Tending the Seed of Spiritual Friendship
On Becoming a Spiritual Director
When reflecting on my ministry of spiritual guidance, it seems that being a spiritual director has been about discovering and nurturing something that was already planted within me and given in love long ago. It has been about listening more deeply to who I am in God and opening more fully to this particular seed of life; about intending, attending, and allowing a never-ending process of clearing away the inner debris that blocks awareness of the Holy Life flowing within and beyond me. It also has been about learning to rest in uncertainty and not-knowing in the face of the amazing depth of hidden Mystery; about inviting information to be transformed into awareness so that this seed of life can grow and flourish. And it has been about desiring and intending to open more fully to the Divine Energy that is always available in every moment.
Since spiritual direction was not something that was mentioned or valued in my experience of my Episcopal religious heritage, it took time to notice this seed of life. It was a hidden richness whose reality was only discovered after many years of religious formation failed to mention it as a possibility. Still, even without having words to identify what was already within me, something was secretly growing and yearning for fuller life. The seed was cracking through a shell of ignorance and was namelessly beginning to gently unfold within me.
This seed started to send out roots within me in the form of a restlessness and initially vague, but persistent, longings. This restlessness let me know there was something more, and the longings began to point the way to something still unnamed and unknown. The roots, tiny at first, had to stretch through the rubble of my being to anchor themselves in the holy, life-giving soil deep within. As they grew in strength and extended through more of my being, the longings gradually became clearer. The desire for a deeper, fuller life with and in God became even more firmly rooted within, and the desire for relationships and conversations centered in God became stronger. Also, the desire to be present to God for and with others, while listening for the mysterious movement of the Spirit in their lives, kept growing. Shoots of new life began to rise within me.
Initially these shoots were quite fragile and tender-they still needed to break through the hard soil of my fears and hesitations. They also had to break through my doubts and inadequacies and trust that they were part of a holy, organic process. They had to learn that they would be given the nutrients they needed to continue growing through the many layers of my being. And they had to continually rediscover that the living water they needed was already deep within me and spread far beyond me. Even when the soil seemed dry and barren, they had to learn they could continue to grow and get what they needed to trust their way to the light-to trust the darkness and not be so afraid of the mysterious unknown. They had to learn that not knowing the path ahead could be freeing, life-giving, and holy.
Gradually these new shoots broke through the surface of my being and became visible to others. This caused a new flurry of insecurities to surface. Anxieties about being inadequate and presumptuous rose like weeds threatening to choke the still tender shoots. It was easy to forget the lessons learned in silent darkness and easy to forget how long, loving, and never-ending the process of inner transformation really is. It also was easy to forget that this new life was about trusting, opening to, and honoring the gracious and liberating Holy Life that was constantly flowing within and far beyond me.
As these shoots have grown stronger and more visible in creation, the invitations to transformation and trust continue unabated. Having communities that help stake the plants when they threaten to fall over in the rain and wind of life is a deeply loving gift. Having mature spiritual friends who can celebrate the gifts and graces of this ministry and help me notice my blindness and inner blocks and obstacles can be a great blessing. Although it can be jarring at times to notice my many growing edges, it is ultimately freeing and life-giving. Having regular, prayerful times of reflecting with others can soften and open me more fully to God’s wider, deeper life in all of creation. The foundation for this transformative spiritual community and for this holy, prayerful ministry is a daily habit of prayer and discernment. Being grounded, moment by moment, in prayerful awareness-this constant turning to the Life That Is-is the heart of spiritual direction for me. Through prayer and discernment, mental categories and constructs can be transformed into the lightness and vigilance of mindful awareness.
This transformed and transforming awareness can then be held lightly and shifted into words as seems right. The result can be a surprising wealth of wisdom, definitely not our own, that waters and fertilizes the beautiful plant of spiritual direction. As this plant flourishes, it can help God’s beloved rest with more peace, patience, and endurance in the midst of hidden Mystery as well as attend more fully the glorious life of God permeating all of creation. Only our loving, liberating Creator could have imagined and blessed us with such an amazing, life-giving plant.