I’ve heard it said that patients in psychotherapy occasionally wonder “what would my therapist say” as they consider their response to a behavior, thought, or relationship. That’s not been my experience in spiritual direction. And of course, Spiritual Direction is not therapy. I have a wonderful director who listens to me from across a screen, and provides prompts and questions that richly aid my longing to experience connection with God.
But it’s not her voice I hear when I’m curious about something. She’s gently helped me to hear what God’s voice sounds like and pointed me toward it in the [seemingly] simple, yet profound way that she’s held space for me to listen to the still small voice of the One who calls me “Beloved.” As Marie Loewen says, “We incarnate the reality that in the dark and despair of our guest’s personal Gethsemane, someone stays awake with her, and in the cold, predawn hours, God is with her. When she cannot hear God’s voice of comfort, we who have learned its cadences well will hear it for her.”
It’s evident in the stories Loewen shares in this article that she is deeply familiar with the cadences of God’s voice. During a chance encounter with a grief-stricken widow, she provides solace. The man was upfront about his agnostic beliefs, and not interested in spiritual help or church community. Marie however received him with an openness to his pain, and he began to experience an invitation for peace found only in God.
Loewen quotes Frederick Buechner from his homily, “The Stewardship of Pain,” “The most tempting is to forget it, to hide it, to cover it over, to pretend it never happened, because it is too hard to deal with. It’s too unsettling to remember.” There are ways to bury our pain, and Buechner warns if we do that, we will find we have buried our life right alongside it. “When it is properly stewarded,” says Loewen, pain stretches our souls, expanding them beyond the limits we ever thought possible.” Before we can offer a place of healing or openness to others, we must first clear away the “clutter” in our soul. Bringing our own brokenness and wounding to the Great Healer takes courage, and facing the pain may feel daunting. We were never intended to do this life alone, much less the difficult business of dealing with our pain. We need people with us along the journey. “These may take the form of helpful friendships, or skilled caregivers, such as a spiritual director, a pastor, or a counselor. Inevitably, there will be much prayer and reflection involved in the process, and the Scriptures will be a precious guide.”
Loewen’s description of the memory of pain as a “precious ointment in an alabaster jar” is poignant. I‘ll be using her metaphor often as I sit with clients in therapy. What a unique privilege it is to bear witness as others courageously share their story. “Hospitality of soul is incarnational. It is a willingness to share a safe place where others may come to rest and explore and heal as we embody the reality of God for them.” This “ministry of presence” she says, isn’t just for some.
The helpers, directors, the counselors, the pastors, the church members and leaders—everyone can benefit from someone coming alongside.
Our own spiritual well runs dry from time to time. We, too, need a place along the way. A spiritual friend or director is not a luxury for those who offer hospitality of soul, but a necessity for them and for the good of their guests.
We’ve seen what happens when people don’t prioritize their health (spiritual, physical, psychological)—churches and organizations suffer when leaders neglect the care of their own souls. As we’ve learned in this issue, spiritual direction isn’t just for those who lead others. And providing “hospitality of soul” isn’t just the job of the spiritual director. “In the midst of the unending ordinariness of our days, we may find ourselves offering a place along the way—and finding such a place for ourselves as well.”
02. Questions/ Exercises for reflection
- Recall a time someone provided a place along the way for you? How did their hospitality of soul shape you? In what ways has that experience influenced the way you encounter God?
- Reflect on the notion of stewarding our pain. Loewen references Frederick Buechner’s sermon and quotes him in this article. Jot down some thoughts on this topic. In what ways do you relate to the temptation to hide/forget/bury pain?
- Read the passage where Marie describes the memory of pain as a precious ointment in an alabaster jar (under the header, “Making Space”). Sit with that metaphor for a few moments. Spend some time in prayer thanking God that he chose to embody love and suffer with his creatures rather than be separated from them.
- Lectio Divina—Read Psalm 119:2540. Read it once more and notice the phrases that indicate an active/participatory relationship between the singer and God. Meditate on one or two lines that stand out to you. How is the spirit inviting you to respond?