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Theme:
Spiritual Direction

Spiritual Direction

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Week Twenty-Five Summary and Practice

Sunday, June 20—Friday, June 25, 2021

Sunday
No matter the religion or denomination in which we are raised, our spirituality still comes through the first filter of our own life experience.

Monday
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. —Margaret Guenther

Tuesday
Jesus is the ultimate spiritual director because of his intimacy with God, his Abba. —Jeannette Bakke

Wednesday
There is an inherently cyclical interrelationship between yearning for the presence of Spirit and learning what and who we are in the presence of Spirit. —Ruth Takiko West

Thursday
Take my life into Your hands at last. Do whatever You want with it. I give myself to Your love—rejecting neither the hard things nor the pleasant things You have arranged for me. . . . Everything You have planned is good. It is all love. —Thomas Merton

Friday
The two wheels of Scripture and Tradition can be seen as sources of outer authority, while our personal experience leads to our inner authority. I am convinced we need and can have both. Only when inner and outer authority come together do we have true spiritual wisdom.

 

Reflective Listening

One of the most notable “gifts” of good spiritual directors is their ability to listen well. They aren’t afraid of silence. They listen compassionately and without judgment, and they speak from the heart (and when they are very good and disciplined, only as prompted by the Holy Spirit). While spiritual directors are trained in the act of generous and holy listening, it is a skill we can all develop. Interfaith minister and founder of The Listening Center Kay Lindahl offers these guidelines for reflective listening, which is a gift to both ourselves and those around us.

One of the goals that is emphasized in our culture is finding answers—solving problems, answering questions, removing doubt. We want to know who, what, when, where, and why—and we want to know now. When we listen, we are trained to listen for the answers. . . .

Reflective listening distinguishes a response from an answer. It is a practice to get to know your inner voice, and it takes time and patience.

First, take a few breaths before responding to a situation, question, or comment. In those few seconds, ask yourself what wants to happen next. Then wait for your inner voice to respond. Remember that you are not listening for the answer; you are listening for a response, for your true wisdom to reveal itself.

Most important, as you practice reflection, notice that what you want to say (the ego) matters less than what wants to be said (the soul). Reflective listening is a slowing down, waiting, practicing patience with yourself.

Reflective listening is also about listening for the questions. We are constantly pulled away from our innermost self and encouraged to look for answers instead of listening for the questions. Rainer Maria Rilke’s [1875–1926] advice to the young poet was “Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” [1]

The practice of listening for the questions—for what wants to be said next—deepens your relationship to your inner voice, your soul, and enhances full self-expression.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

References:
[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, trans. M. D. Herter Norton, rev. ed.
(W. W. Norton and Company: 1954), 35.

Kay Lindahl, The Sacred Art of Listening: Forty Reflections for Cultivating a Spiritual Practice (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2002), 110, 112.

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

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.
Read Full Entry

Spiritual Direction

Trusting Our Inner Authority
Friday, June 25, 2021

The two wheels of Scripture and Tradition can be seen as sources of outer authority, while our personal experience leads to our inner authority. I am convinced we need and can have both. Only when inner and outer authority come together do we have true spiritual wisdom. Christianity in most of its history has largely relied upon outer authority. But we must now be honest about the value of inner experience, which of course was at work all the time but was not given credence.

Information from outer authority is not necessarily transformation, and we need genuinely transformed people today, not just people with answers. I do not want my words in these meditations to separate anyone from their own astonishment or to provide them with a substitute for their own inner experience. Theology (and authority figures) have done that for too many. Rather, I hope my words—written or spoken—simply invite readers on their own inner journey rather than become a replacement for it.

I am increasingly convinced that the word prayer, which has become a functional and pious thing for believers to do, was meant to be a descriptor and an invitation to inner experience. When spiritual teachers invite us to “pray,” they are in effect saying, “Go inside and know for yourself!” Father Thomas Keating (1923‒2018) wrote:

The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from [God]. If we get rid of that thought, our troubles will be greatly reduced. We fail to believe that we are always with God and that [God] is part of every reality. The present moment, every object we see, our inmost nature are all rooted in [God]. But we hesitate to believe this until our personal experience gives us the confidence to believe in it. . . . God constantly speaks to us through each other as well as from within. The interior experience of God’s presence activates our capacity to perceive [the divine] in everything else—in people, in events, in nature. We may enjoy union with God in any experience of the external senses as well as in prayer. [1]

This is a foundational belief of the ministry of spiritual direction: everyone has access to an inner experience of God, but we don’t always recognize those experiences for what they are. We may be too busy, too bored with our church services, or too “bought in” to the narratives of our consumer culture. A practice of slowing down, of reflection, of asking “big questions” about our desires, our wounds, our values, and our relationships helps us to discover and trust in the truth and authority that lies within us.

As the wise Joan Chittister points out, “Spiritual direction, ‘holy friendship,’ can be found in every great spiritual tradition. But the purpose is not to attach us to someone wiser than ourselves—the guru, the great guide, the spiritual master, the bodhisattva, the saint. The purpose of spiritual direction is to enable us to become holy ourselves.” [2]

References:
[1] Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (Amity House: 1986), 44.

[2] Joan D. Chittister, Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir (Sheed and Ward: 2004), 112.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 5, 7.

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

Story from Our Community:
In 2007, I started a two-year course of study to become a spiritual director. . . It was truly a life-changing time for me. A book from the reading list included Fr. Richard’s “From Wild Man to Wise Man,” and, seeing myself as a highly educated and sophisticated individual, feelings of resentment followed the inference that I was a “wild man.” But once I got into the book and saw the parallels with my own life, I was astounded. A local Roman Catholic Priest agreed to be my spiritual director and I found his guidance to be as transforming as Fr. Richard’s writings and my training. What a different person I am now. Ego has been “reorganized,” and that little piece of God whose image my soul reflects is now discovered. —Jimmy B.

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.
Read Full Entry

Spiritual Direction

The Mystics as Directors
Thursday, June 24, 2021

In addition to his work as a therapist, my friend James Finley has served as a spiritual director for decades. While spiritual direction most often involves one-on-one conversations between two living persons, Jim shows us how reading the words of the mystics can be a form of contemplative spiritual direction. They serve as a mirror, revealing to us their own humanity and the Presence of the Holy Spirit that is ever present to us, just as it was to them: 

Mystic teachers . . . offer trustworthy guidance to people who feel interiorly drawn toward this deeper unitive experience of God’s presence in their life. . . .

[The mystics] are assuming several things, that first of all, there’s the dignity, and the reality, and the complexities of the human experience. . . . They’re always assuming that these are real life people living a real life. So, in that sense, it’s a deep respect for the dignity and gift of the human experience.

Secondly, they assume that it’s the human experience illumined by faith, and specifically as revealed in Christ and all of the Scriptures, that we’re living our life in a relationship with God, and that God’s in a relationship with us, and God’s in this related state of oneness with us. And God’s oneness with us is the reality of us. That is, God’s perpetually creating us breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat. . . .

They bear witness to the godly nature of the intimate immediacy of ourselves, everybody, all things. The mystic teachers are then men and women who, in having traveled this path and then awakened to it, they want to offer guidance to people who are just beginning to get a taste of this. [1] . . .

The first season of Jim’s podcast focused on the work of Thomas Merton (1915–1968), who served as Jim Finley’s first spiritual director when he was a young man at the Abbey of Gethsemani. Here is a passage from one of Merton’s journals that highlights the humanity of this very holy man who in many ways sounds a lot like us!

Now at last let me begin to live by faith. Quaerite primum regnum Dei. Seek first the kingdom of God. Why do I mistrust Your goodness, mistrust everyone but myself, meet every new event on the defensive, squared off against everybody?

Dear Lord, I am not living like a monk, like a contemplative. The first essential is missing. I only say I trust You. My actions prove that the one I trust is myself—and that I am still afraid of You.

Take my life into Your hands at last. Do whatever You want with it. I give myself to Your love—rejecting neither the hard things nor the pleasant things You have arranged for me. . . . Everything You have planned is good. It is all love. [2]

References:
[1] James Finley with Kirsten Oates, “Turning to Thomas Merton,” February 24, 2020, in Turning to the Mystics, season 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), podcast, MP3 audio.

[2] Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings, ed. Jonathan Montaldo (HarperSanFrancisco: 2001), 51.

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

Story from Our Community:
In 2007, I started a two-year course of study to become a spiritual director. . . It was truly a life-changing time for me. A book from the reading list included Fr. Richard’s “From Wild Man to Wise Man,” and, seeing myself as a highly educated and sophisticated individual, feelings of resentment followed the inference that I was a “wild man.” But once I got into the book and saw the parallels with my own life, I was astounded. A local Roman Catholic Priest agreed to be my spiritual director and I found his guidance to be as transforming as Fr. Richard’s writings and my training. What a different person I am now. Ego has been “reorganized,” and that little piece of God whose image my soul reflects is now discovered. —Jimmy B.

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.
Read Full Entry

Spiritual Direction

Who Do You Say That I Am?
Wednesday, June 23, 2021

We all have a yearning to be known by each other and by God. Professor and spiritual director Ruth Takiko West uses Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” as a model for our deepest spiritual questioning.

“Who do you say that I am?” is a central question of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, as he helps the disciples clarify their relationship to and with him. It is also a crucial question for Jesus in his own identity clarification. We note the progression of questions: who do people say that I am, who do you say that I am, and, in Matthew’s Gospel, who do people say the Son of man is? Each of these questions goes to the heart of every Christian’s, or dare I say every person’s, longing for a connection to the Divine, to their deepest self, and to the world they live in. . . . [1]

There is an inherently cyclical interrelationship between yearning for the presence of Spirit and learning what and who we are in the presence of Spirit. In the Christian tradition, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” He is emphasizing that despite what the crowd might be saying about him, it is imperative that they know who he is. It is equally important that we know who Jesus, God, or the Spirit is for us. Our personal beliefs lead us to yearn to know more about our unique relationship to the Divine. This awareness becomes the foundation upon which our spirituality is built.

Our questions about who God is lead us to simultaneously ponder our own significance to Spirit. Because Jesus taught by modeling, we follow his example and ask God, “Who do you say that I am?” Because we are the imago Dei (image of God), I believe God would say that we are God’s Beloved, fearfully and wonderfully made. It is important to consider what we might know about ourselves and how we interact or respond in the ways we do, or what we perceive or believe about our own faith, theology, and identity. As we endeavor to live fully into this notion of belovedness, we must be introspective and self-aware, carefully uncovering and discovering our most authentic selves while staying connected to Spirit, utilizing the resources of prayer and other spiritual practices. This is the basis of how we live out our spirituality.

As we look in the mirror and at each other and Creation, once more we ask ourselves, “Who do you say that I am?” How might we represent the Holy in the world? How do we interact with each other and Creation? . . . We must be mindful to revere the Holy in our neighbors—to share our stories about God’s goodness and grace, companionship and love in the hopes of becoming the community that God has intended.

References:
[1] Ineda Pearl Adesanya, “Training Principle: Spirit,” introduction to “Who Do You Say I Am?,” by Ruth Takiko West, in Kaleidoscope, 20.

Ruth Takiko West, “Who Do You Say I Am? Reflections on the Presence of the Spirit,” in Kaleidoscope: Broadening the Palette in the Art of Spiritual Direction, ed. Ineda Pearl Adesanya (Church Publishing: 2019), 21–22.

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

Story from Our Community:
When my husband died ten years ago, I walked alone with my sadness. An encounter with a curious hummingbird, who flew in front of my face and looked at me for many seconds, revealed my hidden spirituality. I saw that we were connected, that all living things were connected, and I needed to pay attention to my own spiritual nature. This led me to spiritual direction training. . . I became myself: a listener, an empath, a person concerned with and connected to all of life. It was a startling and life-affirming moment that changed my life. —Pamela P.

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.
Read Full Entry

Spiritual Direction

Jesus as Spiritual Director
Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Every culture and religious tradition have some method of passing on spiritual wisdom and for helping individuals to discover their own. The Christian tradition of spiritual direction can find its origin in Jesus’ own way of relating to his disciples and the many who sought him out for healing and instruction. Jeannette Bakke emphasizes Jesus’ own intimacy with God as the source of his authority that he encourages others to rely on as well.

Jesus is the ultimate spiritual director because of his intimacy with God, his Abba. Jesus listened and responded to others out of his attentiveness to the Father, out of his participation in the Jewish covenant community, and out of his knowledge of Scripture and Jewish law. But the Father’s love and presence and the Holy Spirit’s anointing were the most powerful influences in Jesus’ life and the source of direction for others. . . .

Jesus taught and offered direction to his disciples and others before and after the resurrection. In each case, he spoke to their personal situation within the framework of God’s faithfulness and invited them to recognize God’s loving presence and availability to guide and bless. . . .

At Jacob’s well Jesus listened to a woman about her relationship with God and her human relationships. Jesus pointed her directly to God.

It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration. (John 4:23–24, The Message). . . .

When he was speaking to groups, Jesus often told stories—parables—to invite people to listen to and respond to God. He used parables to catch people’s attention and to illustrate and clarify the nature of the kingdom of God. His audiences would have been startled by stories of a Samaritan hero (Luke 10:25–37), a justified tax collector (Luke 18:9–14), or a father running to welcome his prodigal son (Luke 15:20). These stories said, “Look, this is what God is like.” Jesus used these stories to offer spiritual direction by challenging people to look more closely at what they believed and why, what their own experience of God was and how they interpreted their experiences with God. This is the essence of spiritual direction—encouraging people to listen to and follow God. [Richard here: And, I would add, by whatever name they call God or understand the Great and Loving Mystery at the heart of the cosmos.]

In Scripture we observe Jesus always listening for the voice of his Abba—in relationship to his disciples, other individuals, small groups, and crowds. Present-day spiritual directors attempt to function in the same way by listening to the Holy Spirit and responding to directees and others out of prayerful attentiveness to God.

Reference:
Jeannette A. Bakke, Holy Invitations: Exploring Spiritual Direction (Baker Books: 2000), 178–179, 181.

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

Story from Our Community:
When my husband died ten years ago, I walked alone with my sadness. An encounter with a curious hummingbird, who flew in front of my face and looked at me for many seconds, revealed my hidden spirituality. I saw that we were connected, that all living things were connected, and I needed to pay attention to my own spiritual nature. This led me to spiritual direction training. . . I became myself: a listener, an empath, a person concerned with and connected to all of life. It was a startling and life-affirming moment that changed my life. —Pamela P.

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.
Read Full Entry

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.
Read Full Entry

Spiritual Direction

The Importance of Experience
Sunday, June 20, 2021

No matter the religion or denomination in which we are raised, our spirituality still comes through the first filter of our own life experience. We must begin to be honest about this instead of pretending that any of us are formed exclusively by the Scriptures or our church Tradition. There is no such thing as an entirely unbiased position. The best we can do is own and be honest about our own filters. God allows us to trust our own experience. Then Scripture and Tradition hopefully keep our personal experiences both critical and compassionate. These three components—Scripture, Tradition, and experience—make up the three wheels of what we at the CAC call the learning “tricycle” of spiritual growth. [1]

Historically, Catholics loved to say we relied upon the Great Tradition, but this usually meant “the way we have done it for the last hundred years.” What we usually consider “official teaching” changes every century or so. Most of our operative images of God come primarily from our early experiences of authority in family and culture, but we use teachings from the Tradition and Scriptures to validate them!

If we try to use “only Scripture” as a source of spiritual wisdom, we get stuck, because many passages give very conflicting and even opposite images of God. I believe that Jesus only quoted those Scriptures that he could validate by his own inner experience. At the same time, if we humans trust only our own experiences, we will be trapped in subjective moods and personal preferences.

It helps when we can verify that at least some holy people and orthodox teachers (Tradition) and some solid Scripture also validate our own experiences. Such affirmation makes us more confident that we are in the force field of the Holy Spirit and participating in God’s sacred work in this world.

Jesus and Paul clearly use and build on their own Jewish Scriptures and Tradition, yet they both courageously interpret them through the lens of their own unique personal experience of God. This is undeniable! We would do well to follow their examples. I will admit that the experiences we have of God—and of our own lives and desires—can be confusing and sometimes even contradictory to one another. This is why it is so helpful to have someone to walk with us as we uncover the deeper meaning of our experiences and what they might reveal to us about God and ourselves.

Christians have always relied on wise individuals to companion them in the process of coming to know who God is for them and who they are in God. As my friend Tilden Edwards, founder of the Shalem Institute writes, “We yearn for a soul-friend with whom we can share our desire for the Holy One and with whom we can try to identify and embrace the hints of divine Presence and invitation in our lives.” [2] Such soul-friends are sometimes called “spiritual directors,” the subject of this week’s meditations.

References:
[1] I am grateful to spiritual director Rev. Carolyn Metzler for this helpful “tricycle” analogy, a dynamic improvement upon the traditional Wesleyan “quadrilateral,” or four-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason. I hesitate to give reason a full wheel on our model—at this point in history it entirely takes over! Instead, I try to use Scripture, Tradition, and Experience in self-critical and “rational” ways. It took me a long time to come to that hopefully helpful principle. (No offense to dear John Wesley.)

[2] Tilden Edwards, Spiritual Director, Spiritual Companion: Guide to Tending the Soul (Paulist Press: 2001), 2.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . . : Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2013), 5; and

Scripture as Liberation, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002), MP3 download.

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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