Archive for the ‘Spiritual Direction & Coaching’ Category

Something new for Christmas

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

One of my students recounted a story that, I’m told, is widely known in Roman Catholic circles.  So the story goes: A little girl was sitting with her mother in church and asked,

“Mommy, where is Jesus?”

Deeply formed by her faith, the little girl’s mother pointed to the Tabernacle where the reserve sacrament is kept.

The little girl was silent for a moment and then declared,

“When I grow up I’m going to buy him a bigger box.”

This Christmas, consider getting something that cost you nothing, but may make all the difference.

Get a bigger box for Jesus.

Just what that might mean in your own life, I can’t tell you.

But you knew instantly —

Gurus and Gods: On Spiritual Direction

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

My students often bring things to my attention that stick.  It’s one of the gifts of reading their papers.   One of the students in our spiritual direction program noted that some clergy are suspicious of spiritual direction.  She quotes one pastor who observes,

“I fear that the gift of so-called spiritual director is just another guru-gimmick which sources spirituality in religious opinions, teachings, and practices that are utterly foreign to Holy Scripture, and such a source of spirituality will not promote the unity of faith amongst believers, as does the legitimate gift of pastor-teacher, but a diversity of beliefs revealing that all the spiritual directors and listeners are being ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.’”

My student cited the author of this observation and I confess that I don’t know him.  So, I have no way of knowing what his real motives or fears about spiritual direction might be.  Here is what I hear, however:

One, uniformity of belief is an indication that someone is on the appropriate spiritual path.  God only works in one way and variation is suspect.

Two, spiritual direction and spiritual directors operate by their own lights and they are unaccountable to Scripture.

Three, the only legitimate dispenser of spiritual wisdom is the pastor-teacher.

Here is what is wrong with the views expressed above:

One, uniformity of belief might be comforting to us, but God does not seem particularly concerned about it.  There are undoubtedly core beliefs that are defining for Christians, but there is also some considerable variation in belief and — more importantly — experience.  God can be pretty unorthodox.

Two some spiritual directors pay little attention to Scripture.  But Christian directors do pay attention to Scripture.  In fact, directors often use Scripture as a means of suggesting prayer practice and meditations for their directees; and some of the oldest traditions in spiritual direction (for example, the Ignatian approach) relies upon Scripture to frame its understanding of the spiritual life.

Three, the fact that someone is a spiritual director does not mean that they are worthy of your trust.  But the same could be said about “pastor-teachers.”  The issue is not title or calling.  The issue is one of spiritual accountability.

Anyone who calls himself or herself a spiritual director but acts like a guru is not worthy of your trust.  But the same could be said of a pastor-teacher who acts like God.

What do you need to hear?

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

My wife and I recently spent a day at the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth.  In the permanent collection is what may well be Michelangelo’s earliest painting, “The Torment of St. Anthony” — a vivid portrayal of St. Anthony’s struggle with temptation in the desert.  It got me thinking…

Our inner lives are too small.

They are cluttered with the kind of distractions that they sell in tourist traps — pot metal and plastic, cheap construction, loud colors — here today, gone tomorrow, about to be replaced by more of the same.

And when our inner lives are not made small by the countless distractions that clutter them, then our inner lives are often crowded with fears — large and small, biting at our necks, pulling at our sleeves — like St. Anthony’s tormentors in Michelangelo’s painting.

What a shame — because God’s gentle, quiet, open invitation is to listen and respond.  What are the deepest needs of your soul? What do you need to hear?  What kind of clutter keeps you from hearing it?

Therapy and spiritual direction compared

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

In the certification program that we offer at Perkins one of the questions we explore are the differences between therapy and spiritual direction.  The distinctions are important — both as a means of defining the boundaries between the two endeavors and as a means of further defining the nature of direction.  If you are a spiritual director, or you are a directee, I invite your thoughts about the following comparisons and your own thoughts on the subject:

Therapy is specific in its focus.

Spiritual direction is comprehensive.

Therapy is problem-centered.

Spiritual direction is growth centered.

Therapy is devoted to managing and coping with life’s problems.

Spiritual direction is devoted to intimacy with God.

Therapy can cure.

Spiritual direction begins the process of healing.

Therapy is preoccupied with this world.

Spiritual direction is preoccupied with life in this world and the next.

Therapy can be done effectively without attending to the spiritual.

Spiritual direction cannot be done without attending to both the emotional and the spiritual.

Therapy can be done effectively without asking why we are here.

Spiritual direction begins with asking why we are here.

In therapy the practitioner listens to the client.

In spiritual direction, the director and directee both listen to God.

Losing ourselves

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Losing ourselves can be a good thing or a bad thing spiritually.

Losing ourselves…

In the expectations of others in order to find love

In the supposed glamour of the lives that others live

In a desire for the things that other people own

In a self-medicated flight from reality

In the past

In the future

These are typically bad for us spiritually.

Losing ourselves…

In the moment

In the needs of others

In the presence of God

In the pursuit of what Jesus described as the pearl of great price

Those are good ways of getting lost.

Are you lost?  And if you are, are you lost in all the right ways and in all the right places?

From the directors chair: Grieving with hope

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

The deeper healing of our grief is in God’s hands.

All cures are temporary.

Healing is eternal in character.

Cure is particular, focused on a specific issue.

Healing is comprehensive.

That is why therapeutic approaches to any of our struggles — grief included — lack the power to address some of our needs at the deepest level.  Therapy can teach us to “cope” with our losses or “manage” them (and that’s a good thing), but the losses remain — and they await a resolution that lies entirely in God’s hands.

But Christian understandings of the spiritual life are not entirely future-oriented.  Eternal life — life lived out in God’s presence — is described using the present tense as well as the future.  Our spiritual lives are present possession, awaiting fulfillment.  Perhaps the best image is of the rising sun at dawn — the light breaks across the landscape.  There are still places where darkness and mist still remain.  But the light is on the way and there will be a point when the landscape will be filled with it.

So, we grieve, but not without hope.  We are living with the dawning light and — even in our grief — we continue to live, laugh, and love, confident that our lives belong to God.

We can stay involved in the lives of others.

We can learn to re-invest ourselves in life.

We can practice being present to one another.

From the directors chair: Getting a grip on grief

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Generationally, we went from stuffing, denying, medicating, and surrendering to our grief to analyzing it.

That wasn’t a bad thing.  It was progress.  And, famously, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross declared grief a process.  That was a helpful, groundbreaking move, even though, as it turns out, she was wrong.

The denial, depression, anger, dialogue, acceptance, and return to meaningful life that she described are undoubtedly elements of what we experience.  But we don’t experience them in any predictable order.  Some of them are moments that endure longer than others; and we sometimes revisit some of the encounters that we have along the way.  In still other places we get stuck.

The way we experience our grief depends upon personality, body chemistry, the nature of the loss we experience, and, more importantly, the deeper significance of the losses we suffer.  We may deny our losses longer than others.  We may skip depression and go straight to anger.  We may revisit earlier dimensions of our grief experience.  But there is nothing necessarily predictable or linear about the journey.

The popular language about “getting closure” can also be deceptive — and, in some senses, potentially more harmful.  What would it mean to get over the loss of a parent who raised you, a spouse you loved, or a job that was life-shaping?

Our encounters with grief are not a process — they are an unpredictable journey.  And although we may journey to new places in relationship with our grief, some losses so completely change our lives that the notion of “closure” is a cruel taunt.

This is also where spiritual answers prove to be so very important.  Process and closure are the language of therapy — and while it is valuable, therapeutic language is profoundly limited.  It’s focus lies on what we can do and how we can respond.  It is particular.  It is temporal and it is focused on cure and coping.

It is only God who can speak to the issue of healing and only God who can address some of life’s greatest losses.  Healing is comprehensive and enduring.  It starts now, but it also awaits God’s eternal care.

Getting any kind of final grip on grief requires a relationship with God.

From the Directors Chair: When God gets angry

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

From a Christian perspective, one of the more telling pictures of divine anger is the cleansing of the Temple.  John’s version of the story goes like this:

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there for a few days.  The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.  (John 2:12-22)

What does this story tell us?

  • The anger of Jesus in the Temple reminds us that we do not live in a value free world
  • It reminds us that God loves us and is present with us, but God also has a will for us
  • When our lives are out of sync with God’s will the anger we encounter is not the anger of a God who is only and always angry
  • Nor is it the anger of a God looking for an opportunity to vent anger
  • The anger we encounter in God points to something out of order with the will of one who loves with purpose
  • It also reminds us that it is not enough to be loved.  If it is true that God loves us — and it is — it is equally true that God wants the best for us
  • Divine anger reminds us of the distance between that desire and the lives we live
  • God is not angry for the sake of being angry
  • God is not angry out of pique or caprice

What is the lesson in spiritual direction?  The anger of God signals the dissonance between what God wants for us and the way in which we are living.  The key to spiritual growth is prayerful attention to the distance between the two.

From the directors chair: Is God angry all the time?

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Judging from what directees have told me — and even from a good deal of what is in print — a lot of people are fairly sure that God is angry.  Angry some of the time, maybe angry all the time.

Some fairly reputable scholars have even argued that is why we need to retool the Christian faith.  “Out with the angry old man in the sky — in with something new.”

The problem with this argument is that it relies on caricatures of God that are not a part of the Christian tradition.  Oh, to be sure, there are those who pull out a strand of the tradition and make it sound that way.  But the balance of both the Jewish and Christian tradition about God comes nowhere near saying anything of the sort.

To be sure, God is described as being angry from time to time — for specific reasons.  (On that, more tomorrow.)  But nowhere is God described in either the Hebrew or Greek Testaments as habitually, characteristically angry.

Where do our notions that God is angry all the time come from?  Teasing out the answer is an important key to making spiritual progress.  As long as we are convinced that God is out to get us we will find it difficult to find peace.  It will also be difficult to embrace God or seek God’s help.  An angry God is an unapproachable God.

So why do we think God is an angry old guy?  (I haven’t heard him called an angry old woman.)  Here are some of the reasons that I have been able to discern:

Our experiences suggest it:

It isn’t fair to God, but a lot of our earliest impressions of God are projections.  Parents, clergy, parish life can deeply shape our thinking.  I have known countless adults who struggle with notions about God that took shape when they were 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12 years old — at an age when they were old enough to observe and too young to distinguish between the behavior of the adults around them and their understanding of God.

We have been taught to think it:

If you believe that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people AND you have had bad things happen to you, it’s hard not to assume that God is angry with you.  Sadly, a lot of us have been taught to believe this formula works.  Others struggle with the notion, even if they don’t consciously embrace it; and still others reject a belief in God because they have concluded that it’s the only way to think about God.

It isn’t true, of course, that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. In fact, if you cannot draw a fairly immediate and obvious line between your actions and your life circumstances — from action to consequences — it is unlikely that your behavior has anything to do with your choices at all.  Some of the best and even deeply faithful people I know have suffered terribly; and I have known true rogues, who have enjoyed incredible advantages.  Whatever is happening to you, it isn’t because God is angry with you.

Our guilt drives us to it:

There are times when the argument that God is angry all the time is simply easier to discuss than is our own sense of guilt.  Some people are convinced that God is angry with them because they have done something that they know is wrong, hurtful, mean-spirited, or sinful.  But repentance and amendment of life is harder than launching an all-out assault on God’s character.

And sometimes our anger with God drives us to it:

I don’t believe that God is the architect of murder and mayhem.  But some people can’t think about God in any other categories; and, from time to time, many of us have been badly hurt enough that we find it easier to react out of our pain.  God can hear your anger and understands it.  The Psalms do a marvelous job of modeling that freedom.  But they always move from that honest expression to the peace that comes from resting in a God that they are convinced loves them and grieves with them.

More on God’s anger tomorrow…

I am mad as hell. Should I feel guilty about it?

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Not all anger is the same:

Anger can be a vague, generalized feeling
It can be occasioned by a specific set of circumstances
It can arise out of the disparity between what we want and what is
(And what we want can be a healthy, good thing to want…and it might not be)
It can arise out of the disparity between what is and what should be
(And we can be wrong or right about what should be)

We typically mishandle anger

By acting out of it unreflectively
Or by repressing it

And for that reason we have a lot of alternative vocabulary for anger
And we tend to talk about some people as having a temper which (while no doubt true)
Obscures the fact that we all get angry

The reason we mishandle anger lies with:

Our general discomfort with emotion
Negative associations with angry behavior
And negative associations with conflict

The cleansing of the Temple is an excellent passage to study in this connection
Because it shows Jesus having an emotion that we do not associate with God
And it points to a fundamental truth:

Anger is not only appropriate at times,
It can be a good and necessary thing

Anger can signal…

The need to act

The question, of course, is what helps us to measure the appropriateness of our anger

The answer lies in noting the difference in our motives
In noting the difference between self-serving and other-serving anger
The difference between ego, pique and something larger

That’s where the cleansing of the Temple fits in…

Jesus embodies the appropriate manifestation of anger
Rooted in the things of God

There is a message in anger like that
Don’t be afraid of it
Listen to it