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Monday, September 17, 2007

A Spiritual Compass

Every explorer on his or her journey needs to check the settings, the sense of direction. One can find oneself in new or strange territory. There is something unsettling. It can be difficult to feel centred and stabilised. For the Christian, this can be resolved and should be resolved by prayer, studying the Word of God, embedding oneself in a community of faith, listening to what the Holy Spirit might be trying to speak into one's life.

But there is an additional aid that Christians through the centuries have found helpful. It is the Spiritual Director. This article is a simple outline in answer to the question: Should you have a Spiritual Director?

Then there is the Companion in The Way - a fellow Christian who is not in the same relationship to oneself as a Spiritual Director; someone who is an equal, a fellow traveller, a confidante, an encourager.

My own experience - with one exception - has been that my spiritual direction has come from books, my own reading pursuits, and from God-given Companions in the Way.

The spiritual direction which has impacted my life in radical, transforming ways has had its origins predominantly in Catholic and Quaker writings.

Catholic writers:
The Cloud of Unknowing (Author unknown); William Johnston; Thomas Merton, Dom Cuthbert Butler, Walter Hilton, Julian of Norwich; Carlo Carretto

Quaker writers:
George Fox, Howard H Brinton, Hannah Whitall Smith, Rufus Jones, Thomas Kelly, William Barclay

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (Anthony Bloom)

This does not mean that other writings have not been influential in my life. I am an avid reader and read widely on spiritual matters. The writers I have mentioned are ones who have affected my spiritual thought and practice so thoroughly, so radically that their influence is with me on a daily or weekly basis.

My Companions on the Way have had the same seminal effect:
Father Albert OFM, Cap; Aunty Alice with her bible and picnic basket; David, the Toowoomba Bible Teacher; Joan, a true sister in Christ; Richard, the radical Catholic priest - now former Catholic priest; Jim, from the Full Gospel Businessmen's Association and great lover of God; Pat, the Jesuit; Des, who taught me about citizenship in heaven - to name but a few.

And then there is the person who was my Spiritual Director for approximately two years. He came into my life in a Spirit-led way in early 1996. He is a man of international stature in his field, very well-known in his home town of Melbourne. He is a writer, a speaker, a counsellor, and long before anyone heard of blogs, he began his huge and popular website which is still forging on to-day. His influence on me was great. This was a stimulating and creative period in my life which, I feel, brought about a renewal, a new conversion. A country girl from Northern Australia had a whole new window on life opened to her.

Now, there is a possibility of another Spiritual Director in the offing. I was at an informal gathering of women in ministry last Thursday. This woman came late and sat down beside me. She is an elderly woman - even much older than I. She spoke about herself just a little and I felt in my spirit that this woman was to be my Spiritual Director. In spite of this, I might have left this intuition remain unspoken but at the end of the lunch we were conversing and she told me more about herself. Included in her verbal resume were the words "spiritual direction". So I spoke up. She was taken aback but open to the idea. The outcome, in short, is that we will meet for coffee to see if we "click" - an all important point in selecting a Spiritual Director/ee - and go from there. I believe that we will click. I will be surprised if we don't.

And why do I think I need a Spiritual Director?

I feel isolated in my community of faith. This says as much about me as it does about the dynamic of my faith community. People are always a bit stunned by the things I've done in my life and the places that I have lived. For those who have always lived a suburban life-style in a major city, my life does seem different and unusual. It has been lived at the coal face of much of the human condition. This tends to give one a very different set of priorities from those prevailing in white middle suburbia - and, in my circumstances, it is isolating.

My health is a destabilising influence in my life. I don't have what I would consider "big ticket" items - but I have a few chronic illnesses which are sufficient for my GP to make up a care plan. I go well for a month or two and then come crashing down and I'm out of action for a while. Then, I crawl out of my hole, try to make up for all that lost time, and get myself back into a routine of normalcy once again.

This, I'm sure, is all tied in with the ageing process which I liken to adolescence. Full of ups and downs and all over the place while you are on your way to somewhere but you don't know what the outcome will look like.

So what do I hope for in this possible Spiritual Director?

I want a Companion in The Way; a sounding board; someone to help me towards a more centred and stabilised life; someone to help me to keep my compass pointing True North; someone to nurture and nourish growth in my spiritual life and to help me get rid of that nice crop of weeds I have tucked away on the back block.

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