Spiritual Deepening in Life and Work
Janae: Janet, thanks for joining me to talk about spiritual deepening in life and work. As you know, you’ve been one of my mentors who has inspired me to deepen my spiritual evolution. I know you are passionate about this and I’ll be interested in hearing more about your perspective. I remember when I first met you. I had asked you to come to speak on Spirituality and Work at Custom Research, the company I was working for in the early nineties.
Janet: Janae, thanks for inviting me to dialogue with you. I’m so pleased to help your readers explore this topic, Spiritual Deepening in Life and Work. My most vivid memory of my work at Custom Research was asking the group a question to get us started, “Have you ever had a spiritual experience at work?” and spending the next hour hearing all those amazing stories. I was so moved hearing people tell stories about being kind on purpose, praying for clients, sensing a power beyond them in their creative work etc. In my recollection we all left longing for more time and more conversation because of the spiritual energy that was underneath the surface of most people’s lives. It inspired me.
Janae: And since then you’ve gradually come to dedicate much of your time to spiritual deepening in life and work, right? What forms has this spiritual deepening taken for you in the last several years?
Janet: As a summary, I’d say that I now experience life as an amateur Anchoress, which means a grounded presence in the world. As a direct result of what’s happened in my own life experience I’ve developed classes and products that feed and open the hearts of people who are longing for more meaning and spiritual intimacy. I could just list some things that I’ve developed but I think it would be more interesting to tell my story of how these things evolved from my own struggles and from a call to surrender my life and work in favor of a smaller, simpler and more peaceful way to live.
Janae: I’d like to hear more of your story too, so where do we begin?
Janet: One example of my initiation into the deepening way of life was to co-author the book, The Critical Journey. This book described the stages in the life of faith and it included the Wall, which is the place where we release our old way of life, heal spiritually and psychologically and move beyond our ego. That book and the fact that I had begun spiritual direction in my own life, furthered my journey into spiritual deepening personally and professionally. Then fast- forward several years, into the early years of the new century: I met the Wall squarely in my own life and it has never been the same since.
Janae: I had, by that time, joined your Real Power Network and was able to see some of that transformation myself. It’s been powerful to watch you over these last ten years. What was most memorable and what ways has it changed you?
Janet: What was most memorable was that, as I was coming through the Wall myself, I couldn’t work in the same way I had before. I was a high achiever and was not only running my own business of speaking and writing but I was also the executive director of a national non-profit. Almost overnight I couldn’t sustain that life style any more. I was very anxious and I got nosebleeds when I spoke in public. Clearly my body did not want to work that way any more. But I was newly single and felt a lot of pressure to keep up that pace. I “knew” that this anxiety was a spiritual call for me and that my life had become disordered and needed to change. So I started letting it change, started letting go, and holding onto all things more lightly. I spoke of this change in a video recently in case anyone wants to hear me describe it live. It can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0bmPd-CZjM
Janae: I think that was during the time we were doing the training certification for the Real Power Network, right?
Janet: That’s right. I was being certified along with six others in our network (in a process you helped design, thanks! Picture of us with certification.) and I chose as my culminating project an art book depicting Beauty as Thin Place, a place where the holy breaks through and we get a glimpse of something beyond us. I chose twenty personal examples of thin places in my life. So, for example, I depicted the beauty of forgiveness, the beauty of the fire, the beauty of self worth, the beauty of inner storms, the beauty of relinquishing as well as the beauty of the double play in baseball. 🙂 It was an amazing project and it opened the door to more creativity that had been hiding inside of me, unable to surface until my spirituality caused my life change. I started moving from making it happen to letting it happen. That made all the difference. I trusted the Holy more and started allowing for a different scenario for my future. Several others in the network were like angels to me during that time, encouraging me to take this road less traveled.
Janae: And that kind of opened the floodgates as I recall. How did it all happen from that point on?
Janet: The first step, as I recall, was the gift of poems. I wrote about fifteen poems in one summer and they just fell into my lap. I’d never experienced that kind of creative energy even though I’d written books. These poems were different for me; simple, straight forward, and honest. One of my favorites was just four lines long. It’s called “That’s All I’ve Got to Say” and it goes like this:I created you now let me love you that’s all I’ve got to say would you like me to repeat that.
I wrote poems about how we don’t let ourselves feel God’s love, about how addictions are a way of looking for God, and about the inevitability of pain as a way to break our hearts open. These poems just arrived, as friends from home.
Janae: Yes, I remember those. My favorite was the one in which you and God had a conversation about whether you would go into the scary places or not. God was willing to let you have your way, by not facing your fear. Alas, you discovered it didn’t work. And I know you put those poems into a small booklet to share on your web site www.janethagberg.com.
Janet: That poem you mentioned was called “God Smiles.” I love that one. And yes, I was starting to share these gifts with others through my web site. The next thing that emerged was a whole new art form for me, emerging from my Beauty project. I love beautiful paper so for my birthday one year I went to an art store and bought several sheets of exquisite paper. When I brought it home it took the form of poignant depictions of the ways we rest in God, all different images on black paper backgrounds. I see these as contemporary icons, an art form that draws you into its story and then points you towards God. I made fifteen of them in the next several months. A few examples are: Resting in God…In the middle of a storm, in the potter’s hands, under the protection of God’s tent and in the presence of our enemies. Other products emerged at about that same time, like a small set of sixty-four specially chosen scripture cards about the inner life wrapped in a little purple bag. They were remarkably pertinent whenever I drew one to find out what God was saying to me that day or in certain situations.
Now I can imagine that some readers are nodding off to sleep so it’s OK with me if anyone wants to tune out about now. But there is more…
Janae: Yes, as I recall some of the most interesting things are yet to come. You started getting much more involved with people on the margins of our society at that point, as I recall?
Janet: You are spot on. I had gotten involved with an inner city multi-racial church and an organization that encouraged suburban people to get personally involved with marginalized people. I taught classes in which people from these two worlds became mutual friends and we also took them on inner city pilgrimages. It was utterly amazing to see the spiritual transformation that occurred when people who thought they were so different actually found out they weren’t that different and in fact could learn from one another. One man who hosted us for lunch at the homeless shelter told us his story. He had a master’s degree in engineering but when his mother got sick he had to take care of her. He had promised her he would take care of her as she, a single mom, had taken care of him. As she got worse he stayed home more and eventually lost his job. When she went into a care facility he had to leave the house and soon he was homeless. This story really stunned the people in the group who had never expected homeless people to have advanced degrees. And yet there are many homeless people with college degrees.
So the conversations began and spiritual change started to happen. At that time in my life I was also journeying with two refugees, one from China and one from Africa (a survivor of torture), both of whom became my friends. I was learning about survival, about faith and about the idea of living my priorities. When you’ve had to give up everything, you care less about material things and more about what matters most. I gave away a lot of my things, reduced my expenses and began to live a simpler and more creative life. It was a freeing time rather than a time of diminishment.
Janae: It seems like you are getting more actively involved in spiritual deepening within your own life and in these classes involving the marginalized? Were there any other classes like this?
Janet: Yes, it sparked me to concentrate on teaching things that would deepen people spiritually and thus change their lives and work. So I began to co-teach classes on moving from success to significance to surrender, on the process of transformation at the Wall, and I also taught on-line classes on the inner life. In my spiritual direction practice I worked primarily with people who were at the Wall and wanting to make significant changes. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. First came all the essays…
Janae: I love this story because you really didn’t want to write them, did you?
Janet: No, I didn’t want to write any more. I felt I was finished writing and one December my spiritual director asked me if I was writing about any of the things that were happening to me. For instance, I had a gift of tears. I couldn’t stop my crying episodes. I was not depressed or under stress, I just couldn’t stop crying. She pointed out that one of my favorite mentors, St. Igantius had the same experience and asked me to read about it. I did and it all became clear to me, that this was a new way for me to deepen and experience more intimacy with God. So I wrote. And since writing about that particular gift of tears, I’ve met several other people who’ve experienced the same thing, a gift I knew nothing about earlier. I also started listening to my body giving me messages through physical symptoms that were directly related to what was going on in my life. As I said, I was not that interested in writing, but my director strongly encouraged me to do it any way, just to see what happened.
Janae: I’ve heard that spiritual directors are like angels sometimes, asking us to do things that we may not see for ourselves. Sounds like she was one of your angels.
Janet: Believe me, I’ve had a lot of angels along the way. Sooo, kind of against my better judgment I began writing short essays, at my spiritual director’s request. They began falling into my lap too, just like the poems and the icons. Since then I’ve written about seventy essays about a wide range of topics pertaining to the inner life, many of which are honest questions I’ve had or the real ways in which God shows up in my life. Many are about pain or questions about God or about our shadows. Several of the essays end up being about how funny God is. One is about the spirituality of baseball—no surprise! I don’t know where these essays are headed yet, but Fay, one of my friends in the network, encouraged me to start a blog. I didn’t want to do it because of the pressure to produce writing regularly, but when she said I could load all of my essays on the blog and then publish one a week, I decided to try it. Wow, it’s amazing. Now I just invite people to subscribe and then I send the essays along. The theme of the blog is “at river’s edge” and it depicts how God is inviting us deeper and deeper into the river’s current so we can be more trusting of God’s hand in our lives. The address is atriversedge.wordpress.com FREE!
Janae: I subscribe to your blog and you need to tell us what else you have in creative storage on your blog. It’s not just writing.
Janet: No, I’ve not limited it to words. I also include icons and photos and poems and videos from time to time. One thing I’ve not mentioned is that my paper icons have morphed into quilted icons, since quilting is one of my favorite things. I would not have thought of this but a woman in my quilt group suggested it. And voila, it worked. I love putting these images on cloth and hanging them on my wall or giving them away. Just a month or so ago when I was in the middle of a stressful time with a flood in my condo, a business transition, and no heat or air conditioning, I had another creative gift, the idea that I could have a signature scripture verse that I could use for icons, one that fit what I’ve been teaching about for a long time. The verse is “Weeping may tarry for the night but joy comes with the morning.” Ps. 30:5 It fits so well the idea of the Wall and freedom, darkness and light etc. So I’ve made several six-inch icons of this idea, that I call pocket icons, and I will be selling them on my web site and perhaps on the blog in the future. Here’s a couple of examples of my smaller icons. So more creative ideas are breaking through…
Janae: It sounds like you are willing to let things evolve and just see what the Holy has in store. That takes faith. What gives you that kind of faith?
Janet: It does take faith. I believe that it is primarily due to my quieting down and letting intimacy with God infiltrate me more thoroughly. I’m actually grateful for my anxiety reaction those many years ago. In fact, I have to monitor this regularly since it is my body’s sign to me when I’m overdoing things or facing an unsafe situation. When I trust God, my life doesn’t lose all stress but I manage it differently and hold all things more lightly. I laugh more and I’m continually surprised by grace. My overwhelming feeling is gratitude and now I feel that my cup is truly running over. “That’s all I’ve got to say. Would you like me to repeat that??” 🙂
Janae: Thanks so much for telling us about spiritual deepening in such a personal, honest and beautiful way. It certainly is an inspiration for me and I’m sure for others as well. I appreciate knowing you. If people have personal questions may they contact you?
Janet: Yes, by all means. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
For more resources, see our Library topic Spirituality in the Workplace.