I am excited to share my interview with Lacy Clark Ellman.
Lacy Clark Ellman holds a Masters degree in Theology and Culture and a certificate in Spiritual Direction, and was selected as a New Contemplative by Spiritual Directors International in 2015.
Professionally, she is a spiritual director, maker, and facilitator who speaks the language of pilgrimage and is always ready for the next adventure, having traveled to over twenty countries on four continents.
Personally, she is a lover of food, books, spirituality, growing and making things, far-off places and lovely spaces. While traveling, you’ll find her wandering museums and markets, exploring cities by foot, and sampling local fare. At home in Seattle, WA, she loves to garden, take walks in the nearby forest, and go on armchair journeys through her favorite shows from across the pond.
Learn more about Lacy at A Sacred Journey.
Now on to the interview!
What is a pilgrimage? What are some distinct characteristics of a pilgrimage?
I define pilgrimage as “a sacred journey.” It’s a practice of listening to what’s stirring within you and setting out in search of Sacred Encounter in hopes of drawing close to the Divine and the True Self. It’s a practice that involves leaving what is known behind and journeying beyond your borders into places where you are most vulnerable—a fertile ground for transformation.
And while traditionally pilgrimage has referred to physical travel to far-off places such as Iona, Rome, or the Holy Land, these outer journeys aren’t true pilgrimages of transformation unless they mirror inner ones. In fact, while physical journeys can lead to transformation in unique ways, you don’t necessarily need to leave home to begin living like a pilgrim. All you need to do to live like a pilgrim at home is see your life as a journey and your role as a Seeker of the Sacred.
Travel and your yearning for God are important to you. Tell us how these two paths have intersected for you and where you see them taking you in the future.
I traveled a lot when I was younger, and particularly my international travel experiences had a big impact on me. I felt like leaving home and discovering new people, cultures, and ways of living expanded my own personal borders. At the same time my faith was maturing and deepening as well, and I discovered that when I had more room for difference and new experiences, I had more room for God, too.
With each trip God became bigger and wider, and yet at the same time it felt like the Divine was right next to me guiding me on my journey. (In fact, I like to refer to the Holy Spirit as the “Sacred Guide.”) Learning about the practice of pilgrimage only solidified what I had already come to know, and my hope is to invite others on that same journey, whether it means travel experiences or how we engage everyday life.
What prayer methods do you practice on a daily basis?
I am drawn to places of silence, solitude, and inner stillness, so for me centering prayer has been a constant and valuable practice, as it quiets my mind and invites me into the presence of God where I can simply “be.” As a One on the Enneagram, I also can be a little too attached to rule following, so instead of insisting I practice the same style of prayer everyday, I like to listen in to what my soul needs and follow that path.
Some days it’s a slow walk in the forest; other days it’s listening to music or reciting prayers of old with prayer beads. Whatever it is, one thing remains the same—I’m always seeking ways to return to the presence of God and remember who I am and what it is that I seek.
How do you define contemplative prayer?
For me, the words silence, stillness, and solitude come to mind, and while those words are commonly associated with contemplation, I’m sure many connect with God in difference ways. What makes contemplative prayer unique to me, though, as opposed to how many of us were raised to see prayer, is that contemplation is not just a moment of your day but a way of life, and I find that when I do spend time in silence, stillness, and solitude, those qualities, virtues, stances—whatever you’d like to call it—seem to follow me throughout my day. They become an undercurrent—a sacred flow that I can always tap into—and that, to me, is what contemplative prayer is all about: tapping into that flow.
How has your prayer life evolved over the years?
I grew up in the evangelical traditon, so prayer has always been a part of my life. From a young age I’ve been comfortable with both corporate prayer as well as individual prayer, but coming into contact with more liturgical traditions and contemplation over the past seven years has expanded my prayer life in profound ways. I think the things I call prayer now felt like prayer back then, but now I can understand them as such, and this brings me both closer to God as well as my True Self as I rest in the presence of the Divine.
How does contemplative prayer help people?
I think first and foremost, it helps people to slow down, which is so needed in this world, even for those more contemplatively minded. Then I think it helps us to learn to show up to God as we are, as well as creates space to lean into the discomfort that silence often brings when we can’t attach ourselves to words, thoughts, or rules. Finally, I think it transforms our way of being. When we allow ourselves to “be” in the presence of God without all of those ego attachements, the very way we are in the world changes, making us conduits for the attributes of God and allowing the fruits of the Spirit to shine through our presence and actions.
What advice do you have for beginners to contemplative prayer?
I would advise people to start small, since big can be overwhelming, and start where you are, as what we are drawn to can tell us about the places where we meet God. I like to offer directees a “toolbox” of contemplative practices to choose from, and encourage them to stay committed to their time for practice each day, but to follow where their heart leads when it comes to the particular style of prayer. This also helps practitioners hone and value their sacred stirrings and intuition. If someone wants a quick and easy way to start, breath prayer is the perfect choice, particularly since we are all breathing and carry that breath with us each and every day. You can find instructions for breath prayer and more on my resources page at asacredjourney.net.
What one or two mystics have had a huge influence on you?
I have to admit, I’m still delving into the world of mystics, but Meister Eckhart has had a huge influence on me. One of my favorite lines of his is, “I pray to God rid me of God,” and while it seems radical at first, in reality it is so profound, because it shows a willingness to surrender your own notion of God (often our ego attachments) so that the true essence of the Divine can shine through. It also admits that God is bigger than anything we might ever imagine, and so it’s a prayer of humility. I’m also a big fan of Rumi, and while he is from the Sufi tradition, when I read his words alongside Eckhart’s I feel like they are speaking the same truth.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
There are so many authors who have been influential to me over the years—some more in certain seasons than in others—but I will forever be a fan of Sue Monk Kidd’s work in all its forms, and though I feel like I came late in the game to the work of Richard Rohr, I certainly won’t be letting another of his books pass me by. For anyone new to contemplation, I always suggest his book Silent Compassion. It was the first book I read of his and is a great primer on the tradition. I also found Carl McColman’s The Big Book of Christian Mysticism to be a useful resource as well, and am enjoying spending time with Matthew Fox’s Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations.
Tell us a little bit about your podcast. What topics do you explore on your show?
Pilgrim Podcast is an interview-style show about spirituality and intention in travels and daily life. We certainly cover the classics of pilgrimage and spiritual travel, but I really wanted to be able to highlight the journeys in everyday life as well, so I also feature journeys we might encounter in our day-to-day so that listeners can begin to identify the journeys in their lives and hopefully spark new journeys of their own. So far we’ve covered SoulStrolling, contemplative activism, and the body and the sacred feminine. Next up is ancestral pilgrimage with Christine Valters Paintner—just in time for All Saint’s and All Soul’s!
What exciting upcoming projects do you wish to share?
Next summer I’ll be leading a pilgrimage to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, where we’ll immerse ourselves in nature and use the creation narrative to reveal truths about God and ourselves as image-bearers. We’ll use creation as our text and the creative-impulse as our guide, and I’m excited about the opportunity to awaken seekers to the wisdom and truth found both around us in this world as well as within that accompanies us each day.
I’m also releasing a new online course in the new year called “Pilgrim Principles.” Modeled after my previous book of the same name, the course will focus on journeying with intention in everyday life, and I’m particularly excited about the oportunity to explore this content with fellow seekers. You can find out more about my pilgrimage, upcoming course, podcast, and more at my website, asacredjourney.net.
Thank you Lacy for taking the time for this interview! I encourage you to visit Lacy at A Sacred Journey.
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