Over the last several years wildfires have been increasing in their frequency and intensity. We are seeing firsthand the lasting effects these disasters have on communities and the spirits of the people in them. A fire that causes the loss of only home can be just as devastating to that family and the community around them. Getting through the fire itself is hard, but then begins the journey of rebuilding which can be just as difficult and far more tedious.
It is important in the season after a fire, regardless of its size, to take the time to care for the deep layers of the soul that are often affected. Caring for the physical body is key to health. Making arrangements to be able to sleep soundly, to eat good, nourishing food, to exercise in a way that is beneficial and soothing are all foundational to long term healing. Setting this base for care will begin to make space to process through the emotional and spiritual challenges that may arise in the days, weeks, and even months following.
Spiritual directors should be checking in on all levels of care for their directees during sessions following disasters. How are they sleeping? How are they getting food? Do they need to see a doctor? A therapist? If the body is suffering, access to the heart and spirit will be difficult, if not completely blocked off. Some directees may find it helpful to take a walk during sessions in this season, while others will need a safe space to sit quietly. Flexibility, hospitality, and generous nurture are musts for directors who are companioning people who have been through a natural disaster. Now is no time for asceticism or rigidity in disciplines. Please review our suggestions for items and tools to have on hand during direction with those who have been traumatized. Also check out our links to helpful books and websites explaining and suggesting a variety of practices if you need a refresher on some options to give your directees.
Practices that may be helpful after a fire include:
Prayer For After A Fire:
We are raw. Everything inside and out is sensitive.
We are full of frenetic energy, yet fatigued beyond what we feel we can bear.
We felt small and helpless.
We struggle to trust our routines.
We mourn the loss of family, friends, and the familiar.
We have had our fill of the raging power of fire,
Help us find the balance of the elements.
Give us the stability of the earth,
The flexibility of the wind,
And the softness and repose of water.
Give us courage to rebuild.
Provide patience in the waiting.
Remind us of the balance between the comfort of warmth and the refreshment of coolness.
Soothe our frayed and fragile nerves.
Give us the eyes and ears to see the needs of our neighbors.
We are in need of nurture and protection, Be our Good Parent.
Help us to love each other and ourselves well.
Restore us to ourselves, reorient us to lasting abundance.
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Facing any natural disaster can easily be an overwhelming experience. There is often a sense of complete loss of control as well as absolute loss of material possessions. With a flood there is potential for a long continued set of discoveries having to do with damage from the flooding, such as structural damage, mold, and erosion. Survivors of a flood may feel that they are swirling in questions and unknowns as they watch the waters rise and recede. How bad is the damage? Will we be able to repair it? Am I still in danger? How long will this last?
Floods sometimes come and go very quickly, washing away memories and homes. And sometimes the flooded area is under water for weeks before even basic assessments can begin to be made. The language of describing flooding lends itself very well to also describing the feelings of those affected. “Drowning,” “washed away,” “torrent,” “adrift,” all may be ways that one’s directees experience their emotions. Patience and a calm presence from a spiritual director will be a great gift to those who are displaced by or recovering from flooding.
Directors should also be attuned to the fact that most cultures and faith traditions have some sort of flood narrative in their collective stories or scriptures. It is possible that with floods more than other natural disasters, that individuals may have unconscious associations of the event with Divine wrath or punishment. As always, sensitivity, openness, and compassion are necessary in walking with these survivors.
If you are meeting locally with people in your community then it is also likely in cases of flooding, or any widespread disaster, that you too have been affected. Be sure that you are taking the time and space to care for your own wounds in this healing period.
Some practices that may be helpful for directees who have survived a flood include:
-mindfulness or meditation
-physical grounding exercises
-“praying the hours” or other rhythms of worship
-connecting with neighbors
A Prayer For After A Flood
Oh God, the waters just kept rising.
They poured down the streets and through our doors.
Our feelings of agency and control have literally been washed away.
Our homes and jobs are gone or put on indefinite hold.
This waiting and wondering makes us weary deep in our bones.
Some of us have lost material possessions.
Some of us have lost beloved pets.
Some of us have lost people who provided meaning in our lives.
All of us have lost what we thought of as normal life.
Give us the endurance to honor those losses.
Pull our feet and souls out of this muck.
Put us on a firm foundation.
Restore us to our land and ourselves.
Help us to see moments of joy and relief.
Remind us of all that we are grateful for.
Show us the clean start, hidden under the debris.
Erin Jantz received her Master’s Degree in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care from the Institute for Spiritual Formation. She also holds a B.A. in developmental psychology and has furthered her education with trainings in trauma care from Boston University and intensives with Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk. She has been practicing spiritual direction since 2012, helped to author ICTG's Spiritual Formation Resource Guide, and also teaches and speaks on a variety of spiritual formation topics. Erin lives in Southern California with her husband and their four marvelous children.
SPIRITUAL DIRECTION BLOG
Expanding understanding and best practices for holistic health in the context of spiritual direction.