What I Shared at Wild Goose Festival, Part 4: Just Spirit

I was honored to work with Linda Flynn, a spiritual director from Charlotte, NC. We’ve been looking for a way to help activists keep their spirits alive and well, knowing that the occupational hazards of justice-related work are great. We offered this session to a full house (i.e. tent) at Wild Goose, and invited activists to attend to the well-being of their own souls. Below are Linda’s notes from our session. One of the highlights  was having people share, and then Linda modeling spiritual direction in her responses. It was a sweet time.

Hey, it’s not too soon to start planning for Wild Goose Festival 2018! Check it out.


“JustSpirit” invites the radical activist into the heart of prayerful contemplation to rejuvenate and renew the Spirit within.  While the work of sacred activism is critical to living out our truest values of faith, discernment and spiritual grounding is equally as important.   This session is a sneak peak of a fuller “retreat in everyday life” program being launched in 2018 for participants worldwide who are hungry for the spiritual depth and nourishment needed to be a healthy contemplative in action.    Integrating Ignatian spirituality, imaginative prayer, spiritual direction and tools for discernment, JustSpirit invites the do-er into be-ing so that the work of social justice is met with self-care and intimate relationship with God and one another.


We begin with a prayer  “O God who are you?  O God who am I?
St. Francis of Assisi said that if this was the only prayer we ever uttered our whole lives long, it would be sufficient for our spiritual growth!   Welcome to JustSpirit, where we share the beautiful journey of coming to know God and ourselves more fully so that we are sufficiently nourished for the work of healing justice!


~The goal of JustSpirit is to HEAL THE HEALERS. Jesus was a healer. As activists, we are all healers, constantly vacillating between hope and discouragement, resilience and fatigue of grief.  This is the reality of living out a “spirituality of justice.” It just seems right that there is justice done unto our Spirit.  It is more than self-care. It is a necessary step in non-violence towards ourselves.


The fruits of spiritual direction contemplation:

I have sat with hundreds of folks over the years, many of them activists and/or clergy.  Together we have come to understand the critical need for these faithful leaders to hear themselves, dissect the meaning of their own spoken words so that they hear their souls deeply.   We ponder together penetrating questions that help them remember, with deeper awareness, the Holy working within them and around them. We discern the work they wish to take on or let go of, and helping them re-claim the “why” behind their labor in the fields.


I have asked activists what they feel is their greatest challenge spiritually. Some do not even know how to answer as if there is reflection given to the cost of sacred activism!  Other have identified these things as affecting their spirit:

~lack of trust in institutions and people

~losing hope, being disheartened

~keeping perspective

~ keeping ego out of way

~anger when they are not being understood,

~ remaining calm when others react emotionally

~maintaining compassion for the other

~ fatigue

While the answers vary widely, there is one common thread, everyone longs to hit the reset button and connect to the Source of all that is good and true and beautiful in this work!


Contemplation One:  Where Am I?

Connecting to our soul’s voice and listening deeply

~What is the reoccurring crisis or challenge to your spirituality as an activist?  Identify one thing today.

~Practice of going deeper:  Close your eyes and allow your mind to be a blank palette.   Trust that God/Great Love/Creative Spirit can speak to you through your imagination.

~If this crisis or challenge you just identified were a painting, a picture, an image, or a symbol, what would it be?  Take your time, do not force it, just let it just arise.

~Now, let the image speak to you.  What does it want you to know about it?

~What is its deepest desire for your soul-care?   For your work?

~ Imagine it giving you a tangible feeling of compassion throughout your body.  As you open your eyes, thank it for coming to you.

~Classic spiritual direction question:  What is God doing in bringing this image to you?


Other things to think about:  is my challenge, crisis, or suffering as an activist coming from a place of lost freedom?  (lack of discernment, imposed obligation, ego, attachment to outcome of work?)   Do not beat yourself up, just notice it- taking a long loving look at the real.

Contemplation Two:  Cultivating an ever- deepening connection with Source.

Reconnecting to our true selves, the God within and without.

~Spirituality is how we channel our loving energy (eros/passion) that longs to be in union with something greater than ourselves.  God’s longs for us, which draws us to long for God.  We are created in desire, therefore we are desirable!

~ We often think there is a way or a path to become closer to God.  NO!  How does God come close to us? In Ignatian spirituality, we understand that movement of the heart is prayerful communication.   How do we raise our consciousness towards this?  By sensitizing ourselves to the Holy in our midst.  A  simple Ignatian awareness examen can do just this.


Awareness Examen:  Trust that the Holy will bring to your memory what you need to see.  The ask the questions: Where did I experience love today (God)?  How did I respond?  Where did I experience fear today?  (not of God)  How did I respond?

Contemplation Three:  Discernment. 

Reconnecting to the why of the work!  Sometimes we need to hit reset button.

~ Discernment is what happens before action. Discernment asks the question:  where Is God’s love active?  Is it non-violent towards myself, my family?

By whose authority am I called to this work?

~ Ignatius of Loyola would say that there is good and greater good.  How do we know if what we are choosing to do as an activist is best? (the difference between the good or the better?)

Simple Ignatian tools:

  1. Discernment by memory(Israelites did this in the desert!)  When have I experienced  this type of crisis or challenge before?  What happened?  What is God reminding me of by bringing this particular memory to me?
  2. Discernment thru the body(“try it on method”)  For two days tell yourself you are pursuing a particular action.  Pay special attention to your body, aches/pains, relief, sleep habits, dreams, appetite, feelings, emotions, reactions towards daily life. Then for two days, tell yourself you are NOT pursuing the particular action. Notice the same reactions as in the previous two days.
  3. Discernment by reason  Every decision has its gains and losses.  This very practical method was Ignatius’ solution when there is a tightly formed question at hand. Make 4 columns:  What are the gains and losses of taking action?  What are the gains and losses of NOT taking action.  Then the lists must be weighed by importance, impact, not # of items listed.

4.Single question discerment: Am I operating out of love or fear?  (this cuts to the quick!)


Contemplation 4:  Being a contemplative in action

Re-engaging in mission as an activist

~all these things we spoke about will have a grounding effect to the work of our activism.

~  Some final things:  teach tricks for maintaining personal energy space, not taking in another’s energy. (hedges, bubble, etc)

~Engage in holy listening: 

  1. Hearing another’s words and asking them to unpack what they mean by them.
  2.  Slow down the inquiry in our heads, not assuming where they are coming from and going to with their points.
  3. Speaking only from a new understanding.

~Acceptance of the real.  Staying connected to beauty.  Hallway imagery (when the work is not where you want it to be yet. Going to be here for a while.  How do you want to furnish the space?  What brings you peace even amid pain, joy amid frustration?

~Keep perspective. Walter Burghardt – “Take a long loving look at the real.”

~ Buddhist tale of KisaGotami  (joy has its suffering, suffering has its joy) This is the life of an activist who shares the very heart of God, in community!