Guest Blog: The Sacred Art of Living: Meaning, Connectedness, Forgiveness and Hope

The Sacred Art of Living

Guest Blog. Please meet my colleague, Reverend Shirley VanDamme. Reverend Shirley creates a safe space to explore one’s belief system and one’s relationship to the Divine. Sometimes religious beliefs no longer seem to be fulfilling. Searching may come at a time of transition or a time of questioning. Reverend Shirley offers both Spiritual Coaching and Pastoral Counseling.

“I believe that spirituality is an integral part of every person’s life. I don’t believe we need to use “church” language to express the intangible aspects of life. In my quest to find ordinary words to express spiritual experiences, I attended workshops at the Sacred Art of Living in Bend, Oregon. This is part of what I discovered.

The four aspects of this approach to life and death are: Meaning, Forgiveness, Connectedness and Hope. The four sides give balance and equality. It is an ancient way of approaching spirituality, dating back to a crossroads in France in the years 1000-1492 where people who were Jewish, Christian and Islam came together in their travels.


Sometimes we become aware of meaning after the fact, in retrospect. We look back and see what was important and recognize what makes life worth living. If we are living with awareness and appreciation for the present moment, we can identify what gives our life meaning now.

What makes my life worth living? What adds value, gives meaning?

When we are living without meaning, it can lead us to despair.

Meaning is something that changes with time. In our younger years, education can give life meaning, raising children, a social life or work. As we go through different stages, we also need to find different meaning in our life. Once the children are gone, once we retire from work, what then gives our life meaning?

For example: when I talk with people who are elderly, many times they feel like they are no longer useful, like they have lost their purpose in life. They tell me they are ready to die. And I wonder aloud with them different possibilities. Maybe their purpose is to read a book they have always wanted to read, maybe it is to attend the family reunion or be here for Thanksgiving, maybe their purpose is to teach others how to die well.


Who has hurt me? How have I hurt myself? Whom have I hurt?

Who am I holding something against? Family, friends, myself, God? An experience?

Do I feel guilty about something?

Forgiveness is the voluntary choice and action regarding the wrongs and hurts of the past. It implies a letting go of the desire for vengeance and a release of associated negative feelings such as bitterness, guilt and resentment. In 12 step circles, resentment is defined as drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

Forgiveness never implies that the actions of the offender were justified.

Forgiveness does not mean you need to have an ongoing relationship with the offender.

This Forgiveness prayer from the Jewish prayer book provides a summary. I forgive all those who may have hurt or aggravated me either physically, monetarily, or emotionally, whether unknowingly or willfully, whether accidentally or intentionally, whether in speech or in action, whether in this incarnation or another, and may no person be punished on account of me…”


Speed, busyness, and information can all put us into overload in the way we relate to the world. If our connections are weak, our spirituality is also not at its best.

Who or what am I connected to?

Family, friends, my home, my land, my horse, my dog, my cat?

Is there something missing from your life? What is it? How can you strengthen it?

I moved away from the family farm in Michigan when I was 22 years old. For me it is vital to my life and my connection with the universe that I maintain contact with those first 22 years of my life! I loved growing up on a farm, being outside in beautiful country, surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins. It has shaped who I am and who I want to continue to be. I remain “connected” in a very positive way.


What gives you hope? How do you maintain a sense of hope? What is your hope for today?

What is your hope for tomorrow? What is your hope dependent upon?

Hopelessness is the most severe form of spiritual pain; the universe does not feel safe.

Hope is “to desire with the expectation of fulfillment.” Hope is confidence that something considered to be important will not remain illusory. Can what you imagine become reality?

A 30-year-old mother had lost hope. Her husband divorced her and was not interested in raising their two children. Her way of building hope into her life was to complete a gratitude list each day. She started just having two things to be grateful for daily. After doing that for three months, she saw a glimmer of hope return to her life.


The above four aspects of life and death have changed my way of living and expanded my way of expressing spirituality. In reality, there are no limitations on how “the Divine” can be experienced and expressed. In reality, the words God, Higher Power, Divine are not necessary to express what is intangible and unspeakable. Each person can use their own language and their own words. (And for those who like the religious words), we are all made in the image of God.”

Resources: The American Book of Living & Dying.

The Celtic Book of Living & Dying by Juliette Wood

To learn more, please reach out to Reverend Shirley Van Damme


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