You Don’t Need Fixing!

by Amanda Petersen

A joyous New Year to all of you!!

I have had the pleasure of having a couple of groups with the purpose of looking how to be intentional with the New Year. Both were different and yet the same elements appeared.

  • Looking at what is important in one’s life.   
  • Looking at topics like core values, gratitude, lessons learned etc.
  • Doing something that gets one to notice those elements in their life.

Life evaluations can be seen as finding what is wrong and fixing it. Yet with the majority of people I journey with it is more a time of affirming and deepening the elements that enhance their lives. The gift of doing something intentional around noticing the elements of one’s life is that it affirms one is living a life.

Now that may sound obvious, but is it? Sometimes the externals of life seem to take over and one day just blends into the next. Taking time to remember what is important and then stepping back and seeing how one is folding that into the dailyness of life does something to reassure the soul all is well. Occasionally one may find there are important elements that are being left out and times of evaluation allow the person to fold them back in again. That is not fixing what is wrong as much as giving a life affirming yes to what is right.

Isn’t this the contemplative life? Taking the time to lovingly looking at life with truth and grace? Choosing to participate in the abundance of Love?  Being conscious of the choices one makes?

If you haven’t yet stopped and contemplated your life as you get out the new calendar, I highly encourage you to do so. Gina’s Personal Mission Workshop or Quiet Spaces on the 8th are a great opportunities to do just that.

Share your favorite way to notice your life as you begin the New Year.

Whatever the future holds, may you always know you are held in Love.

What Pastors Need to Know about Spiritual Directors

by Teresa Blythe

There was a time when ordained ministers served mostly as local church pastors. That is no longer the case. As churches shrink, specialized ministry becomes the first choice for many of us.

Although specialized ministry encompasses a wide range of “outside the church” professions such as chaplaincy and non-profit work, I am writing today about spiritual direction. At a recent convocation of specialized ministers of the Southwest Conference UCC we talked at length about how local pastors and specialized ministers could better understand one another.

I am aware that many local pastors are familiar with spiritual direction from either having a director of their own or feeling guilty because they haven’t gotten around to finding one! But pastors may not know all you need to know about the care and education of the spiritual director. Here are five things I think you should know:

  1. We are educated for this ministry.  Anyone who does spiritual direction for a living or as a “side hustle” should have graduated from a training program. (I say should have because the profession is not regulated nor does it have any standard certification process that all spiritual directors must complete.) If we are ordained to the ministry of spiritual direction, as I am, we have the requisite M.Div. plus the extra training it takes to learn how to do the most highly regarded form of spiritual direction—the evocative method (you share, we mostly listen and draw your attention to where the Spirit may be at work in you). If we are ordained you can be sure we have gone through our denomination’s sometimes rigorous process of becoming ordained to specialized ministry with all the accountability and standard of ethics that goes along with that. One does not have to be ordained to be an excellent spiritual director, but training is essential. I will go out on a limb and say that unless you are a quite elderly religious professional who became a director before there were training programs, you must go through a training program to be any good at the ministry. These programs vary greatly, and frankly that is a problem for the profession, but a certificate of completion usually guarantees that the person has learned the basics. By the way, lots of local pastors attend these training programs and become spiritual directors. They find it gives them a new and helpful lens in which to work pastorally with their congregation.

  1. We are usually contemplatives by nature. While pastors vary widely in temperament—from the jolly extrovert to the pensive thinker-types—most spiritual directors are gentle, quiet and contemplative. The practice of spiritual direction demands patience and stillness of heart in the director. We spend a considerable amount of time listening to our directees share their sacred stories. Good spiritual directors always listen more than they talk. Because of our contemplative nature, we are good at helping activist pastors and churches calm down and savor the slow work of God. If you have a spiritual director in your midst, I hope you are calling on their special gifts for pastoral care, education and showing up as the “non-anxious presence” in times of conflict.

  1. We want to have a collegial relationship with you. Spiritual directors suffer when we live and work in isolation. We need contact with you for fellowship and camaraderie. We can offer you a listening ear when you need to share about a confidential matter (even if you are not one of our directees—we usually don’t mind informally putting on the director hat for you now and then). We are especially aware of issues of boundaries in ministry. Because the spiritual direction relationship is unique and highly confidential, we are usually pretty strict about boundaries. Many pastors have appreciated bouncing ideas concerning the personal limits they set with parishioners off me. And I’m glad to help.

  1. We sometimes need your help. Since many of us are introverts and contemplatives, we are (as a group) not great at marketing ourselves and our work. Any marketing we do is of the “soft sell” variety. If you respect our work, then please talk about it with your clergy friends, parishioners and staff. Encourage us to contribute to your church newsletters, offer classes or show up at some business meetings to observe and reflect what we notice. I know I have benefitted greatly from the support I get from the local church where I now am on staff part-time. In fact, if you need help with pastoral care and visitation you might consider hiring a spiritual director. It’s not exactly the same work we do in direction sessions but it translates well.

Another way you can help us is by understanding the nature of the work we do. Spiritual directors are responsible for staying deeply in touch with the Spirit so that we can be of service in our one-hour sessions.  So if we don’t take you up on all those great suggestions I just mentioned, it’s because spiritual direction work can be emotionally taxing. And we are taught to know our limits and not become overwhelmed with busywork, so we guard our work time carefully. It’s nothing personal. Pastors could learn some things from us about taking charge of one’s work schedule.

The best way you can help a spiritual director that you know and like is by finding out if we are taking on new directees and if we want referrals from you. Most of the clients we receive are from word-of-mouth. Let us drop off a set of brochures or business cards with our contact information so that when you encounter someone who wants or needs spiritual direction, you can offer them a name.

  1. We want to be your spiritual director. Provided we are not working for you or are close friends with you (or your family), we’d like to work with you in direction. Religious professionals make up a lot of our clientele and they tell us it’s the best $60 – $80 dollars a month they spend. We know your special needs and have heard a lot of stories about life as an employee for a volunteer organization! We hold a great deal of compassion for pastors and the peaks and valleys you encounter. If you are not in spiritual direction, I highly recommend you check it out. The history of spiritual direction dates back over 1500 years when it began in Catholic religious orders. For hundreds of years it was a practice that priests enjoyed. It’s now a practice for all, but especially for clergy!

These are just a few thoughts about how the specialized ministry of spiritual direction can work hand-in-hand with traditional parish ministry. You may have questions or some creative ideas of your own to share. I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at and let’s talk.



by Amanda Petersen

Recently we have been asking people to leave their cellphones in a basket while events are happening at Pathways of Grace. One of the side effects I had not anticipated has been the realization that when I am not thinking about activity on my phone I become aware of the all the other “attachments” I have. It seems the phone is the first layer, yet there is a deeper layer under that.

The phone connects me to family, friends, work and schedules. With each text, email, and pull to social media, I easily connected to all of it. Yet when I leave my phone at home or in a basket at work, I notice those connections don’t end. My mind is spending a lot of time thinking about family, friends, work, and schedules without the phone. The only difference is that I don’t unconsciously and frequently connect and in so doing not really know how connected and powerful some of those connections are.  Without the phone, I notice that maybe I am spending too much time thinking about certain things and taking on more than I should. I also find that  rather than immediately connect, I can instead trust the person or situation to God and offer a prayer. In addition to all of that, I get to make a choice – to create some space between my thoughts and all the aspects of life. In doing this I engage the Divine on where my thoughts are being invited to go in a way that brings light and love.

Who knew that leaving a cell phone behind would be a type of contemplative meditative practice? I am very excited about some of the new opportunities happening at Pathways of Grace to take a breath and listen deeply to life. I invite you to have some phone unplug time and use it as a spiritual practice. Let me know what surprises you.

Blessed Stillness

by Amos Smith

The writer Kathleen Norris tried to get some kids in a classroom to sit in silence. When asked to sit silently a second time one fifth grader retorted, “I don’t want to!” He continued, “It’s like we’re waiting for something, it’s scary.” 1 Silent prayer is not only scary. It’s exceedingly difficult. On the surface, it seems simple, yet anyone who’s tried it will attest to its difficulty. It’s perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever undertaken. Yet, it’s also the most rewarding.

The nature of the untrained mind is like a wild monkey, jumping from branch to branch. The mind’s always clinging to one thing or another. Rarely, will it let go of the numerous stimuli and settle into silence. Because of its distracted nature, the mind has to be trained to focus. This training takes time. A challenge is that training the mind is less tangible than training for a marathon or practicing a musical instrument. Training the mind is more primal and less concrete than other kinds of training.

Because training the mind seems insubstantial and doesn’t produce any immediate measurable results, the Western mind usually dismisses it as “navel gazing” or “self-hypnosis.” “Don’t you have something better to do?” Yet, the mind is the root of our existence and our experience. Our state of mind is everything. So changing habits of the mind is powerful! At times it may seem insignificant—as if anything else is a better use of time. Yet, mystics the world over tell us this kind of training is the key for dismantling hidden addictions and the key to freedom.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers retreated from all worldly affairs. They sojourned into the desert to behold blessed stillness. And Quakers through the ages have written that deep listening to God requires stillness and silence. We can’t pray unless we pause and listen for the “still small voice of the Lord” (1 Kings 19:12b, NKJV).

1 Norris, Amazing Grace, p.17.

image credit: Rich Lewis

Walking in Misty Blue

by Amanda Petersen

One of the most amazing gifts of walking early in the morning at this time of year is the gift of what I call the “misty blue time”. I leave in the dark, and just before the sun comes over the horizon, there are a few minutes where everything turns a misty blue. Everything looks different during this in-between time. I know the neighborhood when it is dark, and of course I am familiar with it when it is daylight. Both have their own unique looks and I notice different things at both times. During this misty blue time my brain does not know what to jump to. Everything looks surreal and different. It is as though I am in a different world altogether and I get to enjoy my neighborhood in a whole new way.

In the contemplative walk, this misty blue time could be seen as liminal space. That space that says one time is over yet the next season has not quite arrived. Liminal space is a whole new world of noticing, practicing, and waiting for the sun to rise on the new season of life. I often witness the discomfort of this liminal space. It is easy to want to skip this space by taking what was known in the past and overlaying it on to the future and calling it good. The challenge in doing that is it limits the possibilities of the future with old patterns. The truth is the space yet to come has not been lived yet and the signposts are all new. With just our past knowledge, it is difficult to navigate. Yet, if one allows the liminal space to teach them, one can begin to learn how to live into the new place and releasing what no longer works. By remaining in misty blue, and allowing the knowledge of the past and anticipation of the future to guide one’s way, one is open to visions of life and God in a whole new way.

This August is a misty blue place for Pathways of Grace. We have more people using the space. New facilitators will be providing opportunities to experience growth. The website is getting a face lift and Mind Body is our new home base for scheduling and signing up for classes. At the same time we will be celebrating the past and your support in it, while providing the same safe place to experience your own liminal spaces. I have no idea how all of this will look, yet I am excited to see what I notice and live into the experience of what the next sunrise for Pathways of Grace will look like. Won’t you join me on this great adventure??

The Power of Pretend

by Amanda Petersen

I just spent the morning on a beautiful island eating very juicy oranges and sipping tea. All of this was done on my living room floor with my granddaughter.  She is just learning the power of pretend. We laughed and giggled as the imaginary oranges squirted all over us. As I watched the light in her eyes as she figured out this pretend game, I thought of all the other places she will imagine in her lifetime.

Practicing imagination is a wonderful contemplative practice.  I know I have spoken about the power of the moment and getting real as contemplative practices, yet  giving oneself permission to imagine possibilities is also a great practice.  The imagination can lead one to a bigger picture of God, life, and community. For example, one may say God is male, judgmental, or disappointed. Maybe the vision is there is no time for prayer, life is stuck or things could never improve.  This is where the gift of the imagination is a Godly pursuit. Think of Martin Luther King saying, “I have a dream.”  What if one’s imagination could allow for a kind, beyond gender, forgiving God?  The contemplative imagination allows one to sit in a pretend world where one can find the time to pray, where life is full of possibilities beyond what is happening. Who know where it can lead? It also gives the space to try out life in a different way without having to upend everything.

The imagination is a very powerful prayer practice, not to be taken lightly, because it can also lead into places of limits and lack of possibility. When the time of imagining is over, the individual is different, whether the circumstances change or not. The door to life as it is known is open because one has seen it. Then comes the work in the real world. How does this time of pretend make its way into this life? How does imagining a more loving world help one create a more loving world? How does imagining a bigger God help one begin to examine the God they are encountering now?

My time this morning on the island has created a connection and a memory with my granddaughter that will continue to shape our lives together. The world just got a little bigger for both of us. Where do you go in your imagination? How can the power of pretend be a prayer practice for you?

When the Mind Becomes Silent

by Amos Smith

When I was growing up in Virginia, there was a large open meadow up the hill from my childhood home. Even though most of the acreage in my neighborhood was well developed, the meadow was left wild. After I climbed over a dilapidated wood fence and made my way through a thick barrier of trees, tall green grass sprang, resembling an overgrown alpine meadow. At night, the sky above the meadow opened into the great expanse. The distinct stars illumined the darkness as though I was far from habitation. In the summer the fireflies added lights to the deep blue.

The meadow gave me the space I needed when my little house and family began to close in. As with all families, sometimes things got claustrophobic. At those times I headed out the back door and started the slow walk toward the meadow. When adolescent insecurities mounted and there was no outlet, I started the slow walk…

After I pried through the wall of trees I would walk several paces then lay back against the thick grass. At first my thoughts raced, as they had throughout the day. Then, slowly my thoughts settled like particles of dirt floating to the bottom of a glass of water. If I stayed there the water became still, all the dirt settled, and the murky water of my mind cleared. Space between thoughts lengthened. My breath slowed. And a homesickness I struggle to articulate softened.

I was only yards from home, yet I had another home akin to silence.

The essential practice of Breath Prayer

by Teresa Blythe

Prayer is how we connect most intimately with our still-speaking-God. For the next few months, I’ll be offering you some prayer practices that I hope will provide some variety to your regular spiritual practice. One of the most beloved styles of prayer is the breath prayer.

If we think of God being as close to us as our very breath, then breath prayer is a natural.

Breath and spirit are closely linked in both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament.  In the book of Job, Elihu tells Job, “the spirit of God has made me and the breath of the Almighty gives me life,” and in the gospel of John, when Jesus appeared to the disciples after resurrection he breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

We, too, can link breath to spirit with intentionality. One breath prayer that is simple and effective is one that you create for yourself. Follow the steps listed below and then carry your breath prayer around with you for a few days.

  1. Begin with intention. Ask God to help you form this breath prayer.
  2. Ponder your favorite name for God. For some it might be God, others prefer using the name of Jesus, Sophia, Wisdom, Pure Love, Holy Spirit, Source of Life, Ground of our Being, Higher Power—you name it (literally!). Choose the name or image for the Holy One that resonates deeply with you.
  3. Reflect for a moment on what it is you need or what you may want to express in your breath prayer. Come up with a short phrase that fits. It should be short enough to say in one breath.
  4. You will put these two together in any way you prefer. I’ll give some examples of this kind of breath prayer so you know what I mean.

Freedom, in Christ

God, grant us peace

Lord, hear my prayer

Help me follow you, Higher Power

Heal me, Loving God

  1. Once you determine what your breath prayer is, you inhale on part one, and exhale on part two. Allow the breath to carry the words along with it. Say the prayer over and over (silently or aloud), like a mantra. Before long, you will find you are “breathing the prayer.”  Allow the breath prayer to gently lead you to that place of inner silence and calm—the place where you don’t need to say the words any more. This is known as the place of contemplation.
  2. If you want, write your breath prayer on a small piece of paper and carry it with you as a reminder to keep breathing and praying.

You may find that a breath prayer helps you breathe more easily through your day. Feel free to change your breath prayer from time to time to suit your life’s circumstances. Or you may feel so connected to your original one that you use it exclusively to lead you into contemplative silence. You can do what you want with it. God gave you the prayer for the good of you and the world.

Perhaps you need assistance with your prayer practices or would like accompaniment on your spiritual path. Consider spiritual direction—the ancient practice of checking in with a trained spiritual guide who will deeply listen and offer observations, reflections and questions to draw out your own wisdom. For information about spiritual direction as I practice it, check out my website.

Consistency in the Spiritual Life

by Amanda Peterson

As I watch TV shows on parenting or even raising pets the most common challenge that I notice is inconsistency.  Parents (myself included) know the importance of follow-through and a consistent message. Then there are the times, due to tiredness, guilt, or for some other reason, the consistency stops.  The behavior increases and surprised the questions comes, “How did this get so bad?”  I am currently working with my dog, Grace, who does not have good manners with other dogs.  This is a polite way of saying she overwhelms them with her energy and if they are not a strong dog bedlam ensues.  I now live in a neighborhood that has lots of dogs and she is getting lots of practice learning how to say hello.

Consistency in the Spiritual Life
Consistency, or a cookie?

The reality is that I am the problem, not Grace.  I need to be honest about that and if I care about Grace, I will do what is best for her, not for me. I need to work with Grace.  I have tried using one technique or another and guess what…as time goes on it gets better.  Yet I find myself some days just wishing she wouldn’t be so aggressive and then pretending all is well now.  Wishing and pretending doesn’t help.  I can’t ignore it one day and expect a different result.

As I was thinking about this, I notice a similar pattern in my prayer life and in the prayer lives of others.  Why does God seem so far away?  Why does something that used to be so easy now feel overwhelming?   The spiritual life takes just as much consistency as anything else that is important to us.   We can’t expect to pay attention, develop a relationship with the Divine one day and then not pay attention the next day and expect a deep spiritual life.  The spiritual life takes just as much consistency as anything else and honestly some days it is really hard work to show up.  That is why community support is so important.

A contemplative life is an honest life and a consistent life.  Not necessarily to the same practices in the same way every day.  It is a consistency in the choice to show up to a relationship with God.  It’s that easy and that hard.


What is your spiritual practice? Are you consistent or does it go in stops and starts.  Pick a spiritual practice and try to be consistent for 2 weeks.  How did it go?  If it didn’t, why?  Do you need a different practice?

Running Barefoot and the Contemplative Life

by Amanda Peterson

When people find out I practice a contemplative life sometimes I get a dismissive look as if my practice is about keeping my eyes closed with no concern for what is happening in life.  Yet living a contemplative life is truly about connecting in a very real way.  I find is it like running barefoot.

Early one morning, as my radio turned on and I was half asleep listening to the news, a story come on about a runner who runs barefoot and how it is better for your body than running in shoes.  I was pretty sleepy, but the gist of the story was that the bare foot moves and balances better than the foot in a shoe.  The bare foot reacts to dangers in the path and helps the runner avoid them. Shoes can cause more damage to the foot and give the runner a false sense of security. And now there has been the creation of “barefoot shoes.”

This brought back thoughts of childhood and the process of toughening up our feet as summer began. We started each day by walking a few minutes barefoot on the hot cement.  Just a bit every day and before we knew it we were running around the entire neighborhood barefoot even at 100 degrees. There was freedom and connectedness as we felt the grass under our feet and the sound of our feet pounding on the cement. Even to this day I prefer being barefoot no matter where I live, hot or cold climate. I love the feel of the ground under my feet, the sounds they make. There is a sacred feeling in that connection.

Going barefoot also means there is the danger of getting hurt. As kids, we really had to pay attention to where we were going.  It took stepping on a nail to for me to learn that lesson.  Isn’t that like life?  We start out with abandon and then we get hurt causing us to rightly protect ourselves.  Yet the danger is not to create so much padding we lose our connection to life.  Life isn’t safe; at least that what I have come to understand.  I have a choice: hole up safe and protected or go out into the adventure paying attention, being aware, not expecting safety, but trusting God. That is the contemplative life.

Moses at the burning bush was asked to take off his shoes.  No insulation allowed on holy ground even if it seems like dangerous ground. God is saying, “Trust me, feel me from the very sole of your feet. I want you connected fully.”  Often in hospice situations I’ve wanted to take my shoes off at the door.  The level of grief, pain, joy and honoring in that room was truly holy and I instinctively wanted to be fully present.  No safety allowed.

In the walk with God there are times when the call is to take off our shoes  and really be vulnerable, trusting and aware.  The contemplative practice is one in which we look for the holy ground everywhere and are willing to be barefoot.  Even if it’s for a few moments.


When was the last time you took off your shoes and enjoyed the feeling and potential danger of going barefoot? Where in your life is God calling you to become more connected to the Holy?   Look at your shoes.  What do they say about your journey?  Spend some time walking barefoot, indoors or out, and pray as though you are on holy ground.