I began this blog six months ago, sitting at this particular desk on St. Simons Island, off the coast of Georgia. I have tried to tell some stories, point to my experience and sense of the movement of Spirit, and play seriously with a variety of spiritual disciplines. I am back on “island time” over Memorial Day, remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. I took some serious time to reflect, and give thanks. I hope you found your own way to observe this day.
Days like this raise questions of ultimate value. To what or whom are you giving your life?
Last week, I spoke of my journey toward a practice of mindfulness, a meditation practice that works for me and keeps my spirit lively and centered, a balance difficult to maintain. I received many notes, thanking me for re-minding them of the need for quiet time and focus. Several folks asked for some more specific guidance, which I am happy to give.
Today, briefly, I want to call to mind another spiritual practice which is as easy as 123.
One, sit down somewhere. It can be a desk, a library stall, a coffee shop table, on a deck….wherever you can get some space to focus.
Two, begin to write. Jot down random thoughts, orderly lists, streams of consciousness, memories that come, dreams you remember. Put pen or pencil to paper and begin to write down whatever.
Three, gather, keep your writing together. Whether it is in a binder, a folder, or leather folio, find a safe place to keep it where only YOU will see it. This gives you something that is harder and harder to find…privacy. PRIVACY!
You may choose to share it to someone special, someone you trust. You may write a song out of your musings. Or you might publish it. But, the key is: you should bathe in the freedom of the act of self disclosure, being transparent to the depths of your soul if you dare.
I used to kid my friend, John Claypool, a famous preacher who developed a style of preaching known as “confessional preaching” in which the preacher bears his/her soul in front of a congregation. John stumbled, or fell, into the method as a result of the death of his young daughter. As a young pastor, he felt obliged to “tell the truth” of how he wrestled with God around that untimely death. As he told me, he had no choice. It changed his way of viewing the preaching moment, of sharing the depth of his spiritual struggles. What a price to pay for authenticity.
At the time, it was so refreshing to hear a preacher who was “honest to God” and to others who would overhear his conversation with the Almighty. Through time, and out of some need for self-protection, John had developed a knack of letting people into his soul just enough to entice them to lean into his words, but hold them at a safe distance. It was a magic trick that many tried to imitate, most fumbled, and some crashed and burned. People want to hear authenticity but no spiritual strip tease, please.
Most of us don’t have a pulpit, or stand-up comedy club to exhibit our struggles, which is probably a good thing. My kids think some people, ahem, use social media to reveal their deep thoughts, feelings, and struggles…..but that’s for another time.
Here, I am urging you to take away the censorship that holds one back. We all have them, some have censors that are loud and threatening, some whispering prudential caution. Some call it an “inner critic” that questions your motivation, your right to have those feelings. Some have “inner parents”, introjects of authority figures who caution one to be careful, don’t show the cards in your hand, keep your cards close to your chest! We all have those censors that would warn us to be proper, fit in, stay safe!
My voice is urging you to let it rip, writing down whatever is on your heart, mind, and/or spirit. The payoff is not only writing it down in the very act itself, but reading it later, to see where you were, what you were feeling at that time in your life.
You can write what’s on your mind that day.
How are you feeling?
Write down your notes as you mentally scan your body. Where are you feeling pain, or tenseness?
If you were to name the “times of your life”,the important events, what would you choose to include? What would you exclude? And better yet, what would you highlight?
When people come to me for spiritual direction, I sometimes begin our work by asking the person to write down a series of chapter titles that would form the story of their life. I try to encourage them to use titles that capture the “feel” of that time, an image that conveys what was going on in that particular time of life. I have led this exercise with groups and individuals and are always awed by the richness of the chapter titles, the imagery and variety of both uniqueness and commonality.
Each chapter title can then be a starting point for journaling, writing down memories, hopes and fears that predominated that particular and peculiar time in life. You can approach it chronologically, or skip around. This is rich material. You are playing in the deep end of the pool of your soul. Move freely. This is for you!
After people play for a while, I invite them to give their story a title. What title would capture your unique sojourn in this world? When I first played with this creative exercise myself, my title provided me the temporary title of my life story, and now provides the title of my blog: South of God.
So, take a chance of breaking free from whatever moorings hold you. Silence your censors, quiet the intruding voices, still the space around your soul. Dare you enter this sacred space of Self?
Let me encourage you to simply write, or journal.
Sit. Write. Collect.
Like mindfulness and meditation, just start. Go easy.
From my island, just a bit south of God, enjoy the ride.