The Sacred Path of Transition

by Joe Nutini

Today I want to talk a little bit about the concept of “the sacred path of transition.” This topic came to me after starting classes on Shambhala art. I am not necessarily a visual artist but I am definitely like to write and I do enjoy art a great deal. It’s interesting being in this class because I’m surrounded by people who seem to be very into visual art and that is really not my style. For me, the way that I write is how I express the Images and concepts in my head.

Often, I feel little bit insecure about writing and drawing in this class, even though that is really not the point at all. We are really guided to look to the moment for inspiration. Sometimes, I find that hard to do this when I am feeling insecure. Which brings me back to this concept of the sacred path of transition.

There is a lot of fear there for me when I think about writing on this topic. For starters, I wonder why I even want to write about something that is so personal to me. What is it about writing on this topic that is so important? As a transgender person, I feel like I would have to out myself. I feel like people would also assume that I’m writing about something that is only about being transgender. There are so many more transitions that we go through. There’s birth, death, illness and other things that happen in life that move us from one experience to another. These can all be considered transitions. For now, I want to begin by sharing my feelings and thoughts around the whole concept.

So what do I mean when I say, “the sacred path of transition”? I’ll start by breaking it down a bit. To me, the word sacred means that something is holy and deserving of respect. This could mean that it is attached to something that is religious or not.

The word path, in the context that I’m using it, simply means the road upon which we walk. Of course, I’m speaking about this in a metaphorical sense. What one believes about the concept of “path” could be more complex. It is possible to believe that the path leads to somewhere, perhaps a particular destination. It could be that we are simply on a path that we have labeled “life”. Perhaps as we live we begin to grow end evolve into something more than when we first arrived. Maybe it means that we are slowly making our way back to that which we actually were to begin with? Of course this is all very esoteric and up for discussion and discourse.

So what do I mean when I put the words sacred and path together? The way that I like to think about this is that we’re on a journey that we call life. This journey is holy and worthy of respect. For me, this also means respecting the fact that everyone is on their own sacred path by virtue of simply being alive.Therefore, each person’s life is ordained and worthy of exploration. We may feel as if we have the best idea of what would benefit this person most on their path. Perhaps sometimes we do. However, this concept is one that lends itself to believing that there is value in pain, pleasure, anger, sorrow, and all of the other emotions that we experience. Without these things I wonder if we would be who we actually are supposed to be.

So what does this have to do with being chronically ill and transgender? I will tell you that at one point or another in my life I wished that I was not transgender and that I was not chronically ill. I wished that I was not transgender because of society and the things that I had been taught by certain religious organizations. I wished that I was not chronically ill because I found this to be a huge barrier to my desired lifestyle. However, both have taught me that there’s something sacred and profound to be discovered when life presents us with circumstances that may seem difficult.

In regard to being transgender, I feel that this concept of sacred path is also important because many people view the transgender experience as one that is problematic in some way. I will say that I’m only speaking for myself when I say this but for me I’ve come to realize that being transgender is a blessing. Even though it can be a difficult life to live, it has afforded me a very unique experience. I lived my life for about 21 years as a person who was perceived to be female. I have now lived my life is a person who is perceived to be male for about 15 years. This has given me unique insight into the ways in which gender and gender roles affect both men and women. It has made me a much better therapist. It has also brought me more into myself.

I also believe that if there is a creator, they made me this way for a purpose. In experiencing chronic illness, I believe there is a purpose as well…even if it is simply me using my mind to find purpose within it. Thus, this experience is one that is ordained and holy. At the same time, I recognize that there’s a lot of suffering that happens as a result of holding an identity that is often looked down upon in society and to be living with illness on a daily basis.

Right now this is where my thoughts are on this topic. As I said I am sitting down to write a book about this and I will offer some blogs based on my writings as time goes on. I look forward to ongoing dialogue with you all.

A Life of Response

by Amanda Petersen

I recently saw a brief video about a woman who, through a set of movements, opened a theater for dance in the middle of a desert town of less than 100 people. Often no one would come, so she would just dance in the empty theater. Eventually she painted in an audience and the place is beautiful. (the video is at the end of this blog). As I watched I felt a kinship with this woman. Her life was one of a response to Life.

As I get ready to celebrate 10 years of Pathways of Grace, the celebration is more of a gratitude for a life of response to God. When I began, I literally sold much of what I had, including my car, and downsized to a life that would hopefully be supported by this sense of creating a safe place for people to listen and share deeply to their own responding to the Divine. At that time, I called this Creative Journey 3.  Many of you remember calling my cozy home the “hermitage of heretics”: a place you could voice your ideas, doubts, and responses to Infinite Mystery in ways you couldn’t elsewhere.

As the years have passed, the groups and my spiritual direction/coaching practice has grown and we have this beautiful space. The fun part is that others who are responding to God are showing up and sharing their dances. I can’t tell you what a joy it is to dance with others and watch the new energy of the Spirit create something that none of us fully knows how it will end up. This celebration is a time to highlight some of the new people sharing their gifts. I look forward to your meeting them!

With this Energy comes new and deeper releasing into the movement of Infinite Mystery. As I watch this unfold, I realize Pathways of Grace, rather than “building” something, is a about responding to Love. What is created out of that is co-created rather than master-planned. This celebration, we will be sharing some of the new movements that we will be practicing.

Through the years there are times when the group doesn’t materialize, yet I dance anyway. The audience becomes the great cloud of witnesses and the Presence of Love. I will continue to dance as a response of gratitude for the gift of creating a space to dance authentically. Thank you all for joining me on this amazing journey. Ultimately, this celebration is a time of gratitude for each of you being willing to respond to Love’s call to dance.

Here is the video:

The Road Map of Your Life

by Amanda Petersen

I recently had the opportunity to drive from South Carolina to Phoenix and as we took the major highways 2 things became very evident. 1) the towns all looked the same, and 2) I am not a huge fan of GPS.

As we crossed state lines there were very few distinguishing markers from one town to the next. Each mall had the same stores, state after state. To be honest, it made me a bit sad. As for GPS, it kept automatically figuring out what the fastest not the best route would be. Even if I set the course I wanted, it would often reroute for one that was faster. All of this led to the view of similarity from town to town.

It wasn’t until I went off the major highways and explored some other routes, ignoring GPS (which happily recalculated), that the uniqueness of location came through. This can be the story of our lives as well. I can remember reading back over old journals and seeing that the things I was thinking about dealing with three years ago were the same at the time of the reading. Really?? How long am I going to stay on that super highway of the same thoughts and habits over and over again??

The trick to changing one’s life is to be willing to take a route not explored before. It takes time and intention. One of the best ways I know of reading the road map of your life is to practice the Examen. This prayer practice was put together by Ignatius of Loyola as part of the Spiritual Exercises in the 1500’s. Today, many personal improvement and business leaders recommend some form of self-examination each day.

Here is the simple version taken from ignatianspirituality.com. Traditionally this is done twice a day. Once in the evening and once at noon. You can play around with the when; just try it for a few weeks and see what you notice.

Become aware of God’s presence.
Review the day with gratitude.
Pay attention to your emotions.
Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
Look toward tomorrow.

If you would like to explore the Examen you may want to check out the summer group focused on the Spiritual Exercises.

Are you speeding down a highway of sameness being led by automatic thoughts and habits? Try the Examen and explore the side roads and find the unique beauty that is you.

Every Step Takes You Somewhere

by Amanda Peterson

Every step takes you somewhere.

If you get to where you’re going will you be where you want to be.

If you want your life to change, you have to be willing to change.

Every journey begins with a single step.

These are some common phrases that have a simple truth to them.  Whether you are aware of it or not, your life is moving every day.  My brother used to say, “life is like a bus ride, you think you are just sitting there on the bus, but if you look out the window, the scenery is changing all the time.”  Sometimes we need simple truths to wake us up to the fact that we are invited to participate in life.

There are times when life feels stuck or overwhelming, yet every day one puts their feet on the ground and makes choices on where the journey is going to go regardless of circumstances.  This is the gift of developing an awareness that we have an inner life (call it soul, spirit, energy, God, etc).   Where the journey takes one with an inner life is not set by circumstances.  In fact the categories even change.  Instead of, I want to be rich or travel or have 17 children, the quest becomes, I want to be more loving, gracious, courageous, peaceful, giving, etc. Wealth, travel, and children may also happen but they are not the intention of our steps.

I bring this up because we have an amazing opportunity coming up in the fall for those who feel stuck when it comes to deep joy in their lives.  Is this a prayer you have uttered?  “God, help me be a more joy-filled person?”  John Chuchman is going to present a way to take that next step or look out the window at joy.  I highly recommend this special time because being in his presence is the ultimate example of what joy means.  Whether you have had a time of grief, upset, hurt, or pain, John will introduce some steps that honor your circumstances and at the same time show you the inner life questions that will help you live from a center of Divine Joy.

May you be aware of your steps today.

May you notice that deep within there is a God whisper of guidance.  

May you always know Pathways of Grace is here to help provide fellow journeyers as you learn your own unique steps.

Are You Resurrection Brave?

by Amanda Peterson

Easter Sunday is filled with joyful celebration of the resurrection.  Yet what I read in Scripture and what I witness at Pathways of Grace is more complex than that.  To be in the presence of a resurrection moment means the willingness to face fears, be vulnerable and courageous.

The first witnesses of the empty tomb were afraid.  Later we read the disciples were huddled in a room afraid to go out.  Those who walk through the door of Pathways of Grace for the first time are often nervous because they don’t know what to expect.  It isn’t often advertised that facing spiritual growth can be frightening.  Especially when it is new.  Saying yes I want resurrection in my life is a courageous statement not a warm fuzzy teddy bear.  In fact being willing to claim resurrection in one’s own life often means letting go of much of what was once comfortable.  That is very scary.

I have witnessed many who stop on the journey because they run into fear.  They are told of course you can do this it is a happy joyful thing and what they experience is vulnerability, change and challenge and feels like failure in the midst of a celebration only gospel.  I want to let those of you who may have had this experienced and stopped because of fear and change that it is worth the risk to try again.  Not for some mountain top high but because it is in the midst of that experience that one really gets to know God in one’s soul.  (and it may even mean coming up with another word or understanding of God).

The good news in the Scriptures and in life is this journey, though individual, is not done alone.  In the Gospels, the resurrection scenes have Jesus there to encourage and inspire.  In our lives today Jesus appears in the form of a book or spiritual director or a new friend or a workshop or a vision or in some other way.  As we get ready to celebrate Easter that is what we are truly celebrating, the fact that no matter how frightening, challenging, joyful or changing this life may be, if we are willing to go to places beyond our imagination we will find God there.

Please consider the offerings at Pathways of Grace the space of encouragement to allow you to enter this scary, powerful, amazing relationship with God.

 

The Mountaintop

by Amos Smith

The last Sunday before Lent is when Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop (Luke 9:28-36). I think the reason for the placement of this reading is that to get through Lent we need to consistently remind ourselves of the peak experiences in our lives …

In 2013 I flew from Phoenix to Oakland, California with my family for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. As I flew, I noticed a huge storm was brewing below. There were dark clouds, thunder, turbulence. Yet, the plane soared far above the clouds where it was absolutely clear. Where I sat it was totally calm.

In that moment I said to myself, “This is the mountaintop experience.” This is the experience above the clamor, uproar, turbulence, and monkey-mind, above the nee nee naa naa. “Nee nee naa naa” is the nature of our minds. When there’s some kind of crisis there are flurries of mental activity – flurries of analysis, confusion, speculation – we can’t keep still. Our anxious thoughts jump around like a monkey in a high canopy.

Then I remember that above the clouds it’s perfectly calm.

When Jesus experienced the mountaintop, he knew the deep calm of all-pervasive acceptance and thorough love that flowed from his Abba …

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the drama – to get caught up in the turbulence of the monkey-mind. But our higher self is on the mountaintop, in the plane above the tumult, in the upper room (Acts 1:13). Our higher self is above the frenzy.

As the spiritual journey progresses we spend more and more time on the mountaintop. We discover and re-discover the spiritual faculties of our minds where we’re at rest. Where we can let down and trust God. Where we can let go of reason’s double-binds and dead ends. Where we can experience peace.

I Love to Tell the Story: A Lenten Journey

by Amanda Peterson

One of the powerful aspects of the Lenten journey is it invites us into the story of our faith.  We are invited into the story of Jesus and how that impacts us in this moment.  We get to revisit and re-examine what that story means to us this year and how it has impacted us in the past.

Something wonderful happens when we gather to tell stories.  We are often encouraged to stay in this moment, which is a wonderful practice. Yet, this has left me wondering what does this do to my relationship with the future and the past.  How do I find balance in looking at the past and the future in order to bring me back to the Now?

This is where storytelling is very helpful.  It is a lost art in our culture.  The ability to sit around with friends and imagine the future you know is inside you. Say it out loud with feeling, vulnerability and support, even being wild and imaginative in the process.  By looking ahead and asking, “what do I want to experience in the gift of life I have been given?”,  it brings us back to the moment with new knowledge.  How do I start living now that will make that future show up in me?  What small steps can I take Now?

The challenge in future storytelling, and perhaps why people shy away from it, is that by speaking the future, one may enter into the  “I wish that were Now” syndrome.  The temptation to think life won’t start until that future is realized.  That temptation makes Now look like not enough.  And then the moment is gone. I notice as I work with people in life transitions that it’s easy to go to the hopeful future and want to dwell there.  In doing this, this moment is totally ignored, especially if the moment does not hold the sparkle of the future.

Another challenge in future stories comes when they are about waking up possibility. Waking up the “I wonder” inside.  That can be a scary thing to wake up because it can have a life of it’s own.  One can no longer hide.

These challenges happen because it’s easy to lose the meaning of what storytelling is truly all about.  Stories are told because they remind us that all of life is just one story after another.  The real power is in the story unfolding right now.

Storytelling one’s past is a bit easier.  In fact I tell a lot of past stories in my day, especially the horror stories.  “I’ll never do that again; let me tell you why.”  It is as though that past story is the end of the story. This happened – end of story. There is no moving on from here.  Yet if I were really practiced at storytelling, I would quickly come to the reality that this is but one story among many and there are more to tell. This story doesn’t define me.  It’s the story in this moment that matters. Looking back allows me to ask questions like, what was I doing five years ago?  Did I ever imagine that all this would be happening now, or is life exactly the same?   This brings me back to the Now with gratitude and trust that this moment truly is leading to the next.

I invite you to practice the art of storytelling in your Lenten walk.  In engaging Jesus’ story, once again let it also reflect on your story.  How did Jesus relate past, present, and future?  Ask questions and share stories about your walk with God with others.  Move beyond reading and discussing and ask, “how can these stories inform your Now moment?”

Look Back in Wonder

by Talitha Arnold

“For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.” – Psalm 71:1-6

A few years ago, I did a solo hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, spent two nights at Phantom Ranch, and then trekked back to the top. It was the fourth time I’ve done the hike, the first being when I was in college, the last ten years before. Not surprisingly it took me a bit longer to get back up this time.

Hiking the Grand Canyon is hiking a mountain in reverse. The hard part comes when you’re already tired and the rim is a mile from the bottom as the crow flies, except you’re not a crow and the trail up is nine miles long.

I have to admit that there were a couple times on the way up that I thought to myself, “This is truly the dumbest thing you have ever done.” Of course I think that at mid-point in every major hike. But as before, the journey was worth it. When you hike the Grand Canyon, you’re walking through literally billions of years of time and almost every eco-system on the planet, down to the center of the earth and back.

When I made it up to the top, I sat on the rim for a long time. I wanted to give my calves a rest and also simply look back down on the trail I’d just hiked. I was filled with a sense of wonder at both the Canyon’s deep beauty and the fact I’d made it down and up once again, proving once again that God loves fools.

“For you, O Lord, are my hope,” writes today’s Psalmist. She or he looks back on their life and knows that God has been “my trust, O Lord, from my youth.”

With the wisdom of the Psalmist, the old Gospel song proclaims, “My soul looks back in wonder at how I got over.” It’s a good thing do every once in a while along the way, whether you’re sitting on the rim of the Grand Canyon or in your living room. Look back in wonder at your journey and the One who’s been with you every step of the way.

Prayer

Thank you, God, for walking with us and for the wonder of it all.

Amos’ Bread: The Journey of Lent

by Amos Smith

In Thomas Keating’s book, Intimacy with God, he relays this story:  A brilliant French geneticist mixed the genes of two butterflies to create a new strand with more spectacular design and color than anyone had ever seen.

After much anticipation, the genetically engineered butterfly emerged from the cocoon. The lab technicians clapped and marveled. The press was notified and soon reporters and photographers loped into the lab. All eyes were on the butterfly as it skirmished with the cocoon. Soon the butterfly’s skirmish became an all-out spasmodic struggle for freedom. The butterfly gathered its energy then frantically fluttered and convulsed. Then it rested and tried again, losing energy each time.

After thirty-five minutes of this reporters became impatient, and two left the lab.

The drawn out struggle seemed futile. Something had to be done. “Surely just a little help to free the butterfly from the cocoon won’t do any harm” the geneticist thought. So, with his carefully poised scalpel he made two small incisions between the wings and the cocoon.

The butterfly was finally free.

Everyone cheered.

After two minutes the room hushed.

The butterfly attempted to fly to no avail.

The geneticist tried to assist its flight. He gently nudged it off the edge of a short table. It flopped to the ground.

Nothing.

People began to realize that the butterfly wasn’t going to fly. It was a dud. It didn’t accomplish what it was made for: flight.

The butterfly failed to fly because its struggle was cut short. Only a full six hours of death-defying struggle can prepare the newly formed body and wings for flight. Anything less won’t do.

I believe that through struggle and suffering God prepares us for transformation. This is what the journey of Lent is all about.

Spiritual, Religious, or Adventure?

by Teresa Blythe

Originally published on November 25, 2015 on Patheos
Re-printed with permission from the author

When a pilgrim begins the 800 kilometer trek along the legendary Camino de Santiago, they are asked to announce the purpose of their walk. Their choices are spiritual, religious or adventure. Which is a beautiful question to ask in spiritual direction since we are all on this pilgrimage called life.

What is the nature of your life’s path? Spiritual, religious or adventure?

I began sitting with that question after reading Sonia Choquette’s new memoir Walking Home about the healing she experienced walking the Camino de Santiago last year. Choquette is a well-known spiritual intuitive and teacher and author of many books on tapping into your intuition. She hit a low point in her life. Her marriage was falling apart; her brother died; and shortly after that her father died, too. The voice of one of her spirit guides clearly told her to walk the Camino (even though she barely had a clue what that involved.) Still, she heeded the voice, packed her bags and set out to walk the entire distance across northern Spain.

She named the purpose of her pilgrimage spiritual (P.61). Which is what I would call my own “camino” (Spanish for walk) in life. (Note: I haven’t walked the Camino de Santiago but the idea of doing it is growing on me!)

Spiritual Pilgrimage

The spiritual pilgrimage is about healing. One walks to be free of burdens, to forgive others and themselves, and to allow the silence and discipline of walking toward a goal to heal life’s hurts and draw you closer to the source of life.

People who see their life path as spiritual are seeking connection with a power greater than themselves. This spiritual seeking may involve a religious tradition, or it may not.

Religious Pilgrimage

For centuries, religious people have been walking pilgrimages in devotion to God. Some see the difficult walk as penance. Others do it because they believe it is what God is asking of them and they wish to be obedient. Muslims are instructed to travel to Mecca in pilgrimage at least once in their life provided they are healthy enough and can afford the trip.

People who see their life path as religious are seeking to show allegiance and devotion to God through adherence to a particular religious doctrine and participation in a particular set of religious practices. These practices are intensely spiritual but they grow out of a religious tradition.

The Adventure

Many people travel the Camino de Santiago for fun, companionship and excitement. Choquette shares stories of people running along the Camino, groups hauling a wagon full of gourmet food, people riding bikes or horses along the way. For most every pilgrim, the Camino is an adventure at times—you cross the Pyrenees, stop in villages along the way and meet people from all over the world. But people who choose to experience the Camino as an adventure are usually not placing an expectation that the walk will be offering them any spiritual or religious insights.

People who see their life path as adventure may also be simply not placing expectations on their path. I’ve worked with many people in spiritual direction who are content to see what life has to offer rather than hoping for miracles, healing or other spiritual experiences.

No Judgment

There is an attitude among pilgrims that everyone walks their own Camino. It doesn’t matter what your intention is—spiritual, religious or adventure. It will be whatever it needs to be. You may start out for spiritual purposes and end up having an adventure. Or spiritual folks may find themselves more appreciative of religion as they walk the steps that thousands of pilgrims over thousands of years have walked. Adventure seekers may be gifted with a spiritual insight. As the man who fitted Choquette for hiking boots emphasized, “It’s your camino.” (P.43)

Do it All

Ideally, our life’s journey is a combination of purposes. At some times in our life it may be religious, at other times spiritual and at others an adventure. Or maybe it’s all three at once. After reading Walking Home, I am using the lens of Choquette’s experience to see the whole of my life as a camino. Perhaps not as dramatic as an 800 kilometer walk across Spain, but satisfying in its own way.

Spiritual, religious or adventure? It’s worth pondering along the way.

(For more on the Camino, I highly recommend Sonia Choquette’s Walking Home. Shirley MacLaine also wrote The Camino about her experience; Paulo Coelho wroteThe Pilgrimage; and  Martin Sheen created the film The Way. Others have written of their experiences in blogs and books as well. Enjoy!)

If you are interested in learning more about spiritual direction or entering spiritual direction with me, please contact me at teresa@teresablythe.net  or visit teresablythe.net.  Also visit my website for the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.

Photo credit: amateur photography by michel / Foter.com / CC BY