Spiritual Ministry – Caring and Companioning
Spiritual counseling is a relationship of companioning, witnessing, and exploration for individuals, couples, and groups, of all faiths and beliefs – whether spiritual, religious, or secular – to explore and address the aspirations and challenges of life, to more intimately know oneself and one’s Source, to find greater meaning and more fully live one’s life journey, and to support personal transformation toward wholeness, Through caring loving presence, holding of sacred space, compassionate listening and mirroring, along with a range of modalities and practices, Rev Gary guides counselees to deepen connection to their personal source of strength, to the love and compassion of their heart, to the wisdom of their Higher Self, and to the Divine, according to each counselee’s particular faith tradition, beliefs, and practices. Rather than give judgment or advice, Rev. Gary assists counselees to more joyfully and authentically live in the total experience of their life and to find answers within.
“A teacher cannot give you truth. The truth is already in you” (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Areas Of Exploration
- Transformation: “How can I BE differently”, not “how can I be different”?
- Embrace and celebrate life transitions
- Learn from pain and struggles, and heal old wounds
- Slow down, be more grounded, live more in the present and with greater authenticity
- Expanding one’s joy
- Discern meaning and purpose in life; discover one’s true calling & passion
- Develop and commit to a regular spiritual practice that truly fits counselee
- Build a bridge between the separated self and Higher Self.
- Deepen spiritual awareness and connection to sacred Source; finding one’s spiritual path/home, incorporating spirituality and Divine/God in daily life
- Address spiritual crises – loss of faith, betrayal of God, dark night of soul, spiritual emergencies and spiritual trauma;
- Healing wounds from family and/or religion of origin
- Creating space, acceptance and connection with other mindsets, cultures, ways of being.
- Increase alignment and surrender to spirit and divine will; holding ego-demands and goals more lightly; be more at peace with what is (yet more empowered to change what is changeable)
- Create more loving and fulfilling relationships; Open up to intimacy with oneself and others
- Deep listening to – and greater integration of – body, mind, heart, soul
- Interpersonal/ group conflict resolution and transformation
- Marriage counseling, spiritual divorce, post-divorce spiritual friendship
- Strengthen hope and engaging/lessening fear and despair
- Witness and disengage the Inner Judge
- Deepen trust and intuition; unlocking the imagination
- Deal with illness, aging, end-of-life issues
- Experience grief, loss, letting go of fear of death and embracing it; connecting with departed souls
- Create healthy relationship with money
Modalities And Practices
To understand the richness of life experiences and embrace the healing journey of the mind, heart, and soul, Rev. Gary offers counselees many modalities and practices as possible avenues to explore. These include: meditation, prayer, guided visualization, body scan, ritual, silence, gratitude, forgiveness, sacred text, poetry and storytelling, spiritual biography, spiritual sensitivities, soul and purpose maps, Jungian archetypes, faith styles, dream work, chakras, family of origin work (such as child archetypes and attachment types), and disengaging the inner judge. The actual modalities and practices used depends entirely on what is most useful and appropriate for each counselee.
Rev. Gary works with all populations, but his practice is primarily focused on adult individuals, couples, elders, groups/organizations, and those ill and dying.
Either private session or in workshops. Private sessions can be in person or via Skype (it’s preferable for at least the first couple of sessions to be in person, if at all possible, before Skyping). In rare situations, sessions may be done by phone. For the most part, the work is open-ended, until the counselee(s) decides to terminate.
Length of Sessions: 50-60 minutes
Fee : $95 per session, to be paid at time of service, unless other arrangements are made. If fee amount is a hardship, please discuss with Rev. Gary
No-Show, Cancellation And Late Policies
Barring emergencies, usual fee will be charged if counselee doesn’t show for scheduled session or if cancellation is made less than 24 hours of session. If counselee is late, session will generally not be extended past the allotted time.
All information discussed in sessions is confidential. The only exceptions are when a counselee poses a danger to themselves or others, when requested by a court of law, or for purposes of professional supervision (in which case, your name and identifying information will not be used). Please be advised that disclosure of child abuse or suicide attempts must be reported, by law.
Please note: Spiritual counseling is not a substitute for psychotherapeutic or psychiatric specialized treatment of substance abuse, trauma, mental illness, depression or other serious conditions, but rather can serve as an adjunct, reinforcement, and spiritual support.
(Names changed to protect confidentiality)
Being mortal, our bodies are imperfect and, sooner or later, many of us get sick or incapacitated, and need medical care. When we experience physical illness and limitation, whether short- or long-term, having someone there to care, to listen, to companion, to love and accept us just as we are, can be tremendously comforting and healing. We are less alone, and perhaps we can find hope and meaning.
This is the essence of Rev Gary’s chaplain work in hospitals, convalescent and long-term care centers, and in homes. His chaplain visits help people share who they are; create more comfort with being, emotions, and vulnerabilities; face pain and suffering; ponder difficult existential questions and explore one’s relationship with the Divine; uncover joy and even laugh ourselves silly. Through various ways, such as prayers, reading, breathing, humor, simple chatting, and, above all, compassionate empathic listening, he offers a caring presence, calming spirit, open heart, gentle encouragement, and guidance based on the person’s own faith path and challenges, to support those unwell to experience whatever they need to within.
This can help the person reduce fear and confusion, see themselves as more than their illness, and strengthen healing reserves. Rev. Gary also is there to facilitate communication and help problem-solve with staff and family, if needed. But sometimes all that is needed is a reassuring squeeze of the hand, giving a glass to water, or changing the TV channel.
Depending on the person and the situation, many things can be comforting and healing. So time commitment also varies, and Rev. Gary can be available ranging from 5 minutes to 5 hours, or more.
The key is always good listening, which involves being fully present, paying attention, acknowledging, and asking questions to deepen the connection. Or just sit quietly, and let wonder unfold.
Care for the Caregiver
Helping and attending to others – to their physical, emotional, spiritual or religious needs – is often intense, demanding work that can affect the well-being of those doing it. As humans, we resonate with each other on many levels. That’s why working closely with the pain and suffering of others can bring pain and suffering to our own bodies, minds, hearts, and souls, in ways both subtle and obvious. Caregivers such as family members, doctors, nurses, psychologists, care facility and home attendants, police, firefighters, and other first responders are very susceptible to what is sometimes called secondary trauma or counter-transference, and which can often manifest as stress and burnout.
Rev. Gary’s chaplain work also includes support and comfort for these amazing, yet vulnerable people who care for others. “Care for the Caregiver” work is grounded in loving presence and compassionate listening, but goes further into self- and group-care and personal transformation. We explore more deeply how we see ourselves, how our caring for others affects us, what resources we can summon and what resiliency we can build – not just to take better care of ourselves but to grow in our caring capacity and as human beings overall.
In his work with caregivers – whether private sessions with an individual, in occupational groups, or in workshop format – Rev. Gary’s approach is one of self-reflection and awareness-building, developing strategies and taking action. Caregivers are asked to explore and address some or all of the following:
- Motivation, influences, and formative experiences – what brought them to the work initially and what drives them to do it now
- What is working well – what or who they most appreciate and find most rewarding
- Challenges and struggles (examples: self-doubt and fear of failure; need for control, recognition and approval; arrogance; impatience; cultural judgments; balancing work and family; teamwork, supervisors, overwork) – connecting and making peace with them, or letting them go.
- Connection between vision of work versus the reality of it, then understanding and dealing with any gaps between these.
- Seeing and living in their total self, not just in work role; being seen by others
- Deepening personal vision, and creating one’s future
- Living their values and beliefs in their everyday lives (both at home and work) – especially with relationships and dealing with conflict
- Activities, relationships, and support – current and desired – to address challenges, and nourish and sustain oneself in their work. (Examples: walking meditation, massage, stretching and breathing, dancing, spiritual buddy, journaling, laughing, and work support groups.)
- Making – and following through – on commitments for self- and group-care; next steps
Leadership of Religious/Spiritual Worship
“While much of the spiritual journey is interior and, by nature, individual, there is a particular quality of spiritual experience made available when people come together in prayer, praise, and celebration. The form and expression of gatherings for worship services varies greatly…Still, the power and value of coming together to seek and celebrate the Divine has been recognized by every religious tradition…All worship is meant to help us connect and join with something beyond our egos, beyond our small, isolated sense of self.” (Rev. Diane Berke, One Spirit Founder and Spiritual Director.
Rev. Gary’s spiritual ministry also encompasses leadership of religious/spiritual worship and observances. Main activities include designing and facilitating worship services, creating and giving sermons, and leading observances and rituals from most major religious faiths. While Rev. Gary is not an ordained clergy of any specific religion, he is knowledgeable about a wide range of theologies and beliefs, and he is trained and practiced in the worship, ceremonies and rituals of most religious faiths and spiritual paths. He can work within them, and, from an interspiritual perspective, also between them. And, for people or groups who don’t identify with any particular faith or path, Rev. Gary creates worship forms that express a more universal and inclusive spiritual experience that can resonate with one’s unique connection to sacred Source, be it religious, spiritual or secular.
The root of the word Worship, according to Unitarian Universalist Rev. Paul S. Sawyer
, means “to ascribe worth to something”, and can be defined as “giving attention, reverence, and/or thanksgiving to highest things.” He adds that a good worship service “touches the emotions and spirits of the people in the congregation.” To United Church of Christ Rev. Julie G. Olmsted, a meaningful worship service offers an opportunity for:
- Looking up (to one’s relationship with the Divine and the highest in oneself) – via worship service aspects such as songs of gratitude, inspirational readings and prayers, sacred dance
- Looking in (reflection on the strengths and vulnerabilities of one’s heart, mind, and soul, and recommitment to “living their highest and loving their deepest”) – via aspects such as sermon or reflection, call to mindfulness, meditation, music
- Looking out – (creating community, “connecting with one another in a real and loving way” that builds peace and understanding between people) – via aspects such as welcoming, candle lighting, share of joys and concern, passing the peace.
Building on these perspectives, Rev. Gary strives to create meaningful worship services where attendees experience much to think about and be grateful for, and that hopefully inspires them to grow.
Rev. Gary creates and gives sermons, (also known as a reflection, inspirational talk or homily), often as part of a worship service or sometimes stand alone. His sermons aim to serve listeners in three main ways:
- Illumination – education, shedding light on a spiritual principle or teaching, offer new or deeper perspective or understanding of some aspect of life, of spirit
- Illustration – stories or examples to help people connect what they are hearing to their own lives
- Inspiration– calling people to put into practice some aspect of what you have been sharing, to open themselves to new possibilities. (Diane Berke)
A sermon is primarily meant as an oral form of communication, which should be easily understood when it’s heard. It is a personal reflection that expresses the speaker’s own insights, learning, experiences and understanding of spirit and life, which are shared with others, to offer support, companionship and inspiration to the listeners on their journey. Whether the topic is selected by Rev. Gary or someone else, his goal is first to make his own authentic connection with it and then ensure that it connects personally with the listeners, like “arrows of faith shot from your heart to theirs.” Whatever the topic, adding humor helps those arrows to reach their target.
There is no limit to the possibilities for sermon topics, because there are so many themes related to life and spirit. To name just a few: love, faith, hope, grace, reverence, mercy, fear, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, peace, wisdom, acceptance, death, family, friendship, betrayal, holiness, evil, the mysteries of life, the meaning of each season, water, air, earth, economic and racial justice, stereotyping and “othering”, community-building, honoring the Sabbath, connecting with animals, and the spiritual life of children. Building from these broad themes and ideas, Rev. Gary’s sermons pose a specific question, challenge or perspective. Here are some examples from his sermons:
- Piercing, Lovingly, the Thin Veil between the Worlds
- Let My People Come: Liberation, Journey, and Creating New Home in America
- Ode to Life - He Not Busy Being Born, Is Busy Dying
- A Time to Rest: Finding Renewal and Joy for the Soul
- St Patrick’s Day: “Joining Together the Sacred and the Profane - A Celebration of the Celtic Spirit”
- Valentine’s Day: Love – The Moving Sea Between the Shores of Our Souls
- Surviving the Election: Love is Stronger than Fear
- When the Silver Door Closes, the Golden Door Opens
- Loving and Letting Go: From My First Breath to Mom’s Last Breath, and Beyond
- Who’s Running the Show? – Discernment between Self and self
- Make America Kind Again
From a wide range of religious faiths and spiritual paths, Rev. Gary leads observances of sacred holidays and festivals. These include Passover (photo on left), Easter, Advent, Chanukah, Christmas, Bodhi Day, Lord Krishna Birthday, Solstice and Equinox, Beltane, and All Soul’s Day. The specific format and style of observance, and how the traditions are presented, depends on the expectations and needs of each group.