A Willingness to Explore

Today’s post is by Jeff Nelson

With just a few weeks left in my seminary career, my wife and I moved off campus and into an apartment a few miles away. We figured that it would be easier to have that step taken care of before graduation, so that we wouldn’t have to scramble to find a new place to live later. It proved to be a good move for us, and we began settling into our new living space in the Valley Park area of St. Louis.

Having been barred from keeping pets on campus, now that we were off campus we were eager to find a feline friend to help warm our home, which we did in the form of a black-and-white cat that we called Eve.

Eve was very curious in her new surroundings and slowly made the place her own as much as it was ours. However, as much as she seemed to like where she was, she also had a penchant for scurrying toward the front door whenever she heard it open. This caused us to be extra vigilant whenever we’d enter or exit the apartment, as we didn’t want to risk her running off and getting lost.

Despite our best attempts, Eve occasionally made it into the hallway, where she’d stop and look around. She seemed not to know what to do with her newfound freedom. At times she almost seemed relieved when one of us would finally pick her up and take her back into a more familiar environment.

I often think about how similar we are to Eve regarding spiritual practice. Many of us who primarily have known only one tradition of belief or worship—whether a treasured touchstone of devotion or a dry, restrictive system rejected years ago—may be wary when presented with alternative possibilities to expand our sense of the divine presence. We may be unsure of how to proceed once we discover the freedom to move beyond comfortable conventions.

People with whom I meet for spiritual direction regularly express how unsure they are about the practice. Many have known a particular form of devotion and practice their entire lives. To meet with a spiritual director at all, let alone explore some of the prayer exercises I encourage, is to step into a new frontier far different from what they’ve known. But how wonderful not only to willingly step into the unknown, but to keep walking! What new discoveries will they find to deepen their relationship with God in our midst?

God offers gifts of love, presence, and forgiveness in places as diverse as coffeehouses and parks, in actions as mundane as grilling out or sweeping the floor. If we cultivate within ourselves the vision to see how that is possible, the spiritual expanse outside what we know will become a place of discovery and growth.

May 05, 2016 by Jeff Nelson 1 Comment
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Scott Landis
Scott Landis
8 years ago

Jeff, how surprised to read your post today and to discover you are connected to Shalem. I am a graduate of the clergy going deeper and spiritual guidance program (will complete this fall). I enjoyed your post and really like the comparison of your wandering cat with the invitations we give our directees in spiritual,practice.

I hope all is well with you and that you are enjoyong post-CREDO days. I enjoyed meeting you and trust our paths will cross again in UCC or contemplative circles.



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