A Midwife for the Soul — Center for Action and Contemplation
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A Midwife for the Soul

Spiritual Direction

A Midwife for the Soul
Monday, June 21, 2021
Summer Solstice

Tend only to the birth in you and you will find all goodness and all consolation, all delight, all being and all truth. Reject it and you reject all goodness and blessing. What comes to you in this birth brings with it pure being and blessing. But what you seek or love outside of this birth will come to nothing, no matter what you will or where you will it. —Meister Eckhart, Sermon on Matthew 2:2

The role of the “midwife” to the soul is a powerful metaphor for the ministry of spiritual direction. Drawing on Meister Eckhart’s text, Margaret Guenther writes about the comfort and guidance that good directors can offer those who are “giving birth to the soul.”

If Eckhart is to be believed, we give birth and are born ourselves again and again: the birth of God in the soul is our own true birth. . . .

There are those who feel that something is happening to and within them. Their tastes are changing, and their balance has shifted. Sometimes they are brought up short by a crisis: an experience of conversion, a tragic loss, a period of great pain, a sharp awareness of being on a threshold. As they approach midlife, women especially may feel impelled to explore their spirituality as they discover their new and unexpectedly authoritative voice. Men and women of all ages and life experiences may sense a call, not necessarily a vocation to the ordained ministry, but simply the awareness that God expects them to do something with their lives. . . .

As a spiritual midwife, the director’s task is to pay attention, to listen to what is not being said—or to what is being said but minimized. . . .

Spiritual direction is not a crisis ministry, even though the initial impulse to seek out a director may arise from a sense of urgent personal need. The midwife of the spirit is not an expert called in for the dramatic moments, either a crisis caused by pathology or the final, exciting moment of birth. Like a midwife, she works with the whole person and is present throughout the whole process. She “has time”—unlike the tightly scheduled physician who is concerned with specifics, complaints, and pathology. Or, for that matter, unlike the tightly scheduled parish clergy, who are concerned with program, administration, and liturgy. Instead she offers support through every stage and waits with the birthgiver when “nothing is happening.” Of course, there are no times when nothing is happening. Spiritual growth can be gradual and hidden; the director-midwife can discern or at least trust that something is indeed “happening.”

As a people, we are not comfortable with waiting. We see it as wasted time and try to avoid it, or at least fill it with trivial busyness. We value action for its own sake. . . . It is hard to trust in the slow work of God. So the model of pregnancy and birth is a helpful one. . . . There are times when waiting is inevitable, ordained, and fruitful.

Reference:
Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction (Cowley Publications: 1992), 85, 90, 91, 92–93.

Explore further resources and watch Father Richard Rohr explain why more people are asking for—and benefiting from—spiritual direction.

Story from Our Community:
Fr. Richard’s reflections and spiritual direction help me to listen to my dreams, own my shadow, and trust the authenticity of my own experience. Even though I may never witness their fruits, my intention is to scatter seeds of hope and love. Thank you. —Marie M.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, caught II (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: This pattern of leaves exists for a brief moment in time—a calm just before wind buffets the surface and the leaves shift. Like these leaves, our many facets of human experience are in constant motion. Spiritual direction invites us to gently reveal this dance, moment by moment.
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