This summer I spent five amazing days at Jesuit Retreat House in Cleveland, Ohio. It was one of the best retreats I have ever been on in my long history of retreat experiences. My time at Jrh directly led to my starting this blog.
I went on this specific retreat as an act of obedience. I am in a Graduate School Program at Saint Meinrad School of Theology . As part of our spiritual formation we are compelled to take a retreat every year. As I was discerning which retreat I should take, I got the strong sense that I should take a Jesuit retreat, and further a silent, individual directed retreat. Those of you, who know me well, know that it must have been an act of supreme obedience for me to go anywhere to be silent for more than one hour. Silence for five days took a huge leap of faith on my part.
The grounds of Jrh are just amazing. 59 acres of the most beautiful woods and meadows, complete with deer and foxes and other forms of wildlife. The grounds are set up with a series of pathways for one to explore. Some paved, others trails through the woods.
I found that when I stayed on the paved pathways, and on the trails that were clearly marked I was fine, but when I ventured onto the more obscure pathways (even the ones on the map) I found myself lost more than once. Lucky for me, the entire grounds were surrounded by chain link fence. Whenever I reached fence I knew that I had strayed from the path and began to work my way back toward the center where the retreat house was located.
The point to my explaining all of this is that I am a person who needs good directions to find my way. When I hike I need a very detailed map and a compass or confident guide in order to feel secure that I won’t get lost. This analogy is true of my spiritual life as well.
In my spiritual life I have found that I can get really lost when left to my own navigational ineptitude. I have found that even with a pretty good map I can still lose my way. That is why for the last 8 years I have been receiving Spiritual Direction.
Spiritual Direction is a process by which a person seeks the help of someone else in their spiritual life. I meet once a month with my current director. These meetings aren’t pep rally sessions, or psychoanalysis. What they are is a chance for me to have an objective viewpoint on my struggles and successes.
My Director keeps me honest about where I am in my spiritual journey, she affirms my right choices and helps me to see where I am not living up to my potential as a child of God. She also challenges me to step out of my comfort zone and take risks when it means that I will be doing God’s will.
In the last ten years I have had three wonderful guides on my spiritual life. The first was a gentleman I had the privilege of being in a small faith community with. He and I never had an official director/directed relationship, but he did so much to help me to see where I was headed and what I needed to do in my life to change direction and move toward God that I count him as my first director.
My second director was a priest in a neighboring parish. I met with him every six to eight weeks and he really helped me to begin to grow in faith. He challenged me to read books I never would have picked up, and he helped me to define my prayer life and explore forms of prayer that I never would have tried without his guidance. Unfortunately, circumstances in both our lives made it very difficult for me to continue to see him on a regular basis, so our time together ended.
My current director is a woman who is a member of the parish where I work. About six months after I had stopped going to Father for direction, I was beginning to see that I really had come to depend on the objectivity of a Spiritual director, and needed that objectivity in my struggles in my job in the parish. I told God in prayer that I really needed direction again, and he would have to lead me to the right director. Through a series of discernments on both our parts, I was led to ask, and she was called to agree, and we have been together for going on two years now.
If the Catechism is my map, then my Spiritual Director is my compass. She keeps me pointed in the desired direction, and she helps me to see the clearly marked path ahead of me. When the path isn’t so clearly marked, she helps me to carefully pick my way through the underbrush until I can get my bearings again. I still stumble, and I still get lost, but I am never alone or lost for long because she is there to help me.
I don’t even want to know what my life would be like without Spiritual Direction. I can’t imagine ever going without it again. It is a powerful tool in ones spiritual life and I highly recommend that you all go out and find a spiritual director if you don’t already have one. Unless you like being lost in the spiritual wilderness, I guess.