Spiritual Direction as prophetic calling
(This is a blog post I wrote for the London Centre for Spiritual Direction in May 2021, in their newsletter for the spiritual direction community)
Wow, what a year! How are you doing? In particular, how are you doing as spiritual directors? How has this last year nourished (or not) your God experience and ministry, in ways challenging, gifted, questioning, theologically reflective, prayerful?
As for me, it’s been something of a long retreat: I have not suffered as many have, keeping my health and work, and a partner at home to keep loneliness at bay. Early on I heard a loving imperative in my good fortune: to dig deep into both God and myself, to open more to ‘God in me and me in God’, so that I might offer support to my clients and directees as needed, but also as preparation for whatever future challenges might arrive – as they are bound to do. As Ignatius advises: “When one enjoys consolation, let her consider how she will conduct herself during the time of ensuing desolation, and store up a supply of strength as defence against that day”(para 323). Or in more contemporary terms, “the s**t is bound to hit at some point, so use this time wisely!”
What might that look like? Here are some suggestions:
- bring kindness and compassion to yourself if you are struggling.
- at the same time, build resilience by keeping a reflective (Examen) eye on how and where you find nourishment, rest and enlivenment (for me, reading, studying, prayer in varied forms, playing, connecting with nature, and creativity).
- trust the incarnational, intimate message of Immanuel, God WITH us, suffering with us, suffering AS us.
- proclaim the goodness, presence and ongoing invitation of God even – especially – when times are tough, and practise it in our own lives.
Let me say up front: I’m not very good at all this! It’s tough stuff. But it is the prophetic nature at the heart of spiritual direction. Everywhere else (including the church) is attempting ‘business as usual, diverted to Zoomworld’, desperate for a ‘return to normal’. The dominant culture’s overconsumption and addiction to busyness and constant entertainment (present as much in the church as elsewhere) were not only contributory causes of the pandemic and its spread, but also flimsy cultural pillars, leaving us floundering when they collapsed. There is a need for the ‘voice crying in the wilderness’ that calls us to repentance (metanoia, or perhaps Joanna Macy’s Great Turning)
I’m not about to start wandering the streets wearing camel skin, living off locusts and wild honey (although with widespread predictions of impending climate and civilisation collapse, it might come to that!), but I increasingly understand our role as spiritual directors to carry a prophetic and countercultural responsibility to live in, and keep calling people into, The Bigger Picture. That is, the God who is deeply with us (as us!) in our struggles, who constantly invites us into more radical trust in and surrender to that Bigger Picture (Ignatius’ P&F describes this beautifully). Spiritual direction is not only about an individual’s encounter with God, as important as that is, nor is it best located at the comfortable centre of things. It better finds home on the edges, calling us and our directees into ‘love-mischief’ with the bigger, communal, cosmic enterprise that is God.
A postscript. Much of my reflection has grown from the ‘soil’ of these books: Walter Brueggemann’s ‘Sabbath as Resistance’ and ‘Plague as a Call to Faith’; and Cynthia Bourgeault’s ‘Eye of the Heart’. I recommend them to you.
I welcome your thoughts and responses to this post. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Annette Kaye is a spiritual director, supervisor, transpersonal therapist, and associate member of staff on the Ignatian Spiritual Direction course. She also plays with clay, paint and weaving, reads avidly, and enjoys Netflix!