Email sent to my spiritual director before last week’s meeting. I’ve been busy with doctors’ appointments and other things since then and haven’t gotten around to posting it till now.

Sr. __________ —

Just a note to confirm our appointment Monday, Aug. 12, at 2:30 p.m. and provide links to my journaling. It can be short this month, because I’ve been in kind of a spiritual dry spell. Mostly reading, including Ilia Delio’s “A Hunger for Wholeness; Soul, Space, and Transcendence,” and working out some kinks in my spiritual direction blog.

Debi’s been in the emergency room again a couple of times, and my focus has been less on spiritual exercises as I do more intercessory prayer. I did journal on what I called a “Zen Lutheran koan,” a kind of parable that reminds me to pray for discernment and acceptance as well as healing. It’s on my new blog here. I wrote:

… When I pray, sometimes a day or two passes and I realize the answer I’m getting is more like, No, not yet. Hold your horses, buddy. Go back to the drawing boards. First things first. Or … this:

A monk told Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”

Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?

The monk replied, “I have eaten.”

Joshu said, “Then you had better wash your bowl.”

At that moment the monk was enlightened.

No enlightenment to speak of, though, at least not on my part. In fact I interpret the Zen parable, or koan, as a reminder to keep on keepin’ on — any enlightenment comes when you realize it’s not going to come all at once in a flash of light. But I did raise an issue later on in it that might be worth going into: 

It’s beginning to be clear Debi and I have been in an ongoing state of crisis — mostly low-grade but flaring up into ER visits and other high drama at odd times — since February and March. I’ve been experimenting with lectio divina and a couple of Jesuit spiritual prayer exercises, and I think I’m starting to get comfortable with them. But when the health issues flare up, I’m back to intercessory prayer. Or, as I like to think of it, to ER prayers and foxhole spirituality.

Which in turn takes me back to the 90s, when I was reading a lot of Zen Buddhist writing — much of it in bare-bones websites like NoZen, as a matter of fact — and “working the steps” in a 12-step recovery program, going through the program literature step by step and trying to “grow along spiritual lines,” as the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous puts it. The key step here is the 11th:

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.

That I can do.

So, to sum up, I’m kind of in a dry spot. My reading has been interesting, though. I’ve got to admit most of Lelio’s “Hunger for Wholeness” has sailed right over my head, but there’s enough there of interest to keep me going. And I’ve been working on a historical article that’s indirectly related — on Swedish immigrants and Lutheran church history in the mid-1800s — that I let slide, along with some of my other interests, after Trump took office in 2017. 

Even the intercessory prayer represents a kind of progress, I think. Ever since I was working the 12-step program 25 and 30 years ago, I’ve felt like it was self-indulgent to pray for myself. Now I’m praying for healing, discernment and acceptance — including asking to get us on the parish prayer list at Peace Lutheran and posting a prayer request to the Dominican Sisters’ website — and it feels like it’s consistent with the 11th Step, so it feels right to me. I guess that’s progress.

See you Monday at 2:30.– Pete

Peter Ellertsen, 2125 S Lincoln Ave, Springfield IL 62704. For random notes on dulcimers, history, hymnody, cultural studies and all kinds of music, visit my research blog “Hogfiddle” at

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