Getting Inside That Head of Yours

Certified life coach Kendra Levin is author of The Hero is You: Sharpen Your Focus, Conquer Your Demons, and Become the Writer You Were Born to Be.

In her book, Levin states:

“So often, the people we most long to be like, our heroes, are simply versions of ourselves that are further along in life than we are, or who’ve employed the qualities we share with them, to take a different path than we have so far. To forge our own paths, we have to understand what our natural gifts and strengths are and foster them with our attention” (4).

Getting inside that head of yours requires introspection and self-analysis. Levin guides the reader through an exercise of analyzing one’s mentors and admired friends to seek to identify what mutual traits are shared, and what we wish to cultivate in our own soul growth. This practice is as valuable for spiritual growth as it is for the development of a creative practice, and that is what I’d like to explore in this article.

Some questions you might consider asking yourself include:

  • Who are your spiritual mentors, both alive and dead?
  • What traits do they possess that you wish to cultivate in your life?
  • What challenges did they face that you recognize in your own life journey?
  • How did God help them overcome those challenges?
  • Did they leave behind any spiritual writings or guidelines for life that you can read and try to imitate?

Saints as Friends

Longtime readers of my blog may recall a post last year about my confirmation saint, St. Thérèse Couderc, and the brief biography I posted along with some quotes from her writings. I am deeply grateful that these were preserved as I have never been able to locate an actual copy of her writings entire, just quotes from random sources. However, these snippets of her life tell more about the kind of woman, the kind of saint, St. Thérèse Couderc was, and how she persevered despite the suffering she endured and the challenges she faced.

Perhaps you aren’t Catholic but you’ve recently felt drawn towards the life of a saint in the Catholic Church, and if so, that’s great! Explore their life. Find a spiritual biography about them. Learn what you can. If possible, maybe you can even visit a church named after them and see a relic. Or buy a prayer card of them to keep in your purse or wallet for those times when you desire to petition their help. It’s quite likely, depending on how well-known the saint is, you might even find their likeness on a keychain, or statuary or painting that you can introduce into your home.

I freely admit that for a long time, before I was Catholic, I used to think of such practices as being sketchy. Some of the Protestant groups I associated with, even considered it to be borderline idolatry. Now, with a clearer understanding of the Church’s teachings, I see this practice differently.

My husband and I honor our family by keeping framed photos of them on our fireplace mantle. They are dear to our heart and we keep reminders of them in sight where we congregate most at home. Your saint is no different! They can be beloved friends and loved ones, and you can learn from them as mentors and honor them in your homes and in your lives. Don’t be afraid to prayerfully experiment with this practice and be prepared for the blessings of these champions of the faith who have gone ahead of you. But they are not the only examples in your life…are they?

Seeking Out Spiritual Friends

They say that you’re the sum of the five closest people that you spend time with, so, be careful who you allow in your inner circle of friends. What kind of spiritual influence do your friends have on you? Are they people you’d like to emulate? Or could they maybe be people that, upon reflection, you’d be better off avoiding?

Weeding through acquaintances and friends is a process that requires discernment. I don’t believe in completely isolating oneself from the outside world (if we all did this, nonbelievers would find themselves without examples of the faith), but there’s a fine line between ministering to unbelievers and falling into the trap where you strive to be accepted by them and embrace less-than-godly pursuits and character maladjustments in the name of being liked or fearing rejection. I know, it’s hard. I struggle with it too.

The practice of finding good spiritual friends in your life is an investment that pays lifelong dividends. Read the book of Proverbs and any of the verses on good friendships and you’ll see what I mean. One of the hardest lessons I’ve found is to begin to accept that sometimes, people don’t want help. You can’t force relationships. No matter how much you try to belong, or to be accepted. You can only trust in God’s grace to reach out to that person — like a painter touching a canvas — even if you are not the instrument chosen.

So building those friendships, and learning to recognize the goodness in others that God has placed in your path, is both a gift and a challenge. It is not uncommon that the character traits of those people will be ones lacking in your own life that God is calling you to cultivate. Perhaps you are hot-tempered at times and your friend is like a tranquil lake; maybe God has placed that friend in your life to nurture peace and patience. Or maybe you are having trouble making time to pray, so God pairs you with someone that gets on your nerves because they pray without ceasing. Embrace the gift. Learn to recognize those positive traits in others and do the best you can to be imitators of the good, for as long as you are blessed to have them in your life. Because God only knows the road they are traveling, or when your paths will diverge.

I hope that in this little article that I’ve nudged your heart towards a more contemplative life, as you seek to know yourself better through the friendships you pursue, and the saints you may be feeling drawn towards knowing better. May God bless you and guide you ever closer to Himself.

Encountering Soul-Changing Beauty

What is it about art that draws us, compels us to a state of contemplation, humbles our souls before the light of the beauty of God’s creation, or moves us to tears?

Over the past few months, many changes have occurred in my life but one of the best ones was an opportunity to travel, where I was able to encounter, what I’d like to call, “soul-changing beauty”, unexpectedly found at an exhibition at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY.

This is the piece of art in question, a work by Louis Comfort Tiffany, of Tiffany and Co. fame:

And here is a small gallery of close-up shots (at least, as close as my camera phone would allow!):

In the foreground, there appears to be a garden of wild grapes, pink hollyhocks, and purple climbing clematis, with a field dipping down to a lake and a rolling hillside in the background.

I am in awe of the level of detail and exquisite colors employed in these stained glass panels and the serenity of the surrounding countryside. I admit there is a certain amount of awe, in seeing Tiffany glass in person, for the first time.

More than that, there is something about beauty that touches our souls. I can’t speak for everyone but speaking for myself, I yearn for beauty and sometimes, a piece of music or a painting or in this case, a stained glass, touches my soul and moves me past my humanity and I feel closer to God. It was such a privilege of being able to see this exquisite work in person, so far from home, and yet its depiction reminds me of the heartland that I love and its people.

My hope is to encourage you today to make time to visit a museum near you soon. Just take a half-day if you can spare it, even a lunch hour, and wander and witness and wait. Wait to meet God in that one painting that moves you beyond your humanity until, like Adam, you are close to touching God. And then, embrace the gift He has placed within you to seek and admire the beauty of His creation and give thanks for it. I know that I am.

The Practice of the Brown Scapular

The first time I saw the scapular, which looked like two woolen squares attached to a few ribbons, was around the neck of one of my younger cousins. She was a cradle Catholic and I found it positively bizarre that anyone would choose to wear such a thing. I recall asking her about it once and in her gentle way, she smiled and acknowledged that it was just something she was led to do, that she found worked for her.

Private album.

It left me completely puzzled. Did she sleep in it? Shower in it? What about someday when she’s old enough for prom…won’t it clash with everything? How on earth does one begin to find a dress to pair with that mousy, scratchy brown wool? I was mystified.

If I’m being completely honest here, I waffled between thinking Catholic practices and beliefs were curious but misinformed, or downright idolaters (sorry).

I read a wonderful article recently by someone further along in the practice of wearing a brown scapular than I am (in my three months? now) am today. The Anchoress, in her article on the subject, said that “slow growth is better than no growth”. I completely agree and hope to share someday how wearing the scapular has improved my spiritual walk with God. And maybe by then, I will have also conquered my cravings for meat, which seem strongest now on Thursdays…