, and searching for the knowledge I will need to nourish the flame to its brightest life. There are so many facets of that light. Much like the human housing it, it takes many different nutrients for the light to thrive and burn brightly. My light thrives on such lofty things as charity work, prayer, helping my tribe-of-choice, spiritual practice, and learning. It also thrives on more mundane pleasures like reading fiction, movies, time spent with children playing, vocal music, and indulging my theatrical side with role-play gaming. I give joy and receive it gratefully. I take “me time” and permit myself to be indulgent. It is a balance between doing for others, letting others do for me, and occasionally doing for myself.

Soon I return to classes. I’m excited and nervous.  I can’t wait to be learning again. In fact, I marvel at the idea that some folks stop learning, feeling they have already gleaned all they can from academic study. I came back to school later in life, and I marvel at all I have learned so far, and the horizons of learning yet to be achieved. I see my light begin to burn brighter, adding itself to the light of my peers, fed by the light of my instructors, the authors of our texts, and the scholarship of those who have gone before me.

Shine on, and shine well. The dark times are passing, now is the time of light.

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.

Finding the Face of God

By David Gosling

“Each thing hath two faces, a face of its own, and a face of its Lord; in respect of its own face it is nothingness, and in respect of the Face of God it is Being. Thus there is nothing in existence save only God and His Face, for everything perisheth but His Face, always and forever.”

-Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali

This quote from the famous medieval mystic al-Ghazali, one of the most important figures in historical Islam, demonstrates the curious predicament one finds in the modern application of counseling within a pastoral context. There is the immediate need to treat a person suffering from a variety of psychological conditions, someone deeply hurt by the world and their experiences within it. Yet, there is also the deeper and greater need to treat the soul of the individual, to acknowledge the Face of God that lies behind and beyond each physical being. Indeed, through this statement al-Ghazali demonstrates the ultimate futility of tending to the finite self while ignoring the Infinite: all paths converge on the Oneness of Being despite our intentions to the contrary.

It is an utterly human quality to forget such esoteric realities when concerns of the present come calling, and to our credit (or discredit) we often do such a good job that they are virtually forgotten altogether. On one level, this preoccupation with the present manifests itself in the record number of psychological and psychosomatic problems experienced these days. On a more profound level, and perhaps in conjunction with the previous crisis, our spiritual selves are being denied their rightful place within the framework of a healthy, well-balanced life. Every generation seems to forget anew Christ’s teaching to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength. We also seem to forget that it is through this continued remembrance of God in our lives that we are able to truly love our neighbor, thereby fulfilling the remainder of Jesus’ command.

The relevance of pastoral counseling seems more than ever to be in its ability to address both the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the human condition, in this age of continued crisis and lackluster faith in anything beyond the scientific method. May we each continue to search for the uniquely divine Face of God behind every person who seeks our counsel.

Alhamdulillah (Praise to God).

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.”

Living With Choice

by Andrea Noel

Often I live each day not considering the fact that I have a choice. I have the choice to be present to life or to avoid it. I have the choice to be compassionate with life or to be indifferent to it. I have the choice to obsess about being in control or to relax into the freedom of letting go.Instead of considering my choices, I typically get consumed by fear, haste and the need to react. However, the beauty of life is that we are always being invited back into right relationship with creation, God, and ourselves.

The fall season has impressed on me the need to cultivate a ‘pace for grace,’ and is inviting me to create spaciousness to better notice choices. This season of slowing down reminds me that I am invited to choose all the time, and that I need to be more present in the choosing. My choices give me power to manifest the life I want to experience. Noticing what I choose also holds me accountable to owning my experiences and gives me the opportunity to change them.

As fall slowly shifts into winter, I choose to continue nurturing a ‘pace for grace.’ I choose openness, to be more aware of what options are in front me. I choose patience, to be more present to process. Finally, I choose to be in my choices, empowering myself to live more passionately.

The Power of Language

by Dave Gosling

A single word can brighten the face

of one who knows the value of words,

Ripened in silence, a single word

acquires a great energy of work.

War is cut short by a word,

and a word heals the wounds,

and there’s a word that changes

poison into butter and honey.

Let a word mature inside yourself.

Withhold the unripened thought.

Come and understand the kind of word

that reduces money and riches to dust.

Know when to speak a word

and when not to speak at all.

A single word turns a universe of hell

into eight paradises.

Follow the Way. Don’t be fooled

by what you already know. Be watchful.

Reflect before you speak.

A foolish mouth can brand your soul

Yunus, say one last thing

about the power of words–

Only the word “I”

divides me from God.

Yunus Emre

Every major faith tradition warns against the uninhibited use of words. The wise understand that human beings possess a finite amount of energy. To speak is to use that energy, to direct it toward an object with intent. A hurtful word to a friend, a shallow or pointless conversation, an internal dialogue with one’s own egoistic agenda, a curse against the universe….these are all ways language can deprive us of energy otherwise allocated for the accomplishment of Good.  Like Yunus, we should hold our words until the right one approaches, the one that “changes poison into butter and honey”.

The magnitude of this challenge is clear in the current global landscape. The rise of technology has not only given us a variety of platforms from which to use our words carelessly and often; it has also opened our psyches and souls to the millions of meaningless words spoken by others. We are encouraged to push the entirety of our lives–our hopes, dreams, desires, and accomplishments–onto others, feeding our habits for constant attention, affection, and desirability. How, then, can we possibly withhold words until they ripen with meaning and compassion?

Counselors are blessed with a professional setting that encourages this process of patience and growth. Words, when they are spoken, must be carefully weighed and measured. They must reflect the professional knowledge of the speaker, but only in relation to the patient’s anguish and concern. They must also contain compassion and understanding. They may even be graced by the light touch of Spirit. Too many words and the power of the message is lost. Too few and the message remains unclear, muddled. May we all learn with Yunus how to “withhold the unripened thought” until the timing is right. It seems a great challenge, but one that also contains an immense blessing in its power to change and improve lives.

What’s the Invitation?

by Andrea Noel

I began working for the federal government on April 5, 2006, and since that fateful day my job connected me to one of my life’s purposes. This purpose is using my technical knowledge and skills as an engineer to improve the quality of life for individuals. The motto of my agency is “We save lives” and everyone in our agency wholeheartedly works daily to achieve the goals of our agency’s mission to live up to our motto. So, during this government shutdown I cannot help but wonder why House and Senate officials are not calling to mind how the work they do impacts the lives of others.

We are all familiar with where good intentions can lead as many of our political leaders coin their choices as good intentions for the American public. Author, Andy Stanley, in Principle of the Path, shares that, “It’s not that we fail to see trouble brewing on the horizon. It’s a lack of honesty. We have a hard time leveling with ourselves. We deceive ourselves about why we choose the things we choose. And then we spin a web of excuses to protect ourselves, excuses that over time we come to believe.” The entire world is witnessing the decision-makers of our country contrive their webs of deception in a poor attempt to create solutions to our countries very real problems.

As I sit at home listening to the political pundits, and trying to keep my anxieties at bay, I wondered if God was presenting an invitation during this government shutdown. Maybe there are areas in my life that need honest review? Or, there could be some choices I’ve already made requiring further consideration? Maybe, I need to reflect on how I am deceiving others or myself? Yes, the government shutdown is a huge issue that needs immediate resolution, but I believe real change begins with me and within each one of us. So, I invite you to reflect with me. What is God inviting you to consider during this Government shutdown?

 

Fixin’ to Grow: How Our Mindsets Affect Us More Than We May Think

by Kathleen Gerwin

Picture this:

You’re back in grade school and you’ve just received that oh-so-dreaded report card; this time however, you’re full of excitement because the far column reads ‘A’ all the way down. You rush home, eager to show your parents, knowing they will be so pleased. They are most likely going to say . . .

“Honey, we’re so proud of you! Look how smart you are!”

Or

“Honey, we’re so proud of you! You’ve worked so hard!”

While both responses are valid and affirming, they speak to two distinct mindsets about the relationship between our capacity and our performance. The first reaction speaks to a fixed-mindset—the belief that all of our talents and abilities are innate and unchanging. In a fixed mind-set, we believe that our intelligence, athletic ability, artistic skills or any other trait is carved in stone—we got a certain amount of it at birth and we’re going to have the same amount when we die.

The second response speaks to a growth-mindset. In a growth-mindset, an individual operates under the assumption that growth and change can happen in any area of life, with effort and experience. A growth-mindset views capacities such as intelligence, athleticism, and creativity as constantly in flux and as faculties to be cultivated over time. This type of mind-set shows up when we acknowledge the process along with the outcome and view life with elasticity.

While it is certainly true that there is a strong argument for the role of Nature when it comes to traits (no one is going to argue that Albert Einstein or Michal Jordan didn’t have a bit of a natural leg-up!) research shows that individuals who hold fixed-mindsets about their abilities are far more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and are ultimately less successful than their growth-minded peers. This is due to the fact that fixed mindset individuals view success and failure as a reflection of themselves and their abilities. On the other hand, growth-minded individuals fortify themselves against many of the side-effects of failure by viewing their capacities as ever changing, and more of a reflection of their willingness to risk rather than their core identity.

Which type of mind-set are you operating from? What type of mindsets are you encouraging in your loved ones, clients and or those you minister to?

How To Succeed At Staying Stagnant Without Even Trying

by Kathleen Gerwin

Personal growth, self-actualization, spiritual maturity—that’s all we seem to talk about in the pastoral counseling profession! But what about advice for those who would like to remain stuck, possibly depressed and certainly 100% growth-free? Here’s a helpful “How To” list for anyone who would like to succeed at staying stagnant—with as little effort as possible, of course…

  • Seek the company of friends who won’t—under any circumstances— challenge you. In fact, see if you can find a community of these like-minded folks and spend all of your time with them. Another possible un-growth strategy is to avoid people all together.
  • Be sure not to engage in a spiritual practice on a regular basis—talking about praying, meditating or practicing awareness is fine, but be careful not to actually DO these things!
  • Load up on a daily diet of stress, drama, and distractions. If these three “stagnation” building blocks are in place, you’re well on your way to setting yourself up to becoming growth-free. Conversely, healthy eating, regular exercise, and a daily self-care practice create optimal conditions for growth, so try to avoid these.
  • Stay firmly fixed in your routines, habits, and viewpoints. Studies show that those who take well thought-out risks tend to be happier and have a more positive over-all attitude, so remember to engage in risk-aversion at every opportunity!
  • If you’re the type of person who likes to avoid your feelings or any type of inner work, then you’re already at a relatively low risk for growth. But don’t worry if you’re the type who likes to endlessly ruminate and stay joylessly mired in you’re inner depths for weeks—there’s hope for you, too! This can be just as an effective strategy for staying stagnant.
  • Be on the lookout for the ways in which joy and humor might subtly work their ways into your life—these two little sneaks can take you outside of yourself and connect you to others in a way that can be very dangerous for anyone trying to stay on the path to stagnation. Be especially careful never to cultivate a light-hearted, grateful attitude!