Is Your Spiritual Director Certified? Probably Not.

As I write this in the early days of 2022, the tragedy and tangle of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape our world in ways both seen and unseen. Homelife and safety, public life and how we form it, mental health and our care for one another, schooling and teaching—all have undergone radical shifts for ill and for good. Counselors, therapists, social workers, all find their schedules full with those seeking care. The same is true of spiritual directors.

One of the gifts of this time comes from the shift in accessibility that we’ve seen across the globe. Forced to move online, caregivers now have more secure, effective, and safe ways to meet with clients regardless of their location. This has opened up the practice of spiritual direction to so many who simply did not have access to it before, which is a huge grace and a stunning gift.

Alongside that gift comes responsibility, and one of the ways that spiritual directors are charged with caring for their directees and the larger community is by the accurate representation of their training and credentials. As training in spiritual direction has proliferated, and spiritual direction becomes more and more known as a healing modality, I’ve begun to hear a certain kind of slippage in the language used to describe a spiritual director’s training and credentials. This is, I am completely sure, good-hearted, as most of our understanding of caring professions gets modeled after licensed professional therapy or social work. But it’s dangerous, unnecessary, and unkind to borrow language from one profession in order to bolster the distinctiveness of spiritual direction.

Spiritual directors, when presenting themselves to the public, preserve the integrity of spiritual direction by being in right relation with persons and organizations representing qualifications and affiliations accurately. —Spiritual Director’s International Guidelines for Ethical Conduct

In 2016, ESDA (Christ-Centered Spiritual Directors) published an article explaining to their members why representing themselves as a “certified spiritual director” is a problematic practice. In it author Monica Romig Green explains:

Generally, when someone uses the term “certified,” it communicates to the hearer that the person has been given a certification as opposed to just a certificate. It usually means that they possess an official designation from a qualifying professional organization that affirms they meet and uphold specific standards of their profession.

To become “certified,” one must show evidence to a certifying organization that they meet or exceed continuing professional standards. Additionally, as a professional designation, certification is usually something that can expire over time and must be renewed occasionally in order to affirm that someone is still practicing their work at a competent or high level of quality.

Contrastingly, receiving a certificate or diploma from a training program usually means that you have successfully completed your specific program’s educational requirements. It does not mean that you have met the practicing standards of a particular profession.

Regarding spiritual direction, there is, in fact, no specific and official standard for training/formation. That means that one person’s certificate of training could mean something completely different than someone else’s. For instance, I know of a program that gives a certificate after someone has spent 2 weeks studying spiritual direction, while other programs require that their students spend two to three years studying and complete hundreds of direction hours before they receive their certificate. With such variation in training, it’s easy to see why our training certificates would not automatically indicate meeting some kind of general standard.

If you’re a spiritual director or even someone exploring the practice of spiritual direction, the whole article is worth reading. As Green argues, and I concur, it isn’t just a splitting of hairs to insist that “completed a certificate in spiritual direction” is a more accurate and ethical way of representing training in spiritual direction than using the term “certified” (or, in several somewhat upsetting instances, I’ve heard spiritual directors refer to themselves as “licensed” which is both inaccurate and manipulative, as it creates a false sense of accountability and safety for the directee when the director has no such body of oversight).

As someone who also respects and honors the work that my colleagues in therapeutic and social work settings have done, I don’t want to water down the incredible amount of work and continuing education they have and continue to do, even if it appears to up my credibility.

There’s also an important tension to hold here, as there is a certifying body in spiritual direction and the supervision of spiritual directors (CCPC Global), through which I hold both certifications. This is an open organization, to which anyone globally can apply who meets the requirements of certification over and above having completed a certificate in spiritual direction. At the same time, the larger community of spiritual direction continues to hold a diversity of opinion about whether or not certification is necessary, beneficial, or an accurate measure of expertise in a field that holds so much Mystery. Spiritual Director’s International (SDI), for example, discourages the use of these credentials, while the professional spiritual direction associations of countries like Ireland or Australia have created even more rigorous standards and accountability structures for the practice within their borders.

As our push online since the emergence of COVID-19 has shown us, there is also great good to de-institutionalization of education. Seminary-level education is now available to those who would never be able to relocate in order to have access to educators of this quality. Systemic barriers historically operating in education because of sexism, ableism, or racism have been seriously (and thankfully) damaged by our ability to seek wisdom not just from “professionals” but from those with expertise and lived experience. Those whose voices have previously been silenced in these spaces and conversations have had the opportunity to create new and dynamic spaces for experience and education.

In the face of this wild, generative proliferation, it is nonetheless important to care for those seeking spiritual direction with an accurate and clear portrayal of education, experience, and expertise. As a practitioner, I’ve continued to sit in the “both/and” of the questions around the professionalization of spiritual direction. In churches and spiritual communities around the world, there are wisdom figures and those who listen on the margins who would never go to graduate school or seek the title of “spiritual director”—and I believe these faithful men and women are still doing the good work of spiritual direction in the world. I also believe that it is important for me and those I train in spiritual direction to continue to do the work of skills building, growth, and learning within the field and that when it is within the purview and possibility of a particular director, to seek to meet any professional standards that are helpful to their practice and serve their directees well.

The chances are that your spiritual director isn’t “certified.” How and whether that matters to a directee is in the hands of those seeking spiritual accompaniment. However, for ethical practice, spiritual directors need to represent their training, associations, and professional development in a clear, straightforward and well-thought-through manner.

Dread Leads You Deeper

Tara encountered Christiana Peterson and her words in Grand Rapids at the 2018 Festival of Faith & Writing. She knew immediately that Christiana would be a friend to the Anam Cara community. The excerpt below can be found in Christiana’s book, Mystics & Misfits: Meeting God Through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints.

Though the chapter this comes from is called Winter (and it is currently summer), when I stumbled across this, I loved it and wanted to share. Christiana gives us a glimpse into her every day journey – one that hold the roles of mother, wife and farmer with an ache to live in deep spiritual places. Christiana explores the desire to live a life of mysticism amidst the mundane routines of the daily life.


 

In the middle of February, my craving for the healing warmth of soil under my fingernails saw me starting my seeds inside the house too early. Flimsy black plastic trays lined the edges of my sliding glass doors. Their roots would be long enough to need more room before the soil in my garden was warm enough to transplant them. But I didn’t care. If I could just see something grow, I could believe that spring was possible. I could believe that the tracks in the snow—ones that marked my anxiety-filled trips to feed the chickens—were melting into the dirt, providing the moisture it needed for another year of growth. I needed to see the snow melting and the sun rising.

And I did. And just as my fingers were aching to grow something tangible in the soil, life was taking root inside my body as well: I discovered I was pregnant with our third child. Even though this was unexpected, we were excited to tell the kids. We knew Neva and Jude would take to their older sibling duties with gusto.

My belly expanded into the warmth of those summer months in the sixth growing season, healing parts of me. But true healing isn’t linear; it happens in fits and starts. Sometimes the tracks in the snow melt into the earth. And sometimes the snow covers them again and more are made.

Our lives had become waves of celebration and tension. Matthew and I realized that we could map out the farm seasons not by how well the farm had done or the health of the crops but by which major drama had occurred each year. The stress of five years in such an unsettled place began to catch up with both of us. Each winter, with the shorter days and so much more time to think, we wondered whether we should keep sticking it out for another farm season. It began to feel as though there were a fifth time of year: the season of dread.

In his book Contemplative Prayer, twentieth-century Cistercian monk and mystic Thomas Merton writes of the necessity of dread—dread leads you deeper. He says of a monk who is deep in monastic prayer:

The Word of God which is his comfort is also his distress. The liturgy, which is his joy and which reveals to him the glory of God, cannot fill a heart that has not previously been humbled and emptied by dread. Alleluia is the song of the desert.

The monk who is truly a man of prayer and who seriously faces the challenge of his vocation in all its depth is by that very fact exposed to existential dread. . . . The monk confronts his own humanity and that of his world at the deepest and most central point where the void seems to open out into black despair.

As I plunged more deeply into motherhood, I wondered what dread meant for a woman—one who, with her duties, couldn’t be a monk in the practical ways of life. Maybe she was a mother and a wife, working in the naptime hours or caring for others, or maybe she was single and working outside the home. Maybe she had a loving husband who craved her body and emotional strength, or babies who needed her body to live, who needed her emotional strength to be healthy. She was tapped out, her needs forsaken not because her husband and children were at fault but because she idolized her marriage, she attached to the idea that motherhood was a calling. Instead of insisting on her need for the things that gave her life, she was afraid that her needs were the idols.

She needed to grow in her spirit. But sometimes it felt as though I didn’t have the space to feel God’s presence. The mystics seemed to dwell in places of constant search, marked by times of quietness and times of agony, periods that lead them into a deeper relationship with God. Many of them monastics and nuns, they all appear to live in extremities of solitude, silence, and prayer, where distractions are mostly internal.

Clearly they didn’t have three young children. My solitude was extreme only in its absence.

Did I take a pass on mysticism when I became a mother and not a nun? Distractions abounded, and solitude took so much energy. And what was left for myself? What was left for God?

As I reached my mid-thirties, my hormones changing in normal ways, I was overcome by my own existential dread. Not from hours spent in solitary prayer—that was hardly ever a possibility—but from anxiety and depression. Were those anxious thoughts my prayers? Was this the kind of dread that should be my friend?

Maybe. Maybe dread was the only thing that made me desperate enough to ask God for help.


(Quotes are from Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton)
“Excerpted from Christiana N. Peterson’s new book, Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints. (Herald Press, 2018) All rights reserved. Used with permission. www.HeraldPress.com

Christiana N. Peterson has written at places like Christianity Today, Christian Century, SheLoves, and Art House America about farm life, fairytales, community life, and grief. She lives with her husband and their kids in Ohio where she spends her time writing, wrangling four children, reading YA novels, leading worship, and trying to figure out how to live a mystical faith.

Catch Me In My Scurrying

Catch me in my scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my feet to the fire of your grace
and make me attentive to my mortality
that I may begin to die now
to those things that keep me
from living with you
and with my neighbors on this earth;
to grudges and indifference,
to certainties that smother possibilities,
to my fascination with false securities,
to my addiction to sweatless dreams,
to my arrogant insistence on how it has to be;
to my corrosive fear of dying someday
which eats away the wonder of living this day,
and the adventure of losing my life
in order to find it in you.

Catch me in my aimless scurrying, Lord
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my heart to the beat of your grace
and create in me a resting place,
a kneeling place,
a tip-toe place
where I can recover from the dis-ease of my grandiosities
which fill my mind and calendar with busy self-importance,
that I may become vulnerable enough
to dare intimacy with the familiar,
to listen cup-eared for your summons,
and to watch squint-eyed for your crooked finger
in the crying of a child,
in the hunger of the street people,
in the fear of the contagion of terrorism in all people,
in the rage of those oppressed because of sex or race,
in the smoldering resentments of exploited third world nations,
in the sullen apathy of the poor and ghetto-strangled people,
in my lonely doubt and limping ambivalence;

and somehow,
during this season of sacrifice,
enable me to sacrifice time
and possessions
and securities,
to do something…
something about what I see,
something to turn the water of my words
into the wine of will and risk,
into the bread of blood and blisters,
into the blessedness of deed,
of a cross picked up,
a saviour followed.

Catch me in my mindless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my spirit to the beacon of your grace
and grant me light enough to walk boldly,
to feel passionately,
to love aggressively;
grant me peace enough to want more,
to work for more
and to submit to nothing less,
and to fear only you…
only you!
Bequeath me not becalmed seas,
slack sails and premature benedictions,
but breathe into me a torment,
storm enough to make within myself,
and from myself,
something…

something new,
something saving,
something true,
a gladness of heart,
a pitch for a song in the storm,
a word of praise lived,
a gratitude shared,
a cross dared,
a joy received.

by Ted Loder, from Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle, Augsburg Books, 1981.

A Fitbit for Prayer

I’m a sucker for measurable results. A few years ago, aware that my day-to-day routine involves a lot of sitting and listening, rather than a lot of walking or standing, I got a Fitbit. If you’re not familiar with this little device, it’s part of the family of souped up pedometers that measure how many steps you’re taking during a given 24-hour period. My fancy Fitbit also measures how many flights of stairs I climb, what my sleep pattern is like, and my heart rate. From all of that, I’m supposed to get at least a preliminary picture of my physical health.

Part of the reason I chose a Fitbit had to do with my competitive nature. According to various health organizations, a healthy adult should be traveling 10,000 steps per day in order to stay in said health. This little black band on my arm vibrates pleasantly when I’ve hit that goal (or any other step-goal I’ve set for myself.) It’s the simplest form of reward for performance.

I went a week without feeling that little buzz. I wondered if I’d gotten a defective monitor. I logged into the online dashboard where my data is stored only to find that during an average day of activity, I was only hitting about 25% of my prescribed goal. Discouraged, I put the Fitbit away for another week before I decided to try again with a slightly more modest goal.

If you haven’t noticed recently, we’re obsessed as a society with measuring ourselves against any measure we can come up with. When I logged into the wifi at Starbuck where I am writing this post, the login page read “Kiwi: Bird or Fruit?” Once I selected an answer (can you guess which?) the page instantly shifted to display the percentage of people who had chosen either. My vote was measured—I was with the majority or minority—on something as silly as my initial impression of a word.

We do the same with “likes” on Facebook, or how the outside of our houses compare to the other ones on the street. We quickly size ourselves up against other people in the office, or the way our neighbors are worshipping during service on Sunday morning. We almost instinctively rate ourselves as better or worse than everything and everyone around us, and our feelings about our value or worth fluctuate accordingly.

I was sitting with a pastor friend of mine when she jokingly referenced a parishioner’s wish that someone would invent a Fitbit for prayer. The context had been a workshop in which the participants were encouraged to spend 30 minutes in prayer each day. Everyone was reacting internally to how much work this would be when the speaker pointed out that the time didn’t have to be consecutive. Just 30 minutes in a 24-hour period. The woman referenced was looking for a way to measure the time she did spend in prayer during those 24 hours. She wanted to make sure she was doing it right.

And that’s what most of us want to know, don’t we? Am I doing it right?

I strapped a Fitbit on my arm because most of me knew that I wasn’t getting the kind of exercise that my body needs to stay healthy, especially given my heart history. It’s ironic that I was discouraged when it showed exactly what a part of me already knew. I wanted the Fitbit to tell me I was doing it “right,” when the Fitbit isn’t designed to do that. It’s only designed to tell me what is.

That’s why measuring our spiritual lives on some kind of scale is both discouraging and dangerous. We’re already living in an atmosphere clogged with do-it-right-to-be-loved. Instead of relying on a relationship with Jesus, and God’s own voice to tell us who we are and what our worth is, we’d rather find some sort of spiritual device to buzz pleasantly when we’ve done the appropriate amount of spiritual disciplines. If it threw in a few badges “Contemplative Cruiser!”, “Intercessory Intermediate”, “Wonder Worshipper” that would be great, too.

Prayer, like the rest of our spiritual lives, can’t be measured by how many minutes we read our Bibles or what kind of attention we’re paying during the sermon or how often we serve the underprivileged in our city. All of those things are good things, but checking those boxes don’t automatically result in relationship with God, or even spiritual warm fuzzies.

It’s why “How are you doing?” is the wrong question to ask when it comes to our spiritual lives. How are you doing? implies that there’s a bar labeled “mature Christian” against which we’re all being measured. And before we start waving the Jesus flag, let’s remember that Jesus isn’t a bar against which we’re measured, He’s a savior who makes measurement irrelevant.A Fitbit for Prayer

But wait… I hear you saying. How do I know if I’m following this Jesus if I don’t have some boxes to check, a spiritual heart rate to measure?

I get it, I really do. Right now my Fitbit is charging beside my computer. I’ve lowered my daily goal, which I’ve hit regularly over the past few weeks, and I love seeing the steps cumulate to a total well beyond what I used to be doing on a daily basis. But I’m not going to let my penchant for comparison tempt me into giving you a new measuring stick with which to beat (or congratulate, but I see this a lot less) yourself.

The only person who can tell you if you’re following Jesus is Jesus. And the more you seek to hear God, to be with God, to enjoy God, the more you’ll be freed from the need to figure out how you’re doing.

So, instead of a set of standards, how about I give you a few questions that might be helpful as you consider this Jesus, this God, who loves you so wildly you’ll never plumb the depths of that love? I’m tentative about this, you see, as I’m very aware of my own ability to turn absolutely everything into some kind of competition.

First, spend some time (or maybe all of the time) thinking about, marinating in, and enjoying what comes of asking, How can God be this good?

It’s a question given to me by Bill Hull by way of Dallas Willard, and one I deeply appreciate. It’s a question beyond which I’d rather not go, frankly. It centers me, returns me to what’s truest in my life with God—in my whole life—and reminds me that the God I love is better than I usually give God credit for.

The second question is a little harder, a little more prone to diverting us back into the “how am I doing” paradigm. Before I ask it, though, I’d like you to picture the people who you care most about. Really think about it. Imagine the faces of your loved ones, their struggles, their joys. Think about the last conversation you had with each of them, and the way their faces light up with they smile.

Have that picture clear in your head? Good.

The next question is How am I loving the people already around me? 

It’s really important to notice that the question isn’t “how am I doing loving the people around me?” That would lead us straight back to evaluation, and our Fitbit friend would be asking for a Fitbit for Love. Which strikes you as silly, doesn’t it? A Fitbit for Love reduces caring for others into a set of behaviors that might be considered “loving.”

Go back to the images you had in your head of those you love. Remember their smiles, the way they laugh when they are surprised?

How are you loving those people? Not yesterday, not last week, not over the past 15 years of your marriage. How are you loving those people right now?

It’s a question inviting relationship, just as the first question did. It’s a question inviting you to take the love you received from Jesus, that you continually receive from Jesus, and spill it into the lives of those right around you. It will have your own style, your own knowing of yourself and those around you, but it will look like love, and it won’t look like obligation.

There’s just no badge for that. Love is its own reward.

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My Words Can’t Carry All The Praise

Glorious God,
how curious
and what a confession
that we should set aside one day a year
and call it Thanksgiving.

I smile at the presumption,
and hope you smile, too.

But the truth is,
Holy Friend,
that my words can’t carry all the praise
I want them to,
or that they should,
no matter how many trips they make.

So this day,
all is praise and thanks
for all my days.

I breathe and it is your breath that fills me.
I look and it is your light by which I see.
I move and it is your energy moving in me.
I listen and even the stones speak of you.
I touch and you are between finger and skin.
I think and the thoughts are but sparks from the fire of your truth.
I love and the throb is your presence.
I laugh and it is the rustle of your passing.
I weep and your Spirit broods over me.
I long and it is the tug of your kingdom.

I praise you, Glorious One,
for what has been, and is and will ever be:
for galaxy upon galaxy, mass and energy,
earth and air, sun and night,
sea and shore, mountain and valley,
root and branch, male and female,
creature upon creature in a thousand ingenious ways,
two-legged, hundred legged, smooth, furry, and feathery,
bull frogs and platypuses, peacocks and preachers,

and the giggle of it—

and turkeys (especially, this day, the roasted kind, not the flops)—
and families gathered, and the thanking;
the brave, lonely one, and the asking;
the growling, hungry ones, and the sharing.

I praise you, Glorious One,
for this color-splashed, memory haunted,
hope-filled, justice-seeking,
love-grown country
and the labors that birthed it,
the dreams that nurtured it,
the riches that sometimes misguide it,
the sacrifices that await it,
the destiny that summons it
to become a blessing to the whole human family!

O Glorious One,
for this curious day,
for the impulses that have designated it,
for the gifts that grace it,
for the gladness that accompanies it,
for my life,
for those through whom I came to be,
for friends through whom I hear and see
greater worlds than otherwise I would,
for all the doors of words and music and worship through which I pass to larger worlds,
and for the One who brought a kingdom to me,

I pause to praise and thank you
with this one more trip of words
which leaves too much uncarried,
but not unfelt,
unlived,
unloved.

Thank you!

 

 

from Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle by Ted Loder

Book Update: We Have A Title & A Release Date!

Friends, you’ve been with me on an arduous journey.

This book has gestated for longer than a baby elephant, and you’ve been with me, for me, praying for me and beside me in each phase of this process. What began as a twinkle became a few classes became a book proposal became a book contract became a deadline and (after missing it badly a few times) became a rough draft and finally a mansucript. That manuscript is now being refined in the capable hands of InterVarsity Press, it’s publisher, and it is working it’s way into your hands from there.

I am so grateful to you, and so excited to start spreading the great grace-filled message of the redemption of our bodies, of how good they are, of how God speaks so intimately and beautifully in and through the very stuff of our selves.

I am so grateful for my guides and helps along the way, many of whom I’ll be talking about in more detail as the release date approaches.

So, enough baiting you. We have a release date! This book will be in your hands in December 2014. That’s right—this year! I’m looking forward to getting advance copies out, running a few promotions, getting to meet some of you in person, and talking to you about what it means to live well in our bodies.

Speaking of living well in our bodies, this seemingly incorporeal thing called a “book” finally has a name. It has real words put to real paper, and a real and finite title that encapsulates what I believe to be an important and redeeming message of wholeness:

Embracing the Body:

Finding God in Our Flesh & Bone

(*whispers proudly* I love it? Don’t you love it?)

It’s going to be a long 11 months until I have this baby in my hands, but I’m excited to share bits and pieces as I can, and have you be part of the process.

In that light, I’d like to invite you to pray with me over these words, this message. Will you pray that it gets into the right hands, that it goes to the people who need it most? I don’t care if that’s 50 people or 50,000 people (my publisher would prefer the latter, I’m sure, but I just want it to bring wholeness, shalom, to those who are longing for it), but I want these words that wove themselves from God’s heart through my body and into this story to heal, to bring hope, to create more spaces for Jesus to move and the Kingdom to come. So, would you pray that? Would you pray God’s Kingdom over this book even now? Would you pray over the pages to be printed and the ink to be spilled? Would you pray over the paper and the dyes and the stamps and the envelopes? Would you pray over the words inspired by the Word, that this book would be more than just another heavy yoke on an already burdened people but instead would be freedom and life and light? Would you pray that this book would be incarnational, sacramental, a real, tangible sign of God’s goodness in the world?

Pray however you’re lead, my friends, but please pray. Big or small, I’m excited to see what God’s going to do with this project of my heart.

So what do you think? What does the title elicit in  you? What does it make you hope for? What does it make you wonder about?

A Man Who Lived Humbly

In the coming days, there will be many wiser, deeper, more theologically profound voices who speak both their grief and their love in the passing of Dallas A. Willard. There will be many words said, many who voice their gratitude, many who share stories of life transformation, transformation brought about by Jesus, but facilitated by Dallas’s work and teachings.

What I will say of my very brief encounters with Dallas in person, and with his teachings and writings in depth, is this: he was a man who lived humbly with his God.

In the times that I was able to spend with Dallas, what impacted me the most was not necessarily his great knowledge (although that was profound) or his incredible ability to communicate the complexity of God simply (which was a stunning gift) but the way that the gospel of Christ communicated itself so freely through his humble spirit.

I remember watching at a particular conference at which Dallas was a keynote speaker, as person after person came up to speak to him, to ask a question, to express their thanks. Although he was clearly traveling with a small carry-on suitcase, notably on his way to check out from the hotel and get to the airport, he stopped for each one that stopped him. He listened, intently, despite the fact that he inevitably had a plane to catch, a timeline to follow. He interacted with love, no matter how often people waylaid him. Just watching him made me feel as if Christ were in our midst.

At another event, where I was a minor speaker to his headline event, I traveled with him to a small gathering of students—students whom he exhorted to a dedication to the Truth, to Reality, to things that can be known, and the reality of the knowledge of Christ in that context. He listened to their eager visions, and gave leavening advice only when he was asked. Afterward, when he was shuttled to a teaching event, I asked him a question that trembled in the secret places of my heart:

“Dallas, given all of the struggle, all of the ways that the Church has gotten it wrong over the centuries, how do you still have hope for the institution as a whole?”

I remember holding the door for him as he entered the venue and answered my heart’s cry both kindly and clearly.

“I have hope in the Church,” he said smiling, “because I know Who her head is.”

Amazing, how a simple answer can resolve so many years of meandering within my own soul.

More amazing still was the gift that Dallas then gave me before he stood up to teach a room full of believers longing for more. In the shuttling to and from venues, I realized that Dallas’s time of teaching hadn’t received any prayer (not that God couldn’t or wouldn’t cover it). I noted this timidly to Dallas, and he, even knowing my question earlier, turned to me and asked me if I would pray.

In Numbers 12:3, we are given the only description of Moses’s character or physical attributes that explicitly appears in the Old Testament: Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. Although Dallas would shudder at being compared to the greatness of a biblical character such as Moses, I know that I will remember Dallas both for the wisdom that he brought to us about the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of Christ, and, equally as keenly, his humility.

We are greater because we have known you, and poorer because you have gone, Dallas. But, over all, we are rich in Christ because you more fully cleared the path to His goodness and grace for us.

Thank you.

May you rest in peace, and rejoice with Christ.

Why Dead People Matter

Around the world on October 31, men, women and children don costumes ranging from cute to creepy. Halloween is now the second largest holiday after Christmas, and, whatever your beliefs, whatever your perspective on this day, you will be hard-pressed not to encounter one or more costumed undoubtedly darling tot asking you for a “trick or treat!”

While there are a variety of valid reasons for both participating and choosing not to participate in the more popular Halloween traditions (wearing costumes, trick-or-treating), there is one thing that I think the day helps me to remember: the importance of dead people.

When I say ‘dead people’, I’m not talking about zombies, vampires or any other versions of the undead that you’ll see in costume and on the screen (TV or movie) today. It may be easy to get fascinated with the macabre or frightening—and there is some sociological evidence that zombies are tapping into a certain post-modern angst that we all feel —but I think there something uplifting to be found in focusing on dead people, without the gore and guts.

You see, most of us are addicted to the new, the current, the popular. If you’ve ever been overcome by a desire for the newest device, the latest fashion or even a desire to visit the new restaurant in town despite the fact that you hate Mexican, you know what I mean. Popular culture pushes us toward what’s “this minute”, relegating yesterday’s experiences into the place of the passé, the uncool. If you own an Apple product of any kind, you’ve felt the dejection of having whatever your newest thing is surpassed by the next-newest.

And that’s why I like dead people. Dead people aren’t interested in keeping up appearances, aren’t up on the latest trends, and really don’t care if you have the most recent do-dad. On top of that, most of the dead people who have written things down have lots of really wise things to say about the spiritual life and how to live well with God (before and after you die.)

If you’d like a primer, Renovaré just came out with a wonderful compilation of writings by dead people—being dead was, in fact, one of the criteria for being included in the book. It’s called 25 Books Every Christian Should Read, and despite its somewhat intimidating title it is a great entrée into the spiritual classics. There are 25 entries, each with a small excerpt of important writings of really smart (you guessed it) dead people. There’s some history of what the person did before they were dead, and some helpful thoughts and questions for reflection.

Alternately, you can do what I did which was slog, ahem, suffer, ahem, swing through a semester’s worth of the spiritual classics in seminary. Personally, I think picking up 25 Books and learning which of the dead people you’re most drawn to is a better idea. Then pick up a full-length version of their works and get to know them a little more deeply. Dead people can be a lot of fun.

Holy. Broken. Real.

This weekend, I led a retreat for my wonderful, messy, beauty-full community of faith, IAC. We laughed together, cried together, and even danced together (I learned the Bunny Hop.) In all this, we created together—through God's great, crazy, abiding love—the messy and glorious thing that is sacred community. Here are a few shots of our time. It was such an honor to journey with each precious person into the heart of our God, who says, without pretense or prescription, "You belong to me, Beloved."

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Art, Delight, and the Spiritual Life

Today I am honored to welcome a guest blogger to the Anam Cara blog—my colleague, friend and constant source of inspiration and hope, Christine Valters Paintner. Christine is a spiritual director, author, retreat leader and speaker, as well as a supervisor of spiritual directors. Her Abbey of the Arts is a wonderful place to find rest for your soul. Christine's most recent book, The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, is one of my favorite's to come out this year on the spiritual life and next week I'll be doing a giveaway for a copy. I asked Christine if she would write on "art, delight and the spiritual life." I know you'll enjoy her insight as much as I do…

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The law of Wonder rules my life at last

I burn each second of my life to love

Each second of my life burns out in love

In each leaping second love lives afresh.

–Rumi

 

When Tara asked me to write about art, delight, and the spiritual life it was really that word “delight” which shimmered for me.  Summer for me is a season of savoring sweetness and delight, of relishing the gift of abundance as I walk through our weekly farmer’s market or watch my dog romp and play in wide open fields or cherish long warm evenings.

A former theology professor of mine, Alex Garcia-Rivera (who sadly passed away last year), taught me a great deal about beauty.  “Beauty,” he would say, “is that which moves the human heart.”  I loved that definition, so simple and yet profound.  When I cultivate beauty in the world through my art I am seeking to savor that which stirs my heart and offer that experience to others.  I am giving honor to my experience of delight and trusting it as a source of wisdom for understanding the nature of the divine moving through my life.

Trusting our delight and what moves our hearts can sometimes be challenging for those of us who grew up in traditions suspicious of such things.  It takes practice to remember the goodness God lavishly proclaims again and again in the creation story.  When my teaching partner Betsey Beckman dances the creation story she says the words “it was so good” after each moment of creation with such utter conviction and joy that I remember the real meaning of those words. I feel them stir something in me – a recognition of the deep goodness of the creative act.  It takes practice to cultivate our attention to where this kind of wonder arises spontaneously in our hearts and give it room to breathe fully.

Art is rooted in a deeply-felt experience of meaning.  Through art we give can form to our delight.  Sometimes through art we explore grief or other difficult emotions, but giving these a place for expression, we allow them a way to move through us and offer us wisdom.  We open up space for the possibility of delight to arrive again. 

We may not trust these things that pull on our heart because we don’t believe that we truly are “artists.”   We may resist the places where we feel discomfort.  I have recently given myself over more fully to dance.  I am definitely not a “professional” dancer nor do I have anything that closely resembles a “dancer’s body,” and yet I am finding that trusting fully my body’s desire for movement and the delight that stirs in me through this form of expression is unleashing deep wells of joy in my heart. 

This is how we become artists of our everyday lives.  We listen and tend and honor the deep impulses within us.  We begin to trust our own heart’s movement toward joy.  We start to see how simple moments are ripe with possibility:  tending to a garden with our senses fully alive, savoring the preparation of a meal for loved ones, witnessing the unabashed joy of children playing, witnessing our own opportunities for this same unbridled joy.  Whether we write or paint or dance or sing, what matters is showing up for the possibility of delight.  What is important is making room for the creative spirit to stir our hearts and to honor this with some form of expression, to grow more at ease with a spontaneous response to the joy wanting to be unleashed.

How often do you give yourself fully over to something which kindles a deep joy and delight?

What are the art forms which are calling to you but you resist because you fear you are not an “artist”?

What might happen if you simply embrace the joy that comes from this practice, knowing that you are cultivating room for more delight in your life?

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE is the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery offering online classes and other resources to integrate contemplative practice and creative expression.  She is the author of several books including her two newest: The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press) and Lectio Divina—The Sacred Art: Transforming Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer (SkyLight Paths).