“To Steal, Kill, and Destroy”: Anxiety and Spiritual Direction

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I’m excited to share that I just had a short article published in Connections, the online publication of Spiritual Directors International, which is – quite self-explanatorily – an organized community for spiritual directors, also known as spiritual companions, or people who help other people become more aware of where and how God is present in their lives. (Hint: He’s everywhere – if we just learn to look!) SDI claims “more than 6,500 members in 42 countries around the world.”

In my article, “Facing Performance Anxiety in Spiritual Direction” (p. 7 of the newsletter), I describe a bit of what it’s like to be a new spiritual director and to feel my inner “demons” of insecurity and fear triggered by something that happens in a direction session as well as how my peer supervisors helped me get to the bottom of what was bothering me.

Here are two short snippets from the piece.Screenshot 2018-05-25 at 11.42.41 AM


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And here’s the header image the editor chose: Screenshot 2018-05-25 at 11.47.33 AM

That’s me, facing down my fears! Obviously on a day where I’m wearing fake eyelashes.

(You can find the complete article and the full edition of Connections here.)

Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Book Review)

Day 12 of my 30-day writing challenge

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Many Christians undertake Bible reading, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines like fasting out of a desire to “work for Christ” or out of guilt for not doing more. Ultimately, these activities can drain and frustrate, drawing us further away from God, not closer. God invites us to something different: spiritual transformation and a deeper life with him. 

Ruth Haley Barton’s practical, introductory book, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, is for all of us who experience an “invitation” to a deeper life: a longing and searching for connection with God. Barton helps us to recognize and follow this invitation to deepened relationship through the practice of spiritual disciplines. Prompted by the desires of our truest selves, we enter into the mystery of God’s transforming presence. 

Sacred Rhythms leads us through step-by-step guides to a number of spiritual disciplines, with the goal of making these disciplines part of our regular practice. These disciplines include approaches to Scripture reading and prayer, but because they are focused on being with God, rather than doing for God, they lead us towards a new way of life in relationship with God instead of more task-oriented work. As we embrace these disciplines, we will discover openness to the “everyday beauty and fullness that comes from paying attention and finding God in the midst of it all.”

In each subsequent chapter, Barton introduces a new practice or grouping of practices: solitude (especially important in an age of technology), Lectio Divina, prayer (silent, breath, intercessory, community, and life-as-prayer), cultivating bodily wholeness (caring for and listening to your body through exercise, prayer, and meditation), the examen of conscience, Sabbath rest, and creating a personal rule of life. These practices do not necessarily have to be learned in the order the book gives, but they each build on and support each other. Together they all lead up to the logical end of creating the rule of life: a set of prayerfully determined, individualized commitments to “values, practices and relationships” that determine what one does daily, weekly, monthly, yearly in order to sustain openness to God.

The book is a valuable resource for any individual seeking a deepened journey with God, whether new to the spiritual disciplines, needing a reminder, or hoping to create a rule of life. It can also be used by a small group, a spiritual director and directee, or a couple.

Appendix A is a guide for taking a group through the book, with prompts for the leader and study questions for everyone. Barton emphasizes that anyone who wants to go through this book as a small community must commit to the journey together – to the prayer and practices outlined, as well to creating a safe environment of support for all, where God (not any person or persons within the group) is understood to be in charge of each person’s spiritual transformation. Appendix B offers a short list of disciplines that may help an individual counter particular sins and negative patterns; for example, the practice of Sabbath keeping as a way of transforming patterns of over-busyness.

Although Barton confesses at one point that it is only in solitude with God that she does not feel lonely, she also establishes the importance of entering into spiritual transformation within the context of Christian community and spiritual friendship. She names Christian community as a discipline in itself, and a vital element of the formation process. It was first modeled by Jesus and the disciples – both by the larger group of 12, and by the select few that he choose to be with him in more vulnerable moments.

Barton is a gentle and encouraging guide, modeling the kind of unhurried listening to self and to God that she is advocating. Without making the book about herself, she helps the reader identify with the physical and spiritual exhaustion that led her to seek transformation. Her simple confession at the end that she has slipped out of her own sacred rhythms while finishing this book also demonstrates the generous acceptance of self that comes from a fuller understanding of God’s love for each of us, and his patience for wherever we may be on our journeys.  

Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction (Book Review)

Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction

by Christine Valters Paintner and Betsy Beckman

The book’s premise is that “a primary way that we can experience God’s mystery is through the process of our own creative expression,” that the “arts are the language of the soul” and that “God has been inviting us into this sacred dialogue since the earliest awakenings of humanity.” Art is individual, but also collective, rooted in human memory (the authors are fans of Jungian dreamwork) as well as in the primal rhythms and movements of communication between mother and child. The authors link art with right-brain activity, and claim that art making can bring balance between the two hemispheres of the brain, with their different kinds of wisdom. They conclude that we all have divine creativity within us, meaning we are all in essence artists, and write from this same perspective of openness towards many religions and spiritual experiences.

The authors describe the expressive arts as similar to prayer in that the focus is the process, not the outcome. The art-making process is a kind of pilgrimage – a journey that risks the unknown as a way to encounter the sacred. It is also a way to create a tabernacle for the inner self – to create space and welcome for one of the many voices inside you clamoring for attention to emerge, and be heard.

In the context of spiritual direction, the spiritual director becomes an “artist for the soul,” and the artistic process is an invitation to listen to the self without judgment, and to be fully present in the moment.  The book includes guidelines for the direction experience – confidentiality, mindfulness, honoring limits, risk-taking, honoring wisdom, and expressing needs to the group – as well as initial guidelines for engaging the arts that are too many to list here, but would be useful for any practitioner.

The book is broken into three sections: Spiritual Direction and the Arts, Explorations of Different Art Modalities, and Working in Different Life Contexts. It’s a nice mix of background and underlying philosophy, examples of exercises, snippets of artistic products (poems, Psalms, photographs of artwork, descriptions of dances), and responses to exercises from a variety of people, both directors and workshop participants. Each exercise is keyed with a symbol so the reader can easily tell what modality is used, whether storytelling, imagination, movement, visual art, music, or poetry.

Paintner and Beckman have created a useful resource / toolkit for those interested in using art in spiritual direction, either with individual directees or with groups. I do think that experiential learning in addition to reading the book would be helpful, and perhaps necessary, for most people who wanted to use these modalities, especially if (like me in several of these areas) you lack expertise or comfort in the arts.