In Suzanne Simard’s book, Finding the Mother Tree, she writes, “There is no moment too small in this world”. This is her creed - she is writing about appreciating and embracing all aspects of nature. Children have a natural way of wondering about and connecting in the natural world. The cultural historian, scholar of world religions, and self-described geologian Thomas Berry, stated that depriving children of time in nature denies them their “inner intuitive identities”. For Berry, what is learned in nature is a kind of knowledge that is the bedrock for making meaning of our lives and appreciating beauty.
Recently, at one of our yearly siblings (and partners and children) camping trips, I took my young nieces and nephews on a forest bathing experience and invited them to ask a tree if we could approach it, touch it, and be with it. I asked them to pay attention to how the tree responds to their inquiry. After a few quiet moments passed (this was a miracle), they each said that the tree is ok with them approaching and touching it. What intuition! Without hesitating, my five-year old niece gave the tree the biggest hug (I had never seen her hug a human in the same way), while my eight-year old nephew proceeded to climb its branches. The others explored around the tree’s base collecting curiously placed bones.
A sense for Mystery begins in nature. By noticing the changes that occur outside in a day, in a season, by watching birds, interacting with insects, and engaging with trees, we build our capacity for relationships with the human and more than human world. When we build relationships in nature, we co-create spaces for belonging. With our understanding that we all belong to each other, we become compelled to look out for each other, we learn to right any wrongs that we commit, and we work to make things better. Thomas Berry remarked, “As [children] grow to understand their belonging within this larger context, their natural longing to create a better world will increase and they can learn new ways of functioning and creating within a sustainable life context.”
What are ways we can invite children to have direct experiences in nature? It begins with modeling – spending time immersed in the natural environment, prioritizing – making the decision to designate time in nature as more important than other activities, and embedding nature in daily life – building reciprocity and solidarity with nature within and outside the home.
After the experience my nieces and nephews and I had in the forest, I asked my five-year-old-tree-hugging niece a question because I had noticed how familiar she seemed with the trees: Do you prefer hugging trees rather than people? Oh yes, she said, I prefer hugging trees for sure.
~ Jeanette Banashak
This year Spiritual Directors International hosted another wonderful conference (first year hybrid!) with the theme of Engage. One of the workshops I really appreciated was Cindy Lee’s "Decolonizing the Spiritual Direction Space" where Dr. Lee explored hospitality and the power dynamic within a spiritual guidance relationship with BIPOC and facilitated practices she calls movements of spaciousness for BIPOC seekers.
Dr. Lee referenced Margaret Gunther’s text Holy Listening and Gunther’s theme of hospitality on the part of the spiritual director. Yet, Lee turned the question around and asked what if it’s the seeker who is the hospitable one, generously opening up to spiritual directors with their stories? With this posture, and especially as we meet with seekers with different identities than our own, we consider ways to be responsible with our power. We actively seek understanding about the impact of our roles, education, race, gender, ethnicity, class, ability, sexual orientation/affection, etc. This stance invites us to receive whatever stories are shared and be open to being changed by the stories.
Dr. Lee discussed ways to facilitate spaciousness in order for our companions to “access their sacredness”:
I am left with questions like where do I need to slow down in my life? What inner work am I in need of doing so I can continue to do what is mine to do? I am grateful for SDI’s vision for the conference and speakers including Cindy Lee and Yavilah McCoy, among so many others, who have opened up new pathways for deepened connection with self, seekers, the natural world, and the Divine.
One of the ways in which the SGTI engages with others who practice different religious, spiritual and ethical traditions is by participating in ‘day pilgrimages’, which are experiences in sacred spaces. Recently, one of our co-founders attended an event that The Chicago Theological Seminary, in collaboration with the Lutheran School of Theology Chicago, Parliament of World’s Religions, American Islamic College, and Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council hosted: A trolley tour through Chicago in acknowledgment and celebration of the convergence of so many sacred holidays during the month of April.
The trolley tour stopped at five different sites and the experience culminated with iftar, the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during the month of Ramadan.
The title of this post is credited to a statement that one of Chicago Theological Seminary’s staff used in an introduction to the event. Indeed, the entire day felt like a “wondering process of spiritual inquiry” as we made our way through Chicago’s diverse southside neighborhoods. The first stop was Rockefeller Chapel, a Gothic Revival Chapel on Chicago Theological Seminary’s campus. We heard from three speakers: a Sikh who described Vaisakhi, the collective unification of the Sikh community; a Hindu who discussed Ram Navami, which celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of the deity Vishnu; and a Jain, who discussed the celebration of Vardhaman Mahavir, the birth of the last enlightened one.
On our second stop we visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, a former Jewish synagogue and the birthplace of gospel music. At the church, we heard from the leadership about the Christian holiday, Easter which celebrates the cycle of life, death, and resurrection.
On our third stop we visited KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Chicago. There, we learned about the Jewish holiday, Passover, where Jews look to the past to remember the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt and expectantly look to the future.
On our fourth stop we visited Claret Center, an organization that incorporates psychotherapy, spiritual direction, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, and workshops. We also had a conversation with two scholars and practitioners who identify as multiply religious: an ordained Buddhist and ordained Christian who identifies as Christo-Buddhist and an ordained Buddhist priest and Zen monk.
Our fifth stop before returning to the seminary for iftar was a mosque, the Taqwa Center for Community Excellence Rehab Project associated with the African-American Muslim leader, theologian, philosopher, Muslim revivalist, and Islamic thinker, Warith Deen Mohammed. We learned about Muslim culture and the celebration of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset.
On our final stop, we learned more about Ramadan and participated in a prayer before iftar. We considered how fasting is both a metaphor for emptiness for God to inhabit, as well as a mechanism for calling us to live in an “altered and restored state where we are more connected to people”.
The overall experience was very positive and served to facilitate new questions about the traditions, people and practices; considerations of interior movements, such as thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions; physical/body sensations that were felt during the event; and growth in appreciative knowledge for the dedicated and devoted seekers of the religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions. Experiences like the trolley tour and iftar remind us that building relationships across traditions enhances respect and understanding, promotes continued learning, improves our attitudes towards differences, highlights our commonalities, and diminishes fear.
We extend our gratitude to Chicago Theological Seminary and additional collaborators and sponsors for hosting such a meaningful event.
~ Jeanette Banashak
The foundation of SGTI's sacred listening protocol we use with students, mentees, and colleagues is called Pure Presence. This interfaith and interspiritual approach to formal presence training is the most comprehensive way we know to both deepen and advance spiritual understanding and care in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and religious communities.
One of the key questions we ask ourselves as a result of Pure Presence awareness and practices is this: 'Who are we to one another?' Today, we share an excerpt from the Pure Presence Workbook and Journal which offers an answer to this pivotal question.
We can keep in mind as we intersect with others that we are spiritual beings. We are also very human. We are “divine-humans”, and, because we are, every person is unique and of value. Every person is a unique expression of the Divine (and this includes you). Each person has a sacred tale to tell and to engage with them in all their uniqueness is a gift.
We love supporting and contributing to the great work of Spiritual Directors International (SDI) and wanted to share briefly how in this month SGTI is present in SDI videos and publications. Jan Lundy is a member of its Coordinating Council and was highlighted in a video entitled An Invitation from the SDI Coordinating Council: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4DeEt5gzHQ
Jeanette Banashak wrote a piece entitled In Praise of Slow and it can be found in the February edition of Connections. (You need to be a member to access.) https://www.sdicompanions.org/content-restricted/?r=151626&wcm_redirect_to=page&wcm_redirect_id=151626
And we are proud to announce that one of our alumna, Allyssa Jomei, has been selected to be a part of the 2022 New Contemplatives community with SDI: https://www.sdicompanions.org/sdi-events/conferences/conference-2022/new-contemplatives/?mc_cid=81761ca414&mc_eid=40c3119a6a
What does it mean to offer “pure presence” to someone? According to James E. Miller, author of The Art of Being a Healing Presence, presence is "the condition of being consciously and compassionately in the present moment with another or with others, believing in and affirming their potential for wholeness, wherever they are in life."
I cite Miller’s definition here because, in my view, it perfectly aligns with our understanding and practice of presence in the purest sense. His definition states that this type of presence is something we create within ourselves. It also makes very clear that whenever we intersect with anyone in this way we have the opportunity to affirm their essence—their divinity as well as their deep humanity. Our conversational efforts become the practice ground for viewing the individual in a wholesome way.
This can be our highest hope as well as the intention that guides us throughout this training: to have open-hearted conversations that can lead to enhanced relationships and positive outcomes with whomever we meet. It is presence without agenda. It is presence that welcomes each individual who steps across our threshold (mental or physical) with wholeheartedness and compassion. This is not any easy thing to do today given our ethnic, religious and political differences.
For our purposes here, we can think of presence as a calm, openhearted space of welcome and service. When we offer someone presence, we invite him or her into our circle of care for conversation and the sharing of life experiences. We hold presence and we offer presence for the benefit of the other. We are here to serve.
“Pure Presence”, as presented in the SGTI curriculum, is a unique protocol for sacred listening that can enhance and deepen one’s ability to offer presence to clients and seekers of any tradition. It is uniquely designed for caring professionals to be used in a myriad of settings, ministry formats and private practice. Pure Presence allows an individual to listen deeply; to offer the deepest empathy and spiritual care to whomever they are with.
©2017 Janice L. Lundy
Pure Presence: A Workbook and Journal
This post is in honor of one of SGTI's most luminous students, Bijayananda Singh, who departed this earth one month ago. Bijay was a graduate of our "Interfaith and Interspiritual Wisdom Training" program and was much loved by all who studied with him. He lived in India, a devoted son, husband and father. He will be dearly missed.
Bijay had a heart of service and enormous love for young people. He was Secretary/Executive Director of the NFP, "Solidarity for Developing Communities"
(www.sfdc-org.in/institutionalbased). He headed up a residential school for marginalized students, especially those considered to be "untouchable", instilling in them the skills and values to be "human harmonizers." "Human Harmonizers are expected to grow physically, mentally and spiritually in a balanced manner. As they grow holistically, they are expected to influence others by their thoughts and actions leading to ushering transformational changes within and outside their own communities."
Bijay's heart of compassion lives on through his colleagues at SGTI. He penned many beautiful poems as part of his SGTI learnings and submitted them for assignments. With his family's permission, we share one of them here. His words convey the essence of Interspirituality which he believed was necessary for world peace, and the commonly held value of compassion. We hope you will be moved by it as we were.
Bijay, your spirit of service, unconditional love and respect for others of all religious traditions, is something we can all aspire to. We are honored to have walked the earth with you. Thank you for being a way-shower for us. Peace be upon you. Shalom. Om Shanti, dear friend.
to be avatars as Buddha, Christ, Krishna, Moses, Muhammad, Nanak and the like
striving to find the way outs by the avatars for the sufferings of the humankind
avatars’ desire to pass their wisdom to their next generations
infinite manifestation of the Unmanifest
infinite names of the Nameless
infinite forms of the Formless
the attraction of man and woman
the potential on a seed to produce infinite seeds
a plant not germinating with ripen fruits with it
an untaught bird weaving nest for its kids
a baby fish able to swim instantly
a caterpillar taking time to become a butterfly
roots of trees on the sunshine and on the shed sharing food secretly
my mother’s ability to not eat after her children eat up everything
our school peon’s love that donated one of his kidney to his son
missionaries leaving their land for another country
trees breathing out oxygen
Mother Teresa’s desire to document her aridity of God’s love
father burping his baby putting on his shoulder
trees dropping their ripen fruits gently down on the ground
our country supported by other countries during this pandemic
Creator creating infinite emptiness to house infinite things
getting in touch with our own hearts and functioning from it
watching the tongue lest it slip a bad word
Nature’s food cycle
meeting of your eyes with the eyes of your dog
praying for know and unknown, asked or unasked
loving-kindness or kindness plus love
Dalai Lama’s pet name
mother’s milk ready when baby is on the way
the worms forming on the dead body for it to decompose
silence understood without speaking a word
death in God’s time
wondering what is not compassion?
Sun’s desire to evaporate water to form cloud in the sky
cloud’s desire not to hold the rain up in the sky
willing to write a book on the compassion
jasmine’s wish not to hide its fragrance inside
Earth’s ability to nurture its infinite plants, on its womb, with sweet, bitter and sower milks
being compassionate to the compassionless
cooperation of an iron to be modeled as a tool
patience of a reed flute to be holed to produce a melody
empathy, sympathy and mercy, all put together
heart’s ability to feel the feelings of ‘others’
intuiting, everyone and everything is One
not surplus of compassion, but deficiency of it
gratitude, sometimes, overflowing
innumerable births as Bodhisattva
common to all the faiths without which it is not a faith
Buddha Purnima 2021
Guest post. Words and image by SGTI alumnus Christine Hiester
“If your everyday practice is to open to all your emotions, to all the people you meet,
to all the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that–– then that will take you as far as you can go. And then you will understand all the teachings that anyone has ever taught.”
What if this practice of opening– this discomfort, this deep presence with exactly what is in each sacred moment (and they are all sacred) – is the only work?
What if understanding “all the teachings that anyone has ever taught” can be summed up in the everyday encounters with our inner responses to the mysteries, struggles, frustrations, and quiet joys experienced in the midst of this very human life?
What if trusting the moment-by-moment unfolding within us is the path that will also take us outward, to the edges of the cosmos, and the great insights of existence?
Or maybe these questions are too lofty. Maybe they remove us from our lives and place us in an ideal that is all too easy to ponder rather than live out. Maybe with feet on the ground, in the messy reality of life, we instead ask these questions:
Whom will we meet today?
What interruptions will derail our plans?
What conflicts will arise at work, or at home, that will push every button we have?
What physical pain will distract us as we go about the tasks of our day?
What if stubbing a toe, getting cut off on the highway, receiving a phone call with bad news, or being caught in a downpour which makes us late to an important meeting are each divine opportunities to open, open, open our hearts fully to the journey that will make us whole?
What would it feel like to resist the closing, and instead open to everything– everything! – with soft heart and deep breath?
How are you living into your holy “What ifs?” today? How can you invite others to do the same?
Christine Hiester is an interspiritual spiritual companion, retreat facilitator, artist, and musician. She finds her home in spacious places where contemplative and creative practice meet deep connection in community. You can find her on her website www.shapingtheriver.com and on Instagram at @shapingtheriver
As a follow up to our previous post, Jeanette Banashak has just had an article published by Spiritual Directors International for their blog. Her article guides you through a complete practice of inviting a tree to be your spiritual director: "Trees as Spiritual Directors/Companions."
This wisdom by Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr holds an interesting view of who or what could serve as a spiritual director/guide/companion to us. Inspirational pieces like this one are the kind of inspiration that SGTI sends out every week in our FREE "Universal Wisdom" offering. Have you subscribed yet?
Enjoy this sample and allow yourself a few minutes of gentle contemplation as you sit with the Reflection Questions.
"I must share with you a story about a particularly barren time in my life when I used a tree for a spiritual director. I learned so much that year because I listened in silence...
Because it was small I couldn't lean on it but could only sit beside it. That taught me a lot about what the role of spiritual guide should be. Even though it was small, it had the ability to give me a certain amount of shade. You don't have to have a lot of leaves to give shade.
Because it was silent I listened deeply. You don't need a lot of words to connect with God.
When it got thirsty I watered it. The miracle of water is a little like the miracle of God's love. That little sycamore taught me a lot about foot washing. Watering it was a great joy. A soul-friend relationship never works only one way. There is a mutual giving and receiving.
I learned from my tree that being transplanted is possible. I can always put down roots again, connect with the Great Root, and grow on."
-Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr, A Tree Full of Angels
1. How have trees been your companions?
2. Is there a particular tree that you have connected with? What was it about that tree that drew you to it?
3. You may want to take a walk with the intention of finding a tree to sit by and with and invite it to be your spiritual director. Or alternatively, perhaps the tree is inviting you to be its spiritual companion.
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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