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


Guest Blog: Spiritual Direction and Twelve Step Recovery

Guest Blog: Spiritual Direction and Twelve Step Recovery

Please meet my colleague, Diane Cameron. Diane is a Recovery Coach and Spiritual Director in Albany, New York. She is a fierce advocate for women in recovery and is the author of, Out of The Woods—A Women’s Guide to Long-term Recovery.

“In Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs we talk a lot about God and a Higher Power. We call AA (and Alanon, NA, OA and the other sister programs) spiritual programs but we don’t often talk about Spiritual Direction.

But it turns out, that outside of meetings, people with many years of recovery will credit spiritual retreats and working with a Spiritual Director with playing an important part of long recovery.  After all, when you have 10 or 15 or 25 years of experience, you “get it,” that this is indeed a spiritual program.

It occurred to me more than once (in that way that we keep seeing new things in the Big Book over time) that the wording of Step 12 says, “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps…” and that it does not say, “having stopped drinking as a result of these steps.”  Twelve-step recovery is not about not drinking; it is about having a spiritual awakening and then, in that awakened state, we see our lives become changed and we begin to have a relationship with our Higher Power. And it is out of that state that we no longer need drugs or alcohol or food or gambling, etc.

Right now, as I write this, I feel the vulnerability of even talking about spirituality. Maybe you do too? Our spiritual lives are very intimate. In the same way that we don’t talk openly about our sex lives with many people, we often don’t talk about our spiritual lives in specific detail either. So, who can we turn to when we do have questions or wonderings about what really goes on between you and your Higher Power?

I’ve come to see that a Spiritual Director is not a sponsor and not a therapist and maybe not even professional clergy. Over the years I have worked with three different Spiritual Directors. One was a nun, one a former minister, and one a really compassionate and spiritual woman who had been trained in Spiritual Direction. All had some experience with the Twelve Steps and recovery programs.

In a way, a Spiritual Director is a lot like a couple’s counselor. Think of it this way: If I am trying to have a genuine relationship with my Higher Power, then anything that might come up in a human relationship will come up in my relationship with God as well. I will have love most of the time, but I may also have anger, frustration and times of just not feeling close anymore. What to do?

My Spiritual Director asks me, “Are you talking to Him?” “Are you listening to Him?” And she reminds me that I can express all of my feelings –even anger—when I am in a genuine relationship with my Higher Power.

The best gift I have received in working with a Spiritual Director as part of my recovery program, is receiving the reassurance that I am doing “it” right. And that “it” might be prayer, meditation, or decision making. I love learning about new spiritual practices from my Spiritual Director.

Just as I need to keep changing it up in my physical fitness program, I also need to try new things with my spiritual practices as well. For example, this past month I have been working with The Examen—a form of questioning prayer that Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught to his followers, and which—I was delighted to learn—is the basis of our AA Tenth Step Daily Inventory.

I love the anecdote we sometimes hear in meetings about the newcomer who wants to know more about the “spiritual part” of the program, and the old-timer who replies, “Oh, beloved, there is no spiritual part of the AA program; the AA program is spiritual.”

I am grateful to have the guidance of a Spiritual Director to always keep me moving forward in my spiritual life.

How about you? How do you keep your relationship with your Higher Power growing and intimate over the years? If you have been part of a Twelve Step program– or have a loved one who is—you might consider integrating Spiritual Direction with recovery.”

Please reach out to Diane to learn more at Diane Cameron.


Honoring Your Unique Story: A Tool for Healing & Transformation

Honoring Your Unique Story: A Tool for Healing & Transformation

Learn from my colleague Todd Miechiels, founder of The 3:15 Project, about a tool called Steps of Courage, to support Spiritual Directors in guiding their clients toward spiritual healing and transformation.

What is Steps of Courage?

Through a set of directed spiritual exercises, contemplation, journaling, listening prayer, and meditating on select scripture passages, Steps of Courage helps seekers to co-write a psalm, along with the Spirit. These are essentially lyrics to love songs. Seekers then begin to recite it orally, and finally we arrange to have this captured on film, with excellence and reverence.  Over an 8 to 12-week journey, we memorialize a story that took a lifetime to write. Honoring a legacy.

Who is this for?

For seekers who yearn to step out of their comfort zone.  Someone who has a willing, pliable, and coachable heart, who yearns to grow in humility and trust; those who have been restored and now want to share their story with others.

Todd says, “It would be a beautiful manifestation of what’s on my heart, to take a group of Spiritual Directors through this together.” A group of Spiritual Directors who would be willing to try this for themselves first, for their own nourishment.

To learn more about this amazing tool called Steps of Courage, watch the video interview below, and please reach out to my colleague Todd Miechiels at

More Resources to help you honor your story:

Re-Creating a Life: Learning How to Tell Our Most Life-Giving Story. By Diane Millis.

From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older. By Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

Sage-ing International

Feel free to reach out to me at any time at

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