Beginning the Work Again :: The Redemption of Pieces of Ourselves

Holding his heart.

Pieces of the heart.

One of the struggles I faced early on when it came to re-beginning “the work” was giving myself permission to even enter into it. 

It felt like entering into this new process would undo everything I’ve grown into over the course of many years. 

Because here’s the thing. 

When I look out over the scope of my spiritual formation, I see one long, circuitous journey ever building on itself. The first 19 years were the foundation stones of my belief. Then, at age 19, I broke open in a type of second conversion. This led to “sitting in the dark” for two straight years, questioning everything I thought I knew about myself and God and willfully asking God to teach me what love meant.

At the end of those two years, I encountered Jesus in a new way. This fundamentally changed me and ushered me into a couple more years spent getting to know this Jesus and letting myself be known by him. 

This led, very gradually but naturally, into a more tender heart for others. I began to long for others to know their worth and value in an intimate, real way, the same way I had come to learn my own. This opened my heart and life into informal means of ministry. 

After about five or six years of growing into this new and tenderized heart, I received — and then answered — a call to formal ministry, which led to enrolling in graduate studies for spiritual formation and a three-year training program for spiritual direction.

Then, through my graduate studies, I encountered the ideology of nonviolence. 

This gripped and changed my life, too.

Now I found my heart broadened from a love for those who are wounded to a love for those who do the wounding. I noticed a deep well of compassion building up in me for those who are victimizers, perpetrators, hardened, and even murderous.

I didn’t fully understand this growing love in me, but I knew it was important. It seemed the natural and eventual outflow of a life changed and gripped by Christ. I wondered how the love that had transformed me might also transform individuals we instinctively dismiss or repel as being too far gone. I wondered how the love that transformed me might perhaps transform society. 

In stepping into this new healing work, it felt like all of that evolution of growth in me was getting lost.

Because the truth of the matter is, I’m bumping up against violence here in this healing place — violence done against me — and I am nowhere near a nonviolent response to it.

I’m nowhere near forgiveness or peace. I’m nowhere near compassion for the one who harmed me. I’m nowhere near the rooted, peace-and-love proponent I’ve slowly yet steadily become in the last 15 years.

I’m in a reeling, scared, hurt, and angry place. 

Perhaps you can see why I’d be unwilling to give myself permission to enter into this new part of my story that emerged in that fateful session with my spiritual director last month. Perhaps you can see why I’d not want to touch it with a 10-foot-pole once I began to feel some of the feelings tied to it. 

Would this new journey erase those 15 years?

Was I not a real proponent of nonviolence if I couldn’t respond to this revelation with willing charity and forgiveness? 

These are the questions I’d begun asking myself, and this is where the wisdom of Debbie, my therapist, was a God-send.

“What if we thought of it this way?” she said when I met with her last week. “I think of our hearts having been fractured because of the Fall. They’re broken into pieces. And the work of redemption, or our spiritual formation, is the healing and restoration of those pieces to wholeness.”

As she said all this, I nodded vigorously. I believe this to be true.

She continued, “What if pieces of your heart — the pieces you’ve known all these years to be growing into love and a nonviolent response — are pieces that have been restored to wholeness, but this new part over here hasn’t? Could there be room for this new part to go through the process, too?”

Man, she’s wise. 

I guess what I want to say here is that if you’re scared to enter into the process, you’re not alone. I’m scared, too! Nor are you cuckoo for fearing you’ll lose whatever growth you’ve realized already in your life. I’m scared of this, too!

But also hear this, just as I am hearing it: That growth isn’t gone. You haven’t lost it. It’s not irrelevant, and it’s not erased. It really happened. It’s still real. It’s just that there’s another part — a newly discovered part — that needs to experience that same kind of growth. It needs to be given a chance to learn what the other parts of yourself have already learned. 

Is this helpful for you to hear? Can you relate to the fears I’ve been feeling at the outset of this process?

The Body Series: Do No Harm


Today I gave myself a pedicure.

It’s something I’ve been telling myself I’d do for weeks — even possibly months! — because I’m hard on my feet and have a tendency to develop callouses easily. But it takes time to care for my feet, so I’ve been putting it off. 

Just after I got started, the phone rang. It was Kirk, checking in while he was grabbing lunch. We talked for a few minutes, but then he needed to hang up and said he’d call back shortly. 

So I decided to wait on the pedicure treatment until he called back.

I sat on the side of the bathtub with wet, soapy feet and checked in on Facebook. 

There, I discovered a trail of status updates by a friend who is attending a conference that includes a panel discussion of pacifism vs. the just war theory. You may or may not know that I began studying nonviolence and peacemaking about four and a half years ago, so I was quite interested in the views my friend had begun sharing about the conference. 

And I dove right into the discussion. 

Thirty minutes later, I still had wet, soapy, un-pedicured feet.

But the dialogue had absolutely lit me up. I love thinking about nonviolence — what it means, what it looks like, how it finds a home inside our daily lives, what it means concerning the broader world, how it interacts with politics and nations and citizenship and humanity.

I sat there on the bathtub edge and connected, once again, with my conviction about the dignity of every human person, about the power of love to overcome and transform violence, about the spark of God in every person that causes me to honor them and seek to never do them harm. 

(I am by no means a guru at this.)

When I picked up the loofah and began sudsing my feet again, I kept thinking about my nonviolence convictions. And then as I rubbed my feet and ankles with my peppermint foot scrub, my thoughts turned toward the care I was demonstrating toward my feet in that very instant.

As I ran the hot water over my feet, washing the suds and pumice granules away, I began to realize something: the two — nonviolence and the body — are actually connected.

I thought: 

If I’m so keen to care for and honor my neighbor, no matter who they are, should I not also honor and care for my own body? 

Perhaps caring for the body has something to do with the “do no harm” principle. 

I’m doing my body harm when I feed it junk food. But conversely, I’m treating it with love when I feed it living foods, when I do yoga, when I take the time to pedicure my feet and them smooth their skin with lotion. 

Can I regard my body the way I seek to regard other human beings? Shouldn’t the nonviolence principle also apply to myself?

What are your thoughts on the “do no harm” principle as applied to your body?

A (Near) Month of Thanks: Influences

Right now.

If you had a glimpse of my interior world in college (and high school, and junior high, and grade school), you’d discover I was a pretty wound-up perfectionist constantly worrying and straining to make things right. If there’s a word to describe the image I hold of my young self in all those days, it would be the word scruples

But then God cracked me open, and a whole bunch of messiness ensued.

Confusion. Exploration. Possibility. Hope. Life. Grace. Love. Freedom. Depth. Calm. Solidity. Openness. 

The spiral of life and growth continues along these lines, with each new season bringing its portion of disorientation, exploration, discovery, and life. It leads to increased rootedness but usually requires a bit of freefall first. 

When I look back over the terrain of my spiritual journey and who I’ve become and am continuing to become, I’m incredibly thankful for the many wise influences, mentors, guides, and spiritual parents who have shaped me. 

When it comes to influences, I am thankful for: 

  • Clifford Williams, whose book Singleness of Heart began me on my heart journey
  • Anne Lamott, who first taught me about grace and the beauty of imperfection
  • Don Miller, who put language to some of my experiences and modeled permission to explore
  • St. John of the Cross, who first taught me about spiritual formation
  • My friend Sara, who gave me space to process the journey
  • Jesus, the first model for all I believe and do today
  • Henri Nouwen, who opened deeper the world of interiorities and helped clarify my sense of vocation
  • Mother Teresa, whose model of love still teaches me
  • Gandhi, who was and always will be the father of my nonviolence journey
  • Martin Luther King Jr., another father to me in the road marked by love and conviction
  • Thomas Merton, my spiritual father in contemplation and peace
  • Julian of Norwich, who currently models for me my life of prayer

Who are the influences that have shaped your life, and how would you express thanks for them?

Prayer Can Be ... "Please"

I will write peace on your wings, and you will fly all over the world.

The last few days, into the wee hours of the night and morning, I’ve been transcribing interviews with individuals living deep inside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Christians. Jews. Muslims. 

Scholars. Farmers. Refugees. 

Government officials. Bedouin natives.  

They tell a story that will absolutely break your heart.

There is so much of this conflict I’m not sure many of us really know. We hear the news headlines and sound bytes, but we rarely hear the stories. We rarely hear of day-to-day life for everyday people living there. We rarely hear the narrative arc, as both sides tell it, of this small but always simmering and often explosive corner of our delicate world. 

When I hear the stories of land lost, houses demolished, families separated, roads blocked, curfews instated, IDs revoked, and barbed wire and walls put up, my heart cries out with one plea: 


When I hear of displacement, dispossession, and oppression, my heart cries out: 


When I hear of the despair, the suicide attempts, the lost grip on the value of one’s own life, my heart cries:


When I hear of nonviolent resistance, of peace petitions, of generous concessions met with violence or silence, my heart cries out: 


When I see the international response of apathy or ignorance or pigeon-holing or blind-eyeing, I cry out in sadness: 


These are cries of prayer for peace. For resolution. For mercy. For wisdom to know my part. For pain at the hardness of hearts. For pain at this whole wide world’s suffering soul. 

What makes your heart cry, “Please”?

Time for a New Turn: Journey Toward Nonviolence

Dear friends,

Thank you for being patient with me through this new life transition.

The truth is, there has been more than one transition taking place right now for me. Yes, there has been the new commitment to full-time work, and that has been a great new commitment in my life.

But there’s also been a continuing concern for the subject of nonviolence. 

It’s a subject that preoccupies my mind regularly. I encounter situations that make me wonder what the nonviolent response would be. Or I recognize places of unlove in my heart and wonder how God could implant a greater heart of charity in that place instead. Or I find myself wondering about others who are walking a similar path. What would it be like to connect with them over these ideas? How might we encourage one another and learn together?

For a while, I thought I could somehow do both: explore spiritual formation and prayer alongside nonviolence, either in this space or in two different online spaces. But given the commitments on my plate right now, my energy and time are limited. I simply couldn’t do either one justice if I tried to do both.

So I’ve made a decision. I’m committing to the subject of nonviolence. I’ve begun a new online space solely for that purpose, and you’re welcome to join me there.

It’s called Journey Toward Nonviolence.

I’m going to be closing down this website in the near future. I’m so sorry if this news disappoints readers who had found a safe home here. I had every intention of providing a greater sense of resource and community around the subject of spiritual formation when I began hosting this space.

But life is funny sometimes … sometimes it takes you down a road you least expected, and you find yourself unwilling to resist following the path. 

That’s where I find myself right now with this nonviolence concern. I don’t know where the path will lead, but I need to follow it … and I need to explore it out loud with others who are interested in exploring it, too. 

You are welcome to join me if the subject interests you, and I do hope you will! If you’d rather connect on a more personal level, please feel free to friend me on Facebook … that’s where I’ll be maintaining a more social presence for now. :)

Thanks for joining me for the journey here. I wish you well. 



Journey Toward Nonviolence: Getting Started

Here is a video I created about a new series I’m launching called "Journey Toward Nonviolence." This ongoing series will be a place for me to share reflections I’ve had over this past year as I’ve studied nonviolence and peacemaking.

In this intro video, you get a sneak peek inside my beloved journals!

A Gift for President Obama

In early January, I made a decision to spend this year studying the great peacemakers of history. When a friend of mine learned of this decision and knew he would be seeing me the following week in Philadelphia, he brought along his copy of A Persistent Peace by Father John Dear and gifted it to me for my 30th birthday. 

I began reading the book on my flight home from Philadelphia and could barely put it down: in the airport, on the plane, and even in a reading room I discovered during my layover in Atlanta. 

The book is a first-person memoir of one Jesuit priest’s commitment to the nonviolent love of Jesus. It covers a period of about 30 years, from the earliest days of Father John’s faith into the long road for peace he has walked ever since.

In the pages of this book I encountered story, journey, questions, confession, and exploration. And because the story began at Father John’s beginning and tracked his progression of thought, faith, conviction, and experiment, I felt I was traveling with someone from the point at which I was now beginning, too.

Read More

What About the Violent God of the Old Testament?

In all this thinking I’ve been doing about returning violence with love, one contrary thought continues to nag at me: What about the violence we encounter at the hand of God in the Old Testament?

The way of nonviolence would take the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and the example of Jesus in his loving assumption of the cross as its authority for living nonviolently. In the Sermon on the Mount, we see Jesus blessing the peacemakers, saying that they will be the ones who inherit the earth. In this sermon, we also receive Jesus’s teachings to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to not return an eye for an eye, and to not only give our shirts and cloaks to those who ask for them, but to also walk an extra mile with someone who compels us to walk a mile on their behalf. And on the road to the cross, we see Jesus bearing the load in silence, not arguing with Pilate, and even asking God to forgive those who crucify him because they know not what they are doing.

In all of this, Ronald Rolheiser sees that Jesus teaches us a way to overcome injustice and hatred with love:

“We too often think of God as someone who will use violence to overthrow evil and bring about justice and peace. We conceive of God as a force for redemptive violence … We must be careful, particularly in trying to create justice and peace, not to confuse the Christian story of redemption with the myth of redemptive violence. We must try to bring about justice and peace as Jesus did, recognizing that the God whom Jesus called ‘Father’ beats up no one. He does not vanquish the bad and vindicate the good through superior muscle-power, speed, or sharpshooting with a gun.” (From chapter 8 of The Holy Longing)

I can appreciate what Rolheiser is saying from the perspective of the New Testament and the example and teachings of Jesus I just outlined above. Where I run into trouble is reconciling his words with the God of violence I do find in the Old Testament.

For example, just this last week I’ve been meditating on Psalm 44, which says:

“You with your own hand drove out the nations, but them [Israel] you planted; you afflicted the people, but them [Israel] you set free … Through you we push down our foes; through your name we tread down our assailants. For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me. But you have saved us from our foes, and have put to confusion those who hate us.”

We can’t hide from the fact that God used violence to overturn the foes of Israel. Clearly, he was for Israel and against others, and he used violence to accomplish his ends. This happened over and over in the Old Testament, so how can Rolheiser talk about “the God whom Jesus called ‘Father’” as one who “beats up no one”?

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Beyond Belief: Love that Conquers Hate

This past weekend I was on a group retreat for my Audire training program, and on one of the evenings we watched a film called Beyond Belief. This is the story of two 9/11 widows who founded a non-profit organization to help support Afghanistan widows once they learned that widows in Afghanistan rarely have a chance to survive and care for their children with dignity and hope once they lose their husbands. These two women were particularly struck by the fact that many Afghanistan women are being widowed now because of the war America has brought to their land in response to the 9/11 attacks. In the face of hate, we’re returning hate — but what if we brought love instead?

The documentary chronicles the grief these two 9/11 widows face at the loss of their own husbands, their coming together as friends over this shared grief, and their process of founding the organization that helps the widows in Afghanistan. It depicts their efforts to raise money by bicycling 250 miles from Ground Zero to Boston in 2004, as well as their eventual visit to Afghanistan to meet the women whose livelihoods they have enabled to thrive.

Ultimately, this film speaks of a shared conviction that hatred is learned but love conquers hate.

These women seem to embody the spirit of what I began asking here. Instead of hatred and retribution resulting in war, ought we be loving our terrorist enemies? What would such a love look like? Would it have the power to transform hearts? Could such love result in repentance? And even if it didn’t, should we do it anyway?

Are We Called to Love Al-Qaeda?

I’ve recently been reading Ronald Rolheiser’s book The Holy Longing, which includes a chapter on justice and peacemaking. Rolheiser notes that so often those who fight for justice, as righteous as their cause may be, often use tactics and language that are not all that different from those they oppose. As a result, they are ineffective. What will win the heart of the world, Rolheiser says, is a heart of love:

“A prophet … must make a vow of love not of alienation. The great modern-day prophets of social justice (persons such as Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Gustavo Gutierrez, William Stringfellow, Oscar Romero, Jim Wallis, and Richard Rohr) would all agree with that. Love, not anger, is the basis for nonviolence and nonviolence is the only possible basis for a new world order of justice and peace … Jesus, of course, is the ultimate example of the nonviolent peacemaker. He never mimics the violence and injustice that he is trying to change.”

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about America’s war against terrorism. We have been served evil, and we seek to combat it. We feel this is a cause of justice, not to mention security. And yet in fighting evil, we are bringing war. We bring anger and retribution against those who have brought us harm. We seek their ill. We even seek their destruction.

Is this how Christ would have us live? Christ, the one who asks us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek, who says that vengeance is the Lord God’s alone? Christ, the one who was unjustly beaten and ultimately killed by those who hated Him and who chose to remain silent and to bear the anger with an ever-increasing love for His mission and those He came to save (which included those who raised Him onto the cross)?

Furthermore, are such tactics of war even effective? If we bring violence against violence, what really changes? Perhaps some people die, but the ideologies they espouse go on living. They take up residence in others who then carry on the mission to bring harm. The only thing that can dispel evil is love.

And so I confess that I wince when I ask this question, but: Are we, as Christians, called to love Al-Qaeda? Is love what would really end this war?