In the midst of a contentious American election season, a hurricane ravaged Haiti, an unprecedented civil war in Syria, and a global refugee crisis, what is the role of spiritual direction? How can a ministry and service devoted to contemplation relieve the suffering of so many all over the world?
Stuck in a waiting room recently, flipping through an outdated magazine, I landed on a follow up interview with the adult daughters of a popular reality TV family. These women's lives exploded in a very public way last year when their oldest brother's past sexual abuse of them and several other young girls hit the news. I grew up on the outskirts of the family's extremely conservative community, where large families and submissive women are lauded as key to God's plan for his children's lives. Such a public failure in a family who has been the face of a movement for years has sent shock waves through the community. Facades have crumbled as many begin to tell their own stories of abuse at the hands of conservative church or family members, and the systemic failure to address these abuses has become clear.
I have been blessed with many Jewish friends who have kindly invited me to the rituals associated with the Jewish High Holy Days, and educated me as to their profound significance.
Beginning with Rosh Hashanah (or Yom Teruah), a day when judgements are written into the Divine Book of that purpose, followed ten days later by Yom Kippur, a day when those judgements are “sealed,” this time is always one of intense reflection for me.
It seems rather easy, almost effortless, to receive and experience peace when in a tranquil setting. When surrounded by the beauty of nature, or standing on a mountain top looking down at passersby, it can be so much easier to let go and release the concerns that can bear down on us.
There is a hymn I find solace in titled, “Peace is Flowing Like a River.” While that is mostly true, there are times when it is not—times when someone or something becomes an obstacle or intrusion to our harmony … times when we allow external things to form a dam and block the flow.
A few years ago, when I was visiting Istanbul, Turkey, I stood in the middle of Hagias Sophia (Holy Wisdom or Divine Wisdom), the most important byzantine structure and one of the world’s greatest monuments. Built in the sixth century, it was a place of Christian worship for nearly a millennia and is a profound tribute to wisdom. Wisdom indeed is something to be honoured.
“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion” —Proverbs 8:12
The statistics on the value of rest are indisputable. According to the Center for the American Dream, if you work over eleven hours each day, you are two-and-a-half times more likely to develop depression, and have a sixty percent higher risk of heart-related illness. Overworked Americans have more health issues related to obesity, a weakened immune system, poor sleep quality, and joint pain.
There are two words I enjoy thinking about when it comes to spiritual companioning: “inspire” and “encourage.” One often leads to the other. Both deepen our experience of Presence.
Inspire comes from the Latin inspirare, meaning to breathe or blow into. For me, this implies opening ourselves to the Divine One via the breath—the sacred breath—so that we may receive the gifts of Spirit to do what we need to do in life. Hopefully, spiritual direction allows this to happen.
I went to Iona not knowing exactly why I wanted and needed to go. The mystique and sacredness of an ancient island, the peace, and beauty of a faraway place, and the warm and welcoming (written) words of the pilgrimage leaders were all compelling; but, the why of my “yes” was as elusive as, I was to discover, the island's corncrakes.