What is Spiritual Direction?
Seems like a simple question, but sometimes I have trouble answering it succinctly. It’s listening. It’s walking with someone in their walk with God. In their questions and doubt and in their joys and big moments. It’s sitting across or beside someone as they listen to their life. It’s stories. It’s how we sit with our own stories and with the stories of others. And bring it all to God.
When I first met my spiritual director, I had no idea she was one; I was certainly not looking for one. I remember driving home from a first aid course listening to a documentary on TS Eliot on the radio. I started to cry. Not because of Eliot’s Ash Wednesday but because I was missing something that thinking about Eliot represented. I didn’t really know what I was to be doing with my time and my brain and my life. I knew I was a mom and that was intense and beautiful and it still is but I knew there was an element to my soul that I was longing for. A few days later, for some reason, I remembered that my advisor in grad school mentioned the name of a former student who was now a professor in Calgary. So I looked this person up and asked her to meet with me. I wanted to talk about….well, I honestly didn’t know. I just wanted to talk with another woman who studied theology. We met and….its hard to overstate the feeling of relief that this meeting brought. Like water. Like a hole was filled. We talked about God, about being a woman, about learning, about being a mom. We talked about my life and the shape it had taken so far. She asked me where I thought God was in the midst of it. In the midst of my life, my regular life with my husband and daughter and house and dog and awful part-time job (I was the early morning baker at a coffee shop for 10 LOOOONG months)–in the midst of that very day.
And then at the end she said something astounding. She said, “you know, if you want to meet regularly to talk about your life, I would really like that.” I started to cry again. I think because for my whole life, I felt that I had to figure it out. There was no mentor, no guidance, no one to take interest and to walk with me. There was only will power and resolve and striving to make my goals come to pass on my own. Here was an offer of companionship.
When I meet with my director, we talk about my daily life. She asks, “Where has God been for you lately?” And sometimes I find it hard to answer. And sometimes I am aware of a word or a place or a story that opened my eyes to God—to how His reality is always there, always surrounding.
I have found myself thinking about stories. The little weird bits that make up stories. The small snippets of conversations. The small physical touches, the small physical tells that inform so much. The web of relationships and the web of motives that wrap up the hearts of our favorite characters. These are in our lives and if we listen to them, we can hear they tell a story. Tell our story. And like Chesterton, I am inclined to ask– if there is a story, is there a storyteller? My relationship with my director, as with any directees, is one of telling a story and listening to it together with holy ears, with that ever-accompanying spirit. Listening and trusting my own heart, my own body, my own knowledge of God even as I learn to hear it resounding all around me. Learning to read my story and THE story everywhere. Holy listening, Holy seeing, Holy reading.
One practice that my director introduced me to was using my imagination as prayer. I sit wherever I am and imagine Jesus walking into that room. I imagine what he looks like, sounds like, smells like. I imagine what his eyes say when they see me in whatever situation he has found me. Now I can’t do this to often because its actually kind of too deep. It hits really close to home. To actually see Jesus in my house where I just yelled harsh at my beautiful babies; where I just judged harsh another mom; where I just lied to save face; where I am my most tired, my least inspired, my most lethargic, my chronically despairing. I can’t do it too often because it is too real. It is hard. But I have never not been changed by this prayer. I have never not known grace by this prayer.
And I have never not been changed by bringing my story to another—a woman committed to my life. I have never not known grace in that holy space.