Desperately Seeking Something

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This post – a book review of Desperately Seeking Spirituality by Meredith Gould,  along with an author Q&A was all set to go for Monday. Then Orlando happened. The senseless and tragic massacre at the Pulse nightclub was on everyone’s mind, so I postponed this until today. Now I am doing a little rewrite because no matter what, it seems like many of us are desperately seeking something.

91c84649763ac9c3518749992a8937e1In the face of a tragedy some people gravitate towards faith or religion, others decry it. This grows even more complicated when the killer claims that he acted in the name of God. And it grows even more problematic when many mainstream religions overtly or covertly condemn LGBT people. Yesterday I was struck when I watched NBC anchor Lester Holt interview Pulse shooting survivor Joshua McGill, because at the end of the clip, McGill talks about how he prayed with another club patron, one who was badly wounded. This scenario is one of many reasons that I think that the book I’m here to talk about today really essential.

DSS.489x750Prolific author Meredith Gould has once again written a book for the very present moment with her latest work, Desperately Seeking Spirituality, A Field Guide to Practice. (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 136 pp, $16.95)  Not surprisingly, she shows up with just the right words at just the right time.

The book is compact and easy to read, with each chapter interspersed with boxes that are chock full of helpful information and insights. For both the church-goer with a curious mind, and the church avoider who is inquisitive, and everyone in between, this book offers rewards that are both practical and spiritual. In short, many seek the sacred, whether in a traditional church or elsewhere and the author offers refreshing pathways to grace and renewal.

This review is brief and ends with an editorial review that I wrote prior to publication:

The image of a seeker standing before shelves of books looking bewildered can now be replaced with an image of a seeker happily holding a copy of this book. Meredith Gould has written what will certainly be the go-to volume for many; both those who search for a spiritual practice, and those with a practice, but who wish to go wider and deeper. With her trademark brand of experience-based wisdom infused with humor, the author offers readers smart, practical, and refreshing options as they make their spiritual way.

KERN-.GouldHeadshot.500pxAlso for today, Meredith answered a few questions that I prepared so that those of you who are not that familiar with her would gain some insights. As for those of you who, you will enjoy her trademark wit and perception that never dumbs us down, and always leads us deeper.  With that – here is Meredith Gould!

DSS is a different kind of book for you. Was writing this one significantly different from earlier works?
For people who know me because of church communications, I suppose Desperately Seeking Spirituality might seem like a different type of book. For me it’s a return to an early and persistent call.

I started writing about the spirituality of everyday life during the late 1980s, primarily for magazines. I continued exploring the mystical mundane during eight years of blogging and then in my first four books, even in the one about working from a home office! In The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today, published in 2008, my focus shifted to church communications. I had my reasons!

After working as a part-time pastoral associate, I realized just how much we needed to recognize communications ministry as a core ministry. I also discovered Twitter in 2008. In 2011, I created the church social media hashtag (#chsocm) and launched a weekly Twitter-based chat, and the rest is history but not necessarily destiny.

A couple of years ago, I felt a familiar tug to write about spiritual life thanks, in part, to working with churches and clergy.

How – if all – did your own spiritual practices change or grow during your writing of this book?
Desperately Seeking Spirituality is about why and when traditional spiritual practices stop working. I’d been hearing stories about discouragement with traditional spiritual practices from other self-identified spiritual seekers. Oddly comforting. To provide a context for readers, I write about my own spiritual journey and gradual transition from enthusiasm to ennui.

By the time I proposed this book, I’d basically stopped doing formal spiritual practices and was exploring what it meant to actively be spiritual. I zeroed in on five core spiritual practices – willingness, curiosity, empathy, generosity, and delight. Writing about these spiritual practices of being meant I had to get honest about my own commitment to practicing them. And so, each chapter drew me deeper into the practice I was writing about, which was challenging and exhausting in ways I did not anticipate.

I also rediscovered the extent to which writing is spiritual practice that invites me to connect with and surrender to a power greater than myself.

Along those lines, what is your favorite or most enriching spiritual practice?
Curiosity has been my go-to practice for years for all the reasons I list in the chapter. Curiosity slows down reactivity; opens new gateways to wisdom and knowledge; generates enthusiasm for inquiry; and substitutes light for heat. Things go much better internally and externally when instead of acting out of outrage my prayer of first resort is, “Dear God, what’s up with that?”

As for traditional spiritual practices, I always experience anchored transcendence when I chant or walk a labyrinth. I suspect this is because these practices give my body something to do that relaxes my mind enough to open a connection to the Holy Spirit..

Do you have a favorite part/chapter of this book?
I confess to you and Almighty God that I probably had too much fun writing endnotes. In addition to typical stuff like citations and resources, I add semi-snarkastic commentary thus providing yet another glimpse into my thought process. Readers tell me they rarely other authors’ endnotes but always read mine.

I also loved creating “Know Thyself” questions for contemplation and discussion, and am planning to develop workshops – probably webinars – based on them. I have two favorite content boxes. First is the one about orthopraxytosis, a toxic condition I’ve identified and named. The second introduces readers to “spiritual bypassing,” a defense mechanism that has been characterized as “avoidance and holy drag.”

What’s next for you? Is there another book already in the making?
I should probably stop declaring that whatever book I’m writing is the last one I’ll ever write. Two days after sending the manuscript for Desperately Seeking Spirituality to Liturgical Press and vowing I’d never write another book, I started making notes about the next one.

I’m currently writing that book and the working title is, Transcending Generations: A Field Guide to Collaboration In Church. I’m focusing on issues shared by people of faith regardless of chronological age, lifecycle development, or generational cohort. I’m keen on helping readers remove false barriers between generations while honoring authentic differences. It’s going to be my last book! Kidding. Maybe.

Gays, guns, and God

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Photo credit: Angelo Kavouriadis

I have to first remind myself that this letter was issued in 1986 so the language sounds strange to my ears. “Homosexual persons” seems to carry a ring to it, one that indicates a condition that I would best avoid both for my own behavior, and also for not associating with such persons. Yet the letter from St. John Paul II is very clear in that first sentence of item number ten, so I will repeat it:

“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”

We are all aware that LGBT people were the “object of violent malice” on Sunday, June 12, 2016. This must be roundly condemned, not simply because it was violent and sinful against all human persons, but because these people were singled out for being LGBT in the first place.

Sunday’s acts of violence and hatred are entangled with some of the most scorching hot buttons in our US cultural millieu – that old trio of “gays, guns, and God.”

Let me break this down into Continue reading

This, not that

Burnout.Quote.TwitterIf you are a regular reader, you know that I am a person of faith, blogging about the intersection of faith, spirituality, and everyday life. You also know that I am a Roman Catholic who also works for the Catholic church both in her day job, and as a freelance writer, and more. While church is alive and vibrant for me and many others, for some church means boring, routine, rigid, rejection and more – even when the call to something greater than oneself exists.

In 1990 I returned to the Church after an 18 year very conscious absence!  When I left church I was DONE and overdone with formal religious practice. To say that my return was reluctant would be understatement. All those years that I was away I frequently felt the pull of church, but I felt the planting of being fine with where I was as a non-belonging member of anything even more strongly. My desire for sacredness and spirituality never left me in those years, but I did not want to be part of any formal practice.

RAp3eT0Many seekers or would be seekers think – I want this, not that – meaning, sacred and spiritual are indeed part of your landscape. Maybe your desire for such things helps to see and understand the world, but there is no context for such things in your life. While I have many arguments about why faith in community is vitally important, I also know that words telling me that would have never sent me back to church. In fact, such words would have had me fleeing at high speeds. Buh-bye! What’s a seeker to do?

DSS.489x750In my day there were few books or resources – maybe zero resources – to help direct anyone not only to spirituality, but to an exploration of spiritual practices. That’s why I was thrilled when Meredith Gould told me about her current writing project, Desperately Seeking Spirituality.(Full disclosure, she’s my dear friend, we are mishpocha. And yes, I offered an editorial review of the book found inside of its cover.)

Next week I will share my review of this book on the blog, along with an interview with Meredith. I hope you will check out my posts, because I really would like to see this book widely read. Not unlike The Nones are Alright by Kaya Oakes, these are important volumes for our times, for the churched, the unchurched, the seekers, searchers, and others. (See my review of that book here.)

Desperately Seeking Spirituality is an important book that I would like to tell you more about, and Meredith is someone I’m pretty sure you will want to get to know.  See you on Monday!

 

Poems, pilgrimage, perspective

Worlds End .JPGLast Saturday, after walking past a sign with a vaguely dystopian message, my Camino Santiago partner and friend, Sue and I entered the forest. The first part of our journey was a bit more arduous than either of us had imagined.  It grew clear to me that the sign was more descriptive than vague! Where were we and what had we gotten ourselves into in the name of camino preparation, or as we cool kids of the internet like to say, #caminoprep.

The hike offered great perspective on many things, but a few stand out in stark detail. One being that it seemed like the world’s end due to the steep, sharp, gravity defying trails that we traversed, clad as we were in our camino gear, complete with heavy packs on our back. My imagination, which runs like a super high definition camera when pondering possible fates, usually terrifying ones, was on overdrive as I imagined my short, stout body tipping backwards and rolling down the rocky trail to an early end. Obviously I am alive, but on Saturday I was not sure I would remain so!

Despite choosing a #caminoprep run that was way beyond our technical hiking skill, Sue and I ended up loving so much of what we saw at Worlds End State Park. Continue reading

Enough is enough – Part 3

OK, here we are for part 3 of this series founded in the Feast of Corpus Christi. We’ve talked about Eucharist, who deserves to be fed, and how real food matters in part 1 and part 2. Today is the final installment, because enough really is enough. Thank you for reading!

enough-550x250Let us take a look at some of where our tax dollars are going to in the shadow of not only this church feast, but also in the shadow of Memorial Day, when we honor our war dead. I am not against the military per se, and I have war veterans in my immediate family including my WWII fighting father, and my recently retired from the Army nephew. He served in Kosovo during horrible times, and did 4 tours in Iraq. However, we spend a lot of money on the machines of war, so that we might have peace. And bread.

fig-3-19450809-urakamiIn another shadow, that of Hiroshima, President Obama (hey I voted for the guy so let’s just get that out there, I voted for him twice) we see a man torn between his anti-nuclear promises and passions and a president who has “put us on course” to spend over a trillion dollars to updgrade the nuclear arsenal over the next three decades. We seem to have enough for that!

I know I am getting lecture-y sounding, I’m sorry, but I keep seeing anxious, depressed, hungry people with scruffy and also hungry children and it kind of gets me down, OK? It is hard for me to understand that there is “not enough.” More often this cry of not enough comes from the other side of the political aisle, and so often I find that it is a kind of pandering that never puts the greater common good first. How have we lost sight of Continue reading

Enough is enough – Part 2

Thanks for coming back. Just in case you are not returning, this post began yesterday  with Enough is enough – Part One. You can check that out here if you missed it, and continue here. I’m on a bit of ramble about Sunday’s Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ and what that means in real life today. At least from my perspective.

hunger-facts-slider-2-1Each day as I sit at my desk I answer the phone and the door, often greeting people in the rectory of a suburban parish who come to us because they do not have enough food. The vast majority of the people who come for help are white, largely the working (if they are lucky) poor. People who have fallen through the cracks for one reason or another. I’m guessing most of them never saw college as an option, but some may have. I don’t know. The jobs they have are usually fast food or retail, jobs that pay very poorly and that offer few benefits.

Now it is nice to sit in the comfort of our own homes and tsk task that “those people” should not want cable television, internet service, or an iPhone. Their kids should not get the nice athletic shoes our kids get nor the clothes. And they certainly shouldn’t smoke or have a decent car! After all, if they worked harder (really???) and did without, they could Continue reading

Enough is enough – Part 1

Philco-fridge-GailsmileThe little girl watched as scraps of leftovers were wrapped up in “tin foil,” placed carefully in the old refrigerator. It the kind where one big, old, heavy door opened to reveal a small inner freezer that was in seemingly constant need of defrosting. If you are younger than maybe 40, you may have no idea what this is – well, what this was. If you are under 30, I’m pretty certain you do not have a living recollection of it, at least most of you won’t.  Anyway, I digress. It was simply made very clear that nothing was to go to waste because there might not be enough for later or tomorrow.

Reynolds55The little girl was me, and the wrapper-upper of food was my mom. The old fridge was in the kitchen of our apartment, and “tin foil” was what we called aluminum foil. My mother was born in 1914 and raised in a very poor family in New York City. By time the Depression rolled around in 1929, my then 15 year old mother was already out of school for two years, quitting to go to work to help the impoverished family. Worries about “enough” were very real. I did not grow up in poverty, nor did I grow up in luxury. Thus we were very careful about not throwing out that which might be of use. The struggle was real – there might not be enough!

This has left its imprint upon me in ways that I am only beginning to understand now that I am headed to age Continue reading