Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"Finding Direction in Spiritual Direction"

My wife and I attended a free Public Lecture on Monday (July 16th, 2007) at Regent College. It was given by Dr Susan Phillips on spiritual direction.

Phillips begins by stating her wariness of calling oneself a 'spiritual director' for God is the ultimate spiritual director. In her work, she experiences firsthand that people find it easier to talk about their sexual lives, working lives etc than their spiritual lives. Her work then is to help people to find their spiritual bearings in order to determine how to walk their spiritual journey. Metaphors and images are widely used in spiritual direction. Quoting Eugene Peterson's Tell it Slant, truth is to be told in a way that registers with the audience, not simply a literal statement. Some other ways in which this can be done is via stories, symbols, analogies and metaphors. She uses Billy Collins's poem to help us have a glimpse of the power of poems to help us tell it slant. Following this line of thought, Phillips goes on to describe two common objects in spiritual direction: Candle and Staff. These two objects are the 'viewing lens' from which a spiritual director guides another person along in their spiritual journey.

The purpose of the candle is a reminder to all of God's presence with them. Christ is the light of the world, and the candle evokes memories of Christ, to help the persons to REmember, to RElax, to REmind, to REturn... It also brings warmth for the gospel is warmth-hearted. The candle is also a circle of light which brings in a complete circle of Christ's love, like a carona of starlight, God being the warmth of grace and presence. The spiritual director is 'directive', whose purpose is to help direct attention to God, his presence, his warmth and his circle of love.

Phillips brings in the metaphor of a Shepherd, whose guiding care and skillful hands clear away the grass to make clear the path for the sheep to go. It is not a big stick of power but of care. It is a practice of constancy, of individual attention, kindess and caring. She then quotes Buber's Believe that the world can be redeemed as a way to encourage a stance of faith. Other functions of a staff includes:

  1. Setting Pace: Different pace is possible within a spiritual direction session. The pacing can also be done by meeting regularly, whether one has an agenda or not. This regularity has the benefit of improving one's ability to notice any differences. It encourages one another to be accountable on a regular basis, to pull oneself out of privacy towards trusting another person to help. [I think this is especially helpful in a world where people seeks more time for themselves than any other, when what is most needed is confession of sins and weakenesses to one another]
  2. Protection
  3. Directive: Not what to do but the how and where.

In the question and answer time, one question relates to the pitfalls of Spiritual Direction. Phillips lists the following:
  • Dangers of inflation and deflation
  • Becoming too isolated, implying that all spiritual directors ought to have supervision and consultation themselves
  • The need to attend to one's own care

On the Calling to do Spiritual Direction:
  • Main feature of spiritual direction is to help discern one's calling
  • There is a danger of turning spiritual direction into an 'industry', a professional career, in which Phillips advises prospective spiritaul directors not to give up their full-time job!

Regarding fees, and charging for services:
  • There is an association called the Spiritual Directors International in which one can get some guidelines. It is not a governing body, but basically a resource and a multi-religious forum for spiritual direction.
  • Fees depend on the local market but is usually lower than typical psychotherapy sessions.
  • Depends on one's own training and experience

The session is helpful for me as I ponder and pray over my call towards spiritual direction.

Directions (by Billy Collins)
You know the brick path in back of the house,
the one you see from the kitchen window,
the one that bends around the far end of the garden
where all the yellow primroses are?
And you know how if you leave the path
and walk up into the woods you come
to a heap of rocks, probably pushed
down during the horrors of the Ice Age,
and a grove of tall hemlocks, dark green now
against the light-brown fallen leaves?
And farther on, you know
the small footbridge with the broken railing
and if you go beyond that you arrive
at the bottom of that sheep's head hill?
Well, if you start climbing, and you
might have to grab hold of a sapling
when the going gets steep,
you will eventually come to a long stone
ridge with a border of pine trees
which is as high as you can go
and a good enough place to stop.

The best time is late afternoon
when the sun strobes through
the columns of trees as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock
to sit on, you will be able to see
the light pouring down into the woods
and breaking into the shapes and tones
of things and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong or the leafy
falling of a cone or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day you might even
spot a hare or feel the wing-beats of geese
driving overhead toward some destination.

But it is hard to speak of these things
how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories
how the earth holds us painfully against
its breast made of humus and brambles
how we who will soon be gone regard
the entities that continue to return
greener than ever, spring water flowing
through a meadow and the shadows of clouds
passing over the hills and the ground
where we stand in the tremble of thought
taking the vast outside into ourselves.

Still, let me know before you set out.
Come knock on my door
and I will walk with you as far as the garden
with one hand on your shoulder.
I will even watch after you and not turn back
to the house until you disappear
into the crowd of maple and ash,
heading up toward the hill,
piercing the ground with your stick

No comments:

Latest Posts