Jacobs, MSW, Ph.D.
Jacobs, MSW, Ph.D.
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Several years before my aunt died, she spoke of the need for family healing. She was the matriarch who carried family secrets and negotiated disputes. I remember her saying she was tired of this mediator role and that before she died, we needed to find ways to dialogue and to forgive one another, not just once but every time there was a need.
I asked a friend whose background was in family counseling and spiritual direction to facilitate a family meeting. Her opening prayer invited the Holy Spirit to be present in our time together. The session was one of compassionate listening and reconciliation. My aunt was at peace with the outcome and reminded us until the day she died of the importance of family prayer and dialogue.
Years later as I thought about the African philosophy of Ubuntu, I am because we are, I remember the coming together of my family who represented different religious traditions in the spirit of oneness of family and all of humanity held together by the Holy Spirit’s presence.
There is a healing power for those gathered in prayer who trust that God is in the midst of them. While we may share hope for a specific outcome, we must remember that line of the Lord’s prayer where we ask for God’s will to be done. Trusting in God, frees us to hear the Holy Spirit’s guidance, not just our own desired outcome, for in the midst of the community and in our hearts as we become open to new ways of hearing the other, we realize that whatever the outcome may be, we are not alone on our journey. We are in the family and community where God calls us.
In Pope Francis’ catechesis on discernment, he said that the Bible reminds us that God’s voice is one of peace. Be silent, witness what your heart is feeling. At that moment, the Lord’s voice comes to us individually and collectively. Nothing can hinder the love that comes from being in contact with the Lord. The Holy Spirit who is present in us makes the Word of God come alive, suggests new meanings, opens doors that seem closed, indicates lifegiving paths where the road seems to be dark and, filled with loss and confusion.
Discernment is the process of listening to God during our journey. A praying community is important for the journey. We find that we are blessed with the joys and sorrows of family, community, and our world. While we may not have received the companions we want, we will always receive the companions we need.
Blessings coming during the sorrows of the covid pandemic may have resulted in being drawn to companions in new ways as zoom communities developed for prayer and sharing. They may have meant expanding networks in local communities for food deliveries and wellness checks. We were invited to create new ways and include others as family as we found creative ways to gather in God’s name. As the restrictions of Covid pass, we may choose to continue those gatherings virtually or in person to acknowledge the gifts of those who have now become members of our extended family and to discern how God is calling us to be in community and to serve one another.
Being at peace with God’s presence in our life allows us to be open to other ways of serving. To remember that each day when we hear His voice, our heart is not to be hardened from past experiences, for God invites us to come to the present moment with forgiveness, thanksgiving, love, and joy.
The challenges of our church and our world are invitations to continuous discernment of how to dialogue, to forgive, and to be obedient to the urgings of the Spirit. We live in a time when we need to step out and invite others to prayer, dialogue, and action. We need to trust the Holy Spirit to guide us. For the challenges invite us to become open to our personal and collective vulnerabilities in creating and nurturing communities of faith that are inclusive. To remember that we are not alone, that we are because others exist in the world surrounding us. We trust that whatever challenging circumstances or people we meet on our journeys, we are called to listen for God’s voice as we gather in groups of two or more and hold in our hearts the love of our neighbors as ourselves.
Carolyn Jacobs, MSW, PH.D.
Carolyn Jacobs, MSW, PH.D.
Carolyn Jacobs, MSW, PhD is Dean Emerita and Elizabeth Marting Treuhaft Professor Emerita of the Smith College School for Social Work and Spiritual Director.
Dr. Jacobs was a member of the School’s faculty for 35 years, serving as the dean 14 of those years, as well as director of “Contemplative Clinical Practice: An Advanced Certificate Program in Spirituality and Social Work Practice for seven years. In 2001 she was elected to the National Academies of Practice as a distinguished social work practitioner. In 2017 she was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, College of Our Lady of the Elms. In 2017 she received the GWish Award for Excellence in Interprofessional Spiritual Care. In 2022 she received the Contemplative Voices Award from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. Since 1978 she has been a member of the Auxiliaries of the Cenacle, a group of secular consecrated laywomen within the family of the Religious of Our Lady of the Cenacle.
Since 2018 she has been a faculty member for George Washington’s Institute for Spirituality and Health programs on Interprofessional Spiritual Care Train -the Trainer Education Curriculum and retreats on the Art of Presence for health care professions. She has written and presented extensively on the topic of compassionate self-care for health care professionals. From June 2015 to November 2015 she served as Interim President of the Mind and Life Institute.
Among many volunteer responsibilities, she has served as an external reviewer for social work programs in Hong Kong (2009-2013, 2015), on the Advisory Council for Health, Fetzer Institute (2011-2013), the Contemplative Mind in Society Board (chair 2010-2011, member until 2015) and on the board of Naropa University from 2011-2020. She is currently on the boards of Elms College (2020-) and the Mind & Life Institute (2012-).
Jacobs received her BA from Sacramento State University, her MSW from San Diego State University, her doctorate from the Heller School of Brandeis University, and her training as a spiritual director from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. She maintains a spiritual direction practice and is committed to creating spaces for health care providers to discover the rich resources of contemplative practices from many wisdom traditions in developing resilience for self and others.