Joy to the World

It’s that time of year when the word “JOY” appears everywhere: in songs, on signs and greeting cards, and in glittering holiday decorations. We all need a little joy!

I’ve become increasingly intrigued by the concept of joy. With violence near and far, natural disasters of all kinds, a vicious political climate, and distress surrounding us, it seems natural to wonder about the joy. How can we have lasting joy amidst suffering, sadness, and turmoil?

As perhaps an answer to a prayer, I stumbled across a book that has been a tremendous gift: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. Written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, two spiritual leaders whom I greatly admire, they share insight from their long lives and faith traditions. These men have experienced heartbreaking adversity, hardship, and suffering, yet they are two of the most joyful people on the face of the planet. They met for five days to share their wisdom, stories, and humor, and to answer the important life question: How do we find joy in the middle of life’s inevitable sorrows and suffering?

Their insights, captured by writer Douglas Abrams, reveal how to transform joy from a fleeting feeling into a lasting way of being. Don’t we all long for this? Joy is rooted in our spiritual DNA. We cannot let the cynicism pervading our culture engulf us.

Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama shed new light on joy and how it is different from happiness. Joy is much larger and deeper than happiness. Happiness is usually dependent upon external events, while joy reflects an inner quality—a shining contentment or a spiritual radiance born from a sense of deep well-being. You can be joyful while being unhappy. In fact, sometimes we need sorrow or sadness to find joy (see the Pixar movie, Inside Out!).

These two great wisdom figures identify and explain certain obstacles to joy. Ironically, these obstacles often provide the opportunity for growth, beauty, and joy in life:

  • Fear, stress, and anxiety
  • Frustration and anger
  • Sadness and grief
  • Despair
  • Loneliness
  • Envy
  • Suffering and adversity
  • Illness and fear of death

Now for the positive qualities that form the pillars of joy:

  • Perspective (there are many different angles)
  • Humility
  • Humor
  • Acceptance
  • Forgiveness
  • Gratitude
  • Compassion
  • Generosity

It is encouraging to note that these positive qualities can be cultivated and deepened throughout the course of our lives, leading to greater joy. The authors conclude with the insight: “Ultimately, joy is not something to learn, it is something to live. And our greatest joy is lived in deep, loving, and generous relationships with others.”

Given the authors’ ability to share the stories from their lives, inform us of the science of joy, and offer joy practices that we can use in our daily lives, it is a perfect resource to explore with others, especially in small groups or classes. I am grateful to have been immersed in this book while I help write curriculum for upcoming programs at Well for the Journey. It nourishes my spirit to read, reread, highlight, make notes in the margin, reflect, and learn how each of us can live more joyful lives. Meaningful change begins within each of us. Then, by the grace of God, it ripples out.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to live a more meaningful, joyful life. Purchase the print copy so you can access and revisit it easily (and underline and scribble in margins). Below are some favorite quotes from the book for those who are intrigued.

Although this is a joyous season, it is also a tender, sad time, especially for those missing loved ones or suffering in others ways. May the joy that is within you shine like a candle and light your darkness.

Love and blessings,


Dedicated to my mother, Dede Wilson, who passed away on this day four years ago. Her spirit and life revealed how to live with joy, even in the face of life’s hardships.


“Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.”

“Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet, as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartache without being broken.”

“The ultimate source of happiness is within us. Not money, not status. Some of my friends are billionaires, but they are very unhappy people. Power and money fail to bring inner peace. Outward attainment will not bring real inner joyfulness. We must look inside.

“Sadly, most of the things that undermine our joy and happiness we create ourselves. Often it comes from the negative tendencies of the mind, emotional reactivity, or from our inability to appreciate and utilize the resources that come from within us…We create most of our suffering, so it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy. It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives, and the reactions we bring to situations and to our relationships with other people.”

“The question is not: How do we escape it? The question is: How can we use this as something positive?”

“Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and be free from the past.“

“If you want a happy life and fewer problems, you have to develop a serious concern for the well-being of others…The more time you spend thinking about yourself, the more suffering you will experience. The incredible thing is that when we think of alleviating other people’s suffering, our own suffering is reduced. This is the true secret to happiness. So this is a very practical thing. In fact, it is commonsense.”

“Our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others.”

“Grateful people are joyful people. A grateful world is a happy world.”



Reclaiming Areas of Peace

To read or listen to the news is to be drawn into a battle. The challenge is how to live and love in such a polarized, emotional time.

How can we honor the perspectives of others, no matter how much we may disagree? How can we stand up for what we believe is right, while not dehumanizing, belittling, or shaming others? How can we maintain relationships in middle of forces that want to pull us apart?

I profoundly believe that it begins inside each of us. Peace originates from within. We need to find ways to tap into the deepest part of ourselves – that Source of peace and love (the God-part) – that exists within each of us, and then share it with others.

Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who lived and died in the horror of the Holocaust wrote:

“Ultimately we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. The more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”

While working in the hellish Westerbork transit camp, Etty’s spiritual awakening transformed herself and others. She was able, remarkably, to look at the pain and suffering around her, the injustice and horror, and also delight in the goodness of life. Wow.

So, how can we reclaim areas of peace, grow more and more peace, and reflect it outward towards others?

After many years of working in the spiritual wellness arena, here are some suggestions that I offer humbly:

  • Choose to respond not to react. Learning ways to pause and reflect and get in touch with the Divine within can help you to respond thoughtfully and more peacefully. For me, a short centering time in the morning (even five minutes), can make all the difference in how I live my day. Even taking a few deep breaths when faced with a stressful situation can help to diffuse a stressful situation. (See mindfulness below).
  • Turn off the constant news cycle. The media seduces us into believing that we need to know everything, in real time as it unfolds. Thanks to smart phones, social media, and the nonstop twenty-four hour news cycle, our culture is addicted to news. Checking in once or twice a day is enough.
  • Try to know yourself. Become more aware of what makes you tick and what patterns of behavior and preconceived notions create blind spots that prevent you from truly seeing or hearing others.
  • Try to know “the other.” Be curious rather than judgmental. Try to have conversations that go below the surface of opinion and rhetoric. Listen with the desire to understand, rather than to respond. Remember that the other person is often doing the best that he/she can.
  • Mindfulness. Mindfulness is both a practice and a way to approach daily life. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the field, defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” A friend recently shared her simple definition: “paying kind attention.” Mindfulness becomes a way of life that keeps you in the present moment so that you don’t become overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s happening around you.
  • Compassion. Last, but not least, compassion can transform our world. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. Remember that everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about (Shout out to my niece, Meg).

We have to change ourselves first before we can change the world. Let’s reclaim areas of peace and help them grow, bit by bit. Small things ripple out. We can each play our small but significant part.



Note: Etty died in Auschwitz.


Etty Hillesum. An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork. New York: Holt, 1996.Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go There You Are. New York: Hyperion, 1994.

Love Poems From God

Have you ever considered that God has love poems for you? What experiences could be messages of love from the Divine? How can you listen for whisperings from The One Who Loves You Into Existence (one of my favorite names for God)? The inner cynic is each of us would have us quickly dismiss these questions. Please don’t.

As children and adults across the country are preparing Valentines for their classmates and sending flowers and candy to loved ones, the holiday of love is a time to remember that Love is breaking through all the time…every day, every moment.

A few years ago,  I came across Daniel Ladinsky’s Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West. An assortment of writings from saints and mystics from eastern and western spiritual traditions, it includes “love poems” from writers such as St. Francis of Assisi, Rumi, St. Catherine of Siena, and Hafiz. It rattled my sensibilities (a good sign, by the way). In his introduction, Ladinsky writes, “Words about God should never bore because God is the opposite of boring.”

Since discovering this book, I’ve been increasingly intrigued with remembering God’s love as an essential dimension of Valentine’s Day. We can celebrate by taking a moment to be grateful for the deep, ever-present, creative love that is at work in ways that we can’t even imagine.

Here is a short love poem for you from Ladinsky’s book that will likely expand your image of the Divine.

“I won’t take no for an answer,”

God began to say

to me

when He opened His arms each night

wanting us to


~ St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

Wishing you all the best dancing.

Love, Mabeth

Source: Ladinsky, Daniel. Love Poems from God: Twelve Voices From the East and West. New York, NY: Penguin, 2002.

Salutation to the Dawn


This morning I awoke before the sun came up. I have much on my mind. Today is Caroline’s birthday. My youngest sister is 49 today. Thank you, God, for blessing me with such a wonderful sister.

There is much sadness in the air…and also so much beauty. Caroline’s husband has entered home hospice after a long, valiant battle with cancer. She, her husband, and their young boys are saying the long goodbye as he lives his last few months. Another friend’s husband will die within the next few hours, if he has not passed. Such bittersweet time filled with remarkable moments of beauty. Hanging over all of this is worldwide grief resulting from the horrific Orlando massacre, with so many young lives cut short. In the midst of it all we hear beautiful stories of the heroic compassion that emerged in the midst of the horror.

Help me, God, to stay in the present, holding the sadness and beauty gently. Help me live well in the present moment. Help me to love well. This is my prayer this day.

The morning sky was waking up. Gorgeous. I snapped a few photos of the vibrant pre-dawn sky just before the sun rose. Little did I know that it was going to accompany a gift from beyond. I welcomed the rising sun, forced to turn away as it got too bright.

After the sun was up for the day, I came inside and called my sister to wish her Happy Birthday. Afterwards I decided that I should send her dawn photo. While scrolling through my pictures on my phone, I discovered a photo of a poem that I captured off of a blackboard on a recent retreat in California. I re-read it again, and thought, Wow- this is good. What is the source? A quick Google online revealed its source. Ha! It is a Sanskrit poem called “Salutation to the Dawn.” What a God-moment!

Perhaps this poem is also a gift for you.

Salutation to the Dawn

Look to this day

for it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
the realities and truths of existence
the joy of growth
the splendor of action
the glory of power.

For yesterday is but a memory

and tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well-lived
makes every yesterday a memory of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.

Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

-ancient Sanskrit poem attributed to Kalidasa

With much love to you this day,


Death After Dinner?!

“And after dinner, our topic will be death.” Imagine you are on a weekend retreat/workshop and you hear these words. Those of us who found ourselves in this situation groaned and laughed nervously as we realized that our Saturday evening was going to be anything but typical. What happened to chocolate, wine, or even an after dinner mint?

I was recently in California for immersion training on “Conscious Aging,” a program designed to help us grow older in a positive way. The goal of this particular segment on death is to transform our fear of death so that we are able to live well and die well. A part of me dreaded what was ahead. It was NOT what I wanted to be doing on my Saturday night.

Hours later I found myself completely captivated while watching an award-winning documentary called “Death Makes Life Possible.” The film explores the mysteries of death and life from a variety of perspectives and world traditions, including agnostic and atheist. It features some of the world’s leading scientists, anthropologists, philosophers, spiritual teachers, and thinkers of our time. The imagery, stories, and insights were fascinating, including research about near death experiences, mediums that claim to communicate with the departed, and evidence suggesting the possibility of reincarnation from decades of research conducted by the University of Virginia. So intriguing!

One particular interview really resonated. Dr. Rudolph Tanzi is a Harvard neurologist who has done groundbreaking research with Alzheimer’s disease. He has impressive credentials and gravitas and was recently named one of “TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World.” He explained that from a scientific viewpoint, there are two approaches to consciousness, memories, and identity. First, there is the view that all consciousness is held by the brain and is purely physical. This certainly is what most of us have grown up hearing and adheres to conventional science. The other, an emerging theory, is that consciousness is part of evolution and eternal, not subject to birth or death. Having spent his career mapping molecules and studying the human brain, Dr. Tanzi has come to believe that consciousness – which he describes as “soul” – is the keeper of our identity, and that consciousness transcends the physical parts of us. I love when a scientist confirms something I believe intuitively.

At the end of the evening a few of us decided to meet together in one of our tiny bedrooms with wine and snacks (alas, no chocolate) to discuss this death thing further. We shared stories about our own experiences with death, including communication from loved ones who had passed. We asked each other questions, listened to each other’s stories, and offered our perspectives on what we believe happens to our souls after death. It was a comfort and a relief to be able to discuss this in a safe setting.

What is it about death that freaks us out so much? After all, it is going to happen to all of us. It is universal to being human. As my brother says, it’s happened to billions of people so far in our history. Yet, society treats death like it is a disease to be cured. What if we got intrigued about it and didn’t treat the topic like it was taboo?

You have probably met people who seem to have a remarkable peace as they face death. I remember my mom telling me that after she confronted her fears of death and wrestled with them, she was able to tap into gratitude and live more fully. That peace allowed her to live her last years with a zest for life that was awe inspiring given her dreadful cancer diagnosis and the toxic effects of chemo.

So what can we do about this death concept? Death is not going away. What if allowed time and space to understand it better? I purchased a copy of the film to leave at Well for the Journey. Perhaps we could put together a “Death After Dinner” party bag with popcorn, and discussion questions so that people can gather their own group and explore these issues. You can supply the chocolate and/or wine. We certainly need one another to give us the courage to discuss these life and death matters. Stay tuned.

Schlitz, Marilyn. Death Makes Life Possible. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2015 (book)

Bryan Stevenson: “You Can Change the World”

Are there people who rock your world and inspire you to do something for the greater good? Who touch a deeper part of yourself and challenge your thinking? Who tug at your heart and soul to stir up compassion?  For me, it’s Bryan Stevenson: lawyer, human rights advocate, and holder of hope in the most dire of circumstances.

I’ve read, reread, highlighted, and pondered his award-winning book, Just Mercy, listened to his TED Talk, watched his story on 60 Minutes, and heard him speak in person twice.

He calls me – and us – to a new way to treat each other as human beings.

So, who is this man? Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls him “America’s young Nelson Mandela.” His work and message are changing the landscape of compassion, justice, and mercy. Mr. Stevenson has spent much of his career in prisons, jails, and courtrooms fighting for the most vulnerable: the poor, the mentally ill, children, and those unjustly accused and convicted. He is working to transform our world, and invites us into that work.

He often begins communicating his message with some grim and startling facts:

• The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world.
• The U.S. comprises only five percent of the world’s population, yet it has 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated.
• One in every 15 people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison. One in every three black male babies born in the century is expected to be incarcerated.
• Failed drug policies and the incarceration of low-level drug offenders are the primary causes of mass incarceration in the United States. While we treat alcohol addiction as a health issue, we treat non-violent drug offenders through the criminal justice system.

Please reread those facts. They are unbelievable. He invites and challenges us to be part of the changes that are desperately needed.

His best-selling book reads like a John Grisham novel. Tragically, they are true stories of real people—stories of men, women, and children who are experiencing incarceration due to the most unfair, corrupt, and unjust circumstances. Remarkably, he is able to maintain hope, even when he is unable to save some of his clients.

Mr. Stevenson’s humility and gentle spirit shine through his fierce advocacy for mercy and justice. In telling a story about a racist prison guard whom he encountered in the Deep South, he is able to look below the surface behavior and recognize him as a human being. Reminding us that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” he challenges all of us to step out of our comfort zones and do the hard work of love and mercy.

This is his message: We can change the world. He set out four main ways:

1. Get Proximate. You cannot help others from a distance. He observed that many people offer opinions and solutions without getting close to the problems and the people impacted. You must get into relationship with those who are suffering.

2. Change the narrative. Our narratives must change. We buy into narratives of fear and anger that lead to harsh, unjust policies of all kinds. Also, we must change our narratives regarding race and look honestly at the effects of slavery on our country, our history, and our humanity. Our warped narrative has caused slavery to evolve into more subtle forms of oppression, humiliation, and injustice.

3. Be Hopeful. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. We need hope in order fight for a better humanity. In his book he explains that hope is not a pie in the sky type of optimism. Rather, it is an orientation of the spirit “that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power.” (Just Mercy, p. 219)

4. Be willing to be uncomfortable. Confronting oppression and injustice is hard hard work.

Such remarkable hope and vision for humanity.  If you are curious, please read Just Mercy. Perhaps we can be part of changing the world.

In hope and love,


Where Hope Meets Justice


Artwork by Becky Slater

“Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune without the words,
and never stops at all.”
-Emily Dickinson

John looked at me and proclaimed, “I am turning my life around. I’ve cleaned up my credit report, and gotten my driver’s license. This is the next step.” With those words, he picked up his pen and signed the paperwork to clear up his criminal record. John was hope in action.

I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of hope through my work at Well for the Journey, a center that offers innovative programs for spiritual wellness. Since leaving my law firm years ago, my energies have been devoted to developing programs and classes that help people lead more meaningful, centered lives. Hope is a motivating force within each of us that inspires and strengthens people to move into a better place. Hope is likely the catalyst that propelled me to dust off my law degree and begin volunteering with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service to help in a very specific area of law: expungement.

Expungement is the legal process by which you can have criminal charges removed from public view. Governed by state law, the rules by which one may expunge charges vary from state to state. In Maryland, generally only those charges for which you have NOT been convicted can be expunged. This covers a fairly wide array of dispositions, including an acquittal (Not Guilty), and situations where police or prosecutors decide not to proceed further than arrest. Convictions for certain “nuisance” crimes (for example, open container and disorderly conduct) and those that are no longer crimes (such as possession of small amounts of marijuana) can be expunged under certain circumstances.

Expungement is a place where hope and justice meet.

To their credit, Maryland lawmakers have recognized the need for expungement to be more accessible and available. The last two years have brought welcome changes. First in laws that took effect in October of 2015, and recently as part of a criminal justice reform package passed in 2016. There are almost one million expungeable cases in Baltimore City alone, and that number will rise when new changes take effect in the upcoming months.

I first learned about the importance of expungement over ten years ago while serving as a job counselor with an organization called Genesis Jobs (which later became part of Goodwill Industries). The existence of criminal charges on one’s record is a monumental obstacle to employment. It was incredibly frustrating that good, qualified job candidates could not be find work due to their arrest charges for minor crimes, especially when they were never convicted of the charges! I kept mumbling that someone needed to do something about this problem.

Then came Baltimore’s spring, almost a year ago, when our city erupted. In the wake of the death of Freddie Gray and the uprisings that ensued, I wondered how I could help bring hope to those living in seemingly hopeless situations. What set of gifts and skills did I have to share? So many people living in or near Baltimore wondered what they could do to help heal our city and its people. There are no easy answers to the multi-dimensional problems that persist in our city- it will take a multitude of people playing unique, small parts. After months of praying for guidance about how I could contribute in a practical way, I came across a flyer for an expungement clinic and a telephone number to call for Maryland Volunteer Lawyers. Then I learned that lawyers got free training…there were no excuses. I gave myself a little pep talk, picked up the phone and volunteered to help at the clinic.

Hearing the stories of my clients has been humbling. Sometimes people have a few troubled years and then work hard to turn their lives around. Not surprisingly, addiction often plays a role in those bad years. I’ve met people, including a woman in her late seventies, who weren’t even aware that they had a record until they went to apply for a job. This can happen when someone close to you gets arrested and you are nearby and get rounded up too. Those charges remain on your record even if you are never prosecuted. Even when people have convictions on their record that they understand cannot be expunged, they want other charges expunged. One man said, “Hey, I take responsibility for that crime. But those others on there I want off my record- that was not me.”

While each person has a unique story, they share something in common: hope for a better future. I’m convinced that hope is manifested through relationships. Sometimes we are called to be with people in seemingly hopeless situations and be a sign of hope. We can help others believe in a better future, even when they can’t see it. To do this requires suspending- or moving through- our cynicism, judgments, and fear of people who are different than us. It’s not easy…but this is how we build hope together. This is how we move forward as a community.

As I shook hands with John and said goodbye, he commented on the beautiful spring day. I responded, “Spring is a time of hope, isn’t it? Good luck to you.”

1. If you want to learn more about expungement visit, a website developed by Matthew Stubenberg, a talented attorney at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service.

2. I am deeply inspired by Bryan Stevenson and his book, Just Mercy. Book review coming soon to this blog.

Your Personal Calling: Perspectives from The Alchemist

How can you live into your personal calling? What prevents you from realizing your dream? What kind of obstacles should you be prepared to encounter?

I’ve just finished reading one of my summer reading list books: Paulo Coelho’s classic, The Alchemist. This little novel has me thinking. It’s been translated into over sixty-seven languages and is one of the most widely read books in the world. What is it that appeals to so many readers?

The story is about listening to one’s dream and setting out to achieve it. In the forward, the author writes, “We all need to be aware of our personal calling…the path that God chose for you here on Earth.” Mr. Coelho explains that our dream is buried deep within our souls so as to be invisible. Many of us don’t have the courage to uncover our own dream, let alone work towards it.

He identifies and explains four obstacles that prevent us from living into our dream:

1. We think it’s impossible. We are told repeatedly that what we want to do is impossible, and layers of prejudice, fear, guilt, and cynicism bury our dream. It takes courage to disinter our dream. “Disinter” – a new gem of a word that I discovered in this book: it means to unearth, to unbury, to dig out, and to bring that which is obscure into plain view.

2. We are afraid of hurting or disappointing our loved ones. Once we dig out our dream, discover it, and consider it, we can become so concerned about the people we love that we stop there. We fear hurting them or abandoning those around us as we pursue our dream. We don’t realize that love actually is an impetus, and those who genuinely love us want us to be happy and will accompany us on the journey.

3. We fear failure and defeats. If we’ve done the work of #1 and #2 above, failures and setbacks cause great suffering. We can’t fall back on the excuse, “Well I didn’t want it anyway.” In fact, we really, really do want it and we’ve staked everything on it. We will face setbacks, struggles, and failures, but as Coelho advises, “The secret of life is to fall seven times and get up eight times.” We can’t be afraid of failure.

4. We believe that we are not worthy. If we have labored at #1, #2, #3, we may suddenly stop and abandon the dream for which we fought so hard. This stems from belief that we are not worthy of the dream. Often, this type of self-sabotage occurs just as we are on the verge of realizing the dream. Coelho explains that this is the most dangerous of the obstacles because “it has a saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest.” He writes, “But, if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God, you help the Soul of the World, and you understand why you are here.” (WOW- powerful thought!!!)

The Alchemist centers on a boy named Santiago who is quite happy being a shepherd. But following several powerful dreams, he decides to set off in search of treasure buried in the Pyramids of Egypt. His journey takes him through challenging terrain, including the wild and dangerous desert. He encounters obstacles that test him, threatening to dissuade him from his journey. Key characters and events guide him on his way. Listening is central to Santiago’s journey-by attuning himself to signs (called “omens” in the book) and experiences, he begins to understand the importance of intuition and immersing oneself in the universal current of life.

Does Santiago’s journey sound familiar? It should. It is a journey that is common in myths, legends, stories, religious ritual, and psychological development. Consider Odysseus in The Odyssey, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, even Jesus or the Buddha in sacred stories. Psychologist Carl Jung identified this archetypal journey as key to psychological growth and maturity. Joseph Campbell calls it “The Hero’s Journey.”

Mary Oliver describes it in her poem, “The Journey”:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

This archetypal journey also unfolds in our own lives, IF we have the courage to take it. At Well for the Journey (“The Well”), I’ve been privileged to watch and accompany others who are on this journey. People come to The Well for a variety of reasons, but often they have become aware that something is propelling them into unknown territory, and they seek guidance and encouragement. It is hard work, and, as The Alchemist reveals, we cannot do it alone. In small groups, ordinary people serve as gentle guides for one another, often unknowingly. We learn to listen to all of life, attuning ourselves to the Source of Life that guides, inspires, and loves us along our journey. Sometimes a piece of wisdom or a personal story is offered and it is just what another person needs to hear. It has been awe-some (in the truest sense), to watch others uncover their part of God’s dream, become more enthused and live into the fullness of life, and contribute their gifts to the greater good.

Are you intrigued? Maybe it’s time for you to read or reread The Alchemist. Maybe it’s time for you to listen in a deeper way to what’s inside your own soul. Find people around you to help you listen. If you need help, come to The Well or form your own community to help you listen. Ask God (or whatever you call your divine source) to guide you. You will be led. Be prepared to confront challenges and obstacles. Don’t give up.

Blessings on your courageous journey.




Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Navato, CA: New World Library, 2008.
Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.
Crowley, Vivianne. Jungian Spirituality. London: Thorsons, 1998.
Oliver, Mary. Dream Work. NY: Atlantic Monthly, 1986.

Life’s Lightning Strikes

What?!!! Lightning struck our house?!!! Oh my God!!!

 When lightning struck our family shore home a few days ago, thankfully, we were not in the house, nor even in town. But when such an unusual, dramatic event occurs, it naturally leads one to wonder about the big questions: What is the meaning in this? Why did this happen? Is God trying to tell me something?

I don’t know. I will never know. My ego wants so badly to affix an explanation (like a little gremlin in my mind that demands fixed answers), but I’m learning that the spiritual life involves not knowing. It’s the hard work of humility and letting go of certainty. I don’t like that very much.In fact, few of us like to live in the powerlessness and vulnerability of uncertainty particularly when we face danger, trouble, and distress. So what can we do?

We can ask for help and then lean into the faith that there is some source of goodness at work in invisible ways. We are not alone; God is accompanying us (yes, right now) helping us (yes, each of us) navigate our troubles.

The story of the lightning strike and dealing with its aftermath has brought to fruition some important lessons that have taken shape in my life over the past year.

The lightning strike was dramatic, part of an intense, powerful storm that blew through Cape May, New Jersey on the afternoon of Saturday, June 6, 2015. Neighbors actually saw the bolt of lightning hit the house and heard a loud explosion. Our next-door neighbor was blown off his bed. The bolt hit the top of the chimney, traveled down the side of the house into the pipes and wires, from the tippy top of the house to the lowest point in the basement. So freaky!!! Electrical smoke ensued, but no fire, thank God. The brick chimney, air conditioning system, and various electronic systems were damaged. After arriving to assess the damage a couple of days later, we smelled gas and discovered that the lightning’s electrical force created a small hole in the hidden internal gas plumbing line resulting in a gas leak. The house could have exploded. Oh my God!!!

Lightning and other such stormy events can happen anytime. One out of 200 houses are struck by lightning each year, according to the National Lightning Safety Institute (so much more frequent than I would expect). But there are other life events that can feel like being struck by lightning, leaving us vulnerable as we try to pick up the pieces. Here are some tips for you to move through the aftermath of whatever “lightning” you experience. I’ve found that three P’s – People, Perspective, and Praise – have been essential in helping to cope with the turmoil of life’s lightning.

  1. PEOPLE. Upon discovering the gas leak, I called the gas company who promptly dispatched a serviceman (Dave, my hero) within 30 minutes to assess the situation and provide instruction. I was so frightened that I couldn’t comprehend what Dave was explaining to me. He talked on and on about which gas line was damaged and what needs to be properly “grounded” in the future and how we can provide “unions” in order to fix it. Needless to say, these words do not mean the same thing in the spiritual care world in which I work as they do in the world of plumbers and electricians.

Close friends and neighbors, Terri and Bob, swooped in, took copious notes and   helped me listen to Dave’s explanations. Other neighbors and countless service people appeared throughout this drama to help and support us. Most days, it is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to get service people to show up the same day in our small town of Cape May (locals call this phenomena “Cape MAYBE”). Yet on this particular Monday, numerous service people showed up on time to help deal with this crisis.

Lesson #1: Ask for help and watch closely for angels in disguise who are sent to help you.

  1. PERSPECTIVE. Aside from this lightning episode, I’ve been dealing with much emotional turmoil over the past several months, grappling with frustration, grief, and resentment involving people I love. To help me move forward, my motto has been “reframe, reframe, reframe.” To reframe is to look at what you are experiencing from a different viewpoint. We can reframe our perspective by placing ourselves in others’ shoes, by readjusting our lens outward to look at the bigger picture, or by trying to move ourselves to a new vantage point. Regardless of the technique, reframing a situation changes our perspective and helps us adjust to and find peace with difficulties. Was it lucky or unlucky that our home was struck by lightning? I choose to take the view that we are lucky to be alive.

Lesson #2: Seek new perspective- reframe, reframe, reframe.

 3. PRAISE. A few months ago at a workshop, I was told to reach my hand into a small brown bag and select a poem. The following poem from Rainer Maria Rilke was given to me.

Praise dear one,

Let us disappear into praising.

Nothing belongs to us.

This poem was exactly what I needed at the time. First off, who doesn’t love being called “dear one”? Beyond that, it reminds us that our grumbling is rooted in the belief that we own things or are entitled to them. Nothing belongs to us. We come into the world with nothing and we depart with nothing. My brother says that expectations are resentments waiting to happen. By detaching from our expectations (lifelong work!), we become lighter and our burdens gradually seem to disappear. Then we are able to thank our lucky stars, count our blessings, and praise God.

When I consider the lightning storm and what could have been catastrophic, it’s easy to praise. It’s more difficult to offer praise, though, when you face trouble or disaster, and you cannot see the good anywhere in it. See #1 and #2, and then hopefully, in time, you will get to #3.

Lesson #3: Praise, dear one. Nothing belongs to us.

Though nature’s lightning doesn’t strike every house, life’s lightning does strike everyone and we discover ourselves shaken up in unexpected ways. When that happens, may you lean into people, perspective, and praise to help you move through.

Blessings and love,


Digging God Out


There is a really deep well inside me.

And in it dwells God.

Sometimes I am there too.

But more often stones and grit block the well,

and God is buried underneath.

Then God must be dug out again.

-Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life*

How timely that one of my first days of December was spent with nice men who came to clean out our well, replace the pump, and get the water flowing. Our backyard is fairly deep, reaching more than 450 feet below the earth’s surface. The water pressure has been gradually decreasing so we knew it needed a good servicing.

What a God-wink. That rascal, God, has such a sense of timing and humor. I can almost hear a gentle laughter. It is the first week of Advent and there is a divine invitation here. It’s time to dig God out.

In the Christian tradition much of December is spent in the season of Advent. Advent is the season that we wait and watch for God to break through (again) and be born. Advent culminates with Christmas, when we celebrate God’s coming to us by being born in the form of Jesus. It is paradoxical because we acknowledge that God is already here and hard at work (thank goodness!). Yet, God will also come again. Isn’t this so reassuring to know that God is not finished? Our world is so desperately in need of Love.

God is in all of creation, pulsing with life- often very hidden, but also very evident. The heartbeat of God is also within each of us, and we are called to be bearers of this presence.

Unfortunately, there is so much that blocks and clogs this Source of Love. So much stuff: worries, fears, expectations, self-centeredness, cynicism, judgments, lack of forgiveness, and ego to name a few. There is also this feeling of unworthiness- do we really believe that we are sacred?

What can you and I do to dig God out? Wouldn’t it be great if nice men could come and clean out the grit and dirt and replace our pumps? But alas, there is no such easy fix. Instead, this unblocking, unclogging, and digging out is the task of a lifetime. In fact, it is probably central to the spiritual life in most faith traditions.

Perhaps it begins with an intention to pay closer attention. What if we listened for the heartbeat of God pulsing around us in ordinary moments? What if we looked for signs of the Divine breaking into even the most challenging situations? What if we tried to honored the sacredness of our loved ones as well as our enemies?

That could be a start. Let us dig.

*Etty Hillesum was a remarkable modern day mystic. As a young Jewish woman, she chronicled her spiritual journey through her diaries. She died in Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of 29.