I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for June Mears Driedger's reflections about spiritual direction and the contemplative life:
Following the call of being a monk in the world through spiritual direction.
I enter the room for spiritual direction. My director, J. is there, lighting a candle and smiling as she greets me. I meet with her about every four-six weeks, depending on our schedules. This is a discipline I practice to deepen my relationship with God and enables me to be a monk in the world. With a spiritual director or companion I have someone who listens compassionately as I discern God’s presence and movement in my life. The loving presence of my spiritual companion enables me to slow down, pay attention, and listen.
I initially heard about spiritual direction from Lisa, an acquaintance more than two decades ago. She had a contemplative stillness that drew me to her and as we talked she mentioned “spiritual direction” then explained what it is in response to my quizzical facial expression.
“Spiritual direction is an ancient ministry which has gained a resurgence during the last 30 years. It is a relationship in which one person assists another in listening and discerning God’s presence in their lives,” she said. “The spiritual director serves as a companion on a life’s journey, listening attentively and contemplatively to an individual.”
A few hours later, while reflecting on our conversation, I heard in my heart the words, “You need to do this.” It was such an unusual experience to “hear” words from nowhere that I assumed this was from God. And I responded, “Yes, Lord.”
The next time I saw Lisa I asked her how I might find a spiritual director.
“I am delighted you’re interested!” she said. “Talk with Sr. Thomas at the diocese office. Here’s her phone number.” She retrieved a small address book from her purse, flipped through it and read the numbers to me.
I called Sr. Thomas and met with her in the diocese office. She was older, past retirement age, in nun’s habit. She carefully looked through several pages of names and occasionally paused, looked up, placed her forefinger tip on her chin, and said, “Maybe this person,” and jotted on a pad of paper near her on the desk. After about 15 minutes of this, she gave me three names with phone numbers of potential spiritual directors.
I met with each woman listed on the paper and after prayer and pondering, I began meeting with a Catholic laywoman with whom I met for nearly two years until I moved out of state.
Now I meet with J., a retired Episcopal priest, my seventh spiritual director in the 23 years since that conversation with Lisa and meeting with Sr. Thomas.
J. and I meet in her office located in a separate building behind her garage. We sit in chairs facing one another, near the windows looking out onto a meadow, and together we wait in silence, in prayer.
“I don’t know what to talk about today,” I say.
J. nods and waits.
“I’ve been working on some writing projects ….” My voice trails off.
She attentively waits.
“And I’m writing some stuff for my blog but I think I have offended some people.”
J. raises her eyebrows and asks, “Really?”
And in this moment I see that I have no idea if someone was offended. God reveals to me that I am very fearful of rejection and criticism—I am afraid of offending someone who will in turn reject me. And I see my fear as something God wants to heal and transform in me. I have slowed down enough to pay attention to the deeper movement of God in my life.
“I’m afraid and I feel very bound up by fear,” I say.
“Well, how do you pray about your fear?” she asks.
“I often pray, ‘Perfect love casts out all fear,’” I say. “But I don’t know if I believe this is true because I feel so afraid.”
“Do you want to talk to Jesus about your fear right now?” J. asks.
I nod yes and she leads me in a guided meditation where I offer my fear to Jesus but also ask him to help my unbelief. I use a lot of tissues during this prayer time.
We conclude the guided prayer and I feel some relief, some resolution, but I know managing my fear is a lifetime struggle for me.
J. says to me, “The opposite of fear is freedom that comes from faith. I suggest a breath prayer like, ‘Set me free Lord, set me free.’ I think if you focus on this prayer for the next several months you will begin to experience some inner freedom.”
It is her work as a spiritual director to help another feel welcomed and accepted “without judgment or distortion, subtraction or addition,” writes Richard Rohr in his book, Falling Upward. “Such perfect receiving is what transforms us. Being totally received as we truly are is what we wait and long for all of our lives.” A spiritual director sees us with God’s eyes and hears us with God’s ears and then enables us to see and hear ourselves as God does. In many ways, the spiritual director is a monk in the world (or, an actual monk!) who nurtures others into monkish ways in their own lives.
I agree with her and tell her I will begin using the prayer this very day. She doesn’t often suggest a specific prayer or assign “homework” but because I trust her—her wisdom, experience, and faith–I do as she suggests. We sit in a comfortable silence until I say, “Thank you—even though I didn’t have anything to talk about today, God certainly had a plan!”
We laugh together then she closes our time with prayer. My spiritual companion shares her time, presence, and wisdom and through our sessions together I have a greater awareness of God’s healing, transforming movement in my life. We set our next meeting, I pay her, hug her, and leave the room knowing that I have encountered God during this time of spiritual companionship. As I climb into my car I am able to continue the call of being a monk in the world.