Welcome!

If you are here to explore working with a Spiritual Director, you may well be in the right place. Explore the site -- go to the GETTING STARTED (FAQ) page where many of your questions may already be answered; read the blog and listen to how you feel; follow some of the links to learn more; find out a little something about my background. If you'd like to contact me -- either to set up an appointment or ask a questions, there's a contact form on the right side of each page that you can use to MAKE A CONNECTION.

Most simply, though, the spirit of my practice can be summed up in these words (adapted from Robert Mabry Doss): For those who come here seeking God ... may God go with you. For those who come embracing life ... may life return your affection. And for those who come to seek a path ... may a way be found, and the courage to take it step by step.

Friday, April 6, 2018

I'm so excited to announce ...

The book I've been working on as editor is now out in print!  Here's how the publisher, Skinner House Books, is telling about it:




“In all his work as a parish minister and as an author, Erik Walker Wikstrom has been primarily concerned with deepening spiritual lives in today’s world. Now in Faithful Practices; Everyday Ways to Feed Your Spirit he has assembled a collection of essays about different ways that people take time for their souls. You'll be entertained, and you will be guided to find the holy in the ordinary and in the extraordinary.”
—Rev. Hank Peirce, Unitarian Universalist Church of Reading, Massachusetts

An eclectic mix of contributors share their reflections about spiritual practices in their everyday lives. Each of them describes their practice and the ways it opens them up to their hearts and souls. From chopping vegetables to creatively arranging action figures, from taking long walks to playing roller derby, these practices demonstrate the wide range of ways that we can be spiritual, and provide models for those seeking a practice of their own.


Erik Walker Wikstrom is the Lead Minister at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of several books and curricula, including Serving With Grace: Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice and Simply Pray: A Modern Spiritual Practice to Deepen Your Life.



In future posts I'll write more about what's in this book, what makes it so unique in the field of spiritual practice, and the earlier Skinner House book, edited by Scott Alexander, Everyday Spiritual Practice: simple pathways for enriching your life.


Pax tecum,

RevWik


Friday, March 16, 2018

Types of Prayer

As noted in the last post, the prayer bead practice I describe in my book Simply Pray: a modern spiritual practice to deepen your life uses what I call the two "styles" of prayer -- rote and improvisatory.  Today I want to say a little something about the four "types" prayer incorporated in this practice.

When you look at prayer practices from a distance, looking at them across traditions and without attaching any particular theological limitations to your exploration, you'll notice certain types of prayer are present just about anywhere the concept of payer, itself, is present.  The wonderful Anne Lammott suggests in her book Thanks, Help, Wow: the three essential prayers, that there are, well, three essential prayers.  Those prayers can be summed up in those three words:  thanks, help, and wow.  I think that she's missed one, so my practice leads you through four.

First, there are prayers of gratitude.  While there are "technical" differences, I think that you can take prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of praise, and consider them both to be prayers of gratitude.  And it makes sense to me that any practice of prayer should start with a recognition, a conscious awareness of and attention to, the beauty, the miracles, around us.   One of E. E. Cummings' most well known poems begins:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day; for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
Many people start their day reciting this poem, or at least this stanza.  "i thank You God for most this amazing day."  The 14th century German philosopher, theologian, preacher, priest, and mystic Meister Eckhart famously said, "If you pray only one prayer in your life, and it is 'thank you,' it will be sufficient."  In the prayer bead practice I describe I call these prayers of Naming.  In and through them we name the things in our lives for which we are grateful.

Next there comes what I refer to as prayers of Knowing.  These are perhaps more traditionally known as prayers of confession, although that term carries a great deal of baggage and is something I'll explore in a later post.  As is so often the case, I think that the 12 Step programs once again give us very helpful language to understand traditional religious concepts in more accessible ways.  In the 4th Step we make, "a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves," and in the 5th Step we, "[Admit] to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."

In the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous explains the 4th Steps through the analogy of a business which, in order to stay successful must routinely take an inventory of its stock, getting rid of things that have, for instance, passed their expiration date, become moldy, etc.  It's also important to get a clear idea of just what usable items you have on your shelves, so that you don't run out of them when you need them most.  For our inner lives, too, it's important to regularly take stock, to look at what's no longer serving us, what's getting in the way of our growth, and what may actually be causing us harm, as well as to see what good things we might want to "order" more of.

The purpose of the 5th Step is described as being vitally important because it seems to be human nature to try to hide those parts of ourselves that we consider "broken" or "bad."  We can so easily become trapped in feelings of shame and worthlessness.  If we don't honestly acknowledge our whole selves -- our "bad" as well as our "good" -- we can never actually be whole.  So it's important to admit to ourselves where we are less than we want to be.  Yet if that's all we do, we still might live with that all too common sense that, "if they really knew me no one would like me."  Admitting to "another human being," then, is a way of demonstrating to ourselves -- actually experiencing -- that who we are is okay.  When we share the "shocking" with someone who doesn't immediately shun us, we step out from beneath the weight of shame and begin to experience the kind of freedom the spiritual life is all about.

In case it's not clear, this prayer of Knowing has nothing to do with groveling or adding to our feelings of shame and worthlessness.  Rather, it's about knowing who we are -- all of who we are -- and recognizing that in this moment we are what we are ... a mixture of positives and negatives, weaknesses and strengths, things we're proud of and things we'd like to change.  Having grounded ourselves by naming all that is good in our lives, we have the context to fearless face the knowing of all that is not.

Next comes what I call prayers of Listening.  Every religious tradition we humans have ever created has had practices designed to help us quiet our inner monologues, let go of the cacophony which often surrounds us, and tune into what the Hebrew Scriptures call, "the still, small voice" of God. (The New International Version translates this as "gentle whisper," and a friend's direct translation is, "a voice of quiet stillness.")  Whether you call this meditation or contemplation, whether you think of it as listening for "the voice of God" or getting in tune with your own "inner wisdom," there is not a religious/spiritual tradition that does not advocate for developing a practice of silence and stillness.  And, so, after naming the ways life's beauty and goodness are manifested in our lives, and then fearlessly facing and knowing ourselves in our fullness, we are then prepared for some deep listening

Coming out of this listening, we are then able to really engage in the prayer practices which some traditions call petition or supplication.  There are what I'll call "technical" differences between these two types of prayer, yet it seems to me that they boil down to prayers aimed at caring for others (and ourselves).  This could be asking "God" to help someone who's sick or going through a hard time, sending these people (or ourselves) "good vibes," or simply lifting them up for us to consciously and intentionally become aware of.  In short, I think of these as Loving prayers, the last of the four types of prayer that are incorporated in the prayer bead practice I developed and encouraged. 

On Monday I'll say a bit more about the practice and how it works.

Pax tecum,

RevWik

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Styles of Prayer

In my book Simply Pray: a modern spiritual practice to deepen your life I suggest that there are essentially two styles of prayer:  rote and improvisatory.  Many people who describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious," and even some who would call themselves more traditionally religious, prefer the later to the former.

Rote prayers are those which have been set down through the ages and which we are expected to repeat, "as is."  The Catholic practice of saying the Rosary is a good example.  As described in the Wikipedia article about the practice:
The prayers that comprise the Rosary are arranged in sets of ten Hail Marys, called decades.  Each decade is preceded by one Lord's Prayer and followed by one Glory Be.  During recitation of each set, thought is given to one of the Mysteries of the Rosary, which recall events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.  Five decades are recited per rosary.  Other prayers are sometimes added before or after each decade.  Roasary beads are an aid toward saying these prayers in the proper sequence.
You are not encouraged to do it your own way.  The practice is the practice, as it "is, and was, and always will be."  To many modern minds this feels both forced and forced.  It doesn't treat me as an individual; no matter what my life's situation, no matter how I might feel in the moment, I'm still expected to say the same prayers I said yesterday and will say again tomorrow.  To modern ears, the word rote conveys the notion of "mechanical" and "unthinking."  Something that someone does "by rote" has no real meaning.  It's just something that we do.

Improvisatory prayers, in contrast, are entirely about how things are for me in the moment.  They could also be called "spontaneous prayers," because they come out of my current experience.  If I'm feeling joyful, I might express that joy with words of gratitude; if I'm feeling sorrow I might give voice to my grief.  Improvisatory prayers allow me to truly express myself.  They allow me the freedom to be who and how I am in that moment.

As with so many things in life -- and, perhaps, particularly in things related to spirituality -- there is a both/and quality to this seeming dichotomy.  Each approach has something to recommend it; each presents hurdles to a full spiritual life.

The rote prayers may, indeed, force us into a mold, yet they also connect us to a tradition that is hundreds of years old.  They may seem to squash our individuality, yet the spiritual life is not just about the individual.  If it's healthy and real, the spiritual life is also about community.  (Some might say more so.)  Rote prayers remind us of community -- generations of people before me have said these exact same prayers, and in the moment I say them, thousands of people around the world are saying them, too.  There's another gift in rote prayer which is easily overlooked.  The origin of the word "rote" is in the Old English, where it meant simply, "habit."  Whether or not a rote prayer is purely an unthinking, mechanical act is, ultimately a choice.  You can choose to really engage in, for instance, the Rosary deeply, and those who do report something remarkable -- although you say the same words in the same order, the experience changes.  Sometimes you find yourself focusing on certain words which seem to speak directly to what you're experiencing in that moment.  Another day other words might hold your attention, words you may have not even really noticed before and yet which today are just the words you need to hear.  By doing the same thing over and over again it can become such a habit that you no longer have to think about the doing of it, which can increase your ability to really experience it more fully.

Improvisatory prayers, on the other hand, certainly give you free reign to express yourself, yet that freedom can also be a trap.  In today's society, which makes an idol of the individual, it can be hard to remember that it really isn't "all about me."  I can so easily get caught up in my story, my reality, that I can lose sight of the undeniable fact of my place in the universe (which.is, in case you've forgotten in the moment, definitely not in the center).  And yet, while there may indeed be prayers which speak to my current situation in a traditional "book of common prayer" -- such as the prayer book of the Unitarian Universalist Christian congregation of King's Chapel in Boston -- it is likely as not that there won't be anything that is "quite right."  Sometimes you have to be free to say what's on your mind and in your heart.

In the 1997 Robert Duval film The Apostle, there's a scene in which Duval's character, a fiery Pentecostal preacher, is pacing back and forth in his room saying, "I love you God.  I'm mad at you, but I love you."  Well, maybe he's shouting more than simply "saying," but in that moment Sonny needed to give voice to his tremendous anger at God.  No prayer written down in some other time would do.  And if prayer is, as the Greek Orthodox priest Anthony Bloom asserts in his book Beginning to Pray and Living Prayer, about deepening our relationship with the sacred and holy (whether we think of that literally or metaphorically), then we do need to be able to express ourselves in our own words, just as we would when we're in conversation with any friend.

The prayer bead practice I developed, and describe in Simply Pray, includes both these styles of prayer -- there are elements which you are encouraged to do by rote, and those which encourage you to pray spontaneously.  It seems to me that both are needed for a full, whole, rich, and deep spiritual life, just as you need both protein and carbohydrates in your diet.

Pax tecum,

RevWik

Monday, March 12, 2018

On Prayer

One of the words that often trips up the "spiritual but not religious" is:  prayer.  As with "God," many of us have grown up with very specific ideas of what "prayer" is, ideas taught to us in church -- either a specific faith community or the "secular church" of mainstream, popular media.  We've often been told that prayer is all about reaching out to "God" to ask for things (for ourselves or others), to express gratitude, or simply to give voice to our awe.  The wonderful author Anne Lamott summed up these modes of prayer in her book, Help, Thanks, Wow: the three essential prayers.

I've already written at some length about the problematic images many people have of "God," and how, when they reach a point of deciding that they can't believe in those images anymore, they close their eyes, minds, and hearts to any idea of "God" at all.  The same is often true with "prayer" as well.  Over the years I've talked with a great many people who've told me, essentially, "I was taught what prayer is.  What I was taught no longer makes sense to me.  Therefore, prayer no longer makes sense to me, and I don't 'believe' in it."

Yet even when a person discovers a new way of understanding what the word "God" might point to, the (let's call it) indoctrination on the subject of prayer is often extremely deeply rooted.  We don't know what to do with talk about prayer if the "God" we've come to understand is not that "God."

The 19th century historian, philosopher, and author Ernest Ranan offered one way of making a transition to a new understanding with what's come to be known as The Prayer of the Agnostic:  
O God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul
Others have suggested that we could see prayer not so much as talking to someone else, and more as talking to ourselves.  We could think of it as making us more conscious about, for instance, the needs of of another person, or our gratitude for the gifts we've been given.  Prayer is, then, not a means for making sure that some external "God" knows something.  This understanding of prayer is about making sure that we know it.

You could also think of payer as an exercise of our creative, spiritual imagination.  Those of us with pets talk to them all the time, yet we know that they can't really understand what we're saying.  Yet we essentially "pretend" that they can.  (Those of us with adolescent children often pretend that they are listening, too!)  We can think of prayer this way as well -- we can personify that "Sacred Something" and talk as if "it" can understand us.

This is not as ridiculous as it might seem.  Dreams aren't "real," as we usually define reality, yet often we can find in our dreams' imagery important insights that do effect our "real" lives.  And using the pet metaphor, many people can tel stories of how talking to their pet has helped them to work through a difficult decision or discover something they hadn't known.

In 2005 Skinner House Books published Simply Pray:  a modern spiritual practice to deepen your life.  In the next several posts I'll summarize some of what I cover in that book about the nature of prayer, and a practice which many have told me has been very powerful, whatever their beliefs might be.

Paxt tecum,

RevWik


Friday, March 9, 2018

What feeds your spirit?

For the past couple of weeks these posts have included music videos that I, at least, find deeply spiritually filling.  (I hope you have as well.)  While in many ways quite different from one another, there are four things which all five videos have in common that I think make them "spiritual."
First -- and these really aren't in any specific hierarchical order of importance -- they are all highly visual.  Whether the lush imagery on John Boswell's Symphony of Science videos, the often breathtaking scenery in Matt Harding's Where The Hell Is Matt?, or the sight of musicians from a wide variety of human cultures all working together to create something beautiful, all of these videos offer us images.  Imagery can touch us in very deep ways.  It's no wonder that all of the great religions we humans have ever developed make use of imagery -- whether Greek Orthodox Christian's icons or Tibetan Buddhism's ephemeral sand paintings
Next, these videos also are not just visual, they are also musical.  Music, too, can take us to really deep places.  It has been said that, "Music is what feelings sound like out loud."  (The quote is attributed to a number of people.)  Saint Francis of Assisi is remembered as telling his companions, "Preach always.  When necessary, use words."  Music is a way of "preaching" spiritual truths in a way which bypasses our more literal, linear thinking.
Of course, words aren't all bad, and all but Matt Harding's video include words.  John Boswell's Symphony of Science videos use words to convey meaning more heavily than does Playing For Change's "Stand By Me," yet the song's lyrics certainly support the message (implicit in the images) that we are one human family and need to stand by one another.  I think I could make a case that even in Matt Harding's dace video, the decision to include the place name of each scene constitutes a use of words to convey meaning. 
Finally -- again, not because it's least or most important -- there is the fact that when watching and listening to the videos we are having an experience, yet an experience we from which we have a little distance.  We do not have to be invested in the work of creation/production.  We do not have to be hampered by any kind of "performance anxiety."  Nothing is demanded of us but that we engage with these works and allow them to "enter" our hearts and our minds.
These four things are not the only things that define a source of spiritual inspiration and nurture, yet one of more is very often involved.

To round out this series of posts I offer these questions for your consideration:

  • Where do you find inspiration and nurture for your spirit?
  • What qualities do the sources share with one another?  What do the share with the four qualities I've writes about here?
  • In what ways do the things that speak to your spirit differ from these videos and/or from each other?


Pax tecum,

RevWik


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Co-Creators

In some of the more progressive stands of Christianity, it is said that God did not create "the heavens and the earth," but that the universe is in the on-going process of creation, and that we humans are its co-creators.  That is, we are partners in the sacred and holy work of creation.  This idea is not entirely new --  the Catholic theologian Meister Eckhardt said as much during his lifetime (which spanned the 13th and 14th centuries).  You can also find the concept expressed in the writings of countless mystics through the millennia.

Today this idea is often termed, "Creation Spirituality."  The website Creation Spirituality Communities defines creation spirituality as a, "way of living within the community of earth that deepens our reverence for life, participates in the creativity of the cosmos, and develops our passion for justice and human transformation."

Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people receive daily a brief meditation that come from the writings of the Franciscan priest Fr. Richard Rohr.  If you look through the archives of these reflections, you will see that this approach to spirituality runs through his writing and, he would say, throughout Franciscan spirituality generally.  (At the website where these archives are you can also sign up to receive the meditations in your inbox daily!) 

I would also make the case that the videos I've been posting recently also share in this spiritual understanding.  (Although I don't believe all of their creators would put it that way!)  Today's offering focuses more directly offers an experience of what "co-creation" can look like, and while it may not seem obvious that the people in this video are co-creating the universe, I encourage you to let that thought dance with the experience of watching and listening to this video.

This rendition, performed by a band of musicians that literally spans the globe, was the first effort by what has become the Playing For Change Foundation.  Here is the description from their website about how it all started:  
Playing for Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music.  The idea for this project came from a common belief that music has the power to break down the boundaries and overcome the distances between people. 
Playing for Change was born in 2002 as a shared vision between co-founders, Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke, to hit the streets of America with a mobile recording studio and cameras in search of inspiration and the heartbeat of the people.  This musical journey resulted in the award-winning documentary, "A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians."
In 2005, Mark Johnson was walking in Santa Monica, California, when he heard the voice of Roger Ridley singing "Stand by me."  Roger had so much soul and convicion in his voice, and Mark approached him about performing "Stand By Me" as a Song Around the World.  Roger agreed, and when mark returned with recording equipemtn and cameras he asked Roger, "With a voice like yours, why are you singing on the streets?"  Roger replied, "Man, I'm in the Joy business, I come out to be with the people.  "Ever since that day the playing for Change crew has traveled the world recording and filming musicians, creating Songs Around the World, and building a global family.
19 people or groups participated in this performance of "Stand By Me."  The YouTube video has had over 100 million views.  Besides being a technological marvel -- how did they get all of those musicians, in all of those different places, to sync up so perfectly with one another? -- it is also a marvelous demonstration of our human ability to co-create.

  • How did you feel while watching the video?
  • How did you feel afterward?  (And if there were any differences, why?)
  • What message do you get out of it?
  • How might the experience of watching and listening to this song impact or influence your spiritual life?




Pax tecum,

RevWik


Monday, March 5, 2018

Dancing With The World

Last week I posted three videos from the Symphony of Science series.  Symphony of Science is an expression of the creativity of musician, remix artist, and video maker John D. Boswell.  In these videos Boswell takes clips of scientists from lectures and documentaries, mixes them together, sets them to original music, and auto-tunes the scientists's voices so that their words become songs.  I suggested that they could be engaged with as meditations on, as one of them is titled, "Our Place in the Universe."

Today I want to introduce you to another video.  It's called, "Where The Hell Is Matt?" and is the work of a man named Matt Harding.  Harding has now made several of these videos, each one pretty much the same in format -- he travels the world, filming himself dancing the same "goofy" dance, most often dancing with people from where ever he is.  In this video he filmed in 42 countries, dancing with thousands of people along the way.

He describes this venture like this:  "I dance with people all over the world.  I make videos of it and I put them on YouTube to show that the world is a whole lot safer and friendlier than it looks on TV."

The signature on my emails is a phrase that came to me several years ago as a way to sum up the theology of the Unitarian Universalist tradition which I serve.  I think it also expresses the message in these dancing videos:

"We are one human family, on one fragile planet, in one miraculous universe, bound by love."

As with last week's videos, I encourage you to watch this one and, while watching Matt dance, watch what you're feeling:

  • How did you feel while you watched?
  • How did you feel after having watched it?  (Did you feel at all different?)
  • Did particular scenes stand out for you?  (Which ones, and why do you think they did?)
  • What "message" did you get through the video?
  • What else might you wonder about how this video speaks to your spiritual life?




Pax tecum,

RevWik