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Minimalist, Maximalist and Something in Between

There is a movement afoot amongst a growing number of the younger set to live smaller and to be more intentional about money, careful not to live a bloating lifestyle and thus having more freedom to work less and enjoy life more. They resist moving to larger houses, buying larger cars and taking jobs merely for the paycheck. The movement is called the Minimalist Movement. Several of my young friends are finding this minimalist thinking to be life giving yet they say that the cultural pressure to expand is enormous.

Before I delve into this further, let me say that I am not against having lovely things or traveling or using the latest technology. In fact I just got today’s weather on my smart phone (what a catchy title). And I have experienced the deep personal learning that comes from traveling to other countries, meeting the people and experiencing rich cultures and life styles that are quite different from my own.

However, I do observe the obsession that we seem to have with affluence or the appearance of affluence in the United States, and it seems to control our lives, like an addiction. I also have observed how hard it is to cut back on a consumer life style—a very courageous thing to do. For the boomers especially, cutting back or downsizing reminds us of the downward slope we are destined to encounter, eventually at least, and it scares us.

So while my younger friends are struggling not to get culturally bloated, those of us who have gotten bloated and are not as happy as we thought we’d be are learning how to deflate that bloated life. I, personally, was not able to make this change without embracing it as a spiritual experience because I wanted to downsize without feeling diminished. I wanted to feel the release, the freedom and the creativity that might come with a simpler life. And now, I’m happy to say that not only do I not feel diminished, I feel that God has gently expanded me from the inside out, not from the outside in.

A colleague asked me recently how -–specifically—I had addressed what had come to be my bloated and disordered life, in need of downsizing and healing. So I listed several practical ways I had simplified my life (some felt rather radical at the time) and what the results were. I include several of them here for your reflection. If just one or two catch your attention, try them out. If you have others that have worked for you, share them. All of these have resulted in big savings (a 40% reduction in expenses) and a more inviting, compassionate and enjoyable life style for me.

*Clothes: I admit to being a clotheshorse and buying clothes “for work” every season as a way to veil my addiction to shopping. I worked with a creative woman who helped me to revamp my wardrobe so everything fits together and looks great. I have far fewer clothes, but they all work. I buy very few new clothes anymore. I get my clothes at clothing exchanges, used clothing stores, and at a free table in my condo building. I now have 1½ inches between hangers in my closet. And the quality of my clothing is actually better!

*Travel: I noticed that my anxiety spiked every time I traveled and the costs, both psychological and financial became too high. So I cut out air travel and took 1-2 day car trips within the state once or twice a year. I live in a city that has beautiful parkways so in the summer especially I take the loooooong way home and deliberately drive those parkways. I feel so calm and sometimes I even stop for coffee or ice cream. The issue beneath this loss of travel was that I made a living from public speaking and teaching so being on the road was my life style. I had to trust God to bring me other forms of income and other career choices. It took a few years to make the transition but it has been the most life-giving decision of the last ten years for me.

*Books: As an author I bought all my books. Yikes. This was very costly and also required room for storage. Then I discovered the library (I can hear a lot of you groaning that I had not thought of that sooner!). Now guess what? I read more. I read more widely. I have more fun reading. I quit a book after 50 pages if I don’t like it. I order from the library on line. I get a message three days before my books are due. This week I’m reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a Laurie King mystery about Sherlock Holmes and his wife, Mary Russell, and an Anna Quindlen novel. In between books I’m listening to a CD on the life of Hildegard of Bingen.

*Season tickets: I decided to give up all my season tickets and see which things I really wanted to attend. What a surprise. Most of my season tickets were a habit I had formed and it was a relief not to have to go see a play at the end of a busy week when I was tired. Now I go when I really want to see a play. Or I go to a few of the free or low cost concerts or plays that are available. Baseball tickets were the hardest to release but they got too expensive when the new stadium opened. But, as luck would have it, I have several friends who know I love baseball and they invite me to games. I go less now but I enjoy it more. And I even went to the All Star Game in Minneapolis this summer as a guest.

*Insurance: I’ve found that brokers are my best friends. Not only do they know the products better than I do but they understand the differences between the products in the marketplace. Insurance is a very complex and confusing world and usually within one visit they have me connected with the best products for my particular situation. I saved enormously in all of my insurance; car, home, health.

*Gifts: Just a few words here. Regift. Create. First, I pass along delightful gifts that I have received so others can enjoy them. I try not to let things accumulate on my shelves or in my drawers. I keep the flow moving. I create things. The greatest joy I’ve had in years is to see the look on someone’s face when I make them a small useful gift. It’s creative, more meaningful, less expensive (usually) and provides me with a beautiful outlet for my creativity. Of course, I encourage those who receive my gifts to regift them as well.

*Eating out. I simply eat in most of the time. I fix more interesting meals and I freeze things so each cooking session stretches to cover more meals. Or when I eat out I just eat from the appetizer menu. Or I split entres. Better yet, I do pot luck with friends.

These are just a few of my best experiences in downsizing. The essence of the decisions in each case were spiritual, meaning that I asked God to show me how to cut back or save money or reshape or rethink each area. I looked at the reasons I was holding onto things and it was usually pretty lame or even embarrassing, like holding onto a set of china thinking I would sell it some day, only to learn that young women don’t care about china now. I released the set. Another burden lifted.

The things I really cherish I held onto with satisfaction. I got some of my downsizing epiphanies and ideas from friends or from surprise conversations. As each decision evolved I found more creative ways to do things and with that came a deeper level of satisfaction. I feel lighter, freer, fuller and even more beautiful. My smaller life allows me to be more generous with my time, with what money I have and with my love. I’m eternally grateful for my life and I can’t imagine ramping up again.

So what I hope for, as a result of my downsizing, is to meet my young friends who are refraining from upsizing–right in the middle. And we can have a pot luck.

Janet O. Hagberg 2014. All rights reserved.
Reflections on this essay

What do you think of the minimalist idea?

What do you honestly know you have too much of?

What’s at stake for you to release it? What is the perceived loss?

What new freedom or experience has evolved for you as a result of downsizing?

Love, Work, Play

I’ve been thinking about marriage a lot this summer since I was invited to three weddings. It raises reflections for me about the connection of love and marriage. While I was mulling this, I remembered a quote from Sigmund Freud stating that humans need two things in order to be satisfied; love and work. I can’t remember who added a third to that list, but it was play. Perhaps we need all three of these to have a healthy balance in our lives.

So let’s go on a journey with love, work and play and see where it takes us…

To be transparent about my relationship with love and marriage, I feel grateful that I’ve been unusually satisfied with the amount of love I’ve given and received in my life and yet my track record with marriage is less than stellar. I believe in marriage and all that it brings to those who embrace it sincerely, and, at the same time, I think of it as excruciatingly wonderful. Maybe this discrepancy is what draws me so strongly to ponder love and marriage.

Love is the most complicated, and in my experience the most misunderstood of the three human needs. Love, for me, means caring, shared memories, positive regard, respect, shared time, vulnerability, trust, presence in pain, ability to work through conflict without hostility, provision for one another, affection, appreciation. The finest marriages result in each partner becoming their best self with the support of their partner. Most marriages (and friendships) have a hard time measuring up to that standard day in and day out, but after all, we’re human. What confuses me is that, if we “know” that the one we’ve chosen to marry is the right one, why do 50% of marriages, even Christian marriages, end up in divorce. And the numbers are higher for second marriages. I grieve that in my soul. I know love asks a lot of us and most of us need to stretch and grow in order to be up to the task. Marriage is the beginning of our inner work as a couple, not the end. We come together to grow in each other’s company not to breathe a sigh of relief and slump into self-neglect.

If love is what I outlined above, is marriage the only way of knowing what love is? I think the culture (neighbors, friends, parents, the church, work associates, well meaning aunts/uncles, even magazines) would say yes, at least if you look at the focus churches place on marriage and family and the number of businesses associated with the marriage market. And just ask any single 30-year-old if she or he feels the pressure to “find” the right person to marry in order to feel normal. The latest US Census reports that more than 50% of adult Americans are single, 53% of them women, 47% of them men. That is astounding given that the cultural norm still seems to be married with two+ children.

Of course, we all need love. Whether married or single. Which I suggest means to love and be loved in return? How do we satisfy that desire, if marriage is not the only option? I will suggest four sources of love that I have observed to have satisfying effects on people’s hearts: friends, animals, nature and God. Let’s start with friends. Here I would include family, friends, teammates, mentors and military comrades, all of whom can give and receive love in their own ways. The animal option is a no-brainer; connections with pets and untamed animals are deep-seated ways of relating. Ask any pet owner or anyone who has swum with dolphins! And nature includes things like water, plants, trees, birds, mountains, flowers and prairies. Most of us yearn to be in nature since it restores something to us that we don’t seem to find any other way.

The fourth and, in my experience, the best way to receive and give love is with God. With God there is always a guarantee of being loved in return, no matter what (even better than pets who can hiss or growl!). God is a lasting presence that never leaves us, even if we lose our earthly relationships. I know many people have negative images of God from childhood, and I heartily encourage those who do to work with someone to help heal or change that image. For me, love is from God and includes all the things I mentioned in my definition of love. In addition, unlike some human love, God’s love is unconditional and unending. Even when we question God’s love or feel God is absent, God still waits patiently for us to once again allow divine love to flow into our hearts.

If we feel unconditionally loved by God, we are whole, no matter what our marital status; married, divorced, separated, single, committed. Our love is not dependent on other things, despite the cultural pressure and shame.

I also seems clear to me that single people can love and be loved, that married people can love and be loved, but that marriage does not guarantee love in the way I describe. One of the issues with marriage that I have experienced and seen others experience too, is that we look to our partner to meet our needs and when they don’t, we blame them. I think we are looking to them to fulfill something that we can only truly get from ourselves and from God, unconditional love. And if we do seek love primarily from God then we can honor the things that our spouse does give us instead of being disappointed in what they don’t give us. No human can meet all of our needs.

Everyone can feel love, needs to feel love, no matter what. I find this liberating and hopeful.

The forms of love in my life have been somewhat unusual since I lost my second parent by the time I was thirty-nine years old and I was estranged from my only brother due to alcohol. So my forms of love have been, not only with marriage partners, step-children and in-laws, but with a host of others. I have adopted brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers and I have opened my heart to mentoring and friendship relationships with a group of amazing people, who give to me and receive from me as much love as I can handle. This kind of love includes emotional and spiritual intimacy, sharing of honest emotions and mutual good will. And it requires that I stay present to the relationships and not take them for granted.

Other kinds of love? I’ve had pets most of my life, mostly gentleman cats, but dogs as well, and I hold nature, especially birds, trees, flowers and moving water in high regard. Oh, and I have an ongoing love affair with the MN Twins.

If you are game, I’d like to invite you to reflect on love, especially on the people, pets and nature experiences that have given you a feeling of being loved. How did it change your life? And God, how does feeling love from God make your life different? And how have you seen your love affect others’ lives?

The second part of the equation of what all humans need is work. By that I mean to be productive in some way, to contribute to the greater good, to feel some sense of accomplishment. What does work usually give us that matters most to us? Many people would say we work primarily for money but I have found, in my career development work, that was not the case. Sure, we need that basic security (and many workers do not even have that) but after that we usually don’t work for money. Volunteers and parents do not work for money and their work is just as meaningful as income generated work, even though the culture does not value what they do as much.

I work because it satisfies my desire to express ideas, it gives me an outlet for my creativity, it engages me with other people’s stories and it inspires me to share spiritual healing experiences. Staying engaged with friends and clients helps me feel whole. But we all work for different reasons. Here are a few of the other reasons people say they work.

Recognition and approval

service and social welfare

leadership and personal power

Interpersonal relations

moral value

creativity and challenge


If you are game to reflect on your motivations for work, which three motivations do you resonate with the most? Be honest! Knowing why you really work and how to obtain more of what satisfies you results in renewed energy, productivity and satisfaction.

I was writing this essay at one of my favorite restaurants and I asked my server why she worked. She said it was the exercise built right into the job and the social outlet it gave her. Then when she goes home she is tired but she gets to spend time with her seven pets! (this includes 3 rescue and foster pets). She said that, as a single woman, it was a good life. I asked her where she gets love in her life and she said, “To be honest, from my pets more than from my children.”

But, sadly, work has its negative side effects as well. We can become addicted to work; becoming married to our work with no balance in our lives. We can produce degrading products that hurt or injure people. We can become greedy and overly competitive. We can lose our jobs for whatever reason, and suffer grave consequences of identity or health.

So how do we work in a way that leans towards deeper satisfaction and contribution? I’d suggest that we bring our love for God into our work. I do not mean that we necessarily witness for our faith in the workplace since that is precarious and even illegal, but that we allow who we are in our inner connection with our loving God to seep out deliciously into the core of our work.

~What if you’ve had a deep and lasting experience of community through meeting with a group of spiritually minded people? Why not bring the concept of true community into the workplace, even if you don’t talk about it that way. Just try to create loving communities that represent the gifts of your spirit!

~What if you are a creative person but do not have the obvious outlets to use your gift in your main work tasks? How about asking God how to use your creativity in other ways at work, for events you volunteer for, for photos or posters if that is available, for spoken word opportunities at celebrations. Use your creativity to bring your spirit of love from God to people in the workplace.

~What if you believe in the power of inclusion since you feel so included by God? If, in your workplace, there are diverse cultures, why not really engage with people from other cultures and see what can happen from those engagements?

~Ask yourself this question: When have I had a spiritual experience at work? See what other opportunities come to mind as a result of things that you may have forgotten about or not thought of as spiritual.

So whatever your gift, ask God how you can use that in the workplace in a more sustained and satisfying way. If it’s humor, ask how you can use humor in a satisfying and sustaining way. If it’s collaboration, ask how you can use your skills in collaboration in a more expansive way at work or in your volunteer work.

I’m working with a group of ten people from different occupations and from different age groups (from 30s to 70s). We are asking what it looks like to be a healer in our workplaces, spiritual and emotional healers. So what would it look like to do accounting in a healing way? To do ministry in a healing way? To create art or to write in a healing way? To parent in a healing way? First we needed to look at what qualities were helpful in being a healer and then we needed to look at how God works, so we weren’t caught in trying to do this healing by ourselves. I think we’ve concluded that we can’t be effective healers (whatever that means for each of us individually) unless we are also in a healing process. It seems elementary now but it was a revelation when we first discovered that truth. So we heal, we ask God for guidance, we claim our gifts, we look to see what healing opportunities are coming our way. Daunting but very satisfying.

And here’s an intriguing thought. What if love and work are integrally connected? What if a portion of our work is actually to give and receive love wherever we are?

Love and Work. What love and what work are beckoning us? If we keep asking we will keep learning more.

In order to love and work effectively, we also need some balance, some outlets for rejuvenation and release. What about play?

Play feeds our souls. Play is so fun. We need it. We crave it. We spend millions of dollars on it each year. So play is good. But I’d suggest we look at it carefully to keep it playful and not just another way to work.
My premise: we need to learn to play without feeding our addictions
Many people in our culture think they know how to play because they engage in competitive, adventurous, or physically strenuous exercise. Our culture encourages these activities as a way to balance a stressful work schedule. I would suggest that these activities be called stress reduction techniques but need not be confused with the concept of play. Most of them inadvertently feed people’s addictions, especially the work addiction, and do not relieve long term stress, which leaves deep scars on the psyche.
Think of a few of the ways you usually play—recreation, travel, hobbies, exercise. I used to describe play as anything that took my mind off work. Now I think about it differently.
Play may seem to many of us as something we left behind in our childhoods, but playing (without feeding our work or other addictions) can help us feed our soul. Feeding our soul not only rejuvenates our mood and our body, but it also helps us remember who we are and whose we are—and helps immensely in getting us up in the morning. Feeding our soul fuels the love and work that we desire in our life.
I suggest that soul feeding is what matters more than love or work, and that it is vital to our life. We feed our soul through solitude, rest, dreams, breaks, exercise, prayer, music, healthy food etc. And mindful play is a fine way to feed our soul.
Reflect on this list of some key characteristics of soul-feeding play and see what activities come to mind for you. Which of your regular activities have these characteristics? Which don’t? Why?
• Activities that leave your body, mind, and spirit rested and refreshed, even though you may get physically tired.
• Activities in which you do not have to win or be an expert to feel good about yourself.
• Activities that stimulate your creativity.
• Activities that take your mind completely off your work and problems.
• Activities that increase your appreciation of others, of nature, of relationships.
• Activities in which you laugh freely and do not feel angry, tight, or ashamed afterward.
• Activities that do not require you to travel long distances.
• Activities in which you do not have to prove yourself or be in charge.
• Activities that do not require a large investment of money or exhaustive maintenance.
• Activities that bring you closer to who you were as a child.
• Activities that feed your soul.
Soul play may now include singing in the shower, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, stopping at a coffee shop to read a book in the afternoon, making a shawl for a neighbor, riding your bike with no destination, giving someone a free ticket to a concert, dancing in your office when no one else is watching.
Reflect on which of your play activities meet at least half of the criteria listed above. Some probably do and some don’t. Try substituting one new play idea for one of your current ones. You may have to expand your concept of play to include things you previously would have rejected. Or you may consider doing your current recreation in a different way. Don’t expect people to applaud you when you change. Most people are moving too fast to notice. You can applaud yourself.
My list of soul play activities includes reading in my favorite chair, walking in nature, driving on curvy roads, making icons, having coffee with friends, baking cookies and brownies, watching murder mysteries on TV, tango dancing in my living room and watching pro baseball and college basketball. I believe that soul play, whatever that means to us, brings us closer to others, to God and to ourselves.
Here’s a soul play story from my earlier years! I think it represents the time I changed my concept of play in my life—and it made a big difference. In my ex-husband’s family golf was important. My father in law was the son of the head groundskeeper of a large metropolitan golf course. He played exceptionally well. My husband and two stepsons also played well. So naturally I played too. It was our family sport, and it was competitive. Tempers flared when things did not go well. I finally figured out that although I loved golf and could hold my own with these men around the greens, it was not fun or relaxing to always be competing, betting, or comparing scores.
I decided to play my own golf game. First I read the book Inner Golf and practiced the principles until I was playing a relaxed inner game. Then I decided to enjoy the weather and nature, since they were major reasons I liked golf. Lastly I decided to scrap the official rules and make my own rules. If I didn’t like the lie of my ball, I improved it. If I didn’t like the length of the hole, I shortened it, like when we came to a long par five. I dropped my ball at the 250 yard mark and played from there.
I began enjoying golf so much that I made a decision that almost started a riot. I quit keeping number scores and started keeping letter scores: W for wonderful holes, S for scenic holes, G for a great shot. My philosophy of golf was, “It doesn’t matter. “ Not only did I enjoy it immensely, my game was more relaxed and consistent.
So, God can be involved in love, in work and in play. How do you experience God in your love, work and play?

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2015. All rights reserved.
Reflections on this essay, in case you haven’t already done this in the body of the essay!
Which is more compelling to you, love, work or play? Why?
When have you given and received love in a satisfying way in your life?
Why do you work? How have you increased your satisfaction in work?
What is your most soul restoring form of play?
Where does God fit into your love, work and play activities?
How does that make a difference in your life?

A note on this essay. Some of the “play” portion of this essay was published in a chapter called Soul Leadership in my book, Real Power, 3rd edition, 2003.

Holy Delicious Desires, Part Two:

God’s Longing for Us

Janet O. Hagberg

In the Holy Delicious Desires essay, Part One, I delineated three ways in which we start our initial search for God, for that something beyond us, the Mysterious, the Eternal. These three ways are wine, women (men) and song, or sex, drugs and rock and roll. In this essay I hope to illustrate how that initial search for our Source moves to a deeper longing if we acknowledge it. Eventually we feel God’s longing for us as an invitation to a sacred dance. If we accept God’s lead, we dance as One, in union with the one we adore.


What, then, are these ways in which we may grow to anther level of understanding of the path that leads to that sacred dance?


Let’s start with a key concept that we need to understand before the rest will make sense. That concept is that God dwells within us as well as outside of us. The place in which God dwells is called our soul, holy place, grounded center, solar plexus, or as people in the Eastern Orthodox Church call it, our hesychia. It is that place in which we house many holy desires, among them a desire to create, a desire for intimacy and a desire for spirituality, a deep connection with the Holy. In fact, when we open ourselves up to a deeper relationship with God often some of these other desires (creativity, intimacy, spiritual longing) come into bloom as well. It’s as if they are all housed together and when one gets some attention the others are aroused as well. At our core, we have a rich mix of desires for the Holy.


An old mystic described this place within by yet another image when he said, “God puts within us a spark of the Divine. How close are you willing to come to the Fire?” That is the key question, in my experience. How much do I trust God to love me, care for me, desire me, invite me to Union with Godself? And how can we approach the divine fire if we fear the heat, if we don’t trust God, or if we feel totally worthless? How can we even witness this Holy fire without being burned or deeper yet, how can we let our egos die, and let ourselves be consumed by the Fire, so to speak?



Soul Work: the way we approach the divine fire within

Let me describe three ways we can approach the Fire, and then conclude with a special story about Dorothy, a young girl who dances with flame. The term I use to describe this process of deliberately coming close to the Fire within is Soul Work.


Soul work transforms the three desires represented by wine, women and song into an inward relationship with the Holy that is no longer ruled by addictions, lust, or craziness.


Soul work as an approach to the divine fire is not dependent on other people but more dependent on the Holy and the inner connections that God creates in our hesychia, our center where God dwells. Soul work transforms us through the distilled strength of God’s love and desire for us, and the sacred egoless place that develops in us as a result.


And the fruits of these experiences are outward, for the good will of the world. The fruits of this inner work are always more love for and good will in the world. No matter what our work or our social position, we are called to be God’s representatives on earth, vulnerable, trusting, repentant, forgiving, loving, healing, humorous.


The three ways I suggest we approach the Fire are creativity, desire for intimacy and spiritual longing. The final image is a delightful scene of Dorothy dancing.


These three, creativity, intimacy and spiritual longing parallel the three ways in which we began our search; wine women and song (or drugs, sex and rock and roll). Each of these three morphs into its sacred counterpart, and then accepts the divine invitation and collaboration with God. I will explain each set of changes in order. This sacred journey is a gift from God. Our role is to acknowledge that gift and to make wise and sacred choices, to be intentional about approaching the Holy, and to find wise and grounded people around us to mentor and guide us.



Wine (drugs) stimulates creativity, then accepts divine inspiration

Wine, or the desire to be transported into another world, is the desire for a touch of the mysterious, a journey beyond ourselves, a “trip” as the drug world calls it. This often shows itself as creativity or personal expression and can take us in a number of directions. So when we find our mode of expression, our voice, we are witnesses to our desire for a connection with this mysterious creative experience. Our desire is to express something with the use of our hands, heads, bodies. Our creation may make use of our inner ideas, thoughts, colors, wood grain, crops, fabrics, machines, type, knitting needles etc. We accept ourselves as artists in our chosen voice, whatever it may be. Artists of all types speak of this mysterious desire to express themselves via inspiration, muses, or unexpected connections. Creativity is a gift and is unique to each individual. Finding ours is like uncovering a treasure in a field.


The deeper movement of accepting divine inspiration, molds us into Union with God. We hear the Holy, our Source, asking to be the divine inspiration behind all our work, longing to be our main collaborator. We become part of the eternal flow of the Holy presence on earth when we say yes to God’s request to be our muse. We are bringing God’s love and spirit to the world. It does not mean that we necessarily create sacred art but that the work we create has sacredness about it, no matter what the content. People can feel it when they view or hear or touch what we have created. It has a healing or deepening affect on them. Creativity in this form, is a way of releasing our wills and being embraced by the Holy Fire within.



Women (men-sex) stimulate a desire for intimacy, then accepts the Divine invitation to Sensuous Beauty

Our love of bodies and body connections is an overlooked desire for intimacy with ourselves and with others. When we misunderstand this we can have many sexual connections without meeting our needs for companionship and understanding. Intimacy comes in many forms, including sexuality, conversation, collaborations, support groups, therapy, even physical touch in massage or body work or sports. People in the military experience intimacy through shared experience, especially in dangerous situations. So we know we all need strong connections.


Once we acknowledge that need for connection and seek a wide range of intimate experiences, our bodies believe that we can be trusted and invite us into a deeper relationship with our body-self and with God. Our bodies desire an intimate relationship with our soul, our hesychia. Our bodies send us messages from God through dreams, symptoms, sleeplessness, visions, tears, coincidences, visits from heavenly beings, cravings. If we listen and embrace these messages as God-given, we grow to a new level of intimacy in the world.


The divine invitation to a deeper level of connection is this: to know sensuousness and beauty as God’s longing for sacred contact with us in our bodies and our earthly experiences. Sensuousness is a way to honor the beauty of our bodies and to show our self-love, as a gift from God, no matter what we look like or how much we weigh. We can claim our life stance, our own scent, our texture, our sound, our unique look, because it is God who is present to the world through us. God’s desire for intimacy with us unites our two souls. It is a high form of discernment. It is thirst without gulp. It is touch without lust. It is beauty without vanity.


At last, a deeper experience of God’s beauty also becomes clear. We see God’s beauty in all of life, even in the storm, the dark, the grief of life. Beauty is what God leads us to as we journey into this union. There is beauty in the flaw, beauty in illness, beauty in surrender, beauty in Godself.



Song (Rock and Roll) stimulates spiritual longing, then accepts the invitation to intimate prayer: God praying us in the world

The human journey is filled with spiritual longing. We see it in the way we reach out for meaning; music, pilgrimages, books, gurus, getting lost in adventure and danger. In music, especially pop music, it seems the spiritual longings of our souls desire connect with the mystery of the beat, the lyric, the performer, or the song writer. In sacred choral music the longing is for expressing the inexpressible through our voices and especially our hearts. We long for elevation to another plane of life. We look for ways to get lost. We look for ways to get found. Spirituality: the longing for deeper meaning.


Then the most amazing thing happens. We’ve looked all over for God and finally we stop and realize that it was not about us looking for God at all. It was about us stopping and letting God find us. And once that happens all we desire is more contact with the Source, more desire for losing ourselves in God, even the desire for death (not suicide) in order to be reunited. The deepest way to be reunited is prayer in my experience. Not rote prayers or memorized prayers, although those are useful as mantras, but individual prayer as an intimate relationship with the eternal. The way God finds us is primarily through our willingness to stop, to listen and to hear God’s still small voice when we pray.


The ultimate journey is this: over time God’s desire for us becomes a life style infused with prayer that leads to gratitude for all of life. God is infused into each and every transaction and relationship, each gain and loss. God everywhere. God in everything. Once this happens we start to see that God has invited us to be so close, so intimate that we are no longer praying to God. God is now, in fact, praying through us. We become God’s prayer form in the world. God uses us as a conduit to Godself.



Dorothy Dancing: Flesh has Danced with Flame

As we experience these forms of soul work, we come at last to the image I described of Dorothy dancing. In a poem by Louis Untermeyer, Dorothy, a young girl, dances with flame. She embraces the flame, unafraid, and lets it be her dance partner. Miraculously, Dorothy and the flame become one. The Soul unites with Flame. In the dance of intimacy with God we become One.


In the words of Untermeyer, “Then, as the surge of radiance grows stronger/ These two are two no longer/And they merge/Into a disembodied ecstasy/…What mystery/Has been at work until it blent/One child and that fierce element?/ It is enough that flesh has danced with flame.”


This whole journey, the change from wine women and song ultimately into divine inspiration, sensuous beauty, and God praying us into the world, happens for one reason and one reason only. The powerful force behind it all is God’s unconditional love and longing for us. The love and longing of God are what draw our souls to Godself and reunite us with our creator in a final burst of divine flame.


I will end with the best way I know of describing this breathtaking love of God that we come to know intimately in the process of soul work. I offer the words to one of my favorite hymns that uses a writer’s images to describe this love that we can only point to but not adequately describe with words.


Could we with ink the ocean fill

And were the skies of parchment made

Were every stalk on earth a quill

And everyone a scribe by trade

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry

Nor could the scroll contain the whole

Though stretched from sky to sky



Ó Janet O. Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved.

Excerpt of“Dorothy Dancing” by Louis Untermeyer, from The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, compiled by Jackie Morris. The hymn, “The Love of God,” is so old that it does not appear in most hymn books. It was written by Frederick M. Lehman in 1917 and arranged by his daughter, Claudia L. Mays. The song is based on a Jewish poem written in 1050 by a cantor in Worms, Germany. The words from the stanza I cited were first seen penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in an insane asylum after he died, and were assumed written in a moment of sanity.


(The following chart didn’t transfer well or accurately so if you want the information on it, email me and I will get it to you.

Summary Chart: The Journey to Union with God


Downward Spiral     Most Human Desires         Upward Longing     Union



Addiction                   Wine; Drugs                         Creativity                  Divine



Lust                            Women (men); Sex              Desire for                  Sensuous

Intimacy                    Beauty


Madness                    Song; Rock and Roll           Spiritual                     God

Longing                     Praying us


ÓJanet O. Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved.




Reflections on this essay


How have you experienced creativity, desire for intimacy or spiritual longing as a healthy practice in your life?


What mysterious and/or sacred experience have you had that touched you deeply?


What is the call to you that emerges from reading about this deeper journey?


What gives you hope that your journey represents God’s longing for you?



Holy Delicious Desires, Part One: Our Longing for God

Janet O. Hagberg


All humans share a desire, I believe, for a touch of the mysterious, for contact with a place beyond our reach, for an ecstatic experience, for a connection with the Eternal. Some writers call it longing for the ineffable. Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century saint/mystic called it Caritas, Divine Love. Teresa of Avila, a prioress in the 16th century described it as momentary experiences of union with God. Not everyone who longs for this extra-human experience thinks of it in spiritual terms, but even when we don’t think of it spiritually we still long for “something more.”


I’d like to suggest three ways in which the majority of us humans seek some connection beyond ourselves. In years gone by we called these three “wine, women (men) and song.” Then the words morphed, probably in the sixties, to “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” I’m sure there are many more than three (like the thirst for power or the desire to make our mark on the world) but these seemed to fit together.


Let’s look at the three of them and what they give us. First, the wine (and other chemicals): Just imaging yourself sitting on a deck overlooking a glassy lake at sunset. You are with dear friends, having a glass of wine and toasting life as the sun drops below the horizon. Doesn’t that moment beg to be photographed or painted to capture its luminosity? But we also feel a bit of escape if we are honest. The high we feel allows us to escape from the daily run of fear, loss, despair. We feel connected, if but for an hour or so, with another realm that frees us from our earthy confines.


Next the women/men: Imagine the power of one of your romantic adventures. There is nothing quite so powerful as romance to infuse us with a new sense of self. We gain a feeling of belonging to someone, of being chosen, of being loved. It also is the power behind most of our business advertising, selling everything from movies and clothes to music and automobiles. Of course, women/men in our trilogy also suggests a sexual encounter. We get that tantalizing build up to a point of going over the edge, of losing control, of achieving a connection, of giving ourselves over to another.


Finally song: I remember sitting in my living room with a friend listening to a piece of classical music that actually transported me to another realm. I often cry when hearing music that takes me back to the place where I was when I first heard it. It reconnects me with who I was then. We feel the vibrations of the music in our bodies, we live the words to the melodies, we connect with the musicians. We rock. And we also drown ourselves in music. We can hide behind our ear buds. Music can even help us avoid the rest of the world, or to get lost even from ourselves.


In all three of these ways (sex, drugs and rock and roll) I believe we are seeking a deep connection, perhaps even a way of becoming more whole ourselves, or to fill some empty space within.



What is significant about “wine, women and song?”

There are several significant things about these delicious experiences that may explain why they affect us the way they do. Although all three are fun and intoxicating, in reality they can take us only part way to the ultimate experience of transcendence, which, according to Paul and most of the saints and mystics is union with God.


The first thing that distinguishes wine, women and song as earthy expressions of our longing but keep us from that ultimate connection is that each of them ends up being almost entirely about us. Our high. Our escape. Our desire. Our ego. Our intoxication.


The second thing that each of these experiences has in common is that we do them with someone or something external to us; alcohol or drugs, a sexual experience with another person, a band or recording, an instrument. And we often engage in them in order to achieve a high or to reduce stress.


Third, each of these fun and intoxicating experiences is quite easily addictive, lending itself to abuse of desire, to gluttony of wants, and a loss of control over boundaries of health. Sex moves into lust, drugs welcome addiction, rock and roll can sink into madness. These downward spirals are still all about us, but now we blame them on others who are at fault or are tempting us.


Fourth, and most crucial, in my experience, each of these human desires for the transcendent, the mysterious, the escape to a place of peace and freedom, is a sign, a symptom that we are searching for or desiring the “more” of our existence. And the addictive phase of the desire is our soul screaming, begging for a deeper connection with our Source, the Holy. It is a cry to fill that God-shaped vacuum which Pascal describes, the desire for Holy intimacy. Many people in addiction recovery can attest to this truth.


I have experienced each of these (sex, drugs and rock and roll) as exhilarating and as the momentary satisfaction of desire, delicious desire. But none of them lasted. They usually left me wanting more or depleted and defeated. It took a conversation with God to help me understand how I was stuck. My poem describes our dialogue.



These Are All Just Signs

I sat down to talk with God one day

and asked where do I look for you

How do I find you

You already do look for me God said

How is that I asked


You look for me by shopping when you are low

and by taking that extra drink when you are stressed


You work long hours hoping to find your worth

and you eat to fill that empty place within


Your most creative way of looking for me is

expecting someone else to make you happy


These are all just signs you are looking for me


When you know this is true

You will find me


©Janet O. Hagberg, 2006



Mistaking our desires for God

One of the easiest and most voluptuous errors we can make in life, in my opinion, is to substitute any of these three strong human desires; wine, women and song, for God, to mistake them for God, or to make them into God. In fact, although they may represent a desire for God they are all signs of our desire that ultimately fall short, but because they feel so good, they can easily seduce us.


Once we make the desire for God the actual God, we have made it an idol, and we may go even further to make the activity that represents our desire into God itself. And that would be to reduce God to human and ego-restrained terms and to greatly insult God’s imagination. But it is something we are prone to do, especially as Americans whose affluence has left us starved for meaning.


Two analogies might help to show the ways in which we lose track of the distinction between God and our desires for God. Let’s say you are waterskiing on a beautiful lake, skiing back and forth over the raw edge of the wake of a speeding boat, on only one ski. How exhilarating. How exciting. How intoxicating. But however exhilarating this is, the wake is not the power source. Nor is the driver of the boat the power source. The power source is the motor.


Or if you are on a sacred journey to a special destination, say the holy land or to the healing site of Medjugorje, although the journey itself is important and the experiences on the way are crucial, they do not substitute for the holy land itself or for the healing experience of actually being at Medjugorje. To make the path or the journey or the wake or the sex or drugs or rock and roll the whole experience is to make it an idol, to substitute it for God.



Naming the ultimate Mystery

This brings up an age old issue, that to describe the ultimate experience glimpsing God’s blinding light, of experiencing the other side of the veil as a thin place, or union with God is to reach the limits of human language and the inadequacy of human concepts to explain or imagine or describe. The saints tried to do it by using human analogies and even those are woefully inadequate. Paul talks about being crucified with Christ and that it was no longer he who lived but Christ who lived in him. He described being caught up into the third heaven. Teresa used an earthy analogy of a water trough ultimately being filled, not by an aqueduct bringing water to the trough, but by a mysterious drawing up of water from the earth under the trough to fill it to overflowing. St. John of the Cross describes it as soul union, a betrothal with God. Others talked of arrows of God piercing the heart. Hildegard had reoccurring visions called illuminations from God that she described and drew for others.


These analogies may be human and show the inadequacy of words but the saints’ experiences were God-shaped and God directed and life changing. Even though some of these experiences happened in the company of other people, God initiated them. They were not something the saints could produce by external means or through a planned experience. They were never seen as achievements but were gifts from God. When these gifts arrived they called forth humility, awe and reverence in the recipient.


Each of us has had some kind of sacred and mysterious experience, if even for an instant, but unlike the saints, we pass right by it, maybe comment on it but move right on. Frederick Buechner says that when the saints had such an experience, they would stop and look at it and take it as a sign of something deeper happening in their lives. They turned to God.


Does our deeper desire for the Holy, the ecstasy beyond us, the escape from reality that wine, women and song bring us denigrate those experiences? Of course not. It just behooves us, in my estimation, to keep growing towards God, to see those experiences (sex, drugs and rock and roll) as initiations into the ineffable, as beginnings of the journey to intimacy with God.


For part two of this series, see the essay Holy Delicious Desires, Part Two: God’s Longing for Us. In that essay I describe how each of these three desires stimulates a healthy longing for God if we acknowledge it. Eventually we also begin to feel God’s longing for us as an invitation to union with God.


Ó Janet O. Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved.



Reflections on this essay

Which of the three, sex, drugs or rock and roll are most attractive to you?

When have they taken you to idolatry or to addiction?

What is your desire now for a transformation of these longings?

Who will you ask to accompany you on the journey?










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