The practice of Spiritual Direction, as classically understood, is a process of being attentive to the movements of God within the heart of the believer. That’s my definition of it, at least. It is a privilege to do it alongside others, but it has been an invaluable gift in my own experience too.
The shift from busy activist to reflective practitioner happened for me when I fell. No great sin, disgrace or any such thing. The fall was a realisation in myself that I was failing to deal with the wounds of my own heart and so was therefore unable to fully be present to the wounds of others. That made me a less than good pastor…at least in my own mind.
It was in getting to the very bottom that I discovered grace in a very real way. And it was in the stillness of the fall – picture a silent descent into increasing blackness (if you’re into a bit of drama) – that God’s real presence and voice became newly familiar. In the depths of life was the door to the depths of my own experience, and into the depth of the love of God which is beyond understanding.
Thing is, when I was leading out of a busy activism, the things I felt to be were important were out of kilter. I valued attendance, visible commitment, activism, sacrifice, and whole hearted devotion to God and the church. Now, you might not think that’s problematic. Those things are not bad in and of themselves. What the problem was is that I realised that for the first part of my ministry I was involved in raising that standard, but also failing to do the honest work in my own life and so being unavailable to others when necessary, and preventing me knowing what it meant to be with others in living out a radical faith in Christ.
My reflection, when I look out at the world beyond the church, is that people don’t often have someone, or a community, to walk with them into the mess of their own lives. Not to fix, explain, sort or somehow bring things to a shiny clean solution, but to be with people in their darkest place. And the church, so long as it fails to deal with its own darkness and skewed visions, will not be in the place of being that walking partner.
Whether you are an individual, or a group of individuals in church community, my advice is ‘never waste a crisis.’ It is in the muck that your find the brass. It is in the digging that you find the gold, hard encased by layers of crusty rock, just waiting to be released. The challenge is always whether we will begin the path of descent.
It strikes me that Jesus spoke about this all the time. There was no resurrection with out the Calvary Road to death. The silent tomb has much to say. We’ll never ‘get’ resurrection life, Spirit-infilling, world-changing mission, awesome Jesus-centred community, without the deeper soul work.