Before You Begin

By Kate Gerwin

With the PC Open House coming up next week, thought I would put together a list of a few things I would tell anyone starting the MS program.

  1. Let the process unfold in its own time. Two and a half years and no more. That’s how long I wanted the program to take me when I first started. I was, by necessity, working full-time so even though this rich, growth producing experience may need more time to evolve in me, that fact was secondary to my desire to get it done. As it stands, I am slated to graduate in May of 2015, five and a half years after I started. And I wouldn’t have changed a thing. The “extra” time it took wasn’t extra at all—it was vital space for me to learn, integrate, question, play and grow. So if you are like me and find yourself anxious to be finished before you have even started, take heart! The process will take the time it needs to, no more, no less.
  2. Get involved.  I had the great fortune of attending Loyola Maryland (at that time Loyola College) as an undergrad and one of the things I appreciated most about my choice is how many opportunities I was presented with to get involved in campus life and other activities. When I started grad school however, I was working full-time, living far from campus and like many grad students, really pressed for time. In the last year or so, I have become slowly become more involved with the Pastoral Counseling community and it has been very rewarding. Even something as simple as meeting up with classmates for a cup of coffee can help you feel more connected and invested and is well worth the time you think you don’t have.
  3. Save Stuff! In fact, save everything! For one thing, you will need to have all of your syllabi to qualify for licensure. For another, you never know what kind of insight you will glean from that one little hastily scribbled note down the line when you are actually practicing in the counseling field.
  4. Plan Backwards. When I started the program, it was all I could do to register for one class—the thought of planning out what classes I would be taking the next semester, or the next year seemed way too overwhelming! I quickly learned however, that the best way to move forward is to plan backwards. As I learned what classes were offered when and got a sense of my overall “plan”, it became easier to see where I stood in the bigger picture and keep myself on track towards my graduation goal.
  5. Find a peer advisor—or a whole team of them. As great as Advisors are, the reality of office hours and schedules makes meeting regularly somewhat difficult. It’s definitely in your best interest to get to know some individuals who are further along in their journey and glean whatever information and insight you can from them. They can be invaluable resources for helping you navigate everything from what classes to take to helping you through the major challenge of clinicals.
  6. Take your own therapy seriously. While I have always valued therapy, I must admit I saw the 20 hour requirement as a bit of a chore when I first started—one more thing to fit into my busy schedule. As I grew in the program however and things started coming up for me however, my own therapy has been key in the process of evolving my identity as a counselor and a person. I think it is one of the best parts of Loyola’s program, so don’t short change yourself!
  7. Network Now. You never know if your “first friend” in Intro to Pastoral Counseling could later become a link to a job down the line! The program is just as much about developing your own professional identity as it is knowing the material, and networking is a key—and very practical—part of that process.

And most of all, as strange as it sounds, HAVE FUN!

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.

 

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).

Walking with the Ancestors

by Rev. Shelly Mohnkern

Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother, my sisters and my brothers.
Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place on Asgard in the halls of Valhalla,
Where the brave may live forever.

-The 13th Warrior

As the year slips into cooler weather and the earth into dormancy, we enter in a time of reflection amidst our academic learning. This is the time where our thoughts divide between school and the upcoming season of celebrations, family, and light. It is a natural part of the waning of the year. We are reminded that, like the year itself, life is a cycle, carried on after us by our children or the children we know, and perpetuated before us by the ancestors.

The crisp smell in the air always puts me in the mindset of remembrance. This is the time of year when we remember those who went before us, and honor their journeys both in life and afterwards. We cleanse our sacred spaces, we light candles, we care for graves and spaces of memory and we gather together and share our histories. We celebrate Samhain, All Saints Day, Dia De Los Muertes, and All Souls Day. For some this is a solitary time, and for others, a time of community.

Honoring our ancestors cultivates a sense of kinship, family loyalty and lineage. It celebrates the great Mystery of who we are, where we come from, and where we go when the familiarities of living leave us. It deepens our sense of history and how it has shaped us. Honoring ancestors is a tradition that is found world-wide, in almost every culture, class, political system and technical stage of advancement. Even those who have never known their genetic ancestors can find ancestral connection through those that raised them, those that taught and shaped them, and the society that surrounds them.

My ancestors have led me here, to pastoral counseling, and to Loyola. The lessons given to me by my parents, my grandparents, my family history, the tales I have heard from my loved ones about their families, and everything my community brought me up to believe in, to feel and to seek, have culminated in this path, at this time, in this place. I open my ears, my heart, and my spirit, and I walk with them for a time, giving thanks and reconnecting and finding myself at the heart of it.

 

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.

Letting Go

by Dayna Pizzigoni

“Slowly, she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.

First she surrendered her green,

then the orange, yellow, and red…” Macrina Wiederkehr

About two years ago I decide to let go. I let go of my insistence to predict God’s plan for my life. I had just experienced a falling apart, a heart-break that invited me into a profound surrender. I held on to only two things: hope and a desire to know God anew.

I let go of my idea of God’s will for me because I had no answers anymore and the search seemed too clouded by my fear and will to control it. My sacrament of letting go began with re-discovering the grace inside myself. I couldn’t start to get to know God any other way. I had to accept the Truth inside me before I could trust the Truth anywhere else.

I can’t tell you how I got to know myself again. I did not take on this self-discovery like a project or goal that I had to carefully note and analyze. I accepted the beauty of uncertainty and let the process unfold. (By the way, this feat, by this recovering perfectionist, would not have happened without the gift of being broken open.) I remember doing things like going to yoga, eating at a restaurant by myself, attending mass during the week, seeing my therapist, and allowing time and space in my life to do whatever I felt like (eg coloring).

“And then, the sacrament of waiting began

The sunrise and sunset watched with

Tenderness, clothing her with silhouettes

They kept her hope alive.

They helped her understand that

her vulnerability

her dependence and need

her emptiness

her readiness to receive

were giving her a new kind of beauty.

Every morning and every evening she stood in silence and celebrated

the sacrament of waiting.” Macrina Wiederkehr

In this surrender, I waited for whatever life would present. I practiced trusting myself more and waited for God to reveal Herself however She wanted. I risked greater vulnerability and let God love me.

I sit writing to you now on a small porch outside my apartment enjoying the autumn sun with my husband inside. From heart-break to heart-bounty, I rest in the grace of letting go and waiting for God to surprise me again. Let go of something this fall as the leaves surrender. Wait for God to surprise you. Life is not a statistical analysis where we predict outcomes. Life is unfolding.

Change

by Nicole Snyder

Change is a part of life.  Weather changes.  Last week it was warm and dry, this week it is cold and rainy.  Seasons change.  Summer is gone and fall is here with its red, orange, and yellow leaves.  A new moon gives way to a full moon.  Days are becoming shorter, with a little less sunlight each day.  These changes become a part of the rhythm of my life.  Changes that are predictable.  Changes that I look forward to.

There are also changes as a result of choice.  Some choices change my life in minor ways and others send ripples through my life in dramatic ways.  My most recent life altering choice was to leave my home in Portland, Oregon, pack my stuff into a trailer, and drive 4,500 miles in order to attend the Pastoral Counseling program.  This change, no matter its impact and therefore challenges, was by choice.  As a result, the stress associated with all the changes in my life is, in many ways, expected.  I also have expectations of when all of these major changes will become routine and when the sense of change will decrease.  Like a large rock thrown into a pond, I can count on the ripples eventually dissipating.

Then there are changes that are neither predictable nor by choice.  These changes have spun my world, shattered expectations, and caused me to lie broken on the floor in pieces.  I could never have predicted their appearance and I often cannot predict when the ripples will dissipate.  Yet these unexpected changes have also been the changes from which I have risen stronger, leaving behind in the ashes the parts of me I no longer need.

Since arriving in Maryland, my choice like Pandora’s box has quickly transformed into unexpected change.  My knee jerk reaction is to resist, minimize, and deny what the change is allowing me to learn about myself.  I have to actively work at resisting these urges and instead embrace this tidal wave of change as a window of opportunity for healing.  I have learned the hard way over the years that embracing change is the best way forward, but it has been highly inconvenient.  Lying in pieces on the floor does not go well with being in graduate school.  Despite the inconvenience, I attempt to be grateful for my inward desire to be whole, for the opportunity to heal, and my strength to continually change.

My faith (both in myself and the metaphysical) is what I hold onto in the midst of change.   Change is what I hope to be all about, changing myself, and helping others find the change they want for themselves.  It is why I have chosen this career field.  Change is terrifying, but it is also inspiring.  May the changes before us inspire us.