Archive for January, 2013


Necessary Lessons

Despite being aware of a heightened spiritual sensitivity since I was a child, it has taken me a long time to learn some of life’s necessary lessons. In fact, some of them I keep learning over and over, because they don’t seem to stick.

Not until I studied with the Rev. Joe Stabile, one of the co-directors of Life in the Trinity Ministries, did I have broad categories for the lessons that kept confronting me. Here is Joe’s list from our class on the theology and practice of spiritual disciplines:

  1. Life Is Hard.
  2. You Are Not That Important.
  3. Your Life Is Not About You.
  4. You Are Going to Die.
  5. You Are Not in Control.

Think about these five statements for a moment. How do they compare with the messages that we get from the world around us? Perhaps this side-by-side comparison will help:

  1.  Life Is Hard vs. Life Is Easy When You Get a Lot of Money.
  2. You Are Not That Important vs. What’s in It for Me?
  3. Your Life Is Not About You vs. I Got Mine; Sorry About You.
  4. You Are Going to Die vs. You Can Live Forever with Enough Exercise, Tofu and Money.
  5. You Are Not in Control vs. This Product Will Give You Control Over Your Life.

Christians who read their Bibles frequently will find these five necessary lessons echoed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel according to Matthew. Many today believe that Jesus’ teachings from these three chapters form the true heart of the Christian faith. Here’s one example:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” – Matthew 5:38-42.

The Five Necessary Lessons of the Spiritual Life, as Joe Stabile titles them, are all about one thing: Learning how to let go. In fact, the idea of letting go may be the most reliable gauge by which to assess the authenticity of any spiritual path or theological system.

At the same time, these instructions are shocking, and they are extremely hard to follow in everyday life. For instance, the baptismal rituals of many Christian denominations today include a vow to “resist the power of evil by whatever means God gives you.” That is clearly the opposite of what Jesus teaches in Matthew. How do we reconcile these two statements? For that matter, how are we to know what is the right action at any given time?

Discerning right action in a situation develops from practicing spiritual disciplines. By spending time apart with God through prayer, contemplation, journaling and other means, we can review our actions and our relationships in the light of what God would have us do and be. In particular, we can test both what we’re told and how we respond through the lenses of these five essential spiritual lessons. In this way, we learn to let go of the false ego that always must be justified in its actions, and give ourselves freely to God’s loving correction and improvement.

 Today’s Thought: What kind of messages am I getting from the world around me? How am I responding to them?

New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 2013

Starting off on a journey for me is usually exciting. I’m a very seasoned traveler after decades of practice as a working journalist, so I can travel well.

Today, however, I’m starting a different kind of journey. After two years of study and work, I’ve been certified as a spiritual director. God called me to this ministry for some 10 years before I quit resisting the call, and then God arranged it so that I could receive the education I needed despite adverse financial circumstances. In this respect, I’m already a witness to God’s miraculous mystery. Now I’m embarked on a new phase of this journey as someone equipped to help others find their own paths to God.

For those unfamiliar with the ministry of spiritual direction, which dates as far back as third-century Christianity, I would describe a spiritual director’s purpose as threefold:

  1. To listen carefully to another person’s life story;
  2. To watch for and point out signs of where God is at work in the directee’s life; and
  3. To suggest ways the directee can improve their own awareness of God’s presence through specific spiritual disciplines.

A responsible spiritual director never recommends a spiritual discipline that he or she doesn’t personally practice. Otherwise, how would the director know what to look for in a directee’s own spiritual account? Hence, I’ve decided to start 2013 by establishing the new Spiritual Direction section of Watermarked.com.

Journaling regularly offers one of the best spiritual practices for people in today’s warp-speed world. It gives time and space to capture the most remembered moments of one’s day, providing the opportunity to recognize God at work in human circumstances. Posting frequently about spiritual topics here will give me the opportunity to practice one of the disciplines I most suggest to those I counsel individually.

In addition, I plan to use this spiritual journal as a place to discuss and refine curriculum that I’m writing for two workshops I plan to lead in the near future. One, titled “Blessed Is She,” is a two-day workshop intended for women to explore, craft and share their spiritual histories. The second, tentatively titled “Teach Us to Pray,” will explore the many ways that we can enter into regular encounters with God, which is the true nature of prayer.

I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

Today’s Thought: No matter where you are, you are in the holy presence of God. Can you perceive it?