To Withdraw and Draw Inward

by Andrea Noel

Spiritual retreat’s offer us an opportunity to withdraw from the routine of our busy lives, inviting us to go within and bring focus to the heart and soul. A spiritual retreat should help us create depth, space, time for prayer, and grounding. Every retreat is distinct and finding the right one that works for you takes intention. When selecting a retreat, you could consider the following.

  • What are you looking for in a retreat:
  1. Context and content
  2. Facilitators/retreat leaders
  3. Location and accommodation
  4. Schedule and duration
  5. Cost

Context identifies the set of circumstances surrounding the retreat, i.e. is it a group or personal retreat; Yoga or Church retreat; all-male or all-female retreat. Content relates to the focus of the retreat. What will you learn while on retreat? Is this particular area relevant to your spiritual needs at this time? It is also important to know who will lead your retreat. What credentials, experience, or learning does a particular individual, or individuals, hold in a specific area to help facilitate creating depth, integrity, and focus during the retreat?

Location and accommodation represent where the retreat will take place and where you will stay if over-night lodging is needed? Also, how do the accommodations contribute to the theme and feel of the retreat? Schedule and duration are important aspects to consider because it can greatly influence the cost of the retreat. The selected date for the retreat could also impact the entire retreat experience. For example, if you are at a retreat center with beautiful outdoor landscapes and you want to enjoy the open outdoors you would need to be mindful of the weather when scheduling your retreat.

Finally, you should consider the costs associated with the retreat. Retreats can range from $50-$500 not including travel costs. Set a comfortable budget for your retreat, including the retreat, accommodations, food, and travel costs. Do not correlate costs with the value of a retreat. You can go on a $20 retreat and leave rejuvenated and transformed. You can also spend $2000 and leave unmoved and frustrated. Being on retreat is less about how much you spend and where you are, it is more about your spiritual intent and the purpose of the retreat.

Here are a few of my favorite retreat centers in the Washington Metropolitan Area:

Dayspring Silent Retreat Center, Germantown Maryland

http://www.dayspringretreat.org/

Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center, Marriotsville Maryland http://rccbonsecours.com/home.html

Yogaville, Buckingham Virginia

http://www.yogaville.org/

The Shambhala Center, Washington DC

http://dc.shambhala.org/

The Belfry, Lexington Virginia

http://bellfry.org/

Another great resource for finding retreats nationally and internationally is www.retreatfinder.com

 

 

Hope-FULL


Psychologist Irvin Yalom stated that one of the most important agents of change that the therapist can use to assist the client is the instillation of hope.

While I am not an expert in the process, I did want to share a few lessons that I have learned that hopefully will be of benefit to you.

 

We instill hope, not install it

We are not the therapy versions of the Best Buy Geek Squad. We don’t install hope, like they would install high-definition television sets. During the counseling sessions we strive to “instill” hope. Instilling is defined as the process of “gradually but firmly establishing”. In therapy we try to “gradually but firmly” connect the client to the hope that is already inside them. It took hope for the client to even come to the counseling session. So they already have the hope, we just have to help them increase it.

We bring the belief of hope with us

Even though we don’t install hope, we do bring the belief that the client has hope inside them, which can be built upon. We bring the hope that the time spent in counseling will bring about a positive result. We bring the hope that we have been educated and prepared to journey with our clients through whatever challenges life has given them.

We hope in God

As great as our clinical skills may be, I personally believe that God is in the room as well. And that other person is God. I recognize that everyone may not embrace this hope and I understand that. When I feel lost in session, (and even when I don’t), I try to stay constantly aware that God is in the room and His love and grace are present as well. I also have hope that His love for the client, (and for me), is operating even more than my clinical skills and techniques. This is not to absolve me of being prepared, present and focused in session, but it is a sense or comfort.

Also as the semester begins, realize that hope is for you too! There may be times when you will feel that you are losing hope yourself. It may be after an unfruitful session with a client or after getting a bad grade. It may even be when the rest of your life intrudes and you are started to feel overwhelmed. When that happens remember this anonymous quote, “When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time”.

From Here to There

Someone is praying me to another path.

My path at Loyola has ended its long loving curve in my life. Finding my way here was an adventure in miracles. Most of those miracles occurred behind my back and without my permission yet that didn’t stop me from grabbing the opportunities  and reaping the rewards.

One of those rewards has been this cozy little relationship with Meaning Making. When the call for writers went out, I fell all over myself sending in my submission. When Betsy Davis asked me to take over the role of editor, I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. My idea of heaven is to sit, read, talk, and write endlessly about spirituality, God, religion, faith, humans, love, and Jesus, and never stir from my laptop.

It was almost a relationship of disordered affection. What else could be more important than writing about what is meaningful in life and how to make meaning, especially during times when it appears that events are meaningless? As a pastoral counselor, I was learning to help people find what Viktor Frankl called their “will to meaning.” Frankl believed, as I do, that when humans reach for more than who they believe they are and find their meaning, they become who they truly are. I was deliriously happy to find my meaning in reading and writing.

Fortunately, my comfort zone was often challenged in the presence of other blog writers. People like Vernon, Glenda, JoAnn, Andrea, and Kate made my editorial life a dream while writing about what compels us to grow, what drives us to find meaning, and what humbles us in our humanity. In them, I found myself. In finding myself, I realized that I have to do more than mouth the witty words and write the pretty paragraphs. I have to live the lessons.

Just as I am compassionate and caring with others, I have to be the same for me. And, yet, I have learned that, no, it’s not all about me. We are the manifestations of the Divine Spirit come to physical life here on planet earth. On my journey here at Loyola, I have learned that I am seeking that which I already am. I found all of me here.

And now I am taking me out there.

Namaste.

The Contemplative Leader

by Andrea Noel

 

Everyday usage of the word contemplate implies thorough consideration, or observation with continuous attention. In early Christian spirituality contemplation typically happens within the framework of prayer.

A simple definition of contemplation is “loving presence to what is.” In a Christian context, because we “live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28), being present to things as they are involves encountering the Christ who “fills the whole creation” (Eph. 1:23). In other words, Christian contemplation means finding God in all things and all things in God. Brother Lawrence, the 17th century Carmelite friar, called it “the loving gaze that finds God everywhere.”[1]

Contemplation is an all-encompassing type of presence; it is an instant, open awareness to all creation, accurately perceiving and benevolently responding to things as they actually are. Contemplation can be still and quiet or active and loud. Contemplative living is an orientation toward life that nurtures a simple willingness to be open to God’s movements, leading, and invitations.

The reality and diversity of our community begs for more contemplative leaders throughout our society. The hallmarks of a contemplative leader are transparency, vulnerability, and incompleteness. These characteristics expose the reality of human nature. They reveal humanity’s contusions, fallibilities, fears, innocence, and our need for God’s guiding love. These characteristics open the door for reconciliation, empathy, and change. Other qualities of a contemplative leader include: love, trust, faith, authenticity, prayerfulness, and courage.

The principles that guide contemplative leaders are counter-cultural to American social norms for successful leadership. Surrender is necessary for change; gentleness promotes action; doubt creates space for Divine guidance; being quiet permits a deeper fullness of life.

A contemplative leader is nurtured by an active commitment to prayer and spiritual disciplines: journaling, meditation, intercessory prayer, communal worship, and Sabbath. The type of spiritual discipline practiced is of least importance in the life of contemplative leadership. What matters more is having a consistent daily time of prayer.

A contemplative leader intentionally creates space for prayer and commits to praying during times when prayer is difficult. During seasons of doubt, insignificant awareness of God’s presence, or emotional, psychological and physical strains, a contemplative leader chooses to maintain a regular prayer practice.

The contemplative leader knows deep listening begins with listening from the heart and not the head; it involves empathy and self-reflection. Self-care, and peer support are essential elements for maintaining healthy boundaries and creating safe spaces for care and transformation. Inner work is done best within community. The contemplative leader is fully aware and committed to allowing God to be fully in control and prayer does not need to be elaborate, or difficult, but simply consistent and routine.


[1] Crumley, C., Dietrich, B., Kline, A. & May, G. (2004). What is contemplative spirituality? Retrieved from: http://www.shalem.org/index.php/resources/publications/articles-written-by-shalem-staff/contemplative-spirituality

Social Media Revisits The Intensive Prayer Unit

Recently a friend posted news of her illness on Facebook. Within hours she had many “Likes” and it was heartening to note that many friends had offered to pray. This is not a unique situation. Those who utilize social media can attest to similar incidents where prayerful support is offered to those in need. Various forms of social media have made it easier to connect in prayer, and while technology has caused greater visibility, the practice of group intercessory prayer is not new.

Several years ago, Dr. Frank Richardson, a professor at Loyola University Maryland, founded The Intensive Prayer Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore which offered prayerful support for patients upon request.  Praying for patients provides them comfort and hope by partnering spiritually with their treatment plans.

Such a partnership is similar to what pastoral counselors bring to clients. Like other mental health counselors, we provide psychological care, and we offer something more. Pastoral counselors who graduate from Loyola University’s program are equipped to provide mental health care through the integration of spirituality and psychology. Being a pastoral counselor goes beyond having a career; it is a vocation, a calling to respond to the needs of our clients holistically.

It is this holistic response which I bring to my practice with a goal of providing the best possible care. Although my way of intervention reflects my clients’ spiritual foundation, I look to the Bible for personal guidance and recognize that:

  • I am humbled by my clients’ willingness to trust me as they share their deep emotions. I find support in Psalm 37:3 “Trust in the Lord and do good.”

  • I value the gift of hope. When clients carry feelings of hopelessness, I hold hope for them until they can accept it themselves. I find support in St. Paul’s blessing in Romans 15:13:  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace.”

  • I appreciate the power of prayer. While I do not pray with my clients during session, I pray for them often. I find support in Mark 11:24, when Jesus said “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Prayer is a powerful tool. The Intensive Prayer Unit reflected an insightful and influential element in establishing an organized medium for intercessory prayer that still exists, expanded through social media. It is possible for those in need to receive prayerful support universally and immediately. So the next time you find an online friend standing in need of prayer, join the Intensive Prayer Unit, and don’t just “Like,” – PRAY.

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!

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.

Prayed for

Somebody must have prayed for me.

As I listen to my clients’ stories, I know I have been blessed and prayed for. I never could have landed here on my own.

My story is no more and no less than their stories, and as I look back over the half century that my breath has filled this air, that my thoughts have contained this world, and that my words have expressed my being, I know that I have never been alone. Someone else’s breath has named my name. Someone else’s thoughts have held my sanity. Someone else’s words have prayed my existence.

I know this to be true because even as my fingers find the letters to form these words, my tears find my eyes and release the divine truth that can only be felt within. This truth is unexplainable and its proof can be found in the footprints of my journey.

I never should have lived this long. I never should have created this peace. I never should have found sustenance by the energy of my creativity.

But I did. I found a path beyond confusion. I learned how life is often built on lies and that each of us has the right to find our own truths. I realized that I could make choices that took care of me and the world did not stop turning. The sun continues to meet me on schedule each morning.

Instead of a life of darkness and poverty, someone must have seen me living this life of light and abundance. Instead of a lonely life bereft of company except that of my own shadow, someone helped pray me a family and friends.

And in times of shadow, I simply have to pivot to see what is behind me and I see the divinity that is with me always.

When clients come to me for pastoral counseling and help that appears beyond the reach of human hands, I pray for their blessings and peace. Some of my clients are empty of hope. Some feel absolutely abandoned and alone with their secret horrors and bestial histories. They can envision no future without pain, no time without sorrow, no being without tears.

I will be their somebody.

Serenity, Courage, Wisdom

Hanging on a wall in my office, is a glass picture etched with the first four lines of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. At the end of each group session, my clients and I hold hands and recite the prayer together. As they leave, I pray that serenity, courage, and wisdom inform their decisions as they tend to their daily lives.

On Saturday, May 18, 2013, Loyola University Maryland held its 161st commencement ceremony. Among its graduates were members of the Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care Department. As they transition from the role of student to that of helping professional, I pray that serenity, courage, and wisdom inform their decisions as they tend to their clients.

The Pastoral Counseling program offers skills that graduates bring to the workforce. When they enter the world of work, they may realize that even with excellent skills, difficulties arise. Sometimes the difficulties are due to agency culture, or clients may not be motivated to change. During those occasions, we ask God to grant them the serenity to accept the things they cannot change.

For what can be changed, extra effort may be necessary. Pastoral Counselors are called to be advocates for clients. We hold hope and provide reassurance that there is light at the end of the tunnel. As clients respond to treatment, their accomplishments may radiate into our lives. Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda stated that “when one takes action for others, one’s own suffering is transformed into the energy that can keep one moving forward; a light of hope illuminating a new tomorrow for oneself and others is kindled.”  Recognizing the value of advocacy, we pray that God grant them the courage to change the things that they can.

The third attribute recalls Solomon’s response to God’s magnanimous offer to give him anything that he wanted.  Solomon replied “give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people that I may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9).  In essence, Solomon requested wisdom, and God, delighting in his selfless request, made him the wisest man who ever lived.

Socrates stated that “wisdom begins in wonder.” As Pastoral Counselors enter the workforce filled with hope, wonder, and a burning desire for excellence, my prayer is for a spirit of discernment to accompany them so they recognize the times when change is not possible, and be at peace. For those times when they can facilitate change, they should have the courage to advocate for their clients. Yet most importantly, they should trust God for the wisdom to know the difference.

Our work as Pastoral Counselors requires us to facilitate change, advocate for our clients, and be discerning about their needs. The class of 2013 is equipped for these tasks, and I am convinced that the counseling profession has received a gift with the addition of these new graduates to their rolls.

Loving and Forgiving

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano

 

As I knelt in prayer after communion one Sunday morning, I became aware that my praying had been subliminally replaced by the words of the hymn being sung by the choir.  It was a sweet melody, and the lyrics had grabbed hold of my soul:

  

Loving and forgiving are you, O Lord,
slow to anger; rich in kindness,
loving and forgiving are you.

(You Tube: Psalm 103: Loving and Forgiving)

I stayed on my knees savoring the significance of the words, realizing how blessed I was to be the recipient of God’s love and forgiveness.  The hymn ended, but the lyrics continued to demand my attention. I imagined myself to be loving and forgiving, slow to anger, and rich in kindness. I thought “how awesome that would be.”

The themes of love and forgiveness are not new to Christians.  They echo through religious writings, and occur often in the Bible.  In Colossians, Chapter 3, we learn that “if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.”  In that same chapter, St. Paul reminds us to put on “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (v. 12), and “over all these things, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (v. 14).

Practicing love and forgiveness is usually associated with spirituality, but it does not reside there alone.  If not in our personal lives, as pastoral counselors, we encounter clients whose health and/or relationships are compromised by an inability to forgive and love.  Oftentimes they believe that expressions of love or forgiveness might be misinterpreted for weakness.  Therefore, our initial task might sometimes be to help our clients release themselves from bondage by practicing forgiveness.  We help them recognize how challenging it is to love when filled with rage and resentment. Forgiveness offers them freedom to love.

What happens when one refuses to forgive?

If you’re unforgiving, you might pay the price repeatedly by bringing anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience.  Your life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present.  You might become depressed or anxious.  You might feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs.  You might lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others. (Mayo Clinic)

We can reverse those symptoms.  When we love and forgive we imitate Jesus, who with his dying breath asked his heavenly father “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  We must strive to love and forgive as our heavenly father loves and forgives us.  “God never gets tired of forgiving us; it is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness” (Pope Francis I).