Why keep a journal?

imageAbout a year and a half ago, my spiritual director recommended that I keep a journal.  That is a practice I started way back in high school, but it had become hit and miss over the years.  At times of crisis or transition, I would always return to journaling because I knew it was a way for me get in touch with my thoughts and feelings.  Writing would help me to get below the surface and enable me to reflect on my current situation and put it in context.  But once the crisis was over, or somewhat resolved, I would set aside my notebook or put it back on the shelf.

Journaling seems to be rising in popularity.  I was surprised to learn that my daughter, Lynne Dorner, a Certified Holistic Health Coach, mentioned it in her bestselling book: “101+ Secrets from Nutrition School.”  One of her teachers was Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way.  She presented writing “morning pages” as a way to be open to the creative process and to discover changes that you want to make in your life.  It helped inspire my daughter to follow her dream of writing a book that would help people lead healthier lives.

For me, journaling has an intentional spiritual component.  Writing morning pages is like taking my “spiritual temperature.”  Where am I in my relationship with God?  What are my prayer requests?  How can I be more open to the Spirit?  How is God speaking to me today?

These are some of the prompts that I use to start writing.  But there are some days, like this week, that I just sit with a blank page in front of me and say: “Ok, God, I’m listening for your still small voice.”  And then I listen.  Sometimes I will start doodling or even grab some magazines and start making a collage.  I find that tearing pictures or words out of a book or magazine, those that speak to me, helps me to find my deepest self and what I am yearning for in my heart.

I encourage you to start writing, even for just a few minutes every day.  If the words don’t come, start doodling or making a collage.  Images will form, and your deepest self will be revealed.  It can get you through any storm, or stir the waters if need be.

Get a plain notebook, or treat yourself to a fancy journal, and begin taking your spiritual temperature.  You might be surprised at what surfaces.  Journaling stands ready to lead you and guide you to a happier and healthier life.

For more information on journaling and related topics, check out these resources:

http://www.LynneDorner.com and her book’s website http://www.nutritionschoolsecrets.com

http://www.sacredlifearts.com and Sibyl Dana Reynolds links to

Sacred Writing Practices for Women Who Write

The Center for Journal Therapy:  http://journaltherapy.com

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron: http://juliacameronlive.com/

The Artist’s Rule by Christine Valters Painter: http://www.abbeyofthearts.com

 

 

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External and Internal Shock Absorbers

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What helps us to take the blows that life sends our way?  What are our external and internal shock absorbers?

My faithful and trustworthy 2001 Toyota Rav4 took the blows when I was rear ended last Tuesday.  Actually, the mounted spare tire absorbed most of the impact.  So grateful that my car responded as it should…rear end collapsing inward…and seat belt and head rest protecting me the best they could.

My body also did its best.  After the crash, there was a huge rush of adrenaline surging through my body.  My muscles went on high alert and held my bones in place to keep them from being broken or smashed.  I am learning that those muscles really acted as shock absorbers, but now they are in need of rest and healing.  Physical therapy is helping with that, plus rest…rest…and more rest.

As an aftermath of the accident, I’ve also had a lingering headache and nausea.  The doctor said I have a mild concussion.  I’m assured that this is quite common after a car crash, and only time will tell how long it will take to return to normal.

How do we respond to the blows that come our way?  First we must accept that what is done is done.  I was in a car accident, and I cannot go back in time and make it not happen.  Secondly, take one day at a time…and do only the things that need to be done.  Activities of daily living are kept to a minimum to allow time to rest.  Third, follow through with medications and physical therapy so that health can be restored.  Fourth, start looking into repairing or replacing my SUV.  I have the insurance adjusters looking into that already.  Fifth, and probably most important, facing the fears and apprehensions that follow such a crash.

For me, that means turning to the scriptures, reading, praying, and writing in my journal.

There’s a saying among writers: “How do I know how I feel unless I write it down.”  That’s where I’m at right now.  Writing is going to help me heal.  Writing a blog is new for me, but I am going to use this form to try to make sense of what is going on inside of me.  I want to discover how my internal shock absorbers work, and how they can bounce back.

I ask God for wisdom and understanding as I write from my heart.

“Each woman was like a human book of holy wisdom…”  Sibyl Dana Reynolds in InkandHoneytheBook.com

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Calming of the Storm

imageI awoke to thunder and lightening.  There is a storm going on outside that seems relentless.

There is also a storm going on inside my head.  When will it let up.  I crave sunshine again.  When will it return.

“Give it time,” they say.  “The weather will improve.”

But I am impatient.  I want all to be well…now.

The rain falls, not so gently.  “Rest my dear,” they say.  “Limit your exposure to light.  Avoid glaring screens until the storm lets up.”

Instead I cry out: “Lord, calm the storm.”

God speaks through Holy Scripture:

“Some of you will set sail in big ships…and when you are out at sea you will see God in action.  With a word the wind howls, and the ocean is full of towering waves.  You are shot high in the sky and then the bottom drops out and your heart is stuck in your throat.  You spin around like a top, and you reel around not knowing which way is up.  You call out to God in your desperate condition:Save us Lord, for we are sinking!”  God responds:”How little faith you have.”  “Our God quiets the wind down to a whisper, and muzzles the big waves, and we are led safely back to the harbor.”   And then Jesus arose and rebuked the wind and the sea, “and there was a dead calm.”

(Excerpts from Psalm 107:28-32 “The Message Bible” and Matthew 8:24-27.)

 

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My Big Bang Theory

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Came to a dead stop behind several cars waiting for the red light to change.

Bang!

I had glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a car pulling up behind me.  It looked like an innocent red van, probably rushing home for dinner.

Bang!

Instinctively, I had left extra space between the car in front of me and my vehicle, thanks to taking a defensive driving class a few years ago.

Bang!

Suddenly I was being thrust towards the blue car in front of me.  Both of my hands were glued to the steering wheel, and my right foot pressed down even harder on the break, if that was possible.  By some miracle, I stopped short of hitting the blue car, or my grey vehicle would have looked like an accordion.

I had done everything right.  Was driving defensively…with  full command of my car…leaving plenty of space in front of me…but then it happened.

Bang!

The lady in the red van was obviously driving distracted and smashed right into me.  It seemed to me that she had not even tried to break.  What was she thinking? or not?

This morning I am feeling achy and nauseous…with a splitting headache and sore muscles.  “You’ll feel worse tomorrow and for the next few days,” they told me at the Emergency Room.

Exrays and tests revealed that nothing appeared broken.

But something was broken deep inside of me.  Its my confidence.  I always felt safe in my 2001 Rav4, but last night I was too shaken to drive it home.

That leads to my new Big Bang Theory.  Any time you take a big hit, or are dealt a crushing blow, your instinct is  to retreat…to find a safe place, and hide until you are healed.  That might be ok for a day or two or even longer, but at some point I know that it will be important to get back on the road again before I let the shakiness take a hold of me.

“Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand–I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; thro’ the storm, thro’ the night, lead me on to the light–Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”

This hymn was written by Thomas Dorsey, based on the words from Isaiah 41:13: “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.'”  He wrote it after the death of his wife and newborn son.  His  words touch me deeply this morning.  I pray that they heal the brokenness I feel today.

 

 

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Scouting…Exploring The World Beyond Walls

imageWe all come to crossroads in our lives…and once we choose a path, there is no going back.  All of the could of, would of, should of options are no longer available.

I bought this refrigerator magnet just as I was leaving Delaware in November 1994.  I had just accepted my dream job.  The Church of the Good Shepherd in Dunedin, Florida had called me to be their associate rector.

During the discernment process for ordination, I had often been questioned as to how I saw myself in ministry in the Episcopal Church.  I would jokingly say to the inquisitors: “I do not feel called to be a bishop or cardinal rector.  I simply want to be a beach priest.”  God heard my prayer.

The address of Good Shepherd is 639 Edgewater Drive, right on the inter coastal waterway, just across the causeway to the Gulf of Mexico.

While this was a dream come true, it also meant leaving behind family and friends as I moved to the Diocese of Southwest Florida.  When I first mentioned to my loved ones that I was interviewing for a ministry position in Florida, I don’t think they quite believed that I would actually get the call.  But then it came.

It was hard for my husband and I to say goodbye to the life we lived there…to the house where we had raised our four children, to our neighborhood of almost 20 years, and all of the friends we had made while living there…and especially to our grown children who we would be leaving behind to start a new life.  Even though all of our children had “left the nest,” they told us that it was still hard on them as they always thought that they would be able to come back to visit us in their childhood home.

About ten years after we moved to Florida, I actually interviewed for a job back in the Diocese of Delaware at a church not far away from where we used to live.  During that interview process I realized that even if I got the job, I would not be going back to the life I had lived before.  People had moved on, including two of my children who were establishing lives in different states.

Once you leave a place to follow a new path, you have reached the point of no return.  But that is the life of a Scout…always exploring new worlds, and leaving old worlds behind.

I think of my grandmothers and how they left the old world for the new, never to return to their native lands.  They never saw their relatives and hometowns again.  It does give me comfort to know that I am only a text or Skype visit away from my family…a luxury that my grandmothers could not have even imagined.  And I am also only a few hours away thanks to modern day travel such as trains, planes and automobiles.  But it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

In 2006, I decided to retire in part because I wanted to be able to hop in the car or take a plane to see my children and grandchildren whenever special occasions would arise, especially on weekends.  That has worked well, but not perfectly.  There are times when I have wanted to be with them, such as family emergencies, but I felt stuck in Florida…grounded.

So along with the joys that come from being a scout, there are also times when you realize just what you have given up.  As the magnet reads, some things are no longer an option.  But on our journeys we can give thanks for the things that we do have…those every day blessings that are part and parcel of living in a new land.  We can push on to making more and more discoveries as we continue on new paths.

We also have memories of loved ones who have made journeys before us.  I find strength and comfort from my grandmothers who continue to inspire me along life’s journey.  In fact, I believe they are lighting my path and helping me every step of the way.  It helps me to realize that we never walk alone.

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Crossing Guards Needed for Major Intersection

When I was growing up in Chicago, we had Crossing Guards who helped us safely across major intersections as we walked to school.

This week, the topic of crossing guards came up at the Beyond Walls writing workshop at Kenyon College. Rabbi Brad Hirschfield reminded us that at certain points in our lives we might function as a crossing guard, helping others to cross back and forth over walls and other barriers.

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I thought about the close knit group of women priests who taught me how to be a crossing guard. Pictured are (left to right): Me with Barbara Duncan, Toni Schussler, Jeanne Linderman and Kay Scobell.

In the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware, we generously gave encouragement and support and on the job training to other women we met in the ordination process.  We also shared a tradition of passing along a deacon’s stole to the next woman in line who was crossing over into “holy orders.”  This photo was taken on the day that Toni was ordained a transitional deacon on her way to the priesthood.

This week I experienced another crossing.  At Beyond Walls, participants were serendipitously assigned leaders and small writing groups.  Together we navigated our way into the world of blogging and social media and honed our skills as writers of essays, epistles, op-eds and poems.  We formed a close knit community and we became one in our quest to go deeper into our calling of being spiritual writers.

After this crash course, we are now ready to become crossing guards at the intersection of spirituality and religion.  More crossing guards are needed.  Are you ready to apply?

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Are All Strangers Friends You Haven’t Met Yet?

imageI grew up believing the Will Rogers quote: “A Stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.”  It really fit my personality.  As an extroverted, intuitive, feeling and perceptive person, it came naturally to me to be nice and friendly with everyone I met.

This often worked well for me in social situations.  I would walk up to strangers, shake their hands, and introduce myself…feeling excited about the possibility of making a new friend.  I could “work the room”as well as anyone.

This really helped me in my career as an Episcopal parish priest.  When I was called to start a new church in Naples, the first question people would ask me was how I was going to reach people and invite them to church, especially when many lived in gated communities.  I would respond by saying that I’ll be out and about in the community, and I’ll invite people to come and join us.  After all, that is what Church Planters do…connect with their community and invite perfect strangers to come to church.

It was often surprising to see who would accept the invitation.  We began attracting a diversity of people, which crossed racial and cultural boundries.  Our slogan reflected our core value of “All are Welcome.”

That didn’t always go over so well with certain folks in my denomination who thought I should focus my efforts on reaching Episcopalians.  You know, the stereotypical folks who already know how to find their way through the Book of Common Prayer during worship, and who are familiar with the songs found in our denominational hymnal.  I double-downed on my efforts to reach the “unchurched,” which when tallyed revealed that they were about half of our congregation.”

I thrived on being a bridge builder with the community.  My biggest mistake was not putting the same efforts into building bridges with deanery and diocesan folks who would be making major decisions about our fledgling congregation.

Lesson Learned…bridges go two ways.  People cross back and forth.  Just as people can come on board, they can also leave or withdraw their support.

I’m not an engineer, but what I have learned from those who build actual bridges for a living, you have to choose your sites carefully…otherwise it will be a disaster.

This image comes to mind.  During our visit to China about ten years ago, we were sailing along the Yangtze River.  When we turned around a bend you could see that efforts were made to build a bridge across this great waterway.  On each side of the river, there were beautiful bridges.  The only problem is, they didn’t meet in the middle.  Each side had built a bridge based on the best place to build on their side of the river, and evidently didn’t coordinate their efforts so that the two sides would meet.

I still think of that bridge on occasion.  It helps me when I get into conversations that become polarized. Instead of criticizing the other person, I try to see if there is a way we can connect…perhaps meeting in the middle.  To be honest, that isn’t always possible.  Then I have to decide if it is worth trying to build a bridge with that person, or if we will always be at an impasse.

It was hard for me to “unfriend” my cousin when it seemed that Facebook became a battleground for our opinions.  We weren’t building bridges but tearing them down.  We had to give it a rest.  I don’t know if we will ever connect, but I don’t think its healthy for us to spend precious time trying to convince the other of the rightness of our opinion.

So, this begs the question: “Have you ever met a stranger that you knew, no matter how hard you tried, that they would never be your friend?”  I mean a real friend.  We can certainly try to be nice to everyone, but everyone will not end up becoming your friend.

We can choose to try to build a bridge in a relationship, but at some point we just might have to let it go.

For this extroverted, intuitive, feeling and perceptive person, that is hard to admit.  But I have come to a more realistic perspective: I can try to be friendly with everyone, but not everyone will be my friend.

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