Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spiritual Direction: Musings

Three years ago, a group of would-be spiritual directors sat outside late into the evening of our end-of summer retreat.  We had completed our first year of mostly academic preparation and were about to commence our intern year; we were happy to have survived our introduction to Karl Rahner and apprehensive about the real life "directees" who would soon walk into our lives.

Here's what I wrote that August 24:

We sat around in Adirondack chairs on the patio of the retreat house late last night. Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist. A little wine and a LOT of laughter. One of the first year students had been heard to say that she had not imagined a retreat like this one. Well, no; the silent retreats are NOT like this one. This one was for learning about each other and worshiping together and exploring the spirituality that has brought us together to form an unlikely but passionately engaged group.

The first year of our Ignatian spirituality program is largely academic: classes every other week, all day workshops scattered through the year, SEVENTEEN papers on the theology, practice, and challenges of spiritual direction. Those of us laughing so freely on the patio have weathered that year, and not without rather vigorous debate. We have affectionately nicknamed ourelves The Fractile Fifteen. I haven't read The Shack, but I'm told that if you have, you'll get it.

Now we begin our practicum year, sharing the journey of attentiveness to God with our own directees. Classes are down to once a month, but we still have papers, as well as verbatims (shades of CPE), meetings with directees, meetings with supervisors, meetings with our own directors. Plus whatever else it is we do in life -- work, school, ministries, caring for kids and spouses, caring for elderly parents.

It's a good thing that we're all well versed in humor.

That late August, my life was full and I was EXCITED.  I had just finished my summer unit of CPE and was about to return to seminary for my second year. 

And then, ten days later, eights days after I wrote the above, our Josh died.  Of suicide.


Last Saturday night, a smaller group of the same people sat together outside the retreat house.  Six of us have been meeting more or less monthly for the past couple of years, and we decided to get together out there this past week-end, so that we could party afterward  with the current classes in the program.

It was another beautiful late summer evening, clear and just warm enough to be outdoors until dark.  Our conversation this time was a serious one; the challenges we face as somewhat experienced spiritual directors differ substantially from those we imagined as jittery newbies.  

As we talked, I thought about that evening on which we had all laughed so much three years earlier.  I thought about how, a few months later, people, including most emphatically people connected to that program, urged me to pick up the shattered pieces of my life.  I thought about the first person I saw in spiritual direction, around Thanksgiving, to whom I listened as carefully as I could before going home to crawl into bed to cry myself back to sleep.  

I thought about each of us in the little group of six.  Five of us have encountered in the past three years the kinds of life challenges that threaten to flatten one as surely as a steamroller would.  

I thought about how astonishing it is that we should have all been brought together as strangers, persisted in our program and friendships, and were gathered once again as friends on a late summer evening.


I would, of course, trade absolutely all of the good that has come into my own life (excluding my surviving children); I would trade my life itself without a blink ~ to recover Josh's.

But, all of that being impossible, I am extremely grateful for the many good things and gifted people who have been my friends and companions in this journey.  And that little group of people, women and men, Protestant and Catholic, impassioned about spiritual direction and able to at least look for God in all things, is among the best.


  1. People so want meaning from terrible things, want to be able to say they are glad they went through them. Hmmm like you I would trade it all in an instant, including my own life to give my daughter and my nephew life.

    But even in the depth of the sheer unadulterated awfulness there have been friends and companions and those who were just there.

    Deo gratias.

  2. I remember those first sessions when I was director...wandering if I could really do it. Our class worked well together but as far as having a group which has continued to in contact/presence etc...did not happen. The class before mine and the class after...did establish that closeness. There are times I wish for that!

  3. So glad for the direction, companionship, and support that you continue to receive from this group of friends. And holding you close in the coming days as you traverse them one moment and day at a time.