Sunday, August 9, 2015

Blogging for Companions on the Inner Way (It's Not About Me)

This is the first blog post for the Companions on the Inner Way retreat. You may find the second blog post here: Seeking Home: Where Do We Come From?

Here are the other blog posts:

Seeking Home: Where Do We Come From? 

Who Have We Become?


Exile and Belonging


I am delighted to spend this week as the blogger for the summer Companions on the Inner Way retreat (more information at, a “guided retreat grounded in the Christian tradition. By honoring body, mind and soul, companions are invited to the inner journey with the Spirit.” It is an ecumenical gathering at the Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center at Lake Tahoe. (If you want to make my heart flutter, say “ecumenical” or “Lake Tahoe.”)

This week’s theme is “Seeking Home & the Practice of Belonging.” The featured speaker is Enuma Okoro, who is a fabulous human being, author, speaker, and consultant. You can find her at

First, a word about Christian spirituality.

Spirituality is a big topic and a big field with diverse expressions, I know. And generally speaking, I leave this field to my mom. She’s the practicing spiritual director (you can find her at She’s often on faculty at the Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction program at San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is the longest standing spiritual direction program at a Protestant seminary. People love and respect her and my dad, who has been a colleague and companion to her (also a pastor). Thanks to her, I know a fair amount about the many styles of individual and communal prayer, and I knew about Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich in high school (not every Presbyterian can say that).

I’m a religious person. When I told someone on the airplane that I was coming to a spirituality thing (that’s how I talk), she said, “Oh, and it’s nice you can be spiritual without being religious.”

I said, “I think this group is both. I’m more religious than spiritual.” (This is why I try not to talk to people on airplanes.)

I love religion. I love the academic study of religion, all religions, and I have a robust skeptical love for the practice of my own religion. I even love the institutional church in its diverse expressions, with its horrific history of colonialism, sexism, homophobia, racism, and rampant mismanagement, because that history also holds deep strands of resistance to institutional evils grounded in a joyful faith narrative of freedom and power from the underside of society. At our first General Assembly (the highest governing body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a biennial national gathering), my mom came down with a stress-related condition, while my love of the church was sealed forever. We are definitely different people.

Nevertheless, here I am, without my mom, at a Companions retreat.

There will be silence. Silence is hard for me. Oh, I can do it. I’m familiar with the discipline. But like most of us, I have a brain that goes five million miles a minute, and I have no commitment to changing it. This is partly how I manage to juggle my work and life and family and frequent travel, even if I neglect to send birthday cards to pretty much everyone. My to-do lists are extensive. Companions involves silence, time for contemplative practices. In silence, I usually think of all the things I need to do. Like how one day, I will actually create a system by which household receipts are filed weekly (insert hysterical laughter here), and one day I will plan something romantic for an anniversary instead of just texting a selfie and cute heart emoji.

At Companions retreats are also lectures and group activities (thank you Jesus), plus the integration of art, music, and movement.

A word about art. I come from a family of artists. My grandmother was an artist. My cousin is an artist. My brother is an artist (one so talented and enterprising that he makes a living through the practice and instruction of art – you can find him at

I can’t do art. CAN’T. My brother can give a painting as a gift. I will buy a book or cool socks. So let’s see how the art thing goes this week.

A word about movement. My dad does InterPlay. I was the worst student of ballet. I’m unnecessarily self-conscious about movement. Liturgical movement in worship is something I think is important, but I don’t really “get” it. So I don’t bother. I hereby commit to moving this week as a spiritual discipline.

Music is fine; I can manage. I like lectures and group activities. Singing and worship are the kinds of spiritual exercises I enjoy.

But to be frank, words are my medium. I’m usually outgoing, a constant talker, and I’m pretty good with the written word. My work now involves talking with church people, attempting to navigate institutional and group dynamics, and editing. It’s perfect for me right now.

But this week isn’t about me.

I think this Companions retreat will have something for everyone. What good is the spiritual life if we aren’t open to being stretched, to trying something new, to participating in something that isn’t really our thing? Religious practice, those disciplines of spirituality, ultimately aren’t about me and my preferences, but are about being Christian.

I’m here as a blogger who might suck at many aspects of spirituality. It is an honor to do this, and I will spend this week sharing it with you. Thanks for reading.

If you want to follow Companions more closely, you can find them on Facebook at and on Twitter at @OnTheInnerWay. I will be tweeting the retreat at @lmcheifetz and blogging here at


  1. Enjoy! I loved my COTIW retreat and worked for DASD for a few years. My intro and training in spirituality was good.

    1. Very good! Glad to hear it. I plan to soak it all in, even the challenging stuff.

  2. "Pretty good" with the written word? More like excellent.