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!

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.

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.

When Things Fall Apart

“When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test of each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize.”

– Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Many clients come to us with their own versions of “falling apart” and it is our privilege as counselors to share in that space with them and to not flinch, (or to flinch but still not run). In that space and with the understanding that there may not be a specific “destination”, but a belief that the counseling journey will produce movement, a more enlightened person or both. And it is that universal love for the client that allows the counselor to be in that space without agenda, impatience or predetermined result. If universal love is the foundation upon which the counseling relationship is built, then acceptance would then be the framework of that counseling relationship. The universal love can lead to an acceptance of the client for who and what they are, which is many times far beyond their actions and behavior. That growing space of acceptance, supported by the universal love, allows the client to feel safe enough to open those dark doors and shine light on dark hallways within them. But acceptance also requires that the counselor accept a few things as well. The first acceptance is that of the counselor’s limitations. Even with the best techniques, theories and counseling presence, there is a limit to how much can be accomplished. That limit is based upon many factors, a good number of which are outside of the counselor’s control (client willingness, client support systems, environment just to name a few). There is also an acceptance of the fact that the effective and productive counseling process is not free of pain or discomfort. Many times I have found myself shying away from asking questions that may cause the client discomfort or even pain. And I have had to realize that the client was ALREADY in pain and discomfort. So yes a portion of my reluctance was based upon that concern for the client, but a portion of that was also for me. I wanted to avoid the pain and discomfort that I would feel, so I avoided certain lines of questions and inquiries in part because of my lack of acceptance that discomfort on both sides (the client and the counselor) are a natural and essential part of the process of truer healing.

 

 

Gratitude that Grows Us

by Kathleen Gerwin

Lent just might be my favorite season. That’s not something I advertise and certainly not something I lead with at cocktail parties. When most people hear the word “Lent,” it usually brings to mind images of Girl Scout cookies deferred and pizza every Friday for a month, not to mention oh-so-fun terms like sacrifice and self-deprivation.

This used to be my view of Lent—40 days of chocolate-less Facebook deprivation. For the past few years however, I have been picking a different Lenten commitment to practice over 40 days and it has caused me to fall in love with this beautiful, misunderstood season.

This Lent, I chose gratitude. When I set out to practice gratitude, I had no idea the riches I would discover. I knew that grateful people were happier, healthier, lived longer, and were just more enjoyable to be around. I was excited to focus on all of the riches in my life that I often miss because I’m “too busy” or unaware. What I was really interested in, however, was how this practice might help me to become more thankful for the things that I’m not naturally inclined to be grateful for, like that co-worker who just won’t stop talking while I am furiously working, or the fender bender on my way to  class . . . or even the relationship where my trust was betrayed.

As I have practiced gratitude over the last 30 days or so, I have not found that the interruptions, disappointments and hurts have ceased—if anything, I am even more aware of them. What I have found is that these moments where gratitude seems impossible have opened me up to the opportunity that the moment presents. American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron writes beautifully on this topic. Rather than being originally sinful, Sr. Chodron sees people as originally wounded. Each one of us has a tender place of vulnerability or hurt that we go throughout life trying guard. Sometimes we’re successful at guarding the spot and we feel like life is good and everything is as it should be. Sometimes, however, we fail to defend our wound and stuff gets in—people annoy us or disappoint us or even fail us and we have to experience the pain of our wounding all over again.

It is at these times, however, that we are offered the opportunity to really heal  ourselves. When stuff “gets in” and our defenses break down, that is when we have the chance to become our authentic selves and connect with the fact that we are worthy and loved just as we are and there is no need to go through life with walls up. Suddenly, life becomes more spacious and gentle. The universe is a kinder, more joyful place to be. And that is certainly something to be grateful for.

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.”

Loyola Magazine » Playing through Grief: Helping Children Heal

Beverly Sargent, a current Ph.D candidate, published two books about helping children use child-centered therapy to play through the grief of losing a parent. She was featured in Loyola Magazine’s December 2012 issue.

Read more here:

Loyola Magazine » Playing through Grief: Helping Children Heal.

Shining a light in the darkness of despair: Holding hope for the client until (s)he is ready to receive it

The holiday season is live and the malls are crowded with shoppers. Beautifully decorated stores lure customers through their doors with a promise of exclusive sales. Names placed on lists are checked off as patrons load gifts into their shopping carts. Churches welcome their flock and extend an invitation to those who have strayed, to “come home for Christmas.” Brightly lit homes greet holiday guests, and scrumptious dinners are planned for families who travel by plane, train, bus, and car to spend Christmas with their loved ones. Everywhere the atmosphere is electrified with joy and excitement, as Christians and non-Christians alike prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Christmas is considered by many to be the most wonderful time of the year. It commemorates the birth of our Savior. But for those who are submerged in the darkness of despair, it is a difficult time. Consider the wife who is celebrating Christmas without her husband for the first time; the daughter whose mother died before they could reconcile after an argument; the mother with no money to buy gifts for her children; the children whose mother can’t find her way home after a night of drugs and alcohol; the old man who is all alone simply because he has no one left. For them, Christmas is a time of want; a depressing reminder of what they have lost, or never had. As pastoral counselors we are tasked to make a difference for those who are in despair and to offer them a sense of hope.

Hope is what Jesus’ incarnation is about, and why He is the light of the world. In John 12:46, Jesus said “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me will not remain in darkness.” During the Christmas season there are many people in darkness. Pastoral counselors are uniquely qualified to help shine a light into their world.  As psychospiritual healers, integrating psychology with spirituality, we are often called upon to compassionately hold hope for our clients until they are ready to receive it themselves. What a beautiful gift that one can receive at Christmas – the gift of hope.

As I serve my clients during this blessed Christmas season, I know that I cannot undo their past, but I can try to soften the impact as I prepare them to face life as it unfolds.  Christmas is much more than the commercial trappings that are propagated by businesses. Jesus came on earth to shine a light so that no one will remain in darkness as long as they believe in him.  He came to give us hope. Pastoral counselors have an opportunity to help our clients claim that hope and escape from the darkness of despair.  This is such a significant and honorable role for us, and one that I accept with gratitude and humility.

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.

“Go Take a Walk!” – Constructing an Empowering Theological Response to Suffering with Dr. Jill Snodgrass

Dr. Jill at FDR Memorial - One of her Favorite Places

JoAnn:  How do you incorporate spirituality into your teaching?

Dr. Jill: In the Suffering class (PC732 Spiritual and Theological Dimensions of Suffering), we start with a song as a musical response to suffering. I am intentional with incorporating a devotional practice such as a time of silence and framing each class in a theological way. We have two lenses: our social science lens and our religion/spirituality/theology lens. We are in a constant dialectic between them. I think the two different languages are not striving toward the same thing – except health and wholeness. They need to be held in relationship with one another; through this creative tension we find even greater insight. This is integration of spirituality into pastoral care.

JoAnn: Do you identify with the Jesuit Way of Being?

Dr. Jill: Yes, absolutely!  Cura personalis and making men and women for others is what we are trying to do – to create servants. Many service opportunities exist on campus such as CCSJ. This summer I received a Kolvenbach Grant to implement a spiritual/vocational discernment to the job readiness curriculum at Marian House – a program for women with histories of addiction and/or incarceration. Loyola is the most spiritually nurturing place where I have studied with invitations to attend to my relationship with God. That is huge!

JoAnn:  Was there anything that surprised you about Loyola?

Dr. Jill:  I appreciate our students’ maturity and the sacrifices they have made to be here. I have taught at other institutions where the humility of being a graduate student isn’t present. Humility and responsibility are important in graduate work. I had a professor once who said that only less than 1 percent of the population gets to have higher learning, so if you do not feel blessed every day, stop. I think they have an attitude of gratitude and a commitment that I have not seen in any other institution.

JoAnn:  You teach the Suffering Course, Spiritual and Pastoral Care, Introduction to Pastoral Counseling, and what else?

Dr. Jill: I taught Crisis Intervention and this Fall I teach Group Spiritual Guidance.  I will teach Pastoral Care Professional Seminar next semester. That is the kind of work that really excites me; the dialogue between theory and practice, looking at a current ministry situation, turning to what we know about best practices and saying: what are we going to do?

JoAnn: What course do you enjoy teaching most?

Dr. Jill:  I love the Suffering class because it is constructive and fun. We are never going to find out why bad things happen to good people. It’s really fun to wrestle with that question; to dialogue with personal experience and what theologians have been saying for millennia. It’s an interfaith class, so we look at suffering from different faith perspectives. There’s a tragic-comedy element in it because we have to laugh in order to suffer; you need both sides of that coin. Also, we are partnering with Grass Roots here in Columbia. The students in the course work with women-parents and children there. It’s like that book we read this year — What shall we say? Evil, suffering, and the crisis of faith by Thomas G. Long –  that was saying solvitur ambulando: the answer to suffering is by walking. To take on that perspective is empowering in a paradoxical way and deeply spiritual because you give it all over to God. I am not going to fix the world’s suffering in a lifetime, but I take steps toward it.

Read more about Dr. Snodgrass.