Right now, we are the woman draped in roses in this painting. The trumpets are sounding for the dawn of the new year. 2017 crawls away. Soon, we will have no choice but to get up, get moving and create 2018.
But first, we rest in the liminal space of what was and what will be.
Perhaps my reflections from this liminal space will bring to mind gifts you received in the passing year…
In 2017, I joined the team of spiritual directors at Loyola Spirituality Center in St Paul, MN and listened to the spiritual journeys of people ranging in age from 18 to 67, from atheists to Christian clergy.
It’s hard to articulate just how much I love this work I do, how much I love each person who comes to my office or home to share glimpses of their heart.
While the outside world of 2017 was ugly on many levels, my work as a spiritual director keeps me tapped into the beauty of the human heart. In one way or another, each seeker reveals to me their earnest desire to be more… (genuine, balanced, whole, loving, mindful, thoughtful, open-hearted, joyful, close to the Divine, aligned with their true gifts and purpose and so on.)
It is this ache to embody the fullness of who we really are that is so beautiful, and I get to witness it daily.
Also in 2017, I spent months assisting a friend through her dying process. I walked her through her fears, held her during her final night and the next day I offered a blessing during her bedside service. I stayed there in her house with her loved ones all through the next day too, and when I finally emerged out into the public – a grocery store, to be exact – I was nearly knocked over with love for the first stranger I saw. It was weird, because at first I pictured this stranger dead, and then I saw his light shining within and all around him
and then my heart felt “we are exactly the same” – this man of a different age, race, gender and size than me – we all have these bodies that we carry around and we are all the same light.
I guess spending so much time in that veil between the physical and spiritual realm gave me a glimpse of this reality in a visceral, visible way. That is the greatest gift I received in 2017, and I credit the expansively loving nature of my beautiful friend who died.
In sum, 2017 cracked open my heart and more fully connected me to the hearts of others. That was not my goal or new year’s resolution, it is just what happened. Less poetic things happened too – financially, physically, etc – but my expanded heart and the gift of a vocation that makes it beat louder and stronger all the time keeps everything else in perspective.
What gift of awareness did 2017 bring you?
Happy New Year, Everyone and
may 2018 bring you closer to embodying the fullness of who you really are!
Are you interested in trying a spiritual direction session?
Email me at email@example.com
…every time you saw a nativity scene, you visualized the baby as a metaphor for a mysterious, beautiful energy that is constantly birthing itself into the world?
…every time you heard a song about the nativity, you used lyrics such as ‘o come let us adore him’ as a reminder to honor this energy that is already alive within yourself and within everyone you meet?
…every time you encountered any version of the Christmas story, you allowed it to serve as a reminder that although this beautiful energy is “forever being born in the human soul,” we must constantly make room in our awareness for it – emptying our minds of the clutter, opening to the reality of the present – because otherwise “there is no room in the inn for such a mystery?”
What if the point of the Christmas story has always been that:
1) this mysterious, beautiful energy is already present “hidden inside of everything”
2) yet we’re still always waiting (longing!) to see it revealed in the world because we’re too clouded from the reality that this energy is everywhere and already birthed inside of us?
Try listening to the story and all of its details – angels singing in the sky, refugee woman giving birth in stranger’s shed, lowly field men approaching in awe – as a metaphor for a moment when suddenly the universe stops and loudly announces that this energy of love is here! alive in the world! incarnate!
Behold! I bring you great news! The beautiful energy of love is here! Alive in the world! Incarnate!
And when an evil king tries to snuff out this loving energy – be like the wise person who followed their intuition and enabled the energy to prevail.
May each of you fully know the beauty that is already birthed inside of you.
(All quotes come from Richard Rohr’s Advent Message video which can be found here.)
As a spiritual director (and also as a parent, friend and public speaker), I try to tap people into their own wisdom and creativity.
Depending on your worldview, you may see wisdom and creative inspiration as coming from your intuition, communication with God, a collective unconscious or some combination of all three. However you define the source, practices of quiet (prayer or mediation), mindfulness (deep presence to the moment) and increasing self-knowledge (awareness of how your ego derails you) better allow wisdom and creativity to flow within you.
A spiritual director can offer guidance in these practices, help you discern when you are tapping into this flow and stand beside you as you grow in the confidence of access to your own wisdom.
One person who clearly accessed her inner wisdom and creativity – and had a spiritual director – was a 12th century woman known as Hildegard of Bingen.
Hildegard composed powerful music that is still widely enjoyed today and which scientists have discovered activates our brainwaves in unique ways. Enter her name in YouTube and listen to some of the recordings yourself. Here’s a couple:
Hildegard wrote encyclopedias documenting the healing qualities for over 300 plants and trees. She also wrote philosophical volumes on the spiritual and natural worlds that earned her such widespread respect even emperors, popes and kings sought her counsel.
Hildegard saw everything as existing within an interconnected web of creation – and understood that by studying the microcosm we could come to understand the macrocosm. This was in the 1100s! Long before quantum physics verified her teachings.
Hildegard had “visions” through which these secrets of the universe were revealed to her. She described these visions in her writings, oversaw their portrayal in painted mandalas (such as the one above) and talked about them on her speaking tours.
She also wrote about how the process of sharing her visions with her spiritual director strengthened her confidence in them and gave her the conviction to share her message with the world.
Everything that is in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness - Hildegard of Bingen
What if we all took seriously our own “visions” or moments of clarity when spiritual connectedness or creative inspiration seems to flow through us? What if we all nurtured these moments with meditation or other spiritual practices? What if we all had someone to talk to about these moments?
Hildegard may have seen her visions in what today we might call migraine auras, and much of her imagery stems from the lush forest that surrounded her monastery.
I believe we can all nurture our ability (as well as our children’s ability) to find meaning in everything around us. We all have the potential to better understand the secrets of the universe as revealed in something as simple as the veins of a maple leaf.
While Hildegard seems to have been blessed with more talents than the average human, the design of her daily life was ideal for nurturing her spiritual and creative gifts.
Since early childhood, Hildegard’s days were focused on practicing the quiet of meditative prayer and cultivating awareness of the sacred within each moment and all of creation. Knowing this helps us understand how her music and visions came to be.
How can we emulate Hildegard’s practices so as to enhance the wisdom and creativity flowing through our own lives?
Hildegard was a woman to be reckoned with. She understood the value and importance of her visions. Claiming unheard of authority for a woman not only of her time but perhaps any time in history since, Hildegard did not shrink from challenging those in power. She wrote sternly to those who she saw abusing their power, and her views were taken seriously by them.
O king, it is of utmost necessity that you take care of how you act... I see you are acting like a child. You live an insane, absurd life before God. There is still time. - Hildegard to Emperor Bararossa
If you are not familiar with Hildegard, I encourage you to get to know her better. And talk about her to the girls and young women in your lives!
Every creature is a glittering, glistening mirror of Divinity - Hildegard of Bingen
To experience some of Hildegard’s brilliance yourself, you can listen to her music or take a look at the mandalas that portray her visions. (Many of which can be found in Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen) You can read any of her books – I recommend Book of Divine Works: With Letters and Songs or you can read books that have been written about her – such as Experiencing Hildegard: Jungian Perspectives. (all links are to my amazon affiliate page)
Then you’ll see for yourself why Hildegard is an inspiration for so many reasons – her access to wisdom, her holistic knowledge and creative talents, her ability to claim authority in matters not normally granted to women, her confidence in her visions and the strength of her convictions.
I will be presenting a program on Hildegard of Bingen at St Gerard Church in Brooklyn Park, MN on Feb 2, 2018, details to follow.
Let me know if you’re interested in having me speak at your event or if you’re interested in a spiritual direction session. Email me at Carolyn@spiritfulldirection.com.
Yesterday’s eclipse was magical. Did you feel it?
I didn’t look.
Instead, at its peak I lead a quiet meditation with a few friends. It felt wonderful to clear our minds, make space for the new chapter of the New Moon and absorb the celestial energy.
Before the peak, we feasted on sunshiny lemon ricotta cakes with blueberry moon sauce, turmeric yellow frittata, English cheddar with fig preserves, grapes, yellow watermelon, purple Izzy soda and Moscato wine. If the heavens give us a reason to celebrate, why not do so with colorful gusto?!
As the eclipse was ending, we dropped flowers into the creek and let the combined moon and sun energy carry our wishes into the future.
It was a magical eclipse.
How did you mark this significant day?
Eclipse photo credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
Time acts differently around the dying.
While the living are out and about doing their thing,
checking schedules –
time will expand and contract accordingly.
Around the dying one,
time does no such thing.
It has one slow, steady pace,
loudly beating the seconds,
each second to be suffered through,
keenly keeping pace,
Time holds the dying,
and for the witness,
vibrates through body and soul.
This post stems from the lowest of lows in public discourse – a trivial social media disagreement about a pop culture topic.
Specifically, a group of nice, middle-aged white ladies (yes, I’m the pot with the kettle in this story) criticizing how “full of herself” Beyoncé was during the “spectacle” of her Grammys performance.
I don’t know much about Beyoncé. I’m generally dismissive of pop culture artists since they are often just corporations in disguise. I don’t listen to much pop.
I watched the Grammys from my sick bed while recovering from the flu and goofing around online.
Beyoncé’s performance mesmerized me.
Visually stunning, it was not based on the usual shock-factor or hyper-sexuality that dominates so much of pop star women’s performances. Rather, it seemed to be exalting the love between mothers and daughters, Black mothers and daughters, to sacred status.
At one point Beyoncé said,
“If we’re going to heal, let it be glorious/ One thousand girls raise their arms.”
Quite a powerful statement given how much healing we’re yearning for in this political climate, and how girls and women are leading the march towards healing in unprecedented ways.
I googled Beyoncé’s words and learned that they came from the Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, whom Beyoncé collaborated with to make her Lemonade album.
Shire also wrote the devastating poem “Home” about the refugee experience, which begins:
“no one leaves home unless/home is the mouth of a shark”
Please read the whole poem. Read it now.
It turns out that in addition to being “full of herself,” Beyoncé was using her platform to highlight a voice that needs to be heard, a story that needs to be told.
Which brings me to the point of my post:
These days the battle between love and hate has been pushed to the forefront in a way I have not seen (noticed) in my lifetime. As one of those nice, middle aged white ladies, I am not confronted with hatred often – I get to observe it from the safety of my couch while watching the news. Even so, I can plainly see that hatred (toward refugees, people of color, anyone made to live on the margins of society) is more out in the open, but love is too.
I appreciate artists using their medium to elevate love to its sacred status.
Let’s appreciate the voice of love when we see it – especially if it takes us out of our comfort zone.
It’s easy to say that we stand for love, just like it is easy for some people to go to church and think they’ve done their weekly work for God. But standing for love and being close to God is not meant to be easy.
Living our lives as embodied love is elusive. You can work at it for years, studying the great spiritual leaders of your faith, doing the psychological uncovering of your ego and yet still be withholding love in countless ways – from your too-loud neighbors, or from a community of people in your own town who are struggling in ways you’re blind to, or even from your own child who is working your very last nerve.
We each withhold love in various ways each day and that is what separates us from the Divine. Moving closer to God means moving closer to fully embodying love in our daily lives.
What if our love for others was as bright and bold as Beyoncé’s headdress?
We have arrived in an era when hate speech and love speech are more out in the open than has been the case for awhile.
If you are on the side of love, it’s time to be fully love, full of love, full of yourself as love. Anything less is to comply with the hate that surrounds you.
And white readers, if we are turned off by something that a black or brown person is doing, let’s think long and hard before using “they are full of themselves” as a proclamation of our distaste.
If we are on the side of love, we strive for everyone – especially those who have blatant hatred directed at them just for existing – to be fully themselves.
Photo Credits Courtesy of Beyoncé/eonline.com beyonce-en-deesse-solaire-a-la-ceremonie-des-grammy-awards-2017_230698_w696.jpg Matt Sayles/Invision/AP Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS/eonline.com
Womens March in Providence, RI (AP ) NYTCREDIT: Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Associated Press
Yesterday mattered. Having worked with girls and young women for decades, I know this.
Generation after generation, we let our girls feel alone in their experience of sexual violation.
Yesterday mattered. Millions of women and girls, on every continent – including Antarctica – made anti-grabbing, anti-rape culture signs and took to the streets.
Let that sink in for a moment: Millions around the world took to the streets and proclaimed that a man’s grabbing, groping and assaulting is not okay.
Millions spoke out against all forms of injustice, and wherever there is injustice – sexual violence exists.
Millions of people marched against these injustices yesterday.
I couldn’t be at the march, yet even watching from afar, I could feel the cultural shift. A seismic shift.
Yesterday, grabbing and groping became less culturally acceptable.
Yesterday, girls became less isolated in their experience.
Yesterday, girls learned that metaphorically “grabbing back” is a valid option.
Sexual violation will still happen, and girls will still feel alone – but a little less so.
Yesterday was a Spirit Full day.
Who knows what triumphs and struggles the new year will bring? Beyond our individual plans and goals, 2017 is threatening frightening political and social changes, the level of which remains to be seen. Now is a good time to ask what our role will be in the year ahead, both in our personal lives and in our communities.
I’d like to share something that I learned in 2016 which is helping me answer this question.
In early 2016, a close family member landed in the hospital for nearly two weeks after a frighteningly reckless action. That was the beginning of a months-long nightmare that somehow lead to an ideal resolution beyond the limits of my imagination. My loved one is now doing well.
Looking back on how the horrible ordeal turned into a blessing, I see that I had a little control over whether the outcome was tragic or joyous. Very little control, but I never lost sight of it. I could influence my loved one, perhaps expand or contract some of her options, but not control her. Therefore, I packed my little amount of control with clear, focused intention. The rest I let go, which gained me unfavorable judgments by others, but ultimately allowed the ideal resolution to present itself. In other words, I found the balance between acting with intention and being open to unforeseen possibilities.
How did I find this balance? Meditation, prayer and spiritual guidance made my intuitive voice loud and clear, gave me the strength to follow my intuition in an unpopular direction and guided me in the ebb and flow of action and letting go.
My new year’s message is therefore a reminder that you can influence the circumstances of 2017, but you cannot control what will happen. Be decisive about your intentions, use spiritual practices that strengthen your intuitive voice and seek the balance between taking action and being open to the unexpected.
Let’s do this and make 2017 a year filled with peace, justice and hope for us all.