What I Mean by Spiritual Autobiography

First Church of Jamaica Plain (Boston), MA
First Church of Jamaica Plain (Boston), MA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
scandinavia (Photo credit: herbstkind)

This morning Kelly forwarded me a question someone had written on our website, “What do you mean by spiritual autobiography? How is that supposed to help us grow?”

I felt defensive. Isn’t it obvious, dear reader?

But I’ve learned that quick email replies have helped my business. Answering random emails is part of the small business owner’s task. This is especially true as I’m trying to get participants to this month’s Writing Workshops. So here’s what I wrote to the person (who did not leave his/her name!)

Here’s what I mean: In the spiritual autobiography class, we look at moments in our lives not as random but as meaningful — small moments and big moments. For ex., being in my Scandinavian grandma’s kitchen was as sacred as church.

We look for the times when we turned one way instead of another — times when we felt found after feeling lost. These are the moments we look for and write about.

How spiritual autobiography helps: We see the pattern in our lives. When we find these threads of holy and sacred throughout our lives, we can create the patchwork quilt of our purpose. Like all quilts, this will warm and comfort us. It will add beauty to our lives.

We see the events in our lives. not as the results of a roll of the dice but as the intentional striving for growth — spiritual and personal growth. But we find within ourselves an increased sense of belonging, responsibility, and purpose.

I base my techniques on my friend and mentor’s book, The Story of Your Life by Dan Wakefield.

I’ve taught this class in weekly sessions and in day-long retreats. Most recently, at the end of March, I led this class for an afternoon session at First Church in Jamaica Plain, Boston. We laughed and cried. It’s a privilege to do this work. Thanks for being interested and for inquiring.

Sincerely, Mary Beth

M.B. Coudal and Dan Wakefield
Me and Dan (Wakefield) on his way home.
Visiting Harvard
I took the kids to the Boston area for their spring break.


I have been taking a MOOC, a massive open online course, offered by MIT Media Lab. Every Monday morning, along with, like, 24,000 people, I listen to a lecture and chat on a back channel about creativity.

Last week, Alan Kay, one of the founders of the personal computer, was a guest lecturer.

The subject of that class was BIG ideas.

On a Google Plus side conversation, I went off on a tangent and found this link Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from.

“An idea is a network,” Johnson said. And this: “Chance favors the connected mind.”

I love that MOOCs spark serendipity and digressions. MOOCs are a means to an end but they are not the end. MOOCs also must ignite  real life encounters.

I dig Johnson’s TED talk for he values the coffee house vibe and the slow brewing nature of good ideas. Good ideas are not a sudden AHA! Good ideas slow cook. Good ideas need many cooks to throw in stuff for the soup.

Good ideas need to get together, face to face, to ferment. I signed up for this MIT media lab with Mitchel Resnick because a real life friend Emily Miller recommended it. Honestly, I’d probably get even more out of it if I met people face to face to discuss the big ideas.

In my own way, I am doing that, trying to make IRL face time creative ideas happen. I’m putting together a slew of writing workshops and weekend retreats.

My next afternoon workshop is The Story of Your Life in Jamaica Plain, Boston, on Sunday, March 24th, 1 to 4:30 pm. ($25 registration fee goes to the food pantry.)

P.S. Here are a couple of pics of my afterschool creativity students. They took on a project I learned about on the MOOC —  the spaghetti challenge!

Given 20 pieces of spaghetti, a bit of tape, and a bit of string, how tall could they make their structure and top it off with the marshmallow? You can see how kids feel pride when they make stuff and are encouraged to be creative and playful.

And you can see how the girls won the challenge! Girl power!