Sunday, March 28, 2010

In Ministry : Attention, Reverence, and Devotion

Over at his blog A Jesuit's Journey, Ryan Duns has been posting a series on helping and encouraging young men and women in the Catholic church who are discerning possible calls to life in religious community. A few days ago he posted this approach, something I have heard many times from the man he quotes, who accompanied me through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and has continued to support and encourage me through my seminary education and through this horrific past year-and-a-half:

"Be Attentive
: Learn to recognize the movement of God's Spirit in the lives of others. As you become sensitive to discerning God's desires for you in your own life, you will develop your abilities to be sensitive to God's activity in the lives of others.

Be Reverent
. When you encounter the "holy desire" of an early vocation, show reverence for God's presence. Treat this person as one who is graced by God's Spirit: this person is holy ground! Show the respect and reverence that is due any person who discerns honestly and sincerely to know just what it is that God wants for him.

Be Devoted.
Offer your entire self to this process. Pray for the person. Answer questions. Listen. Devote yourself to clarifying what it is that stirs in the depths of the person's heart and helping him or her offer himself or herself wholly to God's invitation to friendship. You cannot, of course, do this for someone else."

I've changed the language a bit so that it encompasses both men and women ~ the original post was written with potential Jesuits in mind and they are, of course, all men. But the underlying values and approach ~ attention, reverence, and devotion ~ apply to how we might seek to be present in our encounters with anyone and, in particular, someone who is sorting through matters related to a major and life-altering decision, in whatever arena of life it presents itself.

In my spiritual direction certificate program, we have often talked about how much our own practice reflects that of those who have accompanied us ~ and about how it seeps into our other involvements as well. I remember noticing that my relationships with my students were going extremely well during my last year of teaching (right before I began seminary) and realizing that I was, in fact, approaching them, more or less unconsciously, with far more attention, reverence, and devotion than I ever had before.

It was a tremendous gift in my life that, just when I needed all of that from someone, the right person showed up to offer it in abundance, and over many months of listening, transferred to me a small sense of awareness of how to proceed.

I can hardly claim to have it down ~ which I'm sure my family and friends would be only too happy to confirm. But I do I hope that I am able to provide a little of the same thing. The only possible way to show one's gratitude for such a gift of accompaniment is to offer the same to others when they happen along.


  1. Although they are not the same paths, my work as a Sponsor in Al-Anon Family Groups has a similar arc of making space for the Divine.

    As a person (for me, a woman as we try to work one-on-one with like genders) begins to realize that all their "problems" do not lie in the sole realm of another person's choices they become quite vulnerable ... and also they begin to hear something stir. I think of it as God's whispered invitation.

    If I can pay attention (be attentive) then, very often, they can learn to do so as well.

    If I can be reverent of the process - the difficult, arduous, thrilling, painful and inexplicable process - then they can begin to see a way to as well. And rather than be overwhelmed with the idea of blame and hurt and work, they can begin to see some wisdom in a single day at a time.

    And, if I can be devoted I am always blessed by the sure knowledge that my God is with me ... and this other soul may be finding out the same thing.

    Thank you for putting it into such beautiful words!

  2. Guess I'd better put some quotation marks in to clarify which words are not mine!

  3. Wow. What an incredible blessing.

  4. This sounds like such a helpful process. And I appreciate that you broadened it to include dealing with people going through any major life decision.

  5. I still think your words are beautiful :)