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MAKING SPIRITUAL RESILIENCE | April 2020 

PREPARATION FOR YOUR RETREAT 
Welcome to this Prayer Bench Monthly Retreat. There is no right or wrong way to make this retreat. Some people sit with it for an hour or so, others take a bit at a time or incorporate it into a daily practice. You bring to it whatever time you have.

You may already have, or want to create, a sacred space or “altar-table” for your retreats. Perhaps it is a quiet space, a corner, a rocking chair, a room with a view, that is just for you. Perhaps you have a little table you can use for focus and a favourite coloured fabric or scarf to put on it. You might want to light a candle. You may want to bring a symbol or a photo to your space that represents “spiritual resiliency” for you.

SETTLING PRAYER
This is a time for re-collecting. We intentionally bring our energy to this moment. We notice the energy that is stirring in us. We don’t judge it or name it good or bad. Here and now is a place for our whole selves. We are here. The Divine is here.

We settle into an awareness that we are surrounded by Love. Breathe deeply.
Here is an opening prayer written by Cora Krommenhoek. Pray it — or make a prayer from your own heart about this day.

Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver
I cannot give thanks
For all the agony and loneliness
But I know who and what I am
And that is enough.

REFLECTION by Janice MacLean 
When we entered into the time of fear and physical distancing, “Spiritual Resilience” seemed a great idea for a theme. Actually writing it is a challenge. You see, if I have learned anything in the past few weeks it is how differently we all respond to this time of trauma and challenge. We are in so many different spaces.

Some are finding it challenging to meet basic emotional and physical needs. Some are grateful for what feels like extra time to learn new skills or write a book or clean out the garden. Others are noticing differences in how being family together is bringing good things. Others are not noticing that at all. Some have way too much time on their hands and are sorely missing the company of others. Others relish the solitude.

There are many ways to practice coping.

What can I possibly say about Spiritual Resilience? It will look so different for each one. And, honestly, sometimes we are many things even in the flow of one day.

What can I write that doesn’t add to the burden of judgement that we “should” be managing this one way or another?

I can tell you that I changed the theme from “Spiritual Resilience,” which sounded like a goal we needed to aspire to, to “Making Spiritual Resilience.” That shifted everything. On the days when I was feeling less than spiritually resilient about anything, I was still making spiritual resilience in whatever way possible.

Being spiritually resilient is not something we are. It is not something we possess. It is a journey. We make our way with courage, by making mistakes, and using whatever energy we have. We are artists.

We create spiritual resilience. We befriend spiritual resilience.

Perhaps the best way into this theme is to share with you my journey. I hope you find something that resonates for you.  I also asked some friends to share bits of their story so you would have varied material to work with as you reflect on how you are making spiritual resilience.

Janice’s Path of Making Resilience
Here are a few of the way-marks in my journey of making spiritual resilience … so far.

Giving a name to my experience helps.

I rejoiced the day I was reminded of “Acedia,” an ancient word used by the Christian monastic community to describe what it feels like when time stands still. The 4th century monk, Evagrius described it as a “noon-day demon” He pictures a monk under the influence of acedia as one constantly looking out the window of their cell and staring at the sun to see if it is time for lunch yet. The sun stands still. That’s acedia.

It fits so well this time of isolating.

There are other words associated with acedia: restlessness, spiritual unease, boredom, listlessness, soul weariness, brooding, the black gall, melancholy, apathy, procrastination, sloth, bleakness.

Acedia manifests itself for me in welcoming needless distractions, checking email and social media constantly, blaming others, feeling that work is endless, and being tired.

Kathleen Norris, an author who knows a lot about acedia, writes that under the influence of acedia we might also feel:

  • It’s all too much. It’s not enough.
  • We don’t care enough about ourselves or others.
  • We care too much about things that don’t matter.
  • We want to give up or give in.
  • We refuse to stop, or we fill our day with activity for activity’s sake.

Acedia is not to be mistaken with depression. Let me be clear: while depression may share some signs with acedia, acedia is something else. Depression needs its own treatment.

The antidote to acedia, writes Kathleen Norris, is being truly present to the tasks and responsibilities of everyday life. She talks about creating routine to act as a scaffolding to support each day.

That understanding led me to:

Kindle a new relationship with my soul

This falls into the category of  “stuff that normally works, just doesn’t.” Take walking, for example. I like walking. Walking not only shifts my energy but also creates a sense of space when all kinds of new ideas emerge. I “know” going for a walk is good physically, emotionally and spiritually. But on some days my boots hide in the closet and will not come out.

This fills me with guilt because early in isolating, I pledged I would walk every, single day “because it would be good for me.” It wasn’t good for me to have that pressure and when I realized I had the power to change that expectation, I did. Now I plan to walk for at least two hours a week recalling a study that says “spending at least two hours a week in nature is crucial for promoting health and wellbeing.” Two hours a week seems more manageable. I walk more often.

In such a time as this we may need to enter into a new relationship with our soul. Some practices may not work for us, or more likely, some of our expectations may not fit the experience of the moment.

Here is a question that I loved so much I wrote it on a post-it note and put it on the wall in front of my laptop: “What expectations of normal am I letting go today?” I find this comforting. Perhaps you might — or might not. Making spiritual resilience may mean shifting our “normal” expectations, our usual practices, and even our inner vision of ourself.

This brings me to —

Welcome Bad Days

There are some days I have no energy. Some mornings I plan to get up really early to write or work, something I love to do actually. But here is what would happen: I’d sit with my coffee on the couch, pick up my iPad, and somehow emerge two hours later frustrated that my precious time had passed in some state of unmoving oblivion.

There are days when I have to work and don’t enjoy it. It is a horrible process of getting things done with no heart at all, taking so-o-o long to accomplish what I can do in minutes, or being baffled by technical processes that I know yet can’t remember or making mistakes with technology that I normally don’t.

These were the days when I hurt easily or was crankier than usual.

It helped a little when I read about the effects of living during a pandemic on the executive function of the brain. It helped when I realized that colleagues had days of “hitting the wall.”  It helped to remember acedia and find something ordinary to do. It helped when I woke in the night to do the Welcome Practice (see resource section.)

In my effort to welcome bad days, I decided to:

Make Bad Art

I needed work for my hands to do in the evening. This work would not be putting together a 1000 piece puzzle nor would it be crafts of any kind. And while I am envious of knitters, it would not be that either.

I spent an hour with Natalie Moyes, an Intentional Creativity teacher, who inspired me to get a package of nice markers and use a lovely notebook I’ve been saving. I read an article by Austin Kleon (see below) so now I make bad art. It is something. I am “making bad art” most evenings. It’s comforting, easily meets my standard of perfection (in this case bad) and edges me to a place of being able to hold space, which brings me to —

Take Courage to Imagine Something New

I don’t mean to write a book though I would love to do so some less busy time. I don’t mean losing that last 10 pounds (though I would like to). I don’t mean reaching a personal goal. Some of you might have personal goals — no judgement! I mean doing some little bit to participate in shaping a new world. I believe we are in a place of invitation and we can use this pandemic which is turning our whole world upside down to land in a different place that where we entered.

I bring intention to this. For me, it means sitting in Centering Prayer as often as I am able. I am also engaging practices in the Wisdom tradition calling for attention in this time. I’m holding my heart open to invitations to learn how our souls relate when we are not together so when we are together we can be more of who we are and are meant to be.

Out of this turbulence, there is something to be learned about intimacy, about community and communication. Perhaps there are new arisings that can make us, and our culture, more whole-hearted. This is why I am making spiritual resilience.

QUESTIONS FOR YOUR REFLECTION/JOURNALLING

We are diverse and how we reflect takes a different shape according to our personalities. So choose a question or two that compels you and work with it in words, colours, photos, poems, or body prayers.

And you? What are you leaning into these days? What practices are sustaining you or helping you cope? Where are you sensing new invitations? What steps are you making in the direction of Love? What is your heart song? Or soul cry? What quote or learning is making sense of things for you? What is the kindest, most loving thing you can imagine God saying to you? In what ways are you making or befriending spiritual resilience?

SPIRITUAL PRACTICES 

Here are some choices for Spiritual Practice with thanks to five Prayer Bench friends.Choose one or two that invite you to continue your practice of making spiritual resilience.

A Poem-Prayer from Cora Krommenhoek

The prayer Cora offered in the Settling Prayer above inspired this Poem-Prayer. You might want to read her poem-prayer and then write your own prayer. Alternatively, you might enjoy going through your camera roll or finding images of tulips to illustrate her words.

I longed for
sweetness and light
everlasting joy
absence of pain
Instead I was created…
…a tulip bulb

Buried deep
beneath layers of
mud and manure
murky, mucky
this is my solitary existence
Dimly, I sense vibrations
of other bulbs
But I cannot reach them
Through the mud

I endure endless time
Of cold and loneliness
Is this all there is?
Is this how life must be?

And then
Something begins to happen
The vibrations are in me
But I am afraid…
Will these roots
embed me more firmly
in the soil?
And what is that
pushing out of me?
No! No! I cry
I do not want to lose
Any part of myself.

But the shoot pushes onward
Always upward
Past obstructions
Rocks that block
Roots that entangle
Dry leaves that endeavour
To stop the growth
But it will not stop
Leaves reach out and brush
the leaves of other plants
Alone no more.
And look!
What glorious colour!
First just a bud
And then a full, luminous flower
Spreading joy and hope
for the world.

Soon…too soon
The flower fades
The petals drop away
Now only leaves and stem
But I feel the life
It is bringing to me
Creating newness
Even here
Under the soil.

The leaves also wither
The stem is pulled away
But now I know,
I know I am alive!
I have life
Buried deep within me
As I am buried
In the heart
Of the life of the earth.

After reading the  poem-prayer, you might want to write your own prayer. Alternatively, you might enjoy going through your camera roll or finding images of tulips to illustrate her words.

A Photograph from Claudia Keller
Claudia posted this picture for #Light4NovaScotia after the Nova Scotia shootings. I asked permission to share it with you. It resonated with me as an image of resiliency as so many of us sit within our homes looking out. The reflection of the candle “out there” spoke of hope. Take some time to gaze at her photo and consider the prompts. 

Prompts for Reflection

If you were to give this photograph a title, what title would you give it?
Where were your eyes drawn? In what ways did your heart follow?
What movements did you notice inside yourself during your time with the photo?
What invitation is present for you as you continue making spiritual resiliency?
Perhaps on a contemplative walk today you will receive an image for making spiritual resilience.

 

 

A Facebook Post from Linda Yates

Used with permission. This is an excerpt Linda posted on Facebook sharing some reflections from Northern Ireland where they were visiting when that country began lockdown and the call came to return to Canada.

“We are in a hotel called the Moxy in Dublin. I wish I had some right now. We have spent a lot of time sitting on the bed, killing time, as we wait to see if we can escape Dublin for anywhere in Canada. Online checkin is in two hours. That will be the defining red line between a kind of chronic homelessness and now, possible hunger, and reunification with our land and family and friends.

For some reason, I have been having difficulty remembering the actual lines of the 23rd Psalm although I must have read it thousands of times since I was a child. My Nanny gave me a laminated copy when I was about 12. So I went out and bought the world’s tiniest bible and a journal. I have felt starved of scripture and writing. I wrote out the entire psalm and let it sink in a bit. When you dine on fatted calf most days the psalm becomes a nice pat on the back with a gentle reminder that God loves you always. We usually forget there are rods and staffs and the like in there too. I remembered when I struggled with cancer that it was both comforting and challenging and therein lies its worth.” 

What is your touchstone scripture? In whatever way appeals to you, spend time journalling with your scripture to deepen your making of spiritual resilience?

Shifting Energy with Caroline Bindon

Caroline from Kereru Publishing in New Zealand and I have been emailing back and forth as we work together on writing for Stroll for Your Soul. I said I had “zero energy” one morning and was struggling with the heaviness of absorbing the Nova Scotia mass shootings. Caroline responded with words that helped me.

“So I’m with you on this lack of energy. I always think the word ‘heavy’ is more than a description – when we talk about weight and heaviness to describe our mood it actually feels like our bodies and brains are literally heavier and therefore harder to move and harder to lift. From my sensory learnings, the sensory input our bodies benefit from when we’re feeling heavy is to move and to provide some deep pressure; a walk, a dance, a soak in the bath, a hug, wrapping oneself in a heavy blanket, lifting weights, leaning up against a wall and then releasing… are all supportive ways of bringing our sensory response to a just right state. Surprisingly energy giving — and shifting out of the heavy state even if temporarily.”

What sensory practice helps you or is there something from Caroline’s list, that you imagine might help in the heavy times? In what ways might these practices help make spiritual resiliency for you?

Celebrating Yourself – by Jay Brown

Jay is in hospital recovering from serious surgery. We’ve been texting and emailing a bit through his recovery. Jay speaks often of practices that are helping him cope with a difficult diagnosis, surgery and recovery in hospital during the time of COVID-19. He gives permission to share this story.

Here is one excerpt from my daily morning journaling which I started on April 3, my birthday, sixteen days post surgery, and about a week after I had regained the use of my right hand. Each journal entry ends with a take on the Zentangle. 

2020/04/03:

I woke up laughing! Yes, it is my birthday today. I am really ambivalent about it per usual. BUT I recognize how important it is to share celebrations – relationships! – with those we care about. So today I will be “the reason” (for their celebration) – that’s more “ok” than it has been (in the past) because I feel deep inside me that I am still “giving” 🙂 Must be crazy, eh?

He adds this comment: I was raised with the mantra that “it is better to give than to receive,” being an introvert and person with self esteem issues, I have always avoided the “spotlight” so this was a huge shift in me. Being in the hospital in Covid times, there are strict “No Visitor” rules, so my sister was not able to see me but once in those 16 days post surgery.  A “covert” operation had me celebrating my birthday with personalized hand-made decorations from about 25 people who didn’t even know me but wanted to be part of a “feel good” giving experience.  I am thankful to these unknown “construction paper artists” for their very visible presence on my birthday.

How are you celebrating your deepest self these days? How might you give action to your thoughts or prayers for someone today? How does creativity support you and help make spiritual resiliency?

BLESSING
As your retreat comes to an end, name one intention for yourself you want to carry forth from this time, or write a prayer or a blessing for yourself and those who share this retreat with you.

Within the heart of community, a fire that warms and dances.
Within the heart of each of us, a spark of the spirit of life.

PREVIEW OF THE NEXT EMAIL RETREAT
Soon we begin Stroll for Your Soul. Look for your Welcome Email on May 6. I am pleased to be writing again this year with Carolyn Bindon from Kereru Publishing in New Zealand. Our theme is “Patterns.”

You will receive another Email Retreat toward the end of May. The theme is Pilgrimage (though I reserve the right to change themes if another topic presents itself.) 

RESOURCES REFERRED TO IN THIS RETREAT

Article: “Make Bad Art, Too.” by Austin Kleon
Article: “Feeling Antsy? Morose? Kathleen Norris Offers Tips to Cope with Acedia.”
Kereru Publishing – 5 Senses to Prayer
More information from The Wisdom Way of Knowing about The Welcome Prayer
Article from Emergence Magazine: “This is Not a Rehearsal” by Hala Alyan

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