A Both/And Life

In the fall of 2020, my daughter Ale, son-in-law Clint, and I hiked the trail to Fern
Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park for a couple days of camping. The trees
were alive and green then. But a week later fire swept through that area, destroying
large swaths of the forest. This fall I hiked back up there by myself. And one thing
stood out to me: the flowers. Before the fire, the canopy of leaves above shadowed
the forest floor and there was not enough sunlight to sustain many flowers. But
now, in the midst of dead trees and ash, beautiful hillsides of flowers flourished.
This reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses, Isaiah 61:3, written hundreds
of years before the birth of Christ. It promises that God will send One (Jesus) who
will give beauty for ashes.

And so, I chose a picture from that hike to represent what 2022 has been to me. As
I continue to process the losses of recent years—fighting cancer, losing my
husband, and the challenges of Covid among others–my life sometimes seems
“ashy”. There are times of loneliness and of wondering where I belong. I have days
of frustration as I try to handle practical life details (not my strong suit!) that my
husband would have taken care of easily. And yet, unforeseen beauty is emerging.
I spent three weeks in Ireland, England, and Paris this spring. There were moments
there when I felt like I was in a dream! I have had delightful opportunities to take
on new ministry challenges. In January I will graduate from the Anam Cara
spiritual direction apprenticeship that I have been in for the last two years. I have
experienced personal transformation and learned deep lessons in how to be
lovingly present to others as they process their lives. And I have had many
wonderful times with family and friends that I love. I am learning to live a
“both/and” life. Life is both very hard AND such a gift. It is both full of pain AND
abundant joy.

As we move into 2023, I pray each of us may find beauty growing, even in the
places of loss!

– Jo Newell

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.

A Call To Lament

By: Lindsey Rowe

To be quite honest, my life is pretty easy.

If I am hungry, I go to my refrigerator. It is full because it is easy for me to drive my gas-filled car to the store to buy groceries with my debit card that always seems to have sufficient money attached to it. I live in a safe, clean, beautiful neighborhood. I don’t worry as I walk down the street alone. I don’t fear our local law enforcement.

My life is pretty easy.

And yet.

And yet, there is an ache in my heart. A rawness that begs to be heard and to be seen. If my heart was exposed to you in all its glory and beauty, you would find it broken more often than not.

When I dare to wonder why, to ask the Creator of the Universe, I hear a gentle whispered reply, “You were created for this. To feel. To live. To love. To desire.”

I was created in My Father’s image. And so I see the beauty of those who are hurting, and my heart responds. It breaks for them, for the broken glory. It breaks for those who are hurting them. Their glory is broken as well. Let us not forget they, too, were created in the image of the Father.

What do I do with that deep pain, the holy sorrow that seems like it might overwhelm me as it comes in waves? I fear that I might drown in it. I fear more that I might numb myself to it and allow myself to forget.

So, I turn to the prophets, to David. They felt and they lived. They saw glory and they saw pain. They suffered and they connected with God in his infinite beauty. How could their human hearts handle it?

I learn from them and their openness. And I begin to cry out to God myself, the way that they did. I begin to lament.

As the laments flow from my hand, one after another, on to the paper in front of me, I realize what deep worship is happening. As I reveal the anguish, I am connecting with Yeshua in a very deep way. The things that I lament over, He died for. As I write, I am stripping the layers of my heart and am laying myself before Him, bare and vulnerable.

Lament does that. It reveals our deepest fears, our deepest selves to the One who created us, the One who gently waits for us to reveal to Him what He already knows.

What is going on in your heart? What might you need to lament? The helplessness of seeing someone you love in pain? The racial division we are surrounded with? A wound from your past? 

I encourage you – allow yourself to feel it, bring it to your Creator, your loving and kind Father. You may be surprised at how He meets you there.


Here is a short lament I wrote.


You were created for this. To feel. To know. To be loved. To want. To hope. To desire.

It crashes around me, like a tidal wave ready to consume me. I am afraid it will hurt. I am afraid I won’t survive.

You were created for this.

But the pain. The pain is deep and real. Raw.

You were created for this. To feel.

Lord, I am so afraid. This thing is, I think, my deepest fear…

You were created for this. To desire. To live. In this world, you will lose. You will hurt. The pain is real. Allow it to wash over you. Don’t turn from it. Don’t deny it. Feel it. Live it.

You were created for this.

If you would like to try your hand at writing a lament of your own, here is a guide Tara created to help you.

A Word About Weeks: The Valley of Gold



In November 2018, I had the gift of walking through the Valley of Elah. If you’re not familiar with that name, don’t worry—I wasn’t able to place it in the story of God until I planted my feet on it.

In 1 Samuel 17, Israel’s armies are encamped on one side of this valley. On the other, the vastly superior Philistine forces are aligned, ready to decimate the primitive tribe below them. Instead of costly bloodshed, they send out their champion to mock their opponents. And if you’ve guessed that champion is named Goliath, you know where that story goes.

That said, I’ve been thinking a lot about that valley since I took the picture of it at top. I’ve been thinking about it enough, that when a friend who was in Israel a few weeks ago sent me the picture at bottom, standing roughly where I’d been standing, my breath caught in my throat. Because the valley that had been only haunted by spring green when I saw it was ready for harvest. And I suddenly understood Pentecost on a deeper level than I ever had before.

For some of us, Pentecost brings up images of tongues of fire and a specific day in the Church calendar, if it brings up anything at all. (For me, it brings up a kitschy song, but that’s another story for another day.) However, Pentecost was a major Jewish festival, one of the moadim or sacred times. Also called the Festival of Weeks, or Shav’out (which begins on May 16, 2021), Pentecost is a harvest festival where the first fruits of the wheat harvest are to be brought to the Temple as a sacrifice to God.

The visual of the ripening harvest and the awareness of all that had been weathered by the people before they made their pilgrimage from their homes up to Jerusalem for this sacred festival makes me even more awake to the fact that God’s heart for us deep and wide.

Imagine for a moment the disciples gathered, waiting as Jesus commanded them, in Jerusalem. They don’t know what is to come. They’ve just been told that the Spirit will be poured forth. They don’t have any idea what that will look like, and, shaken by 40 days of Jesus’s frankly squirrelly resurrection appearances, they almost seem to be hiding.

And yet, there’s this festival that most of them know they need to be participating in. The firstfruits of the wheat harvest to be brought to the Temple comes most typically in the form of bread. The baking of which would have been happening all around them, filling Jerusalem with the pungent, yeasty smell of loaves and loaves of freshly made sacrifices.

Wouldn’t they been remembering all the times Jesus broke bread for them? Wouldn’t they have been thinking about the times that they walked through the fields of gold in their three years of following this wandering rabbi, plucking grain from the stalks, hungry not only for food but for more of what this iconoclastic man seemed to offer? Wouldn’t they be wondering about the harvest that Jesus had promised?

It’s on this festival that God chooses to pour out the Spirit. It’s in the midst of a city filled with the scent of baking that the Spirit enables these frightened women and men to become bread for others, the bread of Heaven.

They’ve walked through the valleys together, including the valley of the shadow of death—and giants much bigger than Goliath have been slain by Christ. Death is no longer. Sin has no grip. The valley that was a place of battle has become a valley of provision.

In this way, these disciples, these men and women waiting for what Jesus had promised, are themselves the firstfruits of His harvest. They are the grain that has been milled and crushed, leavened with the yeast of Christ’s resurrected presence. The waiting between Jesus’s ascension and this moment when the Spirit comes in tongues of fire has been a kind of proofing, a time when God has commanded them to rest quietly and let grace rise.

It strikes me that the tongues of fire were the kind of spiritual heat that was necessary for this full offering of themselves as food for the people. At Pentecost, they knew that the firstfruits, the wave offering that was to be given in order to sustain the people, were actually themselves. That the story that they were trusting in was coming forth in their very lives and faithfulness.

Pentecost is about the Spirit, yes. But it is also about all the valleys of darkness that God sows with good seed. In time, these valleys are filled with gold—sheaves of wheat that become the bread of our lives. And the bread of our lives that becomes sustenance for all people.

Thanks be to God.

Six Weird Things To Give Up For Lent

If the more regular things (Facebook, chocolate, alcohol or meat) just aren’t floating your boat as you prepare for the Lenten season, here’s a list of some stranger things that you might consider fasting from this year.



Okay, so salt itself isn’t that weird, but giving it up for Lent probably is. Fact is, we’re a society addicted to our own tastes, and being able to change the way food hits our palate any time we want to. With almost half of the world’s population living on less than $2.50 a day, that’s a luxury most people don’t have. Consider giving salt up for 40 days. Every time you think of reaching for that shaker, say a prayer instead.


The Pet Name For Your Spouse or Partner

Yup, this one’s definitely a little bit weird. Why give up a term of endearment? Perhaps because the last time you used your partner’s first name was when you were angry at her, or when you had to call to him from across a crowded room. Psychologists have proved that everyone’s favorite word is their name. Consider how much more loved your spouse will feel if you spend 40 days addressing them with their given name. In addition, it may sound like a small thing, but pet names sometimes allow us to depersonalize under the guise of endearing ourselves. It’s a lot easier to ask “love” to do the dishes or let the dog out than to ask the person that lives with you day in and day out.


Opening Doors

Again, this is a list of weird things to give up (not normal things like alcohol or chocolate or Facebook). There are millions of disabled folks around the world who are not able to open doors for themselves. In general, our world doesn’t make much space for them, and only a small fraction of doors actually have handicapped access. Consider giving up being able to open any doors for yourself that don’t have handicap access. That means you have to wait for someone to open them for you if there isn’t an automatic opener of some kind (you can cheat and use your kids if you want.) You may need to make it a little easier by exempting yourself from car doors or doors in the house, but consider fasting from doors as a way of entering into solidarity with the more invisible among us.


Your Pillow (Or Your Bed)

Of the 1.9 billion children in the developing world, 1 in 3 of those kids live in housing situations that are inadequate for their needs, while we sleep on California Kings and complain about thread count. Give up your pillow for 40 days (or to be more extreme, your bed) and live in the knowledge that the privilege of a pillow is not given to everyone. It’s also a choice to live in communion with Christ, as He described Himself in Matthew 8 and Luke 9: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”



Didn’t see that one coming, did you? So many of us live with a vague feeling that we’re not doing prayer “right” or that we’re some how not spiritual enough. Lent can up the ante even higher, making us feel like we’ve got to do something extreme (see the above pillow example, even) in order to be “worthy” or doing Lent “well”. How about tossing all of that aside and trusting that God really is on your side for 40 days? That means that if someone asks for prayer, you have to say no. It means that you’re released from the guilt of missing a “quiet time” or needing to pray for those suffering in your city. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, and it doesn’t mean you fail at this fast if you find yourself spontaneously praying one day. It just means that you’ve gotten off the guilt cycle and chosen to believe that Christ really did mean to set us free for freedom, not for more guilt and condemnation. Alternately, you could give up a particular form of prayer for Lent. If you’re always an extemporaneous pray-er, try taking up liturgical prayer for the season, such as the Divine Hours, the Jesus Prayer or prayer using the Book of Common Prayer. If you’re more liturgical in bent, consider spontaneous or even one word prayers (thanks, grace, gratitude).



The advent of social media and the advances in technology have put tiny little cameras in almost everyone’s pocket. It’s actually difficult to get a phone WITHOUT picture-taking capabilities these days. Our lives are increasingly documented, and all too often we’re thinking about how to photograph a great meal, experience or encounter in order to post it on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Foursquare. Perhaps instead you might give up taking pictures of your life during Lent, and instead choose to be immediately present to the things that you’re in the middle of. If that causes you some mild panic (like you might miss out on something by not capturing it in pixels instead of memories), then this fast might just be for you.


There are lots and lots of things that you can give up for Lent, from the mundane (chocolate) to the more, seemingly, ridiculous (shoes). Ultimately, the purpose of giving something up for Lent is not to be spiritually muscular, but to let God gently challenge your own assumptions and idols. In the course of Lent’s desert time, the hunger for those things that you’ve relinquished will lessen, replaced by a fulfilling relationship with the One who loves you and gave His life for you. And that’s the real reason to give up anything at all for Lent.

The Discipline of Waiting for the Storm

In the midst of a difficult time for our city, for friends, for family and for herself, Tara knew it was time to care for her soul. If you haven’t read our post this month on soul care, you can find it here. Once you read it, you will recognize how Tara combined several of the soul care practices she outlined as she found herself waiting for the storm to roll in. In the midst of your own personal storm, how can you practice soul care?
– The Anam Cara Spiritual Directors


I went up into the mountains to find some rest. It had been a hard week (who am I kidding, a hard few weeks) and I knew that I needed to stop, to breathe, to feel, and to listen for God.

A storm had broken over my heart the evening before. Fires in our city that consumed houses, friends struggling with life-consuming illnesses, dear souls I journey with aching over broken relationships or broken dreams—all combined to ravage me from the inside out. I’d felt the emotions building for days, like the tears were simply pooling around my temples, pushing against the dam of my daily living. When the tension of brokenness and desire finally ripped through the atmosphere of my life I was a snotty, sobbing mess, struggling to breathe, struggling to remember who I am and who God is in the midst of all this pain.

When the mountains called me this morning, I went reluctantly, spent from the night’s wailing. I don’t rage when I’m struggling with God, I weep, and that weeping drags everything out of me, until I’m naked, until I’ve got nothing left.

And there was rest in the hills. A cool breeze, a journal, a disconnection—not from the world or the pain or the problems—but from my own self-centeredness in the midst of them. Aspen and swallow, sun and small jumping spiders had whispered God’s glory once more. Even the sound of a distant chainsaw at work spoke of something that the Spirit was up to in me.

By mid-afternoon, I felt at rest. Not restored, not replete, but in a peaceful place both outwardly and inwardly.

From the Adirondack chair on the patio, I sucked in lungfuls of air, preparing myself for the journey back down. As I rocked, I watched clouds gathering on the horizon, stratus to cumulus to towering cumulonimbus. In big sky Colorado, you can watch storms approach for minutes or hours, depending on their form. As the thunder echoed against the peaks around me, I felt myself grow restless again.

I could just leave now, I thought.

Maybe it was the aspens, or the way the hearth inside the lodge smelled faintly of old fires, or maybe, just maybe, it was the Holy Spirit that repeated those words back to me so that I heard, really heard my desire to leave before things got uncomfortable, to head for cover before the rains came.

So, I took a deep breath. All the way down to my toes, as I say to my directees, and I stayed where I was.

I stayed as the wind turned cooler by degrees, noticing my need to control, the way I strain toward comfort, as if comfort were a great good.

I stayed as the sky turned slate, letting compassion wash over the tensions I felt in my jaw, my shoulders, my spine. Tensions that signalled my own difficulties with darkness that comes, bidden or unbidden, my overriding impulses to fight or flee.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

A stanza from Jane Kenyon’s poem rumbled in me as the thunder rumbled closer still. I didn’t like that poem. Hadn’t liked it, I thought, but here it was, grumbling from the stratus of my own subconscious, making itself heard. Something about it had caught me.

I continuing rocking, breathing, staying with the restlessness, the struggle, the desire to leave the difficult in favor of shelter and safety. A hummingbird, one that I’d heard but not seen in my ranging of the property, visited me like a vision, hovering in front of me as if I were a strange flower. Slowly, I began to see how the swallows were playing on the upswells of the approaching storm, moving from one side of the valley to another like wave-hungry surfers. As the chill sunk deeper into my skin, I realized that this group was a family—a mother or father and fledglings—and that the parent was using the approaching deluge as a kind of training for flight.

I smiled internally at God. Alright, I thought, alright. I understand.

The pain isn’t without beauty. Waiting for tumult to come rather than running or resisting is sometimes the best thing to do. I can live through the discomfort, can even find God, playing on the upswells, within it.

I want to tell you that I stayed on that patio until the rain came, until the clouds crested and covered me, forcing me inside. (Colorado rain is cold, after all.)

But I didn’t. I don’t know if it was the errands to be run this evening, or the movement away from the darkness a moment too soon. I felt peace getting up, peace in gathering my things. It didn’t feel like running, and I knew that raging at the storm would leave me as spent as my weeping had the night before. But I wasn’t certain what was my schedule and what was release. I wasn’t certain if I was leaving the poem of that patio before the last stanza was said.

I got into my car and drove back down the mountain, not to the valley but to the high plain. The whole time the dark mass of the storm tracked me to the west, its ominous presence less like mentor and more like menace. I felt myself wanting the storms wet fingers to grasp me at the pass, to close in and surround me at last. I wanted to tell you that I’d pressed fully into the discipline of waiting for the storm, that it caught me and changed me. I wanted the pretty ending to this post.

Instead, as I sit at my desk at home, the storm is gathering again here. The grey clouds are threatening, but no rain has come. Apparently, the discipline isn’t done with me yet. There is more to hear of God’s heart in this bright darkness (to butcher the image of the luminous book I’ve been reading). There is something of waiting as the horizon darkens that is teaching me something true—about Him, about the world, about myself.

I rummaged through my things to find the rest of the poem I thought I disliked. “Let Evening Come.” Kenyon’s stanzas are full of surrender and strength. After my afternoon on the cusp of storm clouds, I feel those three words thrumming in me like lightning, the touch of heavens to earth.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

How To Uncover the Gospel of Shame

This past weekend, some friends and I were gathered together over warm beverages and small people (it’s been unusually cold and rainy in Colorado recently, and our little community has been unusually fertile over the past year) when the topic turned to shame. We’d been talking about John 6:16-21, digging in deeper than the basic Sunday School answers to find some incredible treasures together. We’d noticed how Jesus didn’t scold the disciples for losing heart and setting out across the Sea of Galilee without Him, how He didn’t point out to them that in their moment of despair they turned away from instead of toward the One who wanted to bring them comfort.

Then my friend Nathan said what had been simmering beneath the surface for all of us. He pointed out that the first time he read the passage, he’d judged the disciples, and had assumed Jesus did, too. But nowhere does it say that the disciples were getting it wrong by heading to Capernaum (which Nathan pointed out means village of comfort/consolation, and can also mean village of repentance). Nowhere does it say that striking out in a direction—any direction, really—is to be despised, even (or especially?) when Jesus doesn’t seem near.

I have a mentor who says that how we judge characters in Scripture is how we judge ourselves, and I believe that to be deeply true. As my friends and I were reading John 6, we were judging the parts of ourselves that aren’t inclined to do the “holy” or “spiritual” work of waiting patiently (emphasis on the quotation marks) when Jesus is nowhere to be found and instead head out for the nearest city of comfort. It was a low-level, underlying message for most of us, something just beneath the surface that took some extreme measures to unearth.

That’s the thing about shame, though. It’s incredibly sneaky, and it works its way into our theology and our relationship with Jesus without us even noticing we’ve taken it on. Shame hides underneath “should” and cloaks itself in “righteousness” (more of those quotation marks) so we don’t see it for what it really is: a gospel-stealing usurper of grace.

“Don’t be afraid. I am here,” says Jesus to the terrified men in the boat, shuddering under gale-force winds. How we hear the tone of those words says so much about how we interpret the heart of Jesus toward us, storm or no storm. Read those words one way, and you’re free to receive the goodness of God for you, right now, as you are. Read them another, and you’re bound up in chains of performance and transaction, forced to “earn” God’s approval with your good behavior.

Want to uncover whether or not you’re living under the Gospel of Shame instead of the Gospel of Grace?

Try this simple, but radical, experiment.

Pick almost anything that Jesus says. To the disciples. To the Pharisees. To those He heals.

To the end of whatever Jesus says, add the words: “you idiot.”

To follow along with our discussion this weekend, let’s try Jesus’s words in John 6.

“Don’t be afraid. I am here, you idiots.”

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Well, I hope it does. But for many of us, adding the words “you idiot” simply makes explicit the tone that we’ve been hearing from Jesus for a very long time. Oh, we haven’t named it outright, but it’s been there. The shaming-inducing sense that we’re missing it, and that Jesus is fed up with us, just like He’s fed up with His bumbling disciples, the arrogant Pharisees, the clueless people whom He’s saving.

If adding the words “you idiot” after anything that Jesus says in Scripture doesn’t change the tone of Jesus’s voice for you at all, you’ve been living under the Gospel of Shame for too long, my friend. It’s time to throw it off.

Because Jesus never has derision in His voice for His beloveds. He doesn’t shame His people. He isn’t exasperated with you.

In fact, just like in John 6, He’s coming for you. Right where you are. You don’t have to be different. You don’t have to feel less afraid or more hopeful or be heading in a different direction. You don’t need to have “gotten it” (whatever it is) by now, and you definitely don’t have to have life with God figured out just because He’s come for you before. The disciples, after all, had just witnessed the feeding of the 5,000. Feeling lost and alone can happen even after the most amazing events; in fact, it often does.

Jesus comes, and He comes with life and brings all of Himself to bear. He comes without condemnation or shame. He comes and He says, ever so kindly, ever so grace-full-y, “Don’t be afraid. I am here.”

And that’s enough. It’s enough to receive Him right there in that moment, or any other moment. As soon as you do, you’ll arrive, just as the disciples do, at your destination. The city of comfort. Because that’s always the place that Jesus is, wherever and whenever you are together.

So the next time you’re feeling like you’ve blown it, feeling like you should have done something different, feeling like you need to get your act together, try exposing those voices for what they truly are. Shame can’t stand the light, it lives in the darkness. Push it to the forefront by adding “you idiot” to what you think God might be saying to you, and you’ll see how quickly the real Gospel comes to drive the false away.

A Spiritual Director’s Prayer

As I read this prayer to a directee today, I realize that God had brought it to heart and mind not just for that person, but for myself as a spiritual director. Sometimes I struggle to find a way to express the “why” of what I do as a director, but this poem by Ted Loder captures at least part of the soul behind being an anam cara*.

Bring More Of What I Dream

O God,
who out of nothing
brought everything that is,
out of what I am
bring more of what I dream
but haven’t dared;
direct my power and passion
to creating life
where there is death,
to putting flesh of action
on bare-boned intentions,
to lighting fires
against the midnight of indifference,
to throwing bridges of care
across canyons of loneliness;
so I can look on creation,
together with you,
and, behold,
call it very good;
through Jesus Christ my Lord.

Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle, p. 115


*Anam cara is the Gaelic word for “soul friend.”

An Atmospheric Low of the Soul

I’m over at The Mudroom today, sharing on their theme of Cyclones, Storms & Squalls.

Here’s a little taster. You can click the link below to read more.

It takes a few weeks before I can name this storm. I don’t want to test the winds, to look at the lows and highs, to name this as something more than a squall. I’d prefer to call it a cyclone, really, than depression, even if I get to soften it with the more than acceptable moniker of “postpartum.”

Keep reading this post here.

Doubt, Pain and Infanticide (Or Why The Feast of the Holy Innocents Is My Favorite Feast Day)

Featured image: François-Joseph Navez, Massacre of the Innocents

Today, December 28, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. As I shared with the glorious pilgrims in the Coming Home eCourse, it’s my favorite feast day of the year. It combines Christmastide and doubt, the hope of the resurrection and all of our questions, and here, with a little sneak peak into the course materials, is why:

(A Note On The Image Above: I chose this painting of all of the paintings of the massacre of the innocents because of its horrible peacefulness. Although I shied away from the more active scenes—and then ruefully noted my own inability to confront the real evil of this day—there is something so chilling and painful about Navez’s rendition, with the action off to the back and the grief front and center, that speaks to this commemoration well.)

You may think me morbid, but the Feast of the Holy Innocents is one of my favorite feast days of the entire Church calendar. It’s not because of the brutality of what it commemorates, but because of what this particular feast makes space for both in my heart and in the worship and life of the Church as a whole.

In Matthew 2:16 the Gospel writer tells of Herod’s rage at being deceived by the magi and his subsequent order to have all male children under two years (which at the time would have most likely meant age one and younger) in Bethlehem and surrounding area killed. This horrific act was completely consistent with Herod’s character (it is well documented historically that he had his own sons killed), and is a terrible reminder of the cost of pursuing goodness and life in the face of great evil.

The Church recognizes those children killed by Herod as martyrs, whether or not their parents were believers, because they themselves took the place of the one Herod was after—Jesus. Over the years, the killings grew in the imagination of the Church, with numbers being cited in the hundreds of thousands, while the reality of the population of Bethlehem and area indicates that the number of children killed was between six and twenty.

Whatever the actual number of children, December 28 is a day clothed with the horror of lives cut off, death visiting those who had lived so short a time and so deserved to be protected and cherished.

Over the years, my own celebration of this feast day has come to be quite dear to me. While God can take my rage, my questions, my anger, my lack of understanding of His ways any day of the year (and often does), it heartens me that there is a day in the Church calendar where the whole assembly of believers is encouraged to cry out the anguished question: WHY?

On this day, I set aside time to let those questions and aches in my heart have full-throated voice. I weep and cry out WHY, LORD? in the company of the great cloud of witnesses who also weep for those holy innocents who died so long ago. I let my mourning be deep and angry and real this day—as I can any day with God—because He is big enough, powerful enough, and, most importantly, good and loving enough to hold receive these questions hurled at him from me. It is a time for me to mourn and wail for those things unmourned this year—or unmourned in my soul in general—or to continue mourning those things if necessary. It is an acknowledgement both that God can take it, and that His ways are mysteriously larger than mine.

Consider spending some time on December 28 to hold these truths of God’s story and your own together before Him.

Prayer for the Feast of the Holy Innocents:

O God, whom the Holy Innocents confessed and proclaimed on this day, not by speaking but by dying, grant, we pray, that the faith in You which we confess with our lips may also speak through our manner of life. Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.