Just published in the January 2006 edition of The Way is an article of mine “Receiving and Rejecting: On Finding a Way in Spiritual Direction”. Thanks to the publisher it is available for download at no charge. Have a look if you are interested.
It is a reflection on how we, as spiritual directors, navigate: what we look for, what we pay attention to, what we receive and what we reject. And on what lies at the heart of the art of spiritual direction.
I was sitting with my spiritual director a while back, bemoaning the recent drabness of my spiritual landscape, when she asked a question that split me in two: ‘If God were here now, what would you say?’
Two spontaneous responses rose to the surface more or less together. One was ‘Pull your socks up!’–a slightly irritated demand to God to tidy up my life and fix some of the health problems that have been besetting me. The second was ‘Hey, buddy!’ Now, I’ve called God many things in my life, including friend and lover, but this was the first time I’d used buddy, and I felt rather embarrassed by it.
I narrate this because it illustrates a question that is both practical and theological: to which of two spontaneous movements should a spiritual director give more attention? Which thread should they follow?
The issue often surfaces for directors once they have mastered the art of attentive listening. So much arises in a spiritual direction session and offers itself for exploration. The knack that we all struggle to acquire is that of winnowing the wheat from the chaff. How do we, during a session, encourage and develop those strands of a directee’s experience that are leading somewhere good, and how do we let go of those that aren’t? In this case, which way to go: socks or buddy? Do we have a rule of thumb? And do we have a rationale for our instruction and practice?
Discerning an experience seems like it would be difficult … when you go back in repitition, you sort of change what originally happened, and if you try to ignore the counter-movement, would you not then be even more changing what actually happened?
The idea of discernment, the way I’m talking about it, is not about standing back and being able to label an experience in its pristine state as one thing or another. I suspect that wouldn’t even be possible. Simply remembering causes some kind of movement. What we can do is have some say over which movements we receive and which we reject–tentatively of course–always trying to gauge whether we are being drawn toward God in the process of not. Our experience never stands still but we have some leverage to let it flow in some directions rather than others. Does that make any more sense?
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