I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Janeen R. Adil's reflection on spiritual direction.
When I received approval from my denomination to work towards authorized ministry, a new and exciting journey began to unfold. Pastors on the committee overseeing the process laid out educational and other requirements; one urged that I find a spiritual director for myself.
"I certainly will!" I told him enthusiastically. And then added, "Umm… What's a spiritual director?"
It was an innocent question. Although I had always been part of one or another mainline Protestant denomination, I'd never heard the term. In fact, it soon became evident that there were a great many things I'd never heard of, most notably a wide variety of spiritual practices and disciplines (and even those terms were new to me!). And the more I learned, the hungrier I got. My own faith traditions simply had not done a good job of holding onto the deep and rich heritage of Christian spirituality.
I discovered then that spiritual direction (companioning) is a holy and ancient part of our faith practices. And soon a next-step opportunity opened, literally in front of me. During a retreat and over lunch, I struck up a conversation with the woman seated across the table. Kathie "happened" to be not only ordained in my denomination but a spiritual director – and she was eager for new directees! It was, as the saying goes, a match made in heaven.
Kathie and I met monthly, and eventually it dawned on me: I myself was being called to this ministry, a call that Kathie would affirm. And so when the time was right (God's time, or kairos), I entered a two-year, intensive, and wonderful program to train as a spiritual director. Our instructors represented distinct denominational backgrounds, as did the students themselves. The overarching stance though was contemplative – with an Ignatian emphasis!
By the time our class officially ended, it was abundantly clear to me: this spiritual direction training would inform the rest of my life. And so it has.
Because of my learning and experiences (both very much ongoing), I can hold a contemplative stance within the world, desiring to be continually present with and to Spirit. Naturally this is true when I am with my directees: together we explore where it is within their lives that God is beckoning. Good, contemplative presence is essential in direction, so that the director may be best employed as a conduit for Spirit's work.
Of course, actively engaging in spiritual direction ministry accounts for only some of my time. Living as a contemplative monk in everyday life means carrying this presence with me, into the world for the sake of the world. What does this look like? A few examples:
* I am an introvert, at times deeply so. I now however find myself empowered to be so much more present with people, including "strangers." Whether this leads to some pleasant small talk or to a more intense conversation, I know something of the power of human connection. We so often move through our days as invisible people; to simply acknowledge someone's existence, then, has the potential to become a mighty gesture.
* I find myself more able to release judgments and to less often see someone as "other." When meeting with a directee, my contemplative stance is to hold myself open, to hold my heart and mind in freedom. This, I feel, is the work of compassion and mercy. It's where I'm called to stand with any person and yes, it's ongoing work! This stance of presence is a choice I must make daily.
* My Ignatian-flavored direction training included teaching on how we continually move towards the Holy and away, back and forth, each and every day. I've found it incredibly helpful to understand these movements, both with my directees and in my own life. When I become aware of thoughts and actions that lead to a sense of dis-ease, these negative feelings alert me that I'm moving away from God. In the same way, moving towards God is characterized by spiritual fruit: I'm conscious of love, joy, peace, and other gifts of Spirit flowing through and in me.
* My sense of wonder, mystery/Mystery, and awe is heightened by the profound privilege of accompanying a fellow spiritual seeker. I often think of Jacob's dream as recorded in Genesis – only I spin the words a bit differently: “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I do know it!” In spiritual direction, we're on holy ground together.
Because each of us represents God's unique and beloved creation, what it means to be present contemplatively takes shape in a variety of forms and paths. In other words, many ways exist for living this life. For me, ministering as a spiritual director is a gift received, and it's how I delight in being a contemplative monk in the world!
Janeen R. Adil is a spiritual director, writer, and teacher; within the United Church of Christ, she is a Minister of Christian Spirituality. Through her freelance business Hungry Soul Ministries, she offers workshops, retreats, and direction. She lives in eastern PA, in a farmhouse built by English/Welsh Quakers over 200 years ago.