Honoring the Contents of Another’s Story

by Mark Cutshall


I live with a deficiency that’s been teaching me a thing or two as a spiritual director.

I think of it as a kind of poor man’s dark night of the soul. Before we take this to silence, a humble reminder that what’s said in this blog, stays in this blog:

I lose my keys. Like really often.

My keys will peek at me from behind the couch cushion and run. Gone. For hours. Sometimes days. It’s gotten to the point they don’t even bother to text me.

I would go on a silent retreat just to search my soul to locate them. But first I’d have to unlock the car.

And maybe here’s where the spiritual direction piece comes in. The other morning, I honestly thought I’d lost my keys for good. I moaned out loud in the kitchen and heard a familiar woman’s voice. “Honey, would you like to borrow my keys? They’re in my purse.”


My wife’s purse was right there within arm’s reach.

“Please give me the purse.”

Did I consent to this simple request? I’ll tell you what I did; I thought of the bumper sticker I’d seen one that said, “My Wife Says I Don’t Listen . . . or Something Like That.”

As spiritual directors, aren’t we trained to quiet down inside and listen for God who already inhabits the moment? How else can we truly sense, and respond to, the Spirit’s nudge?

Before Linda said, “Please give me my purse” for the third time, I was busily searching where no man should go.

My discovery: The faux leather interior of her purse seemed limitless. Inside the many zippered pockets lived a department store: Scraps of paper. Lip gloss. One red hair brush. A prescription from Walgreens. And a family of ball point pens.

Everything but the keys.

Somewhere between her nail clippers and a small forest of gum wrappers, I fell into a chuckle.

As a spiritual director, I truly enjoy listening to my directees’ honest search for self and God. Yet, in my human curiosity, I can be tempted to reach into their story and take possession of an unformed question, or an unspoken fear. Kind of like reaching into a big, black bag that’s not mine in search of things that don’t belong to me.

You know, I honestly can’t remember where I misplaced my keys that day, or how they made their way back into my life.

What I can tell you is that when I sit down to meet with my directee tonight, I’ll lay my key ring aside and focus on the person before me. My job will be to hold their unique and precious story. I will listen for God who is already very-well acquainted with the contents of their life. After all, it’s their “purse,” not mine.






The Fig Tree in Manure

by Margie Van Duzer


Fig tree

Many years ago my pastor said to me, “Margie, there are two kinds of people in the world – truth people and mercy people.  You are a truth person.”  In other words, he was gently suggesting that I had some room to grow in mercy.  I am quick to see my weaknesses and sin.  Unfortunately, perhaps even a bit more quick to see the faults and sins of others.  This is especially true for anyone who messes with my loved ones. I can quickly recall the horrible bedside manner of a medical expert who visited my son years ago.  Or, that unfair treatment my other son received in the hands of a less than enlightened basketball coach.  My kids have long since gotten over such slights. I have not. Mercy is not my strongest suit.

In one of my most recent grudge-holding moments, I came across a Eugene Peterson sermon* on Luke 13:6-9 – one of the fig tree parables. Now, I consider myself pretty familiar with the New Testament but somehow over the years I had missed this story.  And in the wonderful way that only Peterson can do, he made the text come alive. I have now spent weeks pouring over and praying with this parable.

It states:

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, “Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none.  Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?” And he answered him, “Let it alone, sir, this year also, ‘til I dig about it and put on manure.  And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

And as I have lived with this story I find that I have moved around a bit.

I was first drawn to the owner.  He had the instinctual response to cut the tree down. Of course cut it down!  Who needs its ugly and totally unproductive presence? And, in my imagination, it’s not just unproductive, its counter-productive – its unhealthy state is causing a stench. Get rid of it. Get it out of here. Chop it down. I took pleasure in the idea of getting rid of the bad fig tree. If I could get rid of this fig tree (and of course by extension, the current object of my judgment who I believed was responsible for my yucky feelings and circumstances), then obviously all would be well.  

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), that is not the end of the parable.  And after a while I found myself migrating from the owner’s shoes into the shoes of the gardener.   The parable continues with the gardener encouraging the owner to let it alone.  Let it be.  Darn.  Okay. So I won’t cut it down.  Still, I took some satisfaction in imagining manure being spread all around the fig tree.  Some translations use the term fertilizer but manure is so much more vivid. It brought up memories of the cattle feed lot near my grandmother’s farm, where when the wind was right, the foul aroma could make my stomach lurch. I relished pouring that manure around the feet of the person who was the current target of my wrath and indignation. Yes, I could use my Ignatian imagination prayer exercise and really get into that image of the bad fig tree in a sea of manure doing its slow and smelly work. I could pray this.  After all, I was praying Scripture.

All this is true.  However, I could not read and re-read this passage without realizing that ultimately it was a parable connected to mercy and forgiveness.  In fact, the Greek root word used in the gardener’s request to “let it alone,” is the same word used in the Lord ’s Prayer, “forgive us our sins….” I knew I was being reminded of the need to let go of holding on to my grudge, to be merciful and forgive.  Yet, one thing is to pray that prayer out of obedience.  It is another thing altogether to fully and emotionally enter into it. I could do the former, but not the latter.

This is where the last shift came.  In my imagining the parable, and recognizing my inability to fully forgive, I began to imagine myself not as the owner or the gardener, but finally as the fig tree itself. Yes, I, too, am not producing the fruit, especially the forgiveness fruit, that God would ultimately desire from me. And part of my growth process involves welcoming the manure that the gardener wants to spread around me; manure that may not smell so great, but that is doing a deep work to make me a more healthy fig tree.

As I ponder this, I once again realize that it all comes back to surrendering myself to my loving gardener.  A gardener who is patient and does not give up.  I submit to God’s process of growing me in forgiveness. I can’t force it.  I can’t make it happen.  I can only humbly bring myself to God, submitting to what God sees as necessary for my growth in mercy.

I wish I could tell you I no longer need the manure, that I am a fully healthy fig tree.  But remember, I am a truth person and so I cannot.  But, by living into the truth of this parable, perhaps, just perhaps, I am growing a bit more in understanding about God and God’s mercy.    

Margie Van Duzer


*Sermon from As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson, pages 249-255.

Wounded Healers

by Rev. Terry Tripp, CFDM Co-Director

Abby on Isle of Iona

This summer my youngest daughter and I traveled to Ireland and Scotland. It was a trip a year in planning and a life time of desire. It did not disappoint on so many levels. One of the loveliest moments of the trip came the last evening while staying on the Isle of Iona on the west coast of Scotland. This is where St. Columba arrived from Ireland in 563 to set up a ministry of discipleship and healing. There has been in some form or another a vital faith presence there since. On the Tuesday evening that we were there, the abbey had their service of healing. It was quite something to have nearly 400 people from all over the world praying for the world and individuals alike for wholeness – for Christ’s touch of peace; for shalom in body, mind and spirit.

We are all “wounded healers” – God’s people doing, praying, saying, and living as instruments of His peace and wholeness in this hurting world. Prayer is a powerful tool in the vastness of pain that permeates our lives. I have been so moved by the suffering recently, not only in Houston, but in Bangladesh and India, because of storms that ravaged people’s lives. As we hold their vulnerability, we become vulnerable to their loss and come before our God who is at work in the darkest places. These words of Peter Millar (an associate of the community at Iona) from his book, “An Iona Prayer Book”, say well our call to prayer for healing for one another and the world:

Prayer lies at the heart of Christ’s ministry of healing, so when we pray we are joining with him in the vital work of redeeming and transfiguring this world. Through our intercessions we are not seeking to change God, but rather to open up the possibility that his healing energy may permeate our human condition. In this, we recall the wonderful words of Jesus which are true even in the most painful situation: ‘Come to me all you who are troubled and I will give you rest.’ We all carry many hurts and pains in our lives, yet in the power of the Holy Spirit we can be instruments of healing – ‘wounded healers’ for one another. We offer our prayers for others, always recognizing our own vulnerability.

To pray is be vulnerable. To seek God for his will to be done in the suffering of others, is to identify with that suffering and be changed by it. More compassion, more grace, more humility, more love, more of all that God wants to fill us up with. Join me in praying for healing for the world and one another in all our vulnerability.


Catch the Wind; Ride the Wave

by Gwen Shipley, CFDM Faculty

I’m on the beach at Manzanita. My son-in-law has filled us with an egg-skillet breakfast, and Bread & Ocean has furnished the coffee and GF blueberry pastries. I have walked on the beach with my life partner, browsed the bookstore with a grand and now am watching two others dig and cartwheel in the sand under the post-noon sun as I write.


When we arrived moments ago, the six-year-old ran, with complete abandon, for the edge of the sea as I watched on high alert. Water holds no threat for him. He has been to the ocean every summer of his life, had swim lessons early on and been raised with an in-ground, backyard pool. I, on the other hand, am not a water baby. Raised in the Pacific Northwest, yes, but inland.

Captain Courage continued past those already stationed on the beach, this time without the company of older siblings. Was he safe or should I be concerned? Was the tide coming or going? What about those infamous sneaker waves or riptides? He’s so carefree and easily distracted… We agreed on what seemed a reasonably safe radius—for now.

In the distance, a kiteboarder skillfully rides the waves. The yellow and blue, half-moon kite dips and dives but mostly soars, pulling the rider across the water at breakneck speed. He or she zigs and zags left then right, atop the white foam; leaning, turning at exactly the right times, occasionally venturing beyond the rolling breakers into deep, deep water, cutting a figure barely visible from the shore, save for the outline of the kite. It’s an exhilarating spectacle. I imagine watching my grand do the same one day.

What a beautiful reflection of a life lived in God. Don’t we all start out responding to God’s love as naive, abandoned and distractible as any 6-year-old running toward the ocean? I’m sure this surfer did, too. For the love of the water, love that displaces fear, he or she:

  • Continues to learn the ocean and the sport
  • Explores his/her own capacities
  • Both respects and challenges personal limitations
  • Ventures into deeper water
  • Inspires others

Do you feel a fresh longing for the waves? Is there something stirring, pulling you toward a more exhilarating experience with God?

Have you participated in Formation 1 or 2, Spiritual Director Training or a one-day workshop in the past? What drew you toward the “ocean”? Is your “kite to the wind,” turned to catch the Spirit’s breeze? Or is your adventure in transformation just a memory?

Perhaps some of us find ourselves sitting on the beach, sand blowing in our eyes, fearful and paralyzed. Maybe others are staying close to shore, while deeper water beckons us further on.

For all of us, may life with God mirror the adventure of kiteboarding:

  • Know the Love that casts out fear
  • Grow in discernment and God-awareness
  • Deepen in self-awareness and empathy
  • Both respect and challenge your limitations
  • Venture deeper with God
  • Give of ourselves on behalf of others


The Water is waiting.



by Rev. Mona Chicks, contributor

As an American, I have grown up in a nation that celebrates independence and freedom as its highest values, spoken of as if they are synonymous. We are independent and free; free and independent. Don’t take away my freedoms, for they give me voice, power, and security. They give me the ability to live “the American dream” – and do it on my own – right?

And yet, I find as I walk with Jesus that independence and freedom are very different. In my Christian journey independence leads to bondage, whereas freedom comes from submitting to my dependence on God. When I try to do things on my own, I fail. When I allow God the space to work in and through me, the result is always much better than I could have imagined.

A few years ago, I was involved as a lay pastor at a small church. There was a lot I was trying to do on my own – leading, teaching, and preaching. I knew that God was guiding me, but I wasn’t relying on Jesus much to actually get things done.  I designed and led a spiritual formation retreat for the very few individuals who signed up (and to be honest, only one person signed up because it was a formation retreat – everyone else had signed up because it was a retreat and they didn’t have any responsibilities around it). The retreat went well, but the lack of actual interest in learning tools for drawing closer to God was disheartening. Soon after, through lectio divina on Luke 5, I heard God saying to me that I should “fish” elsewhere. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but soon my family had changed churches.

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11

Eighteen months after that little, ineffective retreat, I was privileged to watch as 200 people excitedly learned tools to draw them closer to God at a one-day retreat that I had worked hard to create. The very next day, the sermon at church was on the same story of the abundant catch, a potent reminder to me of God’s promise to fill my nets to overflowing if I would only trust Him. When I tried to do it “on my own,” my efforts fell flat. But when I gave up my independence and relied on God to act, the abundance of the response was astounding. And in the process, I know that I came closer to understanding what it means to be made in the Image of God.

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

(2 Cor 3:16-18)


True freedom comes from being connected to the Lord, allowing the Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ. Freedom is Jesus. Freedom isn’t found in a list or in having no constraints. Freedom is allowing the Creator of the Universe to continue creating – for you!


Making All Things New

by Terry Tripp, Director, Spiritual Formation Program

What does it mean that the Lord will make all things new?  That God creates out of nothing, something that will glorify God’s name and bring righteousness to the earth? How does life come from death? How does it happen that we participate in this becoming new – in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth?  These are the questions of those who seek Jesus and His righteousness.  I’m pondering them anew as I begin a brand new season of my life; living in a new home in a new town with new spaces to fill.

This last year I have had the great privilege of watching my new home being built where there was nothing.  Stage by stage, the foundation was laid, the walls were erected, the roof covered the insides and the house took shape while we had the heaviest rainfall in recorded history in the NW!  Now, as I’m still putting away the “things” of my life – finding where to hang a beloved picture or the best drawer to put the silverware in, I’m struck by how this is a metaphor for choosing to discern what God is doing in new places when clouds cover the sky.  How does God fit together the pieces of our lives, chosen and mostly not chosen?

All done

God’s work of building our lives into the beloved daughters and sons of the Lord’s choosing is a mystery.  But we can long for God, desire God’s will, look for what is happening deep within our souls and name it in order to bring beauty and participation in our Lord’s action in and through us for the sake of the world.  For me, it might as well boil down to love.  How am I participating in God’s love today?  How am I not loving?  Looking at both is necessary to the self-awareness that brings God-awareness, which creates intimacy, which gives discernment around choices that fill in the spaces of your life.

Choosing what plants – what trees and flowers to populate my garden with has been lovely.  The roses and peonies, especially remind me of my Mom.  She was a great gardener.  I think the best part of her garden was the ability to give away the flowers she grew in order to bless others with beauty.  We give away all that God gives us every day, so that we can fill the earth with the aroma of God’s righteousness played out in real time in real people in real ways.  How is God making all things new in your life today?  Look within and without, and find yourself in the middle of a new day to play with life as the beloved of God in a world in need of your love; making all things new.






by Boni Piper, Spiritual Formation Director

Living in Seattle during this long rainy season has been like a long Lent.  And when a day like today happens, and the sun comes out and being outside is glorious, it feels Easter has arrived!  This Lent, like the several before it, I spent much of the time in Kenya, where there is no water and the sun shines hot and constant.  But that does not feel like Easter at all.  It feels like “being in a dry and desperate land where there is no water” that the Psalms talk about.

I never return home from Kenya the same as when I went.  God often uses this time to show me my false self, the unfinished business that drives my actions and my complaining spirit that always wants more.  This time was no different.  But being with the women of rural Kenya always changes my perspective.  How is it that these women can have no material wealth and be so thankful?  How can they endure the hardship of searching for water for hours and carrying home heavy jerry cans of disease ridden water and not be bitter?  In the midst of no real future for their children, how do they continue to praise God for his goodness?  How do they keep trusting God so completely?


Isaiah 58 tells us to get rid of unfair practices, stop blaming the victims, quit gossiping, be generous, give yourself to those in need.  All wonderful Lenten commitments, that hopefully continue throughout our lives.  And the promise included in these verses is that we will be a “well-watered garden…that never runs dry.”  But I feel dry!  I feel worn out, tired and old!

Yet, as I contemplated these verses and looked within myself another truth emerged.  I wrestled with God and reminded him how old I am, how weak physically and prone to illness I am, he spoke another truth though Isaiah.  “I will always show you where to go.  I will give you a full life in the emptiest of places – firm muscles, strong bones.”  And certainly he has. I heard in my head, “after all, you are my beloved!”

That is what the women of Kenya know that I so often forget.  Whatever the situation we are in, God is there.  We are never alone in the joy or the hardship.  His love permeates it all!  His love fills up the emptiness, encourages the tired and protects the spirit of those who struggle. In knowing that love, I can sing and dance with my friends.  I can trust that though I don’t understand why there is such injustice in the world, being the beloved is the greatest joy of all! I can answer the call to do what I can and trust God with the rest.  Being his beloved is a gift bigger than we imagine.  It is true privilege.


Opening to Life

by Gwen Shipley, CFDM Faculty and Spiritual Director


It’s been a Narnian winter for sure—except there was a Christmas! The weather has been unrelenting across the Northwest, the kind meteorologists say we should expect every 20 years or so—but on steroids. Just when it seemed Spring was arriving, another round of flakes would fall.  Never mind that it has made for extraordinary photo ops and ensures much-needed moisture in the orchards and vineyards; the change of season can’t come soon enough!

In what feels like a repeat of Advent, I have grown impatient in the waiting. And, in fact, here we are waiting…waiting…waiting once again. Waiting for the promise of Resurrection awaiting us at the end of this season called Lent.

Originally, “lent” simply meant “the season of spring.” Eventually, though, it came to mean the forty days of solemn preparation leading to the commemoration of Christ’s passion prior to Easter. And, as is its nature, waiting makes the arrival of a thing even sweeter.

Growing up in a generally non-liturgical tradition, I found great meaning in the discovery of the church calendar. In the same way the Julian calendar marks the passage of time promising change when the natural seasons grow interminably long, meaningful moments in the life of the church when celebrated with others around the world, herald hope. They remind us that what can seem like a solitary journey, has been shared by others for centuries of seasons. The CFDM community and culture aim to provide a context in which we can share that same journey with our contemporaries. No one need travel alone.    

  • Some of you are “lifers” in this vein of Christian thought and experience known as spiritual formation.
  • Some are just exploring a vocabulary and set of practices that stretch the boundaries of familiarity.
  • Still others are experiencing the joy of discovering new life and freedom in your identity as The Beloved of God.

Thomas Merton likes to remind us, speaking especially of prayer, that “we will never be anything but beginners, all our life!”

Whatever your kronos timeline, we are all on the same path. Edna Hong calls it a path of “downward ascent…ending before the cross, where we stand in the white light of a new beginning” (Bread and Wine, 2003, Plough Publishing, p. 25).

“I have found only one religion that dares to go down with me into the depth of myself,” writes GK Chesterton, perfectly describing the “Going Deeper with God” experience, and the essential Lenten journey. Hong expands on this theme stating, “No other religion dares to take me down to the new beginning.”

The yearly recurrence of this Lenten/Easter period reminds us that just as Spring follows Winter in a cycle of robust, natural renewal, we, too, are invited into a life-sustaining cycle of releasing and receiving. My prayer is that we may continue to open to the Life, the new beginning we are being given in this and in every season.    

What is your experience of Lent? What are you reading, practicing? Comment below or jump over to FB. Share with us and with one another your experiences of Going Deeper with God in this season.


When God is Silent

by Rev. Terry Tripp, CFDM Co-Director


Just when I felt myself to be more grounded in love than in grief; I was reminded that they go together; never to be separated.  I don’t want to keep crying out for what I can’t have – my husband, John.  But I do and I will – maybe not as much or as hard as those first few years after he died, but it comes to me at times unbidden.  He is still loved.

My office window has a view of the Olympic Mountains and some of Lake Washington – I stare a lot!

Common license photo by Stevekuo


Time to stare
Lofty white peaks
Deep blue sea
Green branches unfurled
Sprouting closed buds
Promise yet to unfold
Witness to Love’s
Unbroken promise
Filling the spaces
Left behind

The mystery of empty spaces being filled by grief as a sign of love has captivated my search for God; a God revealed in relationship, not prescriptive signs.  This is a lot harder than following a religion of rules which would make life a lot easier.  Rules would have outcomes that make sense.  Rather than a relationship that can’t be controlled.

Beth Slevcove in her book, “Broken Hallelujahs”, puts it this way, “So, how do we ‘stay on the way’ when we experience periods of prolonged silence from God, when we are forced to figure out which of the ‘promises of God’ are true and which ones are wishful thinking rooted more in a need for security than in the mysterious otherness of God?”

Traumatic experiences of loss or simply acknowledging that to be human is to lose, can in itself push us to grow into beautiful Formations, when we ask God to help us survive the un-survivable.  Holy grief is that process in which we accept the unacceptable, when we choose to believe that God is doing something in love that we have no idea about.  

As I prepare for Lent, for pondering again the sacramental nature of God, I hope to regain a piece of myself that is simply love made purer in the face of loss; in the face of God’s silence.  I wrote the following in January of 2011, eight months after John had died:


Body and blood
Bread and cup
Suffering holds me sacramentally
One with God
Life is a sacrament
Received as given
Falling into embrace
Only love matters

I grieve because I love.  And I love so many people, things, places, and values, that in themselves would be nothing if not infused with God’s creative mark – and when that mark is recognized, we fall in love with God through them.  The loss of them makes life larger if the Creator of them is the sought out end.  Then silence is broken.

Open Doors


by David Hicks, CFDM Faculty


This last fall I heard a new word that I have been thinking a lot about especially going into the new year of 2017. It’s a German word, ‘schwellenangst’. It literally means the fear of crossing a threshold. It is often used simply as the fear of moving into something new. Thresholds are something that a person must step over or across in order to leave one space and go through a doorway into a new space. The phrase “on the cusp” speaks to this as well. It means to be on the threshold of something but not yet stepping through the door into that new space.


As we stand “on the cusp” of 2017 many of us are experiencing some “schwellenangst” about stepping through this doorway. What will the new year hold? How will I handle it? Will it hurt? Maybe the new year will bring the opening of some doors or the closing of others and we are not quite sure how we will discern our own movement through it. Take a moment at the start of this new year to become aware of any sense of fear or anxiety about moving forward. What are you leaving behind? What are you in midst of? What are you sensing lies ahead? Are you at all fearful or anxious about any of this?


In the midst of my own schwellenangst I have been reflecting on the words of Jesus to the church in Philadelphia recorded in Revelation 3:7-8. “What He opens, no one can shut; and what He shuts, no one can open…. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.”


The thing about doorways is that we generally have a pretty good idea of what lies on the other side. Sometimes, not often, we are caught off guard, like walking into our own surprise party. But most of the time we know, “I am walking through the door from the hallway into my bedroom”, or “I am walking through the door from the parking lot into the grocery store”. If only it were that clear-cut in the spiritual life. We often barely know the space we are in much less the area we will be walking into. And thus the angst. The fear. That anxiety that causes our spirit to tighten up. We don’t know what is on the other side of this doorway. We don’t know if it will help us or harm us. We can’t see in order to prepare ourselves to go through it, so we are afraid.


But the ability to go through these doors is not based on knowing what is on the other side, but on knowing who is on the other side. If these are doors of God’s creation placed before us as invitations then our fear must give way to faith. Faith in the One who has placed it before us and who invites us to step through it with Him into a new space. This new space may be fun and exciting or it may be challenging and difficult. Either way we must go through the open door. After all, when someone is holding a door open for you it’s impolite to make them wait.