In a world broken by political divides, by cultural and racial tensions and by violence, it can be overwhelming just to engage with someone who holds opinions different than our own. We wrestle with daily interactions. We may find ourselves befuddled by those we struggle to relate to. Relationships and conversations can confound us.
On a long drive recently, I listened to a radio show about how to persuade others about political issues. The hosts were certain of their own political views so one underlying premise was that the opposing point of view was incomplete or in error. The hour was full of good suggestions for letting the other person speak and ways to explain your own views without being threatening. The hosts were even practical enough to suggest that the other person might not listen or be persuadable. But the question that went through my mind throughout the hour was why. Why should we persuade others to agree with us? Do we always need to win arguments or be right? Is it so bad to have differing opinions? I don’t think so. The world would boring if we all agreed on everything.
I am a ballroom dancer. The conversation between partners, the lead and the follow, is one of wordless articulation. The lead initiates the story: go here, turn there, spin right then pause … and go. The follow listens intently with the entire body for nuances of inward expression to match the lead’s steps.
Spiritual direction follows a similar pattern. The dance of dialogue through storytelling and holy listening is breathtaking to behold.
Many years ago when I was training to be a spiritual director, the kindly Sister who led the program made it very clear to us that spiritual guidance over the telephone was not acceptable. More specifically, that good spiritual guidance could not happen unless two people were face-to-face and the “third chair” was physically present in the room.
Today, I know better and do offer spiritual guidance via Skype or over the telephone. I have found it to be a very useful modality benefitting some seekers, in some situations, but not all. Without a doubt, it can have a providential outcome as I have experienced with seekers outside the U.S. (my home), homebound seekers, and those whose lives present varied and difficult circumstances in terms of travel, child-care needs, or work schedules. Grace can move through the ethers across telephone lines and satellite networks. Who are we to say it can’t?
As news of soul-staggering violence against others spins around the globe, we, too, may feel ourselves spinning; dizzy from reading angry rhetoric; lost in the maelstrom trying to figure out what we can and should do to quell the calm.
As a spiritual guide—and I’m certain you have experienced this also—others expect that you willhold steady in difficult times such as these. They look to us to be the calm in the storm, the safe place to express their grief, worry and anger. As spiritual confidants, they know we certainly must feel strongly about what is happening in the world, but we know how to hold our tangled thoughts and emotions prayerfully.
Do we? Are you? These questions tug at me lately (and have since November 2016 with the U.S. election). I not only observe, but sit, with other guides, pastors, priests and care-giving professionals who struggle doing so.
It serves us well to remember that while the sun greets each day and the moon bids it farewell, each day is not the same. Though the hours in a day remain the same, each day offers countless possibilities and opportunities. In order to pursue or partake of them, though, often requires one to make a change.While we do need some things to be consistent and to have some structure, it is often good to re-evaluate our routines. Are there ways in which I have become closed off to that which is new or different? Is there room for change?
My first experience with Spiritual Direction took me by surprise. I was going through grief and in the midst of transition. During this time, I was invited by a not-so-close friend to meet weekly for conversation and prayer. I accepted her invitation and discovered that although she wasn’t an accredited spiritual director, she was a naturally gifted one. She provided for me what I then came to expect from Spiritual Direction: a focused listening ear.
Editor's note: The executive director of Spirtual Directors International, Anil Singh-Molares, wrote a version of this piece for the SDI newsletter "Listen" earlier this year. The response from our membership was so positive and strong we wanted to share it here in hopes of widening the discussion and hearing more from the community. Please let us know what your answer is below in the comments. (And for context on the above quote -- check out the cool 4-minute video with Rev. Vaccariello.
What is a spiritual director?
One question, many answers.
The term “spiritual director” has many associations and a long history in the Abrahamic faiths traditions, where it has been closely associated with certain strands of Judaism, with spiritual directors referred to as “Hashpa'ah” or “Mashpai’h,” (depending on the strand); Christian and, much later, in particular Ignatian spirituality; and in the Islamic Sufi path, where the spiritual director is known as a “Murshid.” But even within these traditions there is great (and increasing) variability in how the terms are used, defined, and contextualized. The common approach that they share is that in all of them, the spiritual director looks to engage with seekers in an open and non-judgmental way, steeped in contemplative practice and deep listening, to provide guidance and enable seekers to get closer to God.