Spiritual Underpinnings: Spiritual Direction
Well, the North Wind doth blow and if we believe everything the weather forecasters say, I should have plenty time for writing over the next few days. So, here’s the beginning of a mini-project that’s been at the back of in my mind ever since reading Robin’s blog on Finding a Spiritual Director and more recently, ramtoprac’s accounts of their searchings.
If you’ve read my Offline Greenpatches page, you’ll have realized that I was once very into using "spiritual underpinnings" as an analogy to describe the various support systems that I was setting up at the time. Re-reading that now, I’m wondering if the “undies” “secret support” term is wearing a little thin (if you’ll pardon the pun!); because such a valuable resource should be anything but “secret.” I think we’ve come a long way since spiritual direction – (or accompaniment as I prefer to call it), was the sole province of clergy and religious. If you discover treasure, surely you’re going to want to let everybody know about your discovery. (Now where did I first hear that one, I wonder?)
So, to my journeyings. In retrospect, even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my hunt for a director began long before the birds ‘flew the nest,’ back, in fact, to when we moved back to the UK after seven years abroad. By the time I began to articulate this need, at first only to myself, we’d passed the Millennium. I was trying to cope with two teens, a husband constantly away with work and all that that brings, but more worryingly, a sense that the church into which I’d thrown myself so enthusiastically to begin with did not - to put it crudely - “scratch where I itched.”
I remember the first time I came encountered the concept of a paradigm shift; well, underneath my seemingly compliant surface, you could almost hear the gears grinding away. My “integrity gap” I called it, even as I tried to throw myself into the seemingly endless round of programs and rotas, giving assent to a theology and practice, which was becomingly increasingly at odds with where I was on my journey. I was asking questions (only to myself then, I was far too shy to voice them aloud!) that weren’t being answered. Though a glance back through my journals from that time shows the clues were all there. Put even more crudely – I was bl**dy lonely – a quiet and increasingly questioning contemplative flower in an increasingly charismatic evangelical garden. There were some great people in that community, make no mistake, but the church, too was struggling with change, going through it’s own ‘spiritual adolescence,’ and when you have two adolescents - well, there are bound to be spats!
By late 2002 I’d emerged from a bout of counseling, following on from the death of my father. This had given me the confidence to get out there and explore. I’d been aware of the existence of spiritual accompaniment for a while. I’d also - joy of joys - discovered a lifeline, that “Magazine of Unrest,” Shipoffools.com whose denizens were just one of several sources of encouragement to step out.
My director came via some suggestions from what I nicknamed our local “diocesan chappie” and what he called his “spiritual direction dating agency.” Best practice encourages shopping around; discerning who is the best “fit” for you is not something to be approached lightly. I was given several names but for all sorts of reasons, my first try ‘stuck,’ and we’ve been meeting now for over 10 years. I’d not stated any preference for either clergy, lay or religious though I think I did tick the “Female” box, but I ended up with somebody ordained. What was more helpful, especially at first, were those things we held in common: she has children of about the same age, and knew just what it was like to be rushed off one’s feet and to struggle with the demands of family life. Some of the stuff out there on t’interweb about directors would have you believe you’re about to link up with a spiritual Yoda. Or worse, the Spanish Inquisition. Talk about ‘Disease of the Oughteries!’ Both notions were swiftly dispelled. One of my favourite memories, related since with glee to several hesitant seekers, is about one early meeting when I had to clear the family’s washing off the sofa before I could sit down. (To be fair, there were building works going on at the time). I have never been so relieved in my life. At last… a ‘real’ person, not some super-being intent on force- feeding me a diet of never-ending spiritual sticking plaster or theological bon mots.
Since then they’ve supported me unobtrusively through a change of church, theological study, my journey into the Franciscan Third Order and many other ups and downs too numerous to list, as I’ve emerged out of the other side of the child-rearing years and started to look to what the future might hold. Her style tends to the non-directive – a sometime puzzle to me at first: they do say God sends you what you need, not necessarily what you want! With my background and hang-ups I could easily have slipped into the habit of letting somebody else “tell me what to do,” which of course is not a stance that any listener should ever encourage, not in that sense. God is the real ‘director’ after all.
Over the years, the task of listening to my (rather circuitous meanderings) has also been shared by numerous retreat conductors, course facilitators and others. Some I’ve taken to, others less so, yet experiencing a different dynamic has been interesting and I can truthfully say that I’ve always come out the other end having learned something. I hope I’ve changed…
Talking of circuitous meanderings, I’ll wind up the waffle by revisiting and reanswering two questions once asked me on a radio interview which highlight the benefits of spiritual accompaniment for me personally:
Firstly: “How has direction helped keep you spiritually and mentally well?” Foremost it’s enabled me to rethink for myself those images of God that for all kinds of reasons, baggage carried since childhood etc, were not so healthy. This was, and is a slooowwww process. Yet I’ve come such a long way. Work-in-progress.
Secondly: In what ways have you experienced God…noticed…become more aware of God since you’ve been in direction?”
I’m much more open to seeing God in all things . Years ago, I was over concerned with chasing after the “zap…pow!” big, flashy experiences. Now I’m far more aware of the “still small voice,” what he/she’s doing in the little things of life, the ordinary, everyday events. Well, on good days anyway…
So, if you’re somebody umming and aahing about whether to send that email, make that phone call or simply begin to take the first step along this path, do be brave, and, as Robin of Beautiful and Terrible said recently “Just do it.”