Nourishing Our Souls

“Nourishing Our Souls” was the name of a retreat I attended recently. It was led by colleague and friend Rev. Maggie McNaught. She’s a therapist, spiritual director, and minister, but don’t let that fool you. Arizona cave shaft of lightShe doesn’t live inside a conventional religious box. She’s always reaching out for the Spirit, beyond the usual parameters. I love that about her.

The first part of our time together was about having “a life of enough.” Given so much technology and the speed of everything these days, it can feel like living on a hamster wheel. Overwhelmed, where nothing feels finished and nothing seems complete. It was refreshing to hear Maggie remind us that we have “trustworthy permission to stop, to take a breath, to take some nourishment from simply being alive.”

How do we know when we’ve taken on too many projects? She told us about what a friend from Illinois does when she’s asked to add on a new task. “I’ve got to talk to Jesus about that,” she says. Then she does that, privately – before she responds with a Yes or a No.

“Enough is an inside job,” Maggie told us. “You get to say when it’s enough.” Over the years in her work, she has developed the habit of having a periodic No Suggestion Day. On those days, when someone tells her what she should do, she announces that it’s a No Suggestion Day. They can talk with her tomorrow.

“Practice knowing yourself. God is crazy in love with you!” she declared. So keep a dialogue with your own soul, by practicing daily discernment. She handed out one example of a discernment process: St. Ignatius’ set of simple questions we can ask ourselves at the end of each day.

This physical life is made up of a limited number of years, so how do we want to live with the time we have? Maggie said we can accept things as they are only if we first see things as they are. This takes a lot of deep listening in order for us to claim our own power at work in the world. Maggie endured four entire years of Long COVID. That was paired with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, with which she still struggles. Now acutely aware of how short life is, she emphasizes the importance of the space and time to enjoy life right now.

So it’s essential, each time, to focus on “the next right thing,” Maggie said. We need to find and follow that thread that helps us listen for God to make reliable choices, and never let go.

The process can open us up to be surprised. Maggie grew up in a violent household, but today can say, “I’m now grateful for my life at that time, because of the life lessons I have learned.” Citing the medieval Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart, she said, “‘Thank you’ is the only prayer we need.”

So our life is made of days, Maggie asserted: one day at a time, one choice at a time, one “next right thing” to do at a time. If we get off-track somewhere along the way, “checking in with our clarity and wisdom leads us back to the path.” To keep our focus, one suggested practice is to have a list on the refrigerator of “What gives me joy?” Look at it frequently.

The retreat left me with some intriguing questions, which you might want to explore, too:

1. How can I tell when I’ve done or been “enough” for the day?

2. What is “soul work” for me, giving a sense of fulfillment and joy?

3. What does unending exhaustion rob me of? What might I begin to do to minimize it?

4. How do I value my own clarity and wisdom, day after day?

5. What do I know about my own heart’s deepest desire for my life right now?

That’s a lot to ponder, to nourish our souls.

Your partner in God’s grace,

Betsy Schwarzentraub