On sunny days, the Hudson River sparkles with light. I walk along the rocky shore, filled with an abiding sense of peace and harmony.
My eight-year-old daughter skips ahead, collecting beach glass. She returns to fill my jacket pockets with smooth pieces of various shapes and colors. These shards of glass have been tumbled and abraded by the brackish waters, transformed into lovely objects by the sand and salty tide.
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.
“What’s this?” I wondered as I pulled the mail from the box. Amidst the bills and junk was a bright white envelope with a return address that I didn’t recognize. Once in the house, I slit open the top and removed a note card. The cursive words looked childish, as if from a third-grader who had just learned to make those looping letters. Yet somehow, the wording of the message didn’t seem typical of an elementary school student. In halting sentences, the note praised my sermon from a few weeks prior, the one I had given on Mother’s Day. And the valediction said, “Your Good Friend and God’s, Dave.”
When I think of resiliency, I picture a toddler learning to walk. She pulls herself up, lets go, and immediately falls over. She does this again and again until she lets go of support and takes a step. Soon her steps increase and although she continues to tumble, she never fails to get up. You could say she is falling and bouncing back.
This image of physical resiliency is appropriate as the young child learns to walk and master other skills necessary for development. But if we carry this childhood image as we age, it can become a hindrance to our psychological and spiritual well-being.
In her book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, Karen Armstrong writes, “Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of the world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity, and respect.”
As spiritual directors, we know that compassion is fundamental to our spiritual practice. It literally means, “to suffer together.” It includes tuning into the other in a kind and loving manner, truly listening with the ears of our hearts. Compassionate listening brings healing and openness.