soul care & spiritual practices for deconstruction

blog soul care and spiritual practicesin the last post we made a few lists related to what helped & what didn’t from others during deconstruction. such good stuff, such hard stuff.  thank you for sharing so honestly.  i am going to try to pull something together from it so feel free to add yours if you haven’t already.

as the last few post-series posts, i also wanted to take a little time to center on an oft-overlooked topic in the deconstruction conversation–how do we tend to our souls & our spiritual lives when we’re in the midst of so much upheaval?

sure, many of us might be allergic to some old spiritual practices, but are there new ones that we can try that might help us feel less lonely and disconnected to God in the process? in the same vein, and because they are all tied up together, making sure we are tending to the care of our souls in the process is critically important.

life in the spiritual desert of deconstruction requires water, rest and food, or we will die.

for me, as i made some shifts away from the utter & total absorption in the mega-church i was part of, i found that some of the things that brought me comfort before no longer did.  the Bible felt flat.  worship songs made me go a little nutty.  journaling just felt forced.  i longed for connection with God in the-old-ways-that-used-to-work.  but it just wasn’t working.

then something shifted a bit and i began to let go of feeling like i had to grind down to find something i just couldn’t find.  instead, i tried to let go of the old (and not feel guilty about it) and began to notice God in other places.  i tried to do things that i liked to do, that were good for my soul, that helped me feel rest & peace & connection to God, my soul.

here were some of these soul care & spiritual practices on this bumpy road:

i watched a lot of movies.  for me, almost the best soul care there is.

i took one entire day off from meeting or talking with people in any way, shape or form, period.

my family came up with some weekly rhythms of eating & fun that we all began to honor.  it’s been awesome.

i hiked.

i turned off the radio whenever i drove and put my cell phone in the back seat (i need to start this one back up!)

late night conversations with dear friends around fires & kitchen tables & coffee shops.

i tried to practice the daily examen before i went to sleep or when i was driving alone in the car–where i noticed God in some way, shape or form during each day.

i spent as much time as i could on the lake, which is my second-to-the-beach-favorite-place.

i used the message translation of the Bible & tried not to compare it to the passages i was used to.

i started blogging, a really interesting spiritual practice that i think is helpful in getting comfortable in our own skin.

i read the red letters in the gospels.  

in the last year and a half i started walking every-day-come-rain-or-shine for my back, but now it’s one of my best spiritual practices ever.

what about you?  what are some soul care or spiritual practices that sustained you (or are sustaining you) during deconstruction?  if you’d take time to share in the comments, it really does help others with some ideas.

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ps:  i have a post up this week for the monthly column at sheloves magazine centered around down we go: living into the wild ways of Jesus.  it’s called cultivating creativity (check out the video in the comments section, too, it’s awesome and related to this series).  i think that cultivating creativity during the rebuilding process can be so healing & freeing.

tomorrow:  one last little exercise from a post a few years ago that might be helpful in remembering where we were & where we are now.  

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

48 Comments

  • Art journaling. I have been journaling for years, but the art element was scarily new. It was amazing to see how God used it to prepare me for and sustain me through a difficult inward journey. I am enjoying your blog and your series and have recommended your blog to friends. Thank you. Antoinette (Cape Town, South Africa)

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    • thanks for sharing, glad you are here. this is a practice i’d love to engage with more & have heard so many powerful things about it.

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  • Love this. Love you. Wish I could hang out around a fire pit with you one of these evenings…or better yet, at the beach!

    I’d love to hear more about your family rhythms of eating and fun. What does that look like for you guys?

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    • oh that would be fun!

      for us, we started going to my mom’s (she lives nearby) every sunday night no matter what. it’s our family dinner, and we unplug from everything, we don’t invite anyone else, we just go be together. it’s so great on so many levels. i think making it a priority has been the best because there are always potential reasons not to go but we do everything we can to make it. tuesdays we eat together & is our one TV hour a week together (we don’t have cable and don’t do any electronics during the week so it’s extra fun and just feels so chill). fridays we go get slurpees after school. they all seem so simple but have become part of our week. on weekends when we are all home here and there we found a few netflix series that we could watch together, and for me, one of my practices has been actually watching TV because i don’t do it enough, ha ha. too busy all of the time, so this has been a fun thing to do together. it seems like the best part are those “regularly scheduled times”

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  • Early morning walks, even if it’s just through my neighborhood. It’s good for the body and the soul. I listen to the birds, watch the sunrise, observe the awakening of the neighborhood and along the way have some type of conversation with God, sometimes quite rambling, sometimes very quiet.

    Reading. Lots of reading.

    Your post has challenged me to think of other things I could do as well.

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  • Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet has been helpful for me in a couple of ways: (1)as a reminder of God’s mercy, especially when I have trouble believing that he IS, much less that he is loving & merciful; (2)as an exercise in forgiveness toward those who’ve hurt me deeply throughout this time of exile ~ in hopes that offering up mercy on their behalf will bring healing; (3)the closing prayer has been a balm during the times of despair ~ often the very last frazzled thread to which I’ve clung: “Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”

    http://thedivinemercy.org/message/devotions/praythechaplet.php

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    • beautiful, i always love hearing about different spiritual practices.

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  • Getting alone, a lot. Instituting some alone travel. I love to drive.

    Walking in the woods. Kayaking our creek.

    Blogging.

    Lake and beach time when I could get it.

    Reading good fiction, history and those who could never ruffle my soul, only soothe. L’Engle and Lewis. Storytellers whose works forged them into theologians.

    Just plain not going to church services, other than my youth responsibilities, those kids gave me hope and life, even if the rest of my crew all did. Sitting in the sun in the car, instead, letting the light and warmth energize me.

    I have always been a mystic, so I did as I always have, and wandered.

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    • Wandering around your Interior Castle peeking into rooms you’ve never explored before, or wandering through the woods and along the creek … breaking off twigs, throwing them into the creek, and watching them float away. Wandering around the internet being led by a Spirit who loves to grab our hand and lead us, barefoot, running and laughing along paths we have never seen before … never knew existed. Stopping briefly to cup our hands and drink the crystal waters from the creek, spritzing our face and then running off up the bank and back into the woods taunting us, “Ha! Catch me if you can!”

      Sorry. Got carried away there for a minute. Thank you, Kim. I needed that break from our destination-oriented world to wander briefly with you. 😉

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    • great list. yeah, i started only reading fiction for a long time, no nonfiction allowed. that’s shifted a bit but it was so nice to just escape & not think.

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      • For years I held myself to a rhythm of one fiction book then one nonfiction book. As things imploded in ministry and my deconstruction took hold, I found I just didn’t have it in me to “learn” or absorb anything out of the nonfiction books piling on my nightstand. I craved the release and relief, the peace, of diving into someone else’s story, finally giving myself a break. It was hard to see this as a change in discipline instead of a lacking in discipline but it was oh so necessary.

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  • Sorry. forgot a biggie. Lectio Divina. We employ lots of contemplative disciplines with our youth, but Lectio is my favorite.

    For a while it was the only way I could interface with the Bible.

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    • I’m excited to try this practice when I go to my first Centering Prayer retreat. I’m so intrigued by the contemplative forms of worship.

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      • it is simple and powerful and our youth kids, I have tried this with 10- 12th graders, LOVE IT. They even beg me to let them do Lectio’s in my classes at school.

        Excited for you, Sharon! Give us a report.

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    • it’s still my favorite way to interact with the scriptures.

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  • Thanks for sharing, Kathy. I suppose during the time I’m not deconstructing, my heart just wants to be numb and turns to unhealthy practices. This is a helpful list to keep my heart & soul present and nurtured.

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    • thanks justin. i am glad it is some things to draw from that might be good for your soul during this season.

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  • The “spiritual practice” that worked and continues to work best for me – Spending time with those whom the church most vilifies. That especially includes LGBT people, the people in the streets, bikers, prostitutes, addicts, people of other religions (Muslims included), “heretics” and oh the list goes on and on. This can be salve for the soul.

    The strangest thing happened to me. I discovered that Jesus is out there in the streets with the people. I found lots of religion in churches, but never realized that even though they talked about Jesus, Jesus seemed to be somewhere else. You know – Like far off in Heaven. Maybe. But I found Jesus among the people.

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    • I so resonate with this too. I have learned so much from the people who are ‘uncool’, who are different, who the church tends to not cater too or notice. It is so healing now to hang with them, to give and receive hugs, to see Jesus.

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    • the spiritual practice of being with people saved and keeps saving my life.

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  • I am reading through all the green letters in my “Green Bible”. It has been refreshing and nourishing to my soul to read scripture from an entirely different perspective. It’s helping me breathe on days when sometimes breathing seems hard.

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  • I stopped going to church and went to counseling. Therapy was such a helpful place for me to work out my experiences and also deal with family of origin crap that my involvement with church triggered.

    I do soul collaging (http://www.soulcollage.com/) with friends. We get together and chat as we rummage through mags and create collages. This is usually how the Spirit talks to me about where I’m at or where I’m heading.

    I go out to brunch on Sundays with my husband or friends. That’s where we dine and have communion.

    I’ve done some restorative yoga at a local yoga studio.

    Movies and documentaries are always inspiring to me. Also, TED Talks have been my sermons as of late. I discovered Brene Brown through TED almost two years ago and her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, changed my perspective on a lot of stuff.

    Reading. I’ve read fiction and non-fiction, but I also started getting into blogs. I found a lot of hope in some of the life coach blogs. I created a file in my blog reader called Spirit and I file those in there. There’s always helpful quotes or other’s stories to inspire me along my way. There are also e-courses to take that I found to build my spirit as well.

    Recently, I began to want a spiritual practice in my life. I discovered Centering Prayer and just finished the Intro class and follow up weeks. It’s sorta like Christian meditation, but it’s a prayer practice that you do twice a day. I’m going to join a prayer group that meets weekly as well as participate in the silent retreats that happen on a regular basis in my area. You can find more information at this website: http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/

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    • Oh Sharon, I am a documentary, especially, TED, junkie. I show them in all my classes at school. I find a way to work them in. Some of the best sermons I have ever heard are on TED! Again, my kids love them, too.

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    • thanks for sharing this awesome list. so many resonate.

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  • Your list is startlingly like my own – after deep grief and retirement – walking/movies/reading/travel/contemplative prayer/silence – these are the things that nourish and encourage. Thanks for this.

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    • i love those two words “nourish” and “encourage”

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  • Biking. Four hours a day, on average. Wandering mostly. Praying empathy prayers for friends while cruising bike paths with no particular destination in mind.

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  • Your list is very similar to mine also. I started eating healthy again and walking an hour on my treadmill every day, I have read tons of books, I read helpful blogs like this one, I am planting a vegetable garden, I am painting again, I am hanging out with musician friends (I love live music), spending much more time with my wonderful sons and their wives and my grandsons, lots of family get-togethers. I have a amazing view of the mountains from my deck and it is a sacred place for me to spend time with God and listen to the wind in the pine trees and watch the big white clouds pass by. I found some new friends in a small Bible Study. I cherish time spent with people that are loving and kind and don’t have any agenda for a relationship with me. I am aware that I am healing, moving forward, going somewhere different, and I feel very close to God. These are a few of the things that are resorting my soul.

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    • so pretty. love that you started painting again. i wonder how many out there have passions that were left behind that need to be picked back up. thank you for sharing.

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  • Kathy,
    This is so funny, almost every single one of your soul care items are mine as well. I would add yoga. Big time yoga. The emphasis in yoga of listening to my inner voice and being kind to myself was radically refreshing for me, so different from the self-flagellating church environment I grew up in. And it connected my thoughts and emotions to my body like nothing else has been able to. I think I’m hooked for life on that spiritual practice.

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    • that connection to our bodies is so powerful. every time i have done yoga i know there is so much in there that i need. you’re inspiring.

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  • Fessing up to my shifting beliefs publicly via my blog
    Writing–whether it winds up in my blog or not
    Continued learning through pursuing information and seeking truth
    Movies for me, too. And music. For as shallow as the media can be, it can also be so deep.
    Applying to myself what I was accusing the church of lacking–love, peace, patience, humility, openness, etc.

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  • thanks carlynn. love that list. that last one really resonated!

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  • After neglecting my artwork for 15 yrs getting back into it was healing. I would say doing whatever you are good at and passionate about.

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    • always love hearing stories about creating art, again or for the first time….

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  • Let’s see…these are things I am doing:

    ~Taking a sabbatical from church at least temporarily and not trying to force myself or my family to find a new one.
    ~BLOGGING! This has been the single most healing thing I have done
    ~Making a conscious effort to not allow pervasive guilt to haunt me anymore
    ~Looking within to find who I am and what I would do if I had a “regular” life that wasn’t consumed with ministry, Christian culture, and the pursuit of holiness
    ~investing in my friendships with “outsiders” rather than my old religious friends
    ~slowly throwing what I question out there, even in small bits with people in my real life
    ~mourning and accepting that I will no longer be able to be fully “known” by my best friends post deconstruction
    ~choosing to invest in and support people rather than religious movements, activities, etc (choosing people over events)
    ~exercise

    I want to:
    ~issue a ban on nonfiction reading and reading of christian books…read for pleasure only.

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    • thanks for sharing, such a great list. enjoy your sundays 🙂 i am also glad you are blogging, sharing your feelings out loud, it is so healing. the loneliness of losing friends who are still “in” is so hard but hoping that over time new beautiful ones emerge. one of the best things i did was the ban on nonfiction. so many awesome stories out there to soak in. peace from colorado.

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    • thanks laura, it’s amazing how disconnected we can become from our bodies, and how that disconnection can really harm us. tuning back in takes a lot of practice; for me, it’s one of the hardest. back surgery shifted a lot for me in absolute necessity to tune in but even with that, it’s not my first nature to care properly for it. great stuff.

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  • Parking my car more and walking.

    Having long conversations about caring for my soul with a pagan friend, who can sympathize and look from outside and isn’t churched enough to have learned any unhelpful advice.

    Reading history, writing alternate history, reading secondary sources to better write same. It helps to have a university library or two available. (Two things have been going on in the background throughout: my father dying and my trying to rewrite the Reformation from scratch. I’ve never thought about that until now.)

    Spending time caretaking for chronically ill LGBT friends.
    Watching anime with same.
    (I’m not sure I have *any* friends who’d be presentable in church.)

    Baring my soul on blogs.

    Of late, lurking here. (Thank you.)

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  • Wow it sounds like everyone is living life! So sad that it took leaving church or a faith crisis…I spent10 years inside a church building! Almost literally since I worked for the church, and then I was expected to volunteer, so I was ther 60 hours a week. Left me just enough time to visit my hubby, grocery shop, watch a show and sleep a fee winks! Now that I am church free…we spend time with friends (of all faiths or journeys), gardening, napping, sip coffee, hiking….and personally it’s yoga, reading, and mindfulness, and my photography (mainly my beautiful children).
    sometimes I get upset that I spent so many hours in one building! Life is sure different now with no church at all. But I feel like I am really present now….free! Happy! Enjoying the little things….this is where I notice God!

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