Rituals of Renewal and Release

Feb 17 / Terra McDaniel
As a spiritual director, I get to spend time helping people of all ages and situations tune into their sense of God, the holy, and their own souls. I listen with them to where they are invited to grow, let go, and receive. Spiritual direction is often a joyful space—a time of celebrating clarity, movement, and good gifts. And because the world is a broken place and we are works-in-progress, it also is a chance to mourn, name hard realities, and risk speaking desires that are currently out of reach. In our chaotic and confrontational moments, I’m convinced this kind of listening is always important and all the more essential.

I am unspeakably grateful to host people in spiritual direction. At a meeting’s end, I often smile to myself in delight that I am able to do this work. Even so, holding people’s journeys with them is heavy lifting. Their beautiful pieces have a weight of their own. Their heartbroken places are another kind of load.

There is no doubt, we are invited to help lighten burdens for our spiritual siblings by listening and making space in these ways. Simultaneously somehow, each of us is responsible for carrying our own loads (Galatians 6:5). Spiritual leadership holds this paradox of mutuality and empowerment by companioning with others to uncover and strengthen their own discernment. It is knowing when to come alongside and when to step away, both allow others to cultivate wisdom for themselves while pausing for rest ourselves. Most of us who serve as spiritual leaders have rhythms of preparing ourselves to bear the burdens of others along with them (Galatians 6:2). We have habits of holding those we serve in prayer before and between meetings.

Here are some rituals of renewal and release that help me honor these realities. As directees step back out into their days and lives, a few simple practices serve as tactile reminders to entrust these precious souls (back) into God’s care.

First, I spritz diluted essential oils around the room as an invitation for God to refill and renew. This serves as a blessing for presence and for absence, a breath of fresh life.

Next, when time permits, I let the beeswax tea light lit at the beginning of the meeting, keep burning until the end of its wick. It is a reminder of the One who intercedes continually in a manner far too deep for words (Romans 8:26). If time does not permit, I am intentional about blowing out the flame. Either way, as the tiny gray spiral of smoke rises, I smile and entrust my directee to the wind of the Spirit.

Lastly, I mindfully smooth on lotion, using my thumbs to massage the muscles of my forearms and along my palms and fingers. I hold up my open hands as a symbol of trust. They embody my prayer that God will continue to care for the person I met, as well as a willingness to receive the gifts of an easy yoke, light burdens, and soul rest for myself (Matthew 11: 28-30).

These things do not take long—five minutes at most. But I find I am ready to reset and move into the next part of my day. As someone who feels the emotions of others deeply and instinctively, I find these practices vital. My empathy is a big part of what equips me to do this work well. It also tempts me to hold on to the worry and sorrow (and also the joys and consolations) of others after they are gone. Which, of course, ultimately serves neither of us well.

Many who serve as directors or in other roles of spiritual care are gifted—and tempted—similarly. And whatever your work is, practices of reset and renewal can be powerful. They can signal your heart and soul that the time to pour out and create has ended for now; that now it is time to rest and replenish, trusting what you have given is enough.

I encourage you to try these practices or create your own rituals of release and renewal. Experiment, have fun, be playful and maybe even silly! Most of all, focus on cultivating practices that are holistic, embodied, and sustainable. Let them be acts of entrusting yourself and those you lead and serve to God’s abundant goodness and kindness.

Terra McDaniel

Terra is a spiritual director, pastor, teacher, and writer who loves making space for people of all ages to tune into their own souls. Terra is convinced that the Spirit is working both within the church and outside it and feels particularly called to host those who feel spiritually homeless. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and terramcdaniel.com.