Practicum of a Soul Friend

Practicum of a Soul Friend: a practical guide

This is an exercise to explore what it means to be a soul friend by sharing personal history in confidence and prayer. Each person is take turns in the role as listener and narrator. Take at least an hour each (or more time if necessary).

Keep a note-book handy for prayer reminder. Learn to listen, pray as you can, and to confess.

Even though you may be familiar with your story, and may have told components from time to time, this is an exercise in integration and deep listening – including you listening to yourself, as you make connections to events that you may not have before. Allow yourself to feel what you feel as you tell your story.

Short Personal History:

One person at a time: one person narrates their life, the other intently listens. Allow your friend to enter into his personal history slowly, as this can only be gained with growing confidence in each other. Begin with general facts, and over time fill in more intimate details. Avoid moving too fast; learn to listen, empathize slowly. Deep memories may only arise slowly. Pray as you listen inwardly, so that you too may be guided to have insights while you listen and question. The listener can probe more deeply to clarify first impressions, as well as stimulate memories.

The listener is primarily trying to assist the narrator to express interior experiences and deep feelings, that may have interconnections the narrator has not linked together previously. The narrator needs to feel they are paid attention to; taken seriously, as they may not have been before. It is a profound thing for a person to feel understood, and accepted.

Aim to create a safe environment for confidentiality and trust. Remember, the listener will soon be the narrator. As a listener – consider the acronym “WAIT” (“why am I talking”) if you hear yourself talking [too much] when the narrator has been trying to share their story. It is always better for insight or deeper understanding to be made by the narrator – for this becomes his own possession internally.

Sometimes the narrator can’t find the words easily, or at all; be patient. Prod gently, but let the listener find his own words. If you as the listener think something key has been left out – ask about it.

As the listener, you can summarize what you’ve heard and encourage the narrator to express his insights/issues in prayer. You may do this through out the process, or at the end.

Phases of Personal History

Early Childhood:
Describe the when, where, how of your upbringing and family life. What was “your normal?” What were the traumas, childlike or catastrophic as they may be. What are your vivid memories, and what do you like or dislike about you childhood.

Were you aware of God; did you have a spiritual sense at all? What was your experience of church, school and the people you met there? What were your hobbies; what took the lion’s share of your time? What were your dreams as a child?

Describe the entry into and through puberty? When and what did you discover about your sexuality. What were the primary issues and topics over which you spent time thinking? Talk about your friends and/or the betrayals of friendships. Where was God in this time of your life?

Early Adulthood:
What was your high school years like? Did you have a sense of direction, preparation, vision? Were you going to post secondary education, on a big trip, or a gap year, or did you go straight to work? What did your spiritual journey look like? Where was God; where were spiritual friendships in your life?

Marriage and Family:
Talk about your courtship; getting married and the dynamics of getting to know yourself in the process of getting to know your spouse better. What were key decisions, arguments or incidents in your early courtship/marriage? If you have children – how did you decide when to start a family; what were you hoping your marriage/family to be like? What is your marriage and family really like? Where was God in all this?

Where is God in your life? What is the role of the church? What are your deep disappointments/frustrations with your walk with God? What do you deeply desire from God, from life, from your friends, from your wife? What now? What is the pressing desire you have that often is left unsaid/un-prayed? Can you speak it/pray it now?

As Narrator:

Now that you’ve heard yourself go through the phases of your life, what is it that you heard as you integrated all the elements of your life? Do you like what you heard? What do you wish never happened? What do you wish Jesus did then, or would do now? What would you like to pray about, or have another person pray with you about? What did you appreciate about your listener.

Would you like to confess and receive forgiveness?

Take as much time as you need; then switch roles. Offer the other person the privilege of being listened to, and fortunately, to be understood.

This practicum was taken from a course I took with Dr. James M. Houston at Regent College, 1994. I have found it fruitful every time I’ve done this with men and in men’s groups (though it is not gender specific).

For more, go to “The Greatest Gift of My Friendship.

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The Power of Listening

“Being heard
is so close to being loved
that for the average person,
they are almost indistinguishable.”

David Augsburger

“Before one can love,” Eric Fromm noted, “one must be able to listen” (a subject he treats at length in The Art of Listening, a posthumously published book adapted from a 1974 seminar in Switzerland).

Here are Fromm’s six basic rules for the art of listening:

  1. The basic rule for practicing this art is the complete concentration of the listener.
  2. Nothing of importance must be on the listener’s mind, being optimally free from anxiety as well as from greed.
  3. The listener must possess a freely-working imagination which is sufficiently concrete to be expressed in words.
  4. The listener must be endowed with a capacity for empathy with another person and strong enough to feel the experience of the other as if it were his/her own.
  5. The condition for such empathy is a crucial facet of the capacity for love. To understand another means to love the person listened to.
  6. Understanding and loving are inseparable. If they are separate, it is a cerebral process and the door to essential understanding remains closed.

Next week I will introduce you to a deep listening process called “Practicum of a Soul Friend”.

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Keeping it real on Mother’s Day

For many I suppose, Mother’s Day was celebrated in the usual ways; for others it was endured for unique reasons – as Tolstoy said:

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

On Sunday a woman in our church shared her own experience of mixed emotions on Mother’s Day:

Mentioning Mother’s Day in worship is just tricky. There’s no formula. So perhaps we acknowledge that most families are messy… Perhaps we simply admit that it’s a difficult day for many. Or we acknowledge that God is keenly aware of all that we hold in our hearts. On Mother’s Day, the best we can do is to keep it real.

Margot Starbuck

And so, I stand here today, determined to keep it real. To admit to you that Mother’s Day, for most of my life, was a really, really hard day. It was a day when I was confronted by the fact that my relationship with my mom was very difficult – that we were almost polar opposites in what we wanted out of life – in our motivations – in our preferences – in the things that we needed – and, most importantly, in the things that we needed from each other.

I remember walking up and down the aisles of my local card shop, reading 20 – 30 – sometimes 40 Mother’s Day cards, trying to find something that would honour my mom without lying about the emotionally difficult relationship we had.

And then, years later, my husband and I wanted to start a family – and we couldn’t. And Mother’s Day became even more loaded with disappointment and heartache.

In fact, my hardest Mother’s Day occurred in 2010, when a friend – I believe they are called “friemenies” – who was fully aware of my fertility struggles called me up on Mother’s Day to tell me that I couldn’t imagine her joy – that she was so happy and that, because I wasn’t a mother, I couldn’t ever understand how she was feeling but it was the best day of her life and her husband was the best husband in the world and had bought the best family ring with all their birthstones and had made her the best breakfast in bed and she just needed to call to tell me that she was… basically better than me. And, in that 20 minute monologue, I think I said all of “Hello” and “Goodbye” as I held my hand over the receiver and wept. And I hung up and cried out to God about why He would bless such a person and seem to forget about me.

And then, in May of 2011, my son was born and I experienced two new emotions on Mother’s Day – emotions that I now experience each and every Mother’s Day and every day in between – gratitude and joy.

And so, I know from the deepest and most raw part of me that Mother’s Day can be beautiful and it can be really, really awful. But do we refuse to celebrate Mother’s Day because it’s painful to some? Or do we celebrate Mother’s Day in wilful ignorance that it can be an impossibly hard day for many?

I believe there is a better way. As I was preparing for today, God put Romans 12:15. on my heart. In it, Paul writes:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

It’s not one or the other – it’s both.

And so, today, if you are a mom and you love being a mom – or you have a wonderful mother – we, as your brothers and sisters in Christ, rejoice with you because those are beautiful gifts from God and they are worth celebrating. May the words that we speak to you today multiply your joy!

And if today, you are feeling hurt and wounded because of a messy family situation – or maybe you desperately want to be a mom, and that hasn’t happened– or maybe you have a difficult relationship with your mom or child – or maybe your mom or your child is sick and you don’t know what the future holds – or maybe you’ve lost a child and that wound is torn open with each Mother’s Day or missed birthday or Christmas – we, as your family, share your pain and your sorrow. And may the words that we speak to you today provide you with the kindness and compassion that you need.

Please pray with me.

Father God,

You know all that we hold in our hearts today. You know us better than we know ourselves. You hold the future and the past – your hold our moms and our children – and we trust in You alone, because you are good and kind and faithful. In You, all things hold together.

Let us be true brothers and sisters to each other today. Through the power of Your Holy Spirit, give us wisdom and kindness to communicate Your love to each other.

Let us truly rejoice with those who rejoice – and mourn with those who mourn. Make us one, Father, as You and Your Son are one.

In the precious Name of Jesus, Amen.

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Ubi Caritas

Crucifixion, by Gerardo Dottori


Ubi Caritss,

Melody added by Audry Assad

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen



In English:

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

What began as a Gregorian chant that some music scholars believe originated before the formation of the Catholic Mass, Ubi Caritas (“Where Charity Is”) has evolved into many iterations and compositions. The actual origin of the chant is unknown and ambiguous, although musicologists and researchers believe it was written between 300 and 1100 CE.

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Sacred Pathways

In whatever way we come to know the living God, it is always sacred.  Gary Thomas writes a helpful little primer:

Sacred Pathways: Discover your soul’s path to God

This guide is designed to help us decipher our own natural resonance for seeking God.  To recognize our sacred pathway is to recognize the uniqueness with which we’ve been made to know the Living God in Christ.

Why does this matter and how does this help us?

For one, it helps identify those activities and exercises that can best feed us spiritually.  For another, it might free us from being frustrated by trying to live someone else’s spirituality. And it might release us from judging others who seek and worship God differently from us.

Nine Sacred Pathways:

Naturalist – Loving God out of doors – recognizing that the earth is the theatre of God’s glory.

Sensate –  Loving God with the Senses.  Being moved by music, drawn closer to God through smell or taste or seeing a painting or fresco that caused your spirit to soar are all signs of a sensate.

Traditionalist – Loving God through ritual and symbolism.  Traditionalists are fed by the historic traditions of the faith including sacraments, rituals and symbols.

Ascetic –  Loving God in Solitude and Simplicity.  Ascetics value solitude and simple surroundings and are fed by silence.

Activist – Loving God through Confrontation.  Activists need to stand up for justice – they are energized by working for justice – the things on God’s heart.

Caregiver –  Loving God by Loving Others.  Caregivers often see God in the poor and needy and are best fed through service to others.

Enthusiast –  Loving God through Mystery and Celebration.  Enthusiasts want excitement and mystery in worship and are cheerleaders for God and the Christian life.

Contemplative –  Loving God through Adoration. Contemplatives seek to love God with the deepest, purest love possible.  Contemplative desire to give themselves completely to God; body, soul and mind.

Intellectual – Loving God with the Mind.  Intellectuals love to discover new truths about God and explore Him with their minds.

No sacred pathway is better than another.

Pointing to Jesus as our model, Matthew Gaither notes:

… We can look at the life of Jesus and understand that as we grow and mature in our faith we too will begin to exhibit preferences for all of these sacred pathways.  As young Christians, we may begin our faith journey by most identifying with only one or two pathways.  But as we begin to let the Holy Spirit work in us and we become more like Christ, we will begin to grow into other pathways and new ways to worship.

Sacred Pathways: Discover your soul’s path to God

Let me encourage you to read through this primer – and identify which sacred pathways you most identify with.  Explore how knowing this might contribute to your spiritual journey.

Note typo in the primer: Chapter Six should read: “Caregiver”, not “Activist” (already identified in Chapter Five).

For more, take the “Sacred Pathways Survey” from Soul Shepherding.

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The Mosaic of Human Existence

Gypsy Girl, one of the most famous Zeugma mosaics, found in the Belkis museum in Turkey.

Here is a great mystery:

“To be chosen does not mean that others are rejected,” Henri Nouwen wrote to a secular Jewish friend.

Our preciousness, uniqueness and individuality are not given to us by those who meet us in clock-time – our brief chronological existence – but by the One who has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity.

The truth is, I am called Beloved:

Keep unmasking the world about you for what it is… the world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: “These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself… that I am… called the Beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace.”

Keep looking for people and places… where you are reminded of your deepest identity as the chosen one… we have to keep on listening to the many men and women… who, through their lives and their words, call us back to it.

You have to celebrate your chosenness constantly. This means saying “thank you” to God for having chosen you, and “thank you” to all who remind you of your chosenness. Gratitude is the most fruitful way of deepening you consciousness that you are not an “accident,” but a divine choice.

“Gratitude begets gratitude, just as love begets love.”

When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being the chosen ones, we soon discover within our selves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness… our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to the chosenness of others…

Your life and my life are, each of them, one-of-a-kind. No one has lived your life or my life before, and no one will ever live them again. Our lives are unique stones in the mosaic of human existence – priceless and irresistible.

Excerpt taken from: “Life of the Beloved” by Henri Nouwen.

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The Earth is the Theatre of God’s Glory

We are all passengers on this elliptical space ship called Earth.  The fact is Earth is where it all happens for us; it’s the magic show, the main event; it is the theatre, along with the light show of the heavens, where the living God displays His glory.

From creation to death, from life forms through life cycles, we all have skin in the game and therefore are obligated to consider how we steward the environment. Now more than ever we are called upon to repair and restore.

Recent news about an old story finds the UK joining other nations in considering laws intended to stem the tide of  virtual islands of plastic floating in the oceans ingested by and choking sea life – indeed, choking all life. Thus today’s offering is timely; it comes from Victoria Rosales writing for Gravity:

“On April 22, 1970, Earth Day was born amidst the backdrop of the Vietnam War, only eight years after Rachel Carson published her masterpiece Silent Spring, an environmental wake-up call that began to inspire new consciousness about our planet. In those days America had not yet fully discovered the effects of the post-WWII industry boom during which suburban America and its needs for convenience and modern technology had created a wasteful, polluting system. Finally awake to the destructive patterns created by society, thousands of citizens demonstrated across the United States in a historic first Earth Day, birthing the modern environmental movement.

The environment is not something external of which we partake but is something of which we are inescapably part.

Engaging contemplation allows us to wake and see the connections between how we simultaneously experience and contribute to environmental degradation. Contemplative practice can help illuminate these connections and assist us in addressing environmental challenges with greater self-awareness and effectiveness.

As we hold Earth and one another in love, we have an opportunity to stretch our contemplative awareness in new ways… You have the ability to play a critical role in changing the culture of a world asleep to truth. A contemplative prayer practice conditions us to live from a place of authenticity, fully alive and aware, able to understand and live from the unconditional love found within.

Contemplative practice makes room for developing a meaningful, integrative, and useful life. It involves developing wisdom for navigating and engaging the world.

We are all capable of engaging our world in a way that brings effective change to prevent the violence and destruction unfairly imposed on our world and our planet.

Join us in fostering attitudes and actions that promote our connection to each other and all created things. May we enhance the effectiveness of our environmental efforts by being rooted in Divine love.”

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