Category Archives: Spirituality

Now What? We Die. Then We Rise.

www.livingviriditas.orgNow what?

We got walloped. Many of us are grieving. Many of us are worried and afraid. Many of us are angry. Most of us are all three. Some of us can barely function.

Friends, we’re being invited into the holy cycle of death and rebirth. Dying and rising again is written in our DNA and embedded in the structure of our world. Dying and rising again is the Way of the Cross.

These times are inviting us to grow up and become stronger, luminous, loving beings we can’t presently imagine.

But only if we do the work.

We are resilient. We can do this. We can die and we can rise.

This is what faith looks like. This is what Jesus did.

I think dying and rising again will look like this, for me. If this roadmap is helpful for you, I’m glad.

1. Be terribly sad. Be heartbroken. Be angry. Feel the feelings, but don’t get too attached to them. Take the time you need, but don’t wallow.

Fear is different than sadness or anger. Please don’t give in to the fear. Fear of the future is useless and disempowering. Recognize fear, and then bring your attention back to the reality of this present moment. Avoid spinning in fear and worry. Have compassion for people stuck in fear and worry, going down that rabbit hole. Help them if you can, and then get out. Sit down, focus on your body and your breath, and let your heart tell you what comes next.

2. When it’s time to rise, rise up. When it’s time, as Mary Oliver says, “Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also, like the diligent leaves.” You don’t have to get over yourself, and you’re not overreacting or being a bad loser. Take the time you need to heal. Do what you need to do to feel stronger. When you feel like you can, please get back in the arena. When it’s time to rise up, rise up.

3. Choose positive goals and words. We can only achieve positive things. We can’t accomplish a negative, because there’s nothing there. Stop, close your eyes, and say these phrases: “No hate.” “Be kind.” Which one feels more peaceful and powerful? I’m betting it was “Be kind.” Be clear on what you want. Let go of what you don’t want. Dream big. Dream outrageously.

4. Pick one area of focus. “Be a meaningful specific rather than a wandering generality,” to quote Seth Godin. Let your passion be your guide. If we all do this, we’ll cover the bases. I’m picking the environment, specifically climate issues and public lands. Be clear on both your line in the sand, and what you want to accomplish. I’ll chain myself to a tree if I have to. I’ll go to jail if necessary, to keep Oregon’s public lands protected.

5. Be part of supportive communities. As Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” Now, more than ever. Your community might be church. It might be wisdom circles, or neighborhood potlucks, or running groups.

6. Practice excellent self-care. Stay connected to your Source. Pray, meditate, take long walks, cherish your body, make music, whatever it is for you that keeps your spirit strong.

My friends, we are love warriors.

We can do this thing.

You Are Not Your Armor

wabi sabi BuddhaWe are not our armor. We are not the protective layer that covers up our essential goodness.

Yesterday I wrote about a huge clay Buddha in Thailand. For centuries it had sat in various temples, moved around as people saw fit. One day, stories differ as to why, the enormous clay Buddha cracked open. It cracked open enough that the monks tending it looked inside and were astonished to find, not the hollow space they expected, but a statue of luminous gold.

Jack Kornfield tells this story to illustrate the Buddhist core belief in “Buddha nature” – the inherent nobility and goodness shining inside of every woman, man, and child.

This idea of Buddha nature isn’t only a tenet of Eastern religion, philosophy, and psychology. It’s not only expounded by those with a background in Eastern methods, such as Thomas Merton.

This idea is all over the place in Western religious and psychological thought, in various disguises.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English Victorian poet and Jesuit priest, described our real, true selves as an “Immortal Diamond.”

Franciscan priest and prolific author Richard Rohr uses the term “True Self.”

Life coach and Harvard-trained sociologist Martha Beck talks about our Essential Self and our Core of Peace.

Psychologist James Hollis uses the terms “Self” (with a capital “S”) and “soul.”

Rumi says, “Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Oh, phooey. Rumi’s Eastern.

Our armor, the clay covering our hearts of shining light, is not the problem. The problem is when we’re confused and we believe our clay coverings are WHO WE ARE, and we strive to protect that armor.

That armor, that clay, is useful. This part of ourselves, the inevitable accretion of daily living, is variously called our small “s” self, our false self, our social self, our ego, and I’m sure there are many more labels. This part of ourselves is necessary because it keeps us safe, sometimes, and it helps us be smart.

But it isn’t US. We suffer when we think that it is.

We suffer when we try to live our lives from our armored surfaces of clay, rather than from our luminous shiny good hearts.

We Shine Like the Sun

wabi sabi BuddhaThere was once a large ancient Buddha, made of clay and plaster, resting in an old temple in Sukotai, Thailand. Over time, this Buddha found its way to a minor temple in Bangkok, but it was so big it was housed in a shed covered only by a tin roof. Eventually, a larger building was constructed to house this Buddha. When the Buddha was being moved to its new home, the plaster cracked. Inside the plaster and clay, which had covered the Buddha for centuries, the people found a statue of solid gold. Speculation is that during the time of war with neighboring Burma, monks covered the gold Buddha with clay to protect it.

Over time, the people forgot that their Buddha was in fact made of gold.

Jack Kornfield tells this story in The Wise Heart, his book about Buddhist psychology. He uses the story of the clay Buddha that’s discovered to be precious gold to illustrate this core idea of “Buddha nature.” He says, “The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest. In much the same way, each of us has encountered threatening situations that lead us to cover our innate nobility. Just as the people of Sokutai had forgotten about the golden Buddha, we too have forgotten our essential nature. Much of the time we operate from the protective layer. The primary aim of Buddhist psychology is to help us see beneath this armoring and bring out our original goodness, called our Buddha nature.”

Dr. Kornfield refers to American monk and mystic Thomas Merton’s experience, one ordinary March day in 1958, as an example of a Western mind experiencing Buddha nature. In Merton’s words: “Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed …. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other….

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

I notice that Merton takes many words to describe what Buddhists can do in two. This Buddhist starting point and core belief – humans are fundamentally good and shiny – is a radical, revelatory experience for Merton.

I disagree with Thomas Merton. I want us to go around telling each other that we’re shining like the sun. Let’s treat ourselves and each other like the light- and life-filled beings we are.

Journaling is a Revolutionary Act: 10 Ways to Journal

Found on @IHAVECAT

Found on @IHAVECAT, Tamar Aslanian’s blog

I owe Donald Trump a debt of gratitude.

Sisters, after the events of the last week, I understand that journaling is so much more than a feel-good activity. Journaling is an act of revolution.

My original intro to this post was blah blah blah – journaling is good for you and here’s why… The fall is such a perfect time to journal, what with cool days and long nights and evenings by the fireside… Many studies (google “journaling and mental health”) support journaling’s positive effect on anxiety, depression, and other mental ailments…

All these things are true, and they’re way less relevant than this: We must know how beautiful, precious, and priceless we are. We must know how freaking IMPORTANT and NECESSARY we are, so we can more powerfully express and defend ourselves.

I believe it’s imperative that we find our voice. We must know what we think, feel, and want in order to stand up and resist the sorts of all-too-prevalent attitudes we saw on such glaring display in Trump’s “pussy” video. Journaling is, for many of us, a valuable tool in our self-knowledge tool kit.

Our knowledge of our belovedness gets obscured by our culture, our families, our schools, and even our churches. Uncovering our essential, true, deeply loved core and living from that part of us is what the world needs. Our world craves our honest, passionate, whole, beautiful voices. Our clearly-articulated love, for ourselves and for all of creation, will heal.

One caveat: journaling is NOT helpful when we use our journal to beat ourselves up. If you’re doing this, please stop. And maybe try one of these suggestions…

Here are ten forms your journaling could take. There are so many others. If journaling makes you crazy or bores you silly, perhaps one of these will be a vehicle for knowing yourself more fully.

  1. A happiness journal. Shawn Achor, a Harvard happiness researcher, recommends five simple actions that build happiness over time:
  • List three things you’re grateful for every day. Three NEW things every day.
  • Journal for two minutes about a positive experience. (This practice rewires your brain for happiness. Our brains are hard-wired to notice the negative things, so intentionally noticing the positive builds new neural pathways.)
  • Meditate for as little as two minutes daily. Meditation will help you learn to direct your attention where it’s most helpful.
  • Perform one random act of kindness daily. Write down what you did.
  • Exercise

(I found Shawn’s research in Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge.)

 

  1. A nature journal. You can go easy by simply noting the weather and one or two observations. You can go hardcore, too. One of my favorite nature journaling resources is Irene Brady’s Illustrating Nature. She also has many useful blog posts about drawing and sketching nature.

 

  1. A sensory journal. Note at least one thing daily that you saw, heard, tasted, touched, and smelled. This is a great way to gently get in touch with your body, if you’ve lost yours. Add on number 4 to go deeper.

 

  1. A body journal. Four or more times during the day (set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself), take five minutes and check in with your body. Put your feet flat on the floor and take three deep breaths. Ask yourself these questions: What am I feeling emotionally? What sensations do I feel in my body? What are these emotions and sensations telling me? Can I simply allow them? We’re not trying to fix anything, we’re just noticing. After a few days, you should have a fairly good sense of what your baseline is. Body journaling is an effective way to get ahold of what you might want to bring to coaching. If you want to get fancy, note your exercise patterns and your cravings. See number 8 if you want to take this further.

 

  1. A morning pages journal. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, recommends morning pages as a way to skim off the surface ramblings of your mind in order to get to the good stuff below. (Julia recommends three pages. Three pages takes me way too long, so I usually just write for 20 minutes as fast as I can, which is usually around two pages. Do what works for you.)

 

  1. An art journal. This can be especially useful if you’re more comfortable with words, because keeping a visual journal will help you access your right-brained intuitive non-linear wisdom. I love Daisy Yellow for instruction and inspiration.

 

  1. A “Pray Rain” Journal. I learned about this from Martha Beck, who learned about it from Jeannette Maw. Jeannette’s language is a little too “Law of Attraction” for my comfort, but the way Martha talks about it makes sense to me. Basically what you do is write an entry in the journal that describes your life as you want it to be. Think really big here. Shoot for the moon. I’ve used this tool to uncover what I really wanted underneath the scar tissue and the social conditioning. It’s powerful, people. And knowing what we want is the first step to actually getting it, right?

 

  1. A thoughts journal. Complete one awareness-wheel daily, then do inquiry on one thought that you identified using Byron Katie’s method she calls simply The Work. Call me and I’ll walk you through this, with pleasure and for free.

 

  1. A prayer journal. Write down the people and the needs you’re holding in prayer. This is useful for me because I always forget who it was in Facebook groups asking to be held in light, or for good vibes, or healing juju. (These are all alternative ways to ask for prayer, IMHO.) I also note my flesh and blood friends and relations whom I’m carrying in my heart, and for what. Life gets complicated and I want to remember.

 

  1. A Lectio Divina Journal. Use the four steps of Lectio (I go into depth about Lectio in this blog post) to meditate on a bible passage, a poem, a photo, a natural object, a memory, etc. Write down what you hear.

 

I don’t do all of these all the time. (Who has many hours each day to do every one of these? I don’t.) My journal is a mish-mash of all of these. I also have several journals going at once – a small notebook in my bag, a larger notebook in my backpack, and the biggest unlined sketchbook one next to my morning sit spot. And different types of journaling meet different needs and are appropriate for different seasons of life.

What’s your journaling practice? Which of these suggestions appeal? What journal type would you add to this list?

 

 

The Northern Hemisphere’s Jazz Funeral

"Let the dead things go."

I was 26 years old before I experienced my first fall.

My husband and I were newly arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was starting seminary at the Episcopal Divinity School. I’d lived my entire life up to that point in Arizona. Fall for me, up until then, was random flashes of bright yellow aspen on mostly conifer-covered northern Arizona mountains.

Fall was threads of deep crimson maples in the alpine canyons surrounding low flat khaki-colored desert.

Fall was a solitary maple in front of the Tucson library, gloriously orange and red and gold for one week every year. I would walk out of my way just to look at that maple.

Clearly, I had no idea.

My first New England autumn amazed me. Fall in New England was an Arizona sunset at tree-level – crimson and gold and bronze, intensified and reflected in all that water everywhere. Fall was a sunset spread like frosting over the landscape.

New England’s fall was big and bold, brazen and boisterous.

Fall in New England was intoxicating.

Fall in New England was also confusing. It was so beautiful, and it was so clearly a dying.

I sort of wanted Fall to make up her mind: be breathtaking, or be sad. But not both.

Now, I more often understand that paradox is a hallmark of holiness, and I don’t try so hard to make things either this or that.

Christine Valters Paintner, of Abbey of the Arts, beautifully expresses this paradox:

“At the heart of autumn’s gifts are the twin energies of relinquishing and harvesting. It is a season of paradox that invites us to consider what we are called to release and surrender, and at the same time it invites us to gather in the harvest, to name and celebrate the fruits of the seeds we planted months ago. In holding these two in tension we are reminded that in our letting go we also find abundance.” 

Here are two poems for fall.

FALL SONG

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

~ Mary Oliver  (American Primitive)

 

A NECESSARY AUTUMN INSIDE EACH

Inside each of us, there’s continual autumn. Our leaves fall and are blown out

over the water. A crow sits in the blackened limbs and talks about what’s gone. Then

your generosity returns: spring, moisture, intelligence, the scent of hyacinth and rose

and cypress. Joseph is back! And if you don’t feel in yourself the freshness of

Joseph, be Jacob! Weep and then smile. Don’t pretend to know something you haven’t experienced.

There’s a necessary dying, and then Jesus is breathing again.

Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up

where you are. You’ve been stony for too many years. Try something different.

Surrender.

~Rumi (Coleman Barks translation)

 May we be grateful for our gifts, die where we need to, and allow ourselves to be ground for next year’s wildflowers.

Self-Care Is Your Job, Part 4: Conflict

Episcopal coach and writerThis post on conflict has taken awhile because it’s so freaking huge for me. I’m really uncomfortable with conflict. In fact, I pretty much hate it.

Oh, well. Too bad for me.

Here’s why:

Learning how to handle conflict is an integral piece of growing up and taking care of ourselves instead of expecting others to take care of us.

Managing conflict well requires being willing to tolerate discomfort for the sake of growth.

Managing conflict well requires believing in our own self-worth.

Managing conflict well requires trusting in the essential goodness of others.

Like the other components of self-care we’ve been discussing, conflict management requires learning skills that most of us weren’t taught , and practicing skills that many people around us will find challenging and uncomfortable.

To recap.

  1. Self-care is our job because we’re holons – whole/parts that exist both as separate entities and as components of something greater than ourselves. We’re created to be who we are.
  1. Real self-care requires self-regard, self-knowledge, and self-compassion. We often settle for shallow imitations because giving ourselves what we really desire is so freaking scary. Truly caring for ourselves often looks and feels irrational, it’s labeled “selfish,” and it requires visibility and risk.
  1. So we require boundaries – knowing where we stop and others start – taking care of our side of the street. Knowing the difference between my business, your business, and God’s business, as Byron Katie puts it.

And all of these new skills will inevitably lead to conflict.

As we develop new ways, we disrupt old ways. As we become more ourselves, don’t expect people around us to form a cheering section. Do expect what Martha Beck calls “change back attacks.”

When we define our edges and boundaries, when we are clear on our values and goals, we’ll have more conflict in our life. It’s inevitable.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not good news for me. As I mentioned, conflict scares me to death. In my family of origin, conflict often meant someone was going to get physically and/or emotionally hurt.

In my adult life that’s no longer true, yet the pattern remains.

Note: if conflict for you means that someone will get physically hurt, please get help. You’re in an abusive situation and you need help, right now.

Most likely what I’m dealing with when, as an adult, I feel scared of conflict is my lizard brain, the source of fight/flight/freeze responses to threat. What’s required to deal with these primitive, false brain responses is to activate my higher order thinking skills (HOTS).

We activate our HOTS by slowing down and noticing what we’re thinking, how we feel, and what we want. The best tools I know of to do this are mindfulness, the awareness wheel, and being clear on our values and goals.

We retrain our brain by choosing to tolerate discomfort for the sake of growth.

We retrain our brain by choosing to know the truth and to tell it, for the sake of authentic, intimate relationships.

Our cultural conditioning, our training to be nice, to be good girls, goes deep.

This will take time, so let’s start today to build the skills necessary to be happy and healthy.

Resources:

This amazing little book by Rachel Alexandria called Woman Overboard: Six ways women avoid conflict and one way to live drama-free

Marshall Rosenberg’s work in nonviolent communication

Brene Brown’s work

And here’s the awareness wheel again. If you’d like me to talk you through an awareness wheel or two, please contact me. I’d be glad to assist.

I’d love to hear about your self-care journeys and practices in the comments!

Self-Care Is Your Job, part 3

Episcopal coach and writer“It turns out that the more intimate we are with what we want, the more self-aware we will be about how we spend our time.” –Elle Luna, The Crossroads of Should and Must

When we take ourselves seriously and really begin to care for ourselves, we become more ourselves.

When we become more ourselves, we recognize how to take care of ourselves better, and we become even more ourselves.

When we become even more ourselves, we can, with integrity, fully take our place as unique whole/parts (aka “holons”) in Creation’s mysterious cosmic building project.

As we become more intimate with what we yearn for and what brings us joy, we become less tolerant of making choices that waste our time.

As we become less tolerant of making choices that aren’t in alignment with our values and desires, as we begin to choose real self-care, two apparent problems arise:

  1. The ways we’ve been propping up other people become obvious, and we’ll need to stop because we’re no longer willing to treat ourselves badly and waste our time for the sake of someone else’s supposed welfare.
  2. The people around us will probably feel threatened by our choices. They will perceive our decisions as judgmental of them, and unloving. They will feel scared and will try to get us to stop. They will call us “selfish.”

This is where boundaries come in. Boundaries are simple, but not necessarily easy. Boundaries say, “This is me. That is you. I’m responsible for me. You’re responsible for you.”

Simple, but not automatically easy, because most of us, women especially, haven’t learned to set and keep good boundaries.

We’ve been taught that giving ourselves away is love.

That’s false.

What’s true is that we love better from a place of integrity. We love better from our intact, deep, strong, intentional hearts. We love better when we choose our “yes” and our “no.”

Boundaries aren’t selfish.

Boundaries are a gift we give ourselves, our families, our friends, and our world.

Boundaries allow us to love as only we can love.

And I’m firmly convinced that healthy boundaries and good self-care make Jesus happy.

Coming up: how to handle the inevitable conflicts that arise when we’re acting with integrity and self-love.

(Check out weeks one and two of this blog series on self-care for discussions about why self-care is your job, and how to tell fake self-care from the real thing.)

Self-Care Is Your Job, Part 2

Episcopal coach and writer“You can’t get enough of what you didn’t want in the first place.” – Sam Keen.

Somewhere along the way, most of us learned to substitute fake self-care for what we really wanted.  Maybe the things that really nurtured us seemed foolish, or selfish, or unimportant to the people whom we were depending on for survival, and we stopped knowing what we really wanted.

Many of us don’t trust that what we desire is okay to desire, and that we have permission to give ourselves what we want.

So we start substituting pale imitations. We eat junk food because we don’t think we deserve the real thing. The real thing takes time, preparation, and discernment. Real self-care, like real food, takes effort.

Last week we looked at what self-care is and what it isn’t, why self-care is our job, and one way to get clarity on what authentic self-care is for us.

This week’s focus is discerning real self-care from the faux self-care we’ve often substituted.

In a nutshell, like junk food, fake self-care offers short-term relief from painful emotions and leaves us feeling worse in the long run. Fake self-care is usually easy, mass-produced and ultimately unsatisfying. Fake self-care often takes the form of an addiction: something we need to do or we feel anxious, and when we do it we still feel anxious.

True self-care, on the other hand, is deeply nourishing, sustaining, and connecting. True self-care connects me to Source/God, empowers me to know what I know, and helps me grow. True self-care sustains me as I feel what I’m feeling. It connects me to my body. It nourishes my ability to let painful emotions move through me. True self-care helps me know I’m loved, no matter what, and that it’s okay to let go of what needs to be let go.

If we’re afraid that knowing what’s really true and real for us will cause all hell to break loose, we usually choose not to know it. When we don’t want to know what we know, we indulge in fake self-care.

So, how to tell the difference?

Simple. Our bodies know the difference. True self-care ultimately feels free, expansive, and authentic. Fake self-care feels caged and tight, small, and in our box.

In Martha Beck world, we refer to these feelings as “shackles on” and “shackles off.” And you always have the tool for discernment with you. It’s your body. Here’s a useful link about the body compass, written by coach Pamela Slim. It’s helpful to have someone lead you through this exercise. Call me and I’ll do it with you. You know the difference, I promise.

Another very helpful aid in rediscovering how to truly care for yourself is meditation. Anything that helps you see that you are not your thoughts is going to aid you on this journey. Meditation in its many forms trains us to find the space between ourselves and our thoughts.

We relearn how to take care of ourselves by paying attention to what we really want, testing our self-care habits with our bodies, and learning to notice what we’re thinking.

My guess is that when you truly care for yourself, you’ll notice some increased friction in your life. Next time, we’ll talk about what’s going on there. Hint: boundaries.

Do your work. Then let go.

SunflowerWell, it was a rather cynical morning at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bend, Oregon, at least as far as the readings are concerned.

The writer of Ecclesiastes concludes, when pondering “all the deeds that are done under the sun,” that “all is vanity and a chasing after wind.” He describes the futility of working with “wisdom and knowledge and skill” only to have everything he’s created “be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it.” As a result, he says, “I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun.”

The psalmist strikes a similar note: “For we see that the wise die also; like the dull and stupid they perish and leave their wealth to those who come after them.”

And in Luke, we have Jesus telling the story of the rich man whose land “produced abundantly,” so he had the problem of storing all that abundance. The rich man’s solution was to build bigger barns. He’d have sustenance to last the rest of his life, giving him the freedom to “relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” Problem solved.  And then God comes with these words: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

What to make of these musings on human futility?

I think this morning’s readings from Ecclesiastes, Psalm 49, and Luke’s gospel are asking us to examine just how attached we are to having things beyond our control turn out a certain way.

All three readings are telling us that our job as God’s children is to create what is ours to create, and then to set our creations free.

The readings are calling us to a human version of photosynthesis.

Like plants, our call is simply and purely to offer the gifts we have – our qualities and skills combined with our environment – to make what is uniquely ours to make. And then let go.

Trying to control what happens to the products of our labors is as silly as an oak tree saying “Oh, Hell no,” and then refusing to let go of its leaves and acorns.

Being attached to outcomes is as ludicrous as a sunflower saying “I won’t make sugar and oxygen from sunlight and air and water and soil unless I can get a guarantee that they will only be eaten by some deserving animal.”

Our job is to do our best with what we’ve been given. And then let go.

Our job is to humbly and diligently co-create with God. And then let go.

Our job is to be who we are and do what we can in this incredible world. And then let go.

Any other course of action is, indeed “vanity and a chasing after wind.”

Lectio Divina and Lectio Terrestris

Lectio Divina on the trail

Downed Tree on the Horse Lake Trail

What is Lectio Divina?

Lectio divina, literally “divine reading,” is a traditional method of contemplative prayer which commonly uses a sacred text as a starting point. Lectio divina springs from Jewish haggadah, a process of heart-centered interaction with scripture.  The 4th and 5th century Desert Mothers and Fathers seem to be the earliest practitioners of Christian lectio. The method was further refined by later monastic writers, primarily Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century and the 12th century Carthusian monk Guido II. In modern times, Lectio divina has made its way out of the cloister into the more public prayer lives of lay men and women.

Lectio divina is a simple method, composed of four “movements”: reading (lectio), reflection (meditatio), listening (oratio), and contemplation (contemplatio). Lectio is a process of moving from the surface meaning of the words, slowly going deeper and deeper into one’s own heart and the heart of God, which are one and the same, it seems.

Entire books have been written on lectio. (see, for example, Christine Valters Paintner’s Lectio Divina.) I’ve been using lectio by myself and with groups for some time now – not always with scripture. In fact, hardly ever with scripture. We use stories, poetry, memories, and natural objects such as sprigs of sage and pieces of our local volcanic rock. Birds are especially good lectio fodder, for me.

Lectio Terrestris

It’s this use of the natural world as a sacred text that I’m finding most profound these days. Belden Lane in his Backpacking with the Saints calls this sacred reading of the landscape “lectio terrestris.” The process is the same: simply noticing what’s around me (lectio), reflecting on what I notice and narrowing my focus (meditatio), listening to what the object of my reflection may be saying to me (oratio), and finally sitting with what I heard (contemplatio), which never fails to surprise.

A Personal Example of Lectio Terrestris

Here’s an example of my latest lectio terrestris experience. My husband and I were hiking into the Cascades last week, to one of our favorite high mountain lakes. We’d been anticipating the trip for months, looking forward to when the snow had melted enough for us to go back. However, before we were more than a mile up the trail, two things became apparent. The mosquitos were hellacious. And the winter’s heavy snow had brought down lots of trees. We were climbing over and crawling under logs every hundred yards, it seemed, for five miles, all the while swatting mosquitos and cursing. When we finally got to our lake, mercifully breezy and exposed enough that the mosquitos abated, I stuck my feet in the water, pulled out my journal, and proceeded to lectio. This is sort of what happened, in four movements.

  1. Lectio: What I notice is lots of downed logs, many mosquitoes, high wispy clouds in a blue blue sky, warm sun on this rock, and my feet in the cool water.
  2. Meditatio: I’m going to focus on the logs, because that feels right. I feel a tug there.
  3. Oratio: I hear the downed trees saying that dead things fall on the path and create obstacles. They’ll slow me down and divert me. They don’t need to stop me. Being stopped by something that used to be alive but is now dead and in my way isn’t necessarily a given. I can choose if I’m going to be stopped. I can figure out a way around the obstacle.
  4. Contemplatio: So… what are the dead things that I’m letting stop me? Old armor, needing to be right, wanting to be perfect and always adept, either/or binary thinking, self-criticism, fear, and my stories about my personal history…. I can choose differently.

I saw those downed trees differently on the way back.

Lectio always surprises me. Always.

Horse Lake

Horse Lake in the Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon