A word from Eileen:
Spiritual direction can hold both the profoundly sacred moments of another’s life as well as the wild rides. It is vulnerability, mortality, joy, awe and then some! I am grateful for the privilege of accompanying others in that journey.
It is holy work; it is hard work. But not something I set out to do with my life. For twenty years, I was a general building contractor, until the pastoral ministry called. After earning a Master of Divinity, I was ordained a Presbyterian minister, and for 15 years served a rural Oregon congregation. Along the way, with encouragement and lobbying from my own spiritual director, I consented to train as a spiritual director. I thought it would make me a better pastor.
One humbling memory about my training was being reminded by my fellow-trainees how I asserted every class period, “I’m only doing this so I can be a better pastor.” Like a one-trick pony! I think I did become a better pastor, but from that memory I’ve learned that there is in fact a subtle-but-important difference between pastoral care and spiritual direction. In simplest terms, pastoral care helps the person receiving the care to reframe their situation, to see their life as God might see it. Spiritual direction, on the other hand, invites the directee to look inside, to experience God, to wonder.
I’ve noticed that often directees begin the direction relationship by saying to me, “I want to learn how to die.” It is never about having received a bad diagnosis. Sometimes it’s the “vicissitudes of aging” looming larger. Sometimes it’s simply the realization that more of life is behind them than before them. Almost always it’s a deep desire to know more about the Maker they believe they’re supposed to be getting ready to meet.
One directee was quite clear about his motivation for spiritual direction. When we began meeting (I’ll call him “Hank,” and I do have permission to tell this part of his story), Hank was an octogenarian. At our last meeting he was in his nineties. He died just days after our last meeting, and he was still asking the question he’d begun asking when we first met. But he was asking it in a different way. Hank began direction by wanting to know that God existed. As we met over the years, Hank wondered how to know what God wanted him to do. By our last meeting, he had discovered that his purpose in living was “learning to love.” Getting ready to die, preparing to meet his Maker, meant for him recognizing whom he had loved and how he had loved.
Because I have held both of these perspectives (the pastoral perspective and the spiritual direction perspective), I have come to see that each is a different kind of accompaniment. Pastoral care perspective is more about helping the person name and understand God's perspective, while spiritual direction is more about helping the person listen to themselves and understand how they experience God in that moment. It’s as if pastoring asks, “How do we know God?” and as if spiritual direction asks, “What is my experience of God?” The two most important questions we ask in spiritual direction are “Who am I?” and “Who are you, God?”
Lately I’ve been reading about the ever-accelerating rate of change in the world. Technological advances, cultural forces, shifting politics, economic pressures, ecological threats—the rate of change literally takes a computer to calculate. In the face of all of this, how do we even think about God anymore? Where do we get the language to wonder about God? I believe that it’s no longer a matter of finding the “right” answers to our problems. The “What’s the answer to my question?” bus left the station. Now, more than ever, I believe we need to learn to wonder, “What are the questions?”
At the Franciscan Spiritual Center, I’ve found a home where the questions we ask, and the intimacy we seek with our Maker, can be held and pondered in love and in community.
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