All this month we’re exploring the art of nurturing identity and formation in a way that clarifies calling and sustains deep, meaningful work in the world. We’re intentionally using a bodily, sensory word like nurture because we believe that this is not merely an intellectual pursuit but one that calls for our full selves—body, mind, and spirit.

Of course it is all too easy to tune out our bodies, to ignore how they communicate our need for nurture. What are the practices that help us listen to our bodies? What are the rhythms and rituals that connect us to those deep, vulnerable parts of our bodies and souls that are crying out for care? Our students and alumni have been wrestling with these questions in beautiful, creative ways for many years, and we often turn to their voices when we need to remember how to be present in our bodies. Today we’re sharing a few of those voices—thoughtful presentations inviting us to engage the rituals, rhythms, and age-old practices that draw us back to our deeply human need for nurture. And if you’d like to join us in the gift of learning from the integrative and insightful work of our students, save the date for the annual Integrative Project Symposium on May 31.

At our second annual Symposia in 2016, Heather Stringer (MA in Counseling Psychology, ‘10) presented “Breaking Frozen Seas: How Rituals of the Body Transform Clients and Communities,” exploring how intentional, sensual rituals open us to learning from our bodies as we pursue healing from trauma. “I think our body longs to teach us, it longs to mother us, it longs to remind us,” says Heather. “And without ritual, we foreclose creativity and shared open language about what is happening, and we dissociate.”

“I think our body longs to teach us, it longs to mother us, it longs to remind us.”

Also at Symposia 2016, Jenny McGrath (MACP, ‘15) talked about “Healing Trauma Through Movement,” sharing how dance had been an avenue of healing and growth in her own life, and how movement and dance can be used therapeutically to bring counseling and rehabilitation for trauma survivors. Jenny shares about her work in northern Uganda, researching the therapeutic power of movement in the wake of war and exploring how dance can help communicate emotional realities that are beyond language. “We are affected not just neurologically, but neuro-physiologically when we go through trauma. We are not just floating heads,” says Jenny. “So there needs to be some form of engagement with our bodies if we are truly to develop a sustainable model for people to recover from their trauma.”

At Symposia 2017 Jenny Wade (MACP, ’13), a therapist and founder of Haven Yoga in Seattle, shared about “Finding Beauty in Embodied Resistance.” In this profound talk, Jenny starts with the disgust that so many people feel toward their bodies, and the million ways we are taught to believe that our bodies are not worth trusting. “I believe that bodies are good,” says Jenny. “They are good, and they are wise, and they are beautiful. […] But trauma, both collective and personal, separates us from the felt experience of our body. When we experience trauma, our body feels foreign. Our body doesn’t feel like it’s ours.”

(For more on this, we also deeply appreciated J. Knox Burnett’s (MACP, ’13) presentation, “Utilizing the Body as a Compass in the Process of Transformation.”)

When we are more fully connected to our bodies, we are more able to attune to spiritual practices and soul care. This is much of the work that Lacy Clark Ellman (MA in Theology & Culture, ’12) fosters in her work as a spiritual director. In 2017, Lacy presented “Beyond Borders: Cultivating Awareness, Resilience, and Transformation through the Practice of Pilgrimage.” In 2017 she shared about the ancient art of pilgrimage and the archetypal human stories that have so much to reveal about the journey of separation, initiation, and return. “This adventure of the hero and journey of the pilgrim is built within each one of us,” says Lacy. “And claiming it as our own, we are aligning with our divine imprint as seekers of the sacred.”

(Kate Davis [Master of Divinity, ’15] also powerfully reflected on the transformative insights of ancient human stories in her Integrative Project presentation, “Engaging Sin, Grief, and the Self-in-Relation through Myth & Fairy Tale.”)

Across cultures and generations, these categories of initiation, wilderness, and pilgrimage have been central to questions of what it means to be fully human—and yet for many of us, they feel so foreign today. That’s why we appreciated this Symposia 2016 presentation from Doug Wheeler (MA in Counseling, 1987), “Navigating the Masculine Journey with ‘Sherpas’ Nouwen, Jung, and Peck.” Doug reflects on the archetypes that help clarify the terrain and trajectory of human pilgrimage. “There is no entry fee, but it will cost you plenty to make this journey. Pack a lunch, lose your map, travel lightly.”

On May 31 we’ll gather to hear from students in our Master of Divinity and MA in Theology & Culture programs as they present on the projects that serve as a capstone of their time in graduate school. The Integrative Project Symposium is always an inspiring, grounding, and thought-provoking time. All are welcome!