I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Liz Hill’s reflection titled Going On Faith.
Not long ago I ran into a woman who had taken my class on storytelling just before she left on an extended overseas trip.
“You were right,” she told me. “Faith is a good airline.”
I nodded and smiled, but I’m pretty sure she could tell I had no idea what she was referring to. The next day she refreshed my memory via email. She outlined the many remarkable, transformative things that had happened to her on her overseas journey. And she reminded me that before she left, when she had told me she was “going on faith,” I had responded by saying that faith was a pretty good airline, one that had carried many people to interesting places.
I hadn’t the slightest memory of this, though I was able to find the email where I had, indeed, written it. In my role as spiritual director and soul friend, this kind of thing happens often. Certainly I am old enough to blame an aging brain for my failure to remember who said what to whom, or when. But that is not the entire excuse, nor is it the truest. I’ve come to realize that much of what I say to my soul friends doesn’t originate in my brain; that although the words may come through my lips, their source is more mysterious.
Who do I consider soul friends? Not only my spiritual directees, but anyone who is willing to be open and to be opened, who is asking important questions of their life, and who is willing to cross the thresholds that lead to (a few) answers and (usually even more) questions. In conversations with these people there is always a third party present; God, spirit, universe, instinct, the name does not matter. Because of that presence in our conversations, I have learned that I don’t need to remember every word that’s spoken. In fact I have learned that when I am able to release my own hold on the words and ideas we share, that act of stepping out of the way helps my soul friend to begin their own work of freeing, releasing, and transforming.
This has not been an easy lesson for me. I am a planner by nature. I’m a list maker, a note taker. I relish the closure of checking the box on a to-do list. When I first began training in spiritual direction I brought to the practice my usual way of being, and took great care to prepare for my sessions in what I thought were practical ways. I reviewed the notes from my last session with the person, I prepared a list of questions, I brought readings or poems to the session.
All of these preparations were helpful in some ways, but they were also based on my expectations of what could or should happen. I quickly learned that no amount of planning will redirect God from His intended destination, or send a person where they weren’t meant to go. Sometimes my preparation was useful. But more often, a space would open in the conversation that had nothing to do with any of the plans, and if only I could leave it alone and resist the temptation to fill it with my own words, something new and unexpected would flow in.
The same lesson applies when I lead writing workshops. I always lay out my classes carefully. I plan what I will say. I practice saying it, even time it with a stopwatch to be sure what I’ve planned fills the allotted time without going over. Yet in every class I lead, there comes a moment when the plan is abandoned. A student has more knowledge of the topic than I do, and her sharing opens a new way for all the students, myself included. A student has a need so pressing that everyone knows, on instinct, that there is more to be learned by giving him our attention than listening to me prattle. Someone writes something so gorgeous and brilliant that time stops and there is nothing to do but be silent and breathe the words.
No amount of planning can engineer such moments. They can only be savored and accepted without credit to ego or mind. Sure, I want to believe my carefully crafted workshops brought these words to light. I want to believe that every time I meet with a soul friend, I know just what they need and my words of advice tumble forth like so many sparkling gems. But in truth, I generally stumble and bumble along, hoping to get something, anything, right. The moments where I am of most use to God, to myself, and to others are the ones where I can forget myself and simply become a channel, a conduit, a transceiver, rather than working so hard to find the perfect thing to say.
In other words, I have to go on faith.
Welcome aboard. Though the schedule is hard to predict, I’ve heard it’s a pretty good airline.”
Liz Hill is a writer and spiritual director who has led workshops in creative process, discovering authentic voice, and un-journaling. She is co-author (with Ruthie Rosauer) of Singing Meditation: Together in Song and Silence, and co-director of a literary arts non-profit in Youngstown, Ohio. See www.lizhill.net.