By Julie Elliot ~
Recently, I attended a weekend event called “Spirituality in Running Shoes” led by artist, author, song writer and activist, Jan Phillips. At one point in her presentation, Jan told us how her life had changed forever when she began a daily practice of lighting a candle and sitting alone in silence. She said, “I don’t do anything except sit in the presence of the Divine.” Our small groups were then invited to talk about our own spiritual practices and Jan added, “Spirituality is the commitment that you create in your life. Religion is what you were given.”
Our small group had a rich conversation about our spiritual commitments and then Jan invited everyone to share the highlights of their discussion with the larger group. The last group to present was led by a man who stood up slowly, reluctantly, and sheepishly said, “Our group talked about how the people with the “scary candles” make us doubt ourselves. We don’t have that kind of commitment and it makes us uncomfortable. Isn’t it okay to experience God in nature; like that moment when you come upon an owl perched on a bare winter branch?” I could see the nodding heads around the room and many of us understood his question, yet at the same time a startling thought came to me: but when you’re gazing at the owl you’ve still got your clothes on. When you sit with the scary candle, you’re naked!
I returned to this thought many times over the next few days and after more reflection, here’s what I know for sure: I would never presume to know what another’s spiritual commitment should be – and I have to declare myself as one of those people with the scary candles. I resonated with Jan’s story because my morning practice has been transformative too. It’s a commitment that was honed during my two-year training with the Pacific Jubilee SoulGuiding program. For me, there’s no getting around it. To have any kind of spiritual growth I have to create space in my day for Silence. I have to do the work of quieting my mind. So, my mornings begin with Centering Prayer. I learned in SoulGuiding that this is a practice of kenosis (self-emptying) that makes space for the in-filling of the Divine. This is what I meant by being “naked” in my practice. It’s a kind of letting go that’s like taking off your clothes.
Every morning I make the decision to show up and every morning it’s a fresh choice. Sit in silence, notice my thoughts, return to my sacred word. Do this for 20 minutes. No matter how busy I am. No matter how preoccupied or stressed. Really? Wouldn’t it be better to just get going and do something useful? And yet I observe with “the eye of my heart” that I’m loosening the grip on having things just the way I want them. I’m more able to live the life I have rather than imagine there’s another, better life waiting around the corner – a corner that never comes. I’m less reactive and more grounded as I interact with my family, friends, and directees. I’m tasting the freedom of getting my small, false self out of the way to make more space for the indwelling God. It’s not a turning away from pain and suffering; rather, it’s a knowing that I am helping and bringing healing to others by being a fuller, more love-filled Presence in the world. We become, as Richard Rohr says, “an open conduit for the gushing stream of abundant life that God always is and that the believer always becomes.”
The most important thing is to show up. Mystery takes care of the rest.
Julie Elliot is an alum of the Pacific Jubilee SoulGuiding program. She’s an artist, writer and teacher. Julie’s also responsible for communications for Pacific Jubilee. If you have questions or comments about this blog, please be in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Jubilee Programs offer training in spiritual direction, spiritual growth and soul development. We explore the contemplative life through spiritual practices including the enneagram, integration of head/heart/body, silent retreats, “holy listening” in journey groups and contemplative prayer and meditation. Read more about spiritual direction by clicking on our 3 national programs: Ontario Jubilee, Pacific Jubilee, Prairie Jubilee