Shared Spiritual Companionship
Article by Tilden Edwards (in September 2016 eNews)
The medieval mystic Hafiz said, “Like a great starving beast, my body is quivering, fixed on the scent of Light.” That’s a radical thought for us to bring to spiritual direction, both as director and directee. That quivering in me is the strong, graced desire for communion — communion with the enlightening, loving truth of God. Jesus says the Spirit will show us as much of that truth as we can bear. We can bear more of this truth when we bring to our prayer and direction a powerful desire for it, when we’re not half-hearted but full-hearted as we sit energetically listening to one another, wanting and willing for the realization of our communion in God, and the way of life that communion reveals for us.
A Buddhist story bears this out in its own fresh way: a monk once asked his master for help with enlightenment. They were standing beside a lake. The master put the student’s head under water and held it there until the student came up gasping for breath. The master said, “You must want enlightenment as much as you wanted that breath of air.”
The hard reality is that our desire for enlightenment, our desire for realization of God’s transforming presence, is a desire for we-don’t-know-what. God is merciful to us in that way, because anything we could imagine would be less than what God has in mind for us. So we’re left with wide open desire; and we have to trust the Spirit to respond in its own way and time, in ourselves, in our directees, and in the world. That open yearning for fuller life in God shows that we are not willing to settle for less than what we are made for and that the world is made for. That unrelenting desire placed in us is one of God’s greatest gifts.
This deep yearning for God’s true loving awareness is a counterweight to the desires stimulated by the psychic and social forces we encounter daily. A further counterweight is spiritual direction: our taking time to share our soul’s deep yearning and appreciation of what is being given us day by day. That shared spiritual companionship helps subvert the allure of these other cravings and shows up their emptiness. The power of the fears that constrict us can be lightened by God’s loving Spirit in that sharing time as well, leaving us free for a little more of God’s liberating truth to be absorbed.
Spiritual direction is for the long haul, because God never seems finished with us, nor do the false allures in our lives ever seem finished with us. We need someone to keep listening with us for the elusive but pervasive true Spirit of God in our lives. And we need someone whose encouraging presence can embolden us to trustingly live out the Spirit’s freedom and love in the world.
Like spring water slowly wearing away rock, meeting with a spiritual director over time can bring to light the ceaseless dripping water of the Spirit in our lives. We become more and more aware of that holy water wearing away whatever hardness is left in us. Little by little we find ourselves identifying who we truly are — identifying not with that hard rock, but rather with the fluidity of the Holy Spirit whose child we are. Slowly we give ourselves with Christ to that sparkling stream of God’s Spirit and let it be our way, our truth, our life.
This reflection first was offered at the 25th anniversary of Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program and also appeared in the Shalem News, Fall 2003.