Ep. 38 – Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Encounter: Spiritual Conversations With Children
- Religious conversations are about information. Spiritual conversations are about encounter.
- Spiritual conversations draw our children into a sense of being fully present to themselves, to others and the natural and supernatural world.
- Dr. Borgo introduces the acronym BOW (Body, Openness and Wonder) to describe the listening posture that invites spiritual conversations with our children.
Through her study and work with children in trauma, Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo sees the importance of trusted adults engaging in spiritual conversation with children, and describes BOW (an acronym for Body, Openness and Wonder) that avails children to encounter deeper connection with themselves, others and the natural and supernatural world.
Dr. Lacy Finn BorgoDr. Lacy Finn Borgo is an author, and spiritual director for Renovaré Institute and Portland Seminary. She also works with children in the midst of trauma at Haven House, a community for families experiencing homelessness.
In her newly released book Spiritual Conversations With Children, Lacy describes how children who are regularly invited to explore and express their inner thoughts and feelings, discover meaningful connections to themselves, to others and to the natural and supernatural world. In her work, Lucy has witnessed how spiritual conversation with children also nurtures their sense of connection; their sense of being and belonging, which in turn builds their resilience to trauma and to the inevitable challenges that lie ahead in life.
Transcript: Ep. 38 – Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Encounter: Spiritual Conversations With Children
Rachel Cram – Well Lacy I’ve been really looking forward to this interview and just getting to know you better. Thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Oh, thank you so much. I’m now like a huge fan. I’m learning so much.
Rachel Cram – Oh good, who have you listened to? What episodes have you?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Well, I listened to the whole first season. I had to visit my college daughter and it’s a six hour drive so I just listened to all the podcasts. It was incredible, so, love them.
Rachel Cram – Oh, well thank you so much. That’s very encouraging and appreciated. Now, to make sure I have this right as I introduce you, you have your PHD, is that correct?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – D.Min., so the Doctorate of Ministry.
Rachel Cram – Ok, so you are Dr. Lacy?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – I am. But you don’t have to. My husband is an emergency room physician. One time we were on this little tiny airplane and someone had passed out and they said, “Is there a doctor on the plane?” And he elbows me. And I’m like, “Not my call man.”
Rachel Cram – Although it could have been. Maybe spiritual intervention would have been equally helpful.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – That’s right. My job will be right here in the seat praying and attending to those who are panicking and you make sure she’s breathing.
Rachel Cram – And did he?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yeah. Oh yeah. Actually.
Rachel Cram – Oh great. Good. Well as we head into this conversation Lacy, I like to start with a question that gives a bit of background into who you are and a chance to get to know you as a person beyond the professional platform that you hold. So I would like to put this to you. Aristotle stated, “Give me a child at 7 and I will show you the adult.” And I’m wondering Lacy, is there a story or experience from your childhood that reflects the adult that you are today?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – There is. There’s actually two stories if I can be so indulgent. So, when we were growing up, we lived in Utah for a period of time. And this experience comes about a year or two after my infant sister had died of the whooping cough. I’m probably four or five years old and so I had this sense of being alone due to my parents grief. And we had gone up into the La Sal Mountains to cut firewood for the winter and I wandered off into a grove of aspen trees.
If you know anything about aspens, they are one organism and they are connected underneath. They’re root systems. They are one tree when you wander into a grove they’re likely just one or two trees and they have this deep connection. So of course I don’t know this at 4 or 5 but I’m just captivated by the smell, the sight and I lay down on my back and I just have this sense that I wasn’t alone. There was this deep sense of being held and of not being alone and being safe. And so this being in the aspens and being held moved something very deep in me. It opened up some awareness and some questions.
And the second experience is one of hundreds where we moved back to Texas and I would be driving in the car with my mom. And I remember sitting, looking out the window for hours and hours of flat landscape, West Texas, and the spaciousness giving rise to deep questions around life and death and the nature of human beings and the nature of the world, over these miles and miles of endless driving.
Rachel Cram – Wow. Were you raised with a spiritual or religious background from your parents in your childhood?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yes, I was raised with a Christian background. My parents were sort of nominal at best.
Rachel Cram – So this awareness that you’re describing do you feel that it came from your parents or did it come from other places.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – It came from other places entirely. We didn’t have religious conversation at home. We didn’t have those sorts of deep conversations I think due to the deep wounding that those deep conversations would have brought up.
Rachel Cram – With the loss of your sister?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yeah. So I’m having them isolated but not isolated.
Rachel Cram – We can forget that our children experience their own sadness and confusion, that they feel and think about “deep wounds,” as you’re saying here, often because they can’t articulate that verbally.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Right. That’s right. Yeah. For me and my experience, these deep existential questions, death has never been absent from the room. I haven’t known a day that I didn’t know that there was something like death. And that led me, and continues to lead me, to a deeper wondering about life, about our sense of being part, and held and whole and what that looks like.
Rachel – As we approach this topic of spiritual conversations with children, and I think the story you’ve just shared might lead directly into this, what’s the power of ‘spiritual conversations’ maybe as opposed to other kinds of conversations to welcome these wonderings about life from our children so they don’t feel isolated like you felt?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – That’s a good question. We have this longing for deep connection and belonging within us, like we are born with it. But there are certain moments in life where this longing gets louder, it comes to the surface and for me it was in those existential questions around death. There’s this intuition, that there is more going on than meets the eye. We have this internal sense of ‘the something more’. Maybe a silent hope, something that shapes and it forms us and shapes the entire direction of our lives. So these questions and the longings that surface are already within us as children.
You know, there’s a poem by Irish poet John O’Donohue that sort of speaks to this longing. Can I grab it off my shelf and read it?
Rachel Cram – Yes, I would love you to do that. We are huge John O’Donohue fans here.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Wonderful, wonderful. Ok, so let’s just take a couple of deep breathes and allow this poem to settle into us, so that we can experience this longing that we’re talking about. I think it beautifully describes the belonging that resonates within ourselves, and with others when we have these spiritual conversations. Infact, it’s called For Belonging.
Rachel Cram – Appropriate.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Right, right, so good. And it’s a blessing. Maybe let it wash over you in waves, like a blessing would. And it describes the hope, maybe that silent hope within us, that we have for our children and maybe even resonates with the hopes we have for ourselves. So, let’s take a deep breath and get into the poem.
May you listen to your longing to be free.
May the frames of your belonging be generous enough for your dreams.
May you arise early each day with a voice of blessing whispering in your heart.
May you find a harmony between your soul and your life.
May the sanctuary of your soul never become haunted.
May you know the eternal longing that lives at the heart of time.
May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.
May you never place walls between the light and yourself.
May you allow the wild beauty of the invisible world to gather you, mind you, and embrace you in belonging.
So I wonder in that poem, can we hear a little bit of that wonder, beauty and awe that draw us to our belonging and longing in a way that gathers us, and helps guide our journey in life.
Musical Interlude #1
Rachel – Oh wow. That was a very meaningful answer to my question. Thank you so much! You wrote Spiritual Conversations With Children, your book, from the perspective of your Christian faith Lacy. I’m wondering, what would be the difference between a religious conversation and a spiritual conversation, or do you see there being a difference?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – So religious conversations and spiritual conversations have some overlap but they are not the same. So like, a religious conversation can be a spiritual conversation but it doesn’t have to be. And a spiritual conversation can have some dimensions of religious conversation in it but it doesn’t have to be. And for me, the definition that I work with is, the difference is encounter and information.
So a religious conversation often has information. Spiritual conversation is about encounter. For me that moment in the aspens, it was encounter. It was encounter with nature, with the aspens, with this connected organism. It was encounter with myself. I didn’t have a lot of religious knowledge to put around it at the time.
Rachel Cram – In the educational community that I lead, spiritual development is a really important part. I love that word encounter. I’d love to incorporate that into how I describe it as well. We want kids to have a sense of that greater connection to all living things. To other people. To a bigger story and that’s what I hear you describing.
I’m thinking about conversations that we do have with kids and they just really cover the whole map. There’s the conversations that we have as parents where we’re just going through the practical routines of brushing teeth, washing hands after you go to the bathroom, those necessities. You’ve got the endless why questions of those younger years. How do we move into these kinds of encounter conversations with our kids? How do we create the space in our days for that kind of richness?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Well I think there’s a lot of different ways that they open up. And one way is listening for when our children offer us a bid for connection.
Rachel Cram – What would that sound like?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – It can sound like all kinds of different ways.
It can sound like wondering, like ‘why’ questions when they’re young. It can sound like asking for some attention or affection. Those are bids for connection. With adolescents, it can even look like resistance. It’s a bid to be deeply heard and to not be alone in that movement of against-ness. And that’s actually a bid for connection. It’s that place where, “Come toward me, come toward me. Whoa, not that much.”
And, you know it’s that back and forth. I mean when we sense a bid for connection from our children I use this acronym.
Rachel Cram – I am all over acronyms so I’m so glad to hear you say this.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Are you? This one I had written on my hand for a little while to try to help me to remember but it’s just ‘bow’. B.O.W.
And the B is body. So that we are facing them. Right now we’ve got our devices which are distracting. They’re incredible for information but right now we notice that they are lacking what we are looking for, which is encounter. So that ‘body’, moving the device out of our hand and asking permission to touch in a safe way, can give us a sense of presence. So putting our hand on our child’s shoulder, gathering them up into our arms. That’s presence.
And the second… go ahead.
Rachel Cram – Oh I’m just thinking, it’s interesting that you’re saying that “asking for permission”. We just did an interview about sexual health with another guest and she was talking about that importance of consent. And I think as a parent you’re just so tempted to just go and scoop up and start smooching or hugging and and I guess there’s probably a place for that too. But I was just kind of intrigued that you mentioned it that way. Can you describe what that would look like, maybe with a preschooler and what would that look like with a teenager as you’re moving in for that kind of affection?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Sure. So with a preschooler I like to ask, “What would you like?”
So would you like a hug? Would you like to hold hands? And it does a couple of things: one we get consent and second, that question itself awakens desire. So what is it that you actually want?
Rachel Cram – Desire in the child. Awakens it in them.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yes. Our children are constantly given waves and waves of what everyone around them wants. So what do the adults want? What does another child want? The older they get, what does media want them to want? But to start early helping them hear what they themselves actually deeply want, gets at the touch of those longings and it’s those longings that help to guide us into where we are meant to be, how we are meant to live. Listening to those deep longings. So we can start with simply listening to what our body wants.
Right now I have an adolescent at home and I ask her, “Do you need a hug? Do you want a hug?”
Rachel Cram – And how does she usually respond?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Well she is very kinesthetic, so we’ll hug and then she’ll tackle us to the ground, and you know we have to go to the ER. It’s a whole thing. No, not really. She is very kinesthetic. Now our oldest daughter who’s in college, she has some sensory processing things. So actually she taught us that, that body and sensing isn’t primarily pleasing or helpful to her in that way. And she would say, “No. No, that wouldn’t be helpful right now.” And we learned to not take that personally. That wasn’t helpful to her.
Rachel Cram – I really did not think we’d be talking about a subject like this in a conversation about spiritual conversations with children. I’m finding this very interesting. Okay so ‘B’ is body and we have ourselves available to,
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yes, available to touch,
Rachel Cram – Ok. Alright.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yeah. If we hear that desire. And the “O” is openness. So, it’s an internal movement made by the person who is doing the listening. Am I internally open to hear whatever this person has to say? Whatever this child has to say, am I internally open to hear it? And with our own children, that is some work that we often need to do. Am I willing to hear whatever you have to say?
Rachel Cram – You know, I think that when you’re in your theory part of your mind, you think that you absolutely are open to anything your child will have to say. But when you’re in the practice part of your life, the day to day cacophony of sounds and clashes, you don’t always find yourself so open.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yeah. yeah. And I think if we could, drain all the judgment out of it and say, “We are all growing in this openness.”
We come as parents, in with expectations and hopes and dreams for our children, and that’s wonderful and it’s natural and it also limits our openness to what we hear. And as our children grow and we grow in our parenting, our openness, when we give it the freedom and attention it deserves, can expand as our children begin to define themselves and define their own lives.
Rachel Cram – How aware do you think even a young child is of a parent’s openness?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – I think it depends on the child; awareness isn’t all the same at every level. But due to attachment theories and our understanding of how that attachment and sameness is built, I think they’re very aware, maybe not consciously aware but unconsciously aware.
Rachel Cram – OK, so body is B, O is openness, what’s the W of how we move into spiritual conversations with kids?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – It’s wonder. I wonder. I wonder what is happening within you? Assumptions can be the kill switch to presence because we make assumptions and that drains the wonder from what the child may be sharing. If we assume we know what this means or we assume how this might have felt. So keeping that wonder alive around what your spiritual connections are like for you. And for children, those spiritual connections are going to be in many ways very different from the ways that adults experience connection.
Rachel Cram – You have this line in your book, you say, “If we push our interpretations or good advice onto a child, we may suffocate the child’s own voice and agency.” That phrase really called me up to think, because with all these things the body, the openness, the wonder, it’s hard not to bring our own assumptions, as you’re saying here, our persuasions and agendas onto our children because we just so badly want life to work out for them. And I think in doing that we almost are negating that wonder piece ourself. It’s like we want a little container for our child to grow inside, to keep them well nourished and safe.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yes And I think the importance is to keep that lid off the container so that they can kick out of it.
Rachel Cram – Ooh Lacy, I like where you went with that.
Musical Interlude #2
Rachel Cram – Earlier on you made the distinction between a religious conversation and a spiritual conversation. For many parents, the religious component to their life is very very important. What would a parent need to be mindful of when they’re having spiritual conversations with their child but knowing that important religious backdrop is also there?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Well one of the gifts that we can give our children, if we have these religious container is that we can listen and make space for those longings that we’ve been talking about and we can give them language. We can help them name and connect with the religious language that is of our tradition and our heritage.
Rachel Cram – Would there be a worry that that would be part of bringing our own judgment as you’ve called it, into the picture?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – I think not because everyone needs a container for belief. Belief has to have a container. So does relationship. And so what we are doing is we are giving sides and bottom. The important thing is to keep the lid off of this container so that their own spirituality can grow and flourish right out the top of this container.
Rachel Cram – Lacy, can we spend a few moments talking about Haven House because I see that tying into what you’ve just described with spiritual conversations and growing and flourishing. Can you start by telling what Haven House is?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Sure. It’s a transitional facility for families who don’t have homes. It’s in Olathe Colorado. And families come in, every kind of family you can possibly imagine. They can stay for two years. There’s a program for parents and I meet with children in spiritual conversations there. I’ve been doing it for about seven years.
Rachel Cram – So when you’re meeting with those children in spiritual conversations, and in reading your book I sense that it’s quite similar to how a parent would be meeting with a child in a conversation, or would hope to be, what’s your hope and where do you begin?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – My hope is, in some ways sort of tied back to my own experience in the Aspens, is that, you know these are children many of them are coming from very traumatic experiences, that they would find themselves awakened to being held in those deeply connected places. So the movement in spiritual conversations with children is to recognize, and then to respond.
So I ask questions around goodness, beauty, truth, wonder, awe. So where have they seen these? Where have they experienced these woven threads of meaning throughout their life? And there’s lots of different ways that we can help children share. It’s not always verbal; drawing pictures, symbols. And then to help them respond to that, gives them a resiliency for the life that they are leading right then, in that moment.
Rachel Cram – How do those conversations build resiliency? Because that’s what we so want for our kids.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – It is, it is. Spiritual conversations, this movement to recognize and respond, brings to our awareness, to our consciousness, those ways that we are deeply connected. And that gives us a sense that we are not alone in our struggle, in our suffering, and that we are held by nature, by the divine, by the other, by our community.
Rachel Cram – As adults I think that we can be so aware of our own struggles in life; paying bills, taking care of our kids, relationships with our partners and the myriad of things that can weigh us down in a day. I think we can forget when we look at our two or three year old, our adolescent, that they are caring an equal weight of their own struggles. And I think so often children are just so thirsty to be heard. When you’re listening to a child talk like that, how do you monitor the comments, questions, feedback, that comes out of your mouth so that you allow that journey to remain theirs?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Well one of the ways is by asking questions. So doing some active listening. Repeating back those heavy phrases that they offer to us.
Rachel Cram – Can you give an example of that? What that would look like? So they say this and you say what?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – So they say, “Since I’ve come to Haven House I feel so lonely.”
So I might say, “So you feel so lonely.” And then I couch that with another question, “Would you like to talk about that?” And in making it a question, would you like to talk about that. I give them the option, always, always that they have the first right of refusal.
So often children in their first few times that they meet with me will not want to talk about that. And that’s one of the wonderful things about children’s emotional lives, is that they’re almost like windows that are opening and shutting. So they’ll open the window and they’ll offer something that’s very tender and deep and then they’ll close it. So I wonder if you’d like to say more about that? “No, not really.” Or, “No.” Or, “Do you want to see the car that I got out on the playground today?”
“Yes, I would like to see that.” So we listen to where they are in that. So one of the ways is to follow the child. So they lead the discussion, not me. And it’s also not therapy. So having a spiritual conversation with a child is not therapy.
Whatever they are bringing, whether it’s loss or sadness, their problem is not at the center of our conversation. At the center of the conversation is their experience of being connected, is their spiritual experience. So I’m asking questions about connectedness.
Rachel Cram – I’m translating this in my mind to how I would do this as a parent because when you’re saying it’s not therapy, I think often as parents were not necessarily thinking we’re offering therapy but we could be feeling like we’re offering morality or we’re offering behavior modification. So I’m just thinking if a child comes home from school and you say, “How’s your day?” and they say, “I hate Jennifer. She was so mean to me.” Would that be an opportunity for a spiritual conversation?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yeah
Rachel Cram – What would you say? What would you say Lacy?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – So tell me, you want to talk about that?
Would you like to talk about that?
Rachel Cram – Right, because my instinct so often is to go to, “Well, hate’s a very powerful word. You know, what did you do to her first?”
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yeah right right.
Rachel Cram – And that kind of wrecks the opportunity for these deeper conversations I think is what you’re saying.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yeah. And can I just say as parents, it’s not that we take guidance away. There are those moments when we need to offer them guidance. Absolutely. We need to offer them guidance. And there are those moments of tenderness, real tenderness when sort of their underbelly gets exposed. And we don’t want to come in heavy handed because there is some wisdom and some knowledge there that’s already within the child that will strengthen their own hearing of themselves and their own listening for the way forward. So can I listen that child into disclosure? To hear their own self?
Rachel Cram – And it might be quite different than we imagined.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Oh, it’s entirely different. I remember not very long ago, I think I tell the story in the book, my teenage daughter and I were having what we call “vigorous fellowship” in the kitchen.
Rachel Cram – Conflict?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yes, yes, exactly. And she was offering her argument for this particular thing we were talking about. And in my mind I was preparing my arguments as well. So I wasn’t really listening to her. In fact my body was closed, my arms were crossed, my legs were crossed. Could I be any more not listening?
Rachel Cram – You were not in the BOW stance.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – I was not at all. And I had no internal openness and there was no wonder about her experience. And she actually snapped her fingers at me and that was enough of a shock that it really did snap me in every way out of my posture in that moment.
What she needed was for me to be present and listening so I could help her hear herself. And I was just going in for the kill. You know I had all my arguments.
Rachel Cram – You know I think that probably everyone listening will be really happy to know that you do that as well.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yep. Yesterday.
Rachel Cram – Your honesty is noted and appreciated. So, what else can we do to create that space for spiritual conversations? That space that’s open to wonder and connection, and a voice beyond our own?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – I think there’s two practices or inner work that we need to do to be able to do that. First of all, we have to realize, that them hearing themselves will help them have that resiliency for the future. So we want them to learn to do this, to hear themselves, to know their own deeper wisdom. And they have to practice. And we can be safe people they can practice with.
And the second is, what is our level of trust? What is our level of trust that our children have that kind of resiliency in them? What is our level of trust in the Divine One to hold our children? That’s a huge question for religious folks. What is our level of trust in the community, in our family structures to help our children? The buck doesn’t stop with us.
Rachel Cram – It’s so hard to believe that the buck doesn’t stop with us because our love is so great for our kids. It’s hard to take ourselves out of that mix.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – And can I say, we are a voice just not the voice.
Musical Interlude #3
Thanks for listening to family360 and today, our conversation with Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo.
In our next episode we’re with Australian speaker and best selling author Michelle Mitchell, referred to as “the teen expert” by Australian media for her sought after and ground breaking advice on tweens and teens. Join us!
And now back to our conversation with Dr. Finn Borgo who is about to describe how we as parents drain our judgment, so our children can build theirs.
Rachel Cram – Earlier Lacy, you talked about ‘draining our judgment’ so we can be open to spiritual conversations with our child. Can you build on that? What necessitates that we drain our judgement and how do we do it?
Mm hmm. Well, I think a couple of things. One is to realize that if we jump in with our judgment we end up smothering the opportunity for a child to bring their own judgment. How we drain the judgment out of our listening when our children are sharing begins first by realizing that if we offer our judgments before our children have a chance to offer theirs, then they won’t get to hear themselves. So it shapes the freedom that they have to share. And it limits the glimpse that we get of their life, their inner life.
So your kid comes home and they’ve drawn this amazing picture and they offer it to you and you say, “Oh that’s beautiful.”
Well that could be true. And that’s probably encouraging. But that value judgment has limited the space that the child has to share about their encounter with their piece of art.
And it’s not that we don’t offer those encouragements, we do but a barrage of them absolutely shapes what we are able to hear about the inner life.
So a child comes home. They have this incredible drawing that they’ve done. They say, “Look at this!”
And we say, “Tell me about that,” or, “What part of it was interesting or difficult? What part of it do you like? Tell me about how this color makes you feel.”
Then we get a glimpse of their inner life and we can encourage that. “So, are you saying that when you drew this this way that it helped you? How did it make you feel when you did that?”
Now we’re helping them to hear themselves and step into that deepening connection with themselves and with you. And you get to connect with them on a much deeper level rather than, “It’s beautiful,” and ends the conversation.
Rachel Cram – You used the phrase,‘inner life’ and I think we can forget as parents that our kids do have an inner life. Especially when they are young, we are so involved with their outer life; bathing, brushing teeth, brushing hair, clothing, putting on bandaids, but that’s not all of it. Not necessarily the most important part of it.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Right. Right yeah. What is happening within them, we just catch a glimpse of because they’re also depending on the developmental age and the age of the child they may be less verbal which is sort of the way that adults communicate inner life.
But children communicate inner life through play, through drawing, through art, through, songs, because their bodies are involved in that coming together where all their dimensions are connected, their inner life is communicated in a million different ways.
Rachel Cram – Well, I was really interested in how you create physical space for connecting conversations with kids at Haven House. Can you describe how you set up the room, and, is this something that we can do at home with our kids as well without it seeming like Mom or Dad’s gone all weird on me?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – I think yes. So let me describe a holy listening session and then what it might look like in our homes like integrated into everyday life.
Rachel Cram – OK. And what do you mean by the word holy?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – What I mean by holy is when two people are present to each other. So when two people are fully present to one another; that body, openness and wonder, that BOW, something sacred, a sacred connection, happens between them and that opens them up to connection to the other as well. So it is this thin place as the Celts like to call it.
Rachel Cram – Thin place; all these phrases that you use are like, OK what do you mean by that?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Where the, where the divisions between us thin.
So holy listening; it’s holy because it’s thin when we are fully present. I’m meeting with children at a facility for homeless families, so there’s some chaos there. I’m given a room with a window and we put down this white blanket that we sit on. We take our shoes off. We enter this space together at the same time so that the power level between us is the same as we go in. So they don’t feel that I’m the authority or I’m able to lessen that by entering this space at the same time.
Rachel Cram – And does it take a while for a child to believe that that’s true. Because I think that’s pretty foreign in a child’s world, for the adult not to be the authority.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Absolutely. It does take some time and it’s not that I’m not setting boundaries. I am the authority in the room but the authority that I have can be trusted and I level the power differential as much as I can. So that’s why we enter this space at the same time and we sit on this white blanket and on one side of the blanket I have all kinds of toys and objects that are ways that children can recognize that connection. And then on the other side I have a whole set of toys and art supplies that offer response to that connection that was felt.
Rachel Cram – Do you tailor those objects to the child that’s coming into the room?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Sometimes, not all the time. They have a generality to them so that the child can project their inner life upon them. So one of those tools comes from a hospital chaplain actually, Leanne Hadley. She just takes rocks and draws symbols on them. They’re meaningless symbols but children can then pick those rocks and place their meaning upon them and then in that way offer a glimpse to themselves and to me who is present with them, a glimpse of their inner life.
Rachel Cram – Can you share a story of an experience of this with a child? How they’ve responded to a stone and what they’ve had to say? Can you just walk us through the process?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Sure. One story is from the book about a girl that I call Macy and she had come to holy listening and picked some stones out that told the story about her stealing her mother’s wallet.
And as she told that story she began to feel her own remorse and wondering. As she listened to what she was saying she had the opportunity to hear herself. And one of the response items on the other side was a shallow container of sand. And she took her finger. And she drew what she wanted to say about that and then with one sweep of her hand, I hardly caught a glimpse of what she drew, she wiped it away and said,“There. Now I feel better.”
And it was the opportunity to be free and to come to this conclusion which she came to all on her own, “Why did I even steal my mom’s wallet? It’s so stupid.”
She didn’t take anything from it. She returned it to her mother with an apology and all of that stirred in this sacred time of being listened to.
And that’s what Holy listening does. It helps us to be able to be fully present to another and listen their soul into a condition of disclosure because disclosure is vulnerable and creates connections which is what we’re all looking for.
Musical interlude #4
Rachel Cram – You’ve described a very formal setting for holy listening in and perhaps one that might be sometimes too contrived feeling to actually do in our homes on a regular basis. But I’m wondering are there naturally occurring thin places as you described in our day where we can step into that?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – There are so many naturally occurring thin places. So, in the car can be a thin place.
Rachel Cram – What makes the car a thin place? Why there?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Well a couple of things, we’re not moving. We are moving but we’re moving together. It’s almost like a cloistered place for us, like our own little bubble of sacred space to be able to have those kinds of conversations.
The other thing that makes it helpful, especially for children and adults who might feel a little bit uncomfortable at these vulnerable conversations, driving in a car is like a third thing that allows our anxiety around these deep questions to be funneled into something else. We’re driving. We can look out the window
Rachel Cram – So you maybe don’t have to have that eye contact.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – You don’t have to have that and that anxiety can lessen just a little bit.
Another thin place is at night, tucking our children in before they go to bed, after that seventy third drink of water, asking some questions around wonder and awe and beauty and goodness that was experienced throughout the day. And for our teenagers, I am still finding my teenagers like to talk late at night, that’s when they feel most vulnerable to enter into those conversations.
Cooking dinner together. There’s another thin space with a third thing so that our anxiety lowers a little bit and we can be present to one another.
Rachel Cram – Just thinking about the car and cooking dinner, I think it also gives you the time for gaps in the conversation because there’s something else that you’re going to keep doing as you’re saying, that third thing so that you can have pauses and they don’t have to be awkward.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – The pressure is relieved, like, I have to come up with an answer. I learned this in Holy listening with a child when being at that deeper level of those deep conversations I could see was producing anxiety. And so we got out this mindless block game called Jenga and we played Jenga. He opened up. He needed the third thing to help lower his anxiety.
Rachel Cram – Lacy I’m going to go into what may be the last question and you can tell me if it resonates with you. I’m very aware that these kinds of conversations take time. Time to take that BOW pose. And so often our days don’t have accommodation for time because we’ve got our schedules so packed. I’m aware even of myself in listening to you that I often don’t have that kind of time in my day to give. And maybe the obvious answer is, ‘ just create it’. But do you have a deeper thought than that?
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Let me think about it for a second because I want to word it in the most generous way possible.
Rachel Cram – That would be appreciated.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – For all of us. For all of us.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. I have to admit, I’m a pack my day person.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Yeah. So I’m going to wonder around this question with you. So if being fully present to the other, to our children, invites them to resiliency and a sense of being connected, I wonder what else holds that weight in our lives? Is there anything more important than that? And one of the ways that we can cultivate that presence and that slower pace in our lives is noticing the weight when it happens. So in those moments that we are fully present with another we need to savor savor, savor it. Because shaming ourselves, I can say this for myself, shaming myself as a parent, saying, “Oh, my life is so packed,” it doesn’t change my behavior necessarily. All it does is weigh me down with more have-tos.
Just a few nights ago I had a wonderful conversation with my 16 year old. So let me savor it maybe with you. She is a musician and I was asking her how she experiences that deep connection with the world around her right now. And she was saying it’s in music. And I was asking her how that connected with what she believed about the world. And she was disclosing to me and I felt warmth in my chest radiate out through my body. I couldn’t believe that she was letting me in on this sense of her way of being in the world. And that happened in a listening conversation about eleven thirty at night. I was so tired and I so wanted to turn it in at 9:00 because I’m a morning person but to stay present and aware with her.
Now, savoring this opportunity will help me to want to have more of them. Not packing on shame or have-tos.
Rachel Cram – Savoring moments of connection and not adding more have tos. That’s a good ending. I’m going to wrap us up. Ok, Lacy, I thank you so much for this conversation today. I feel like there’s so much for me to take from this personally as well.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Thank you for the conversation. Just very life giving.
Rachel Cram – OK wonderful. Thank you so much.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – Good to be with you. It’s so good to meet you, so good to meet you both.
Rachel Cram – You’ve enriched my day and life.
Dr. Lacy Finn Borgo – The feeling is mutual. The feeling is mutual. Thank you for your good work.
Rachel Cram – Thank you.