Monday, October 20, 2008
The thing that struck me most is that he saw the primary vocation in marriage being to solitude and intimacy. The idea of a vocation to solitude and of the ministry of honoring and protecting loneliness in each other really grabbed me. Nouwen suggests we should not expect marriage to end our loneliness, as it is our seal of being destined for a greater communion to come. The ministry of marriage is to protect and honor that feeling and minister to it the comfort of intimacy. When intimacy and solitude work together, we give space to each other – we bind up the pain of loneliness through intimacy and give generous space in solitude. The ministry of spacious generosity is hospitality and we offer it to our children and to all who pass through our door that we may bind up their wounds of loneliness while they are with us.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The Roll of the Spiritual DirectorThe singular goal of the Spiritual Director is to help the directee find God in the directee’s own experiences of prayer and life(Barry and Connoly 8). It is clear that spiritual direction overlaps in scope and function with many of the other pastoral and soul care ministries. Even if the spiritual director is also the directee’s pastor and may offer council in some occasions, when in direction, this one goal takes over for good spiritual direction to happen.
Rather than a meeting between to people before God to pursue a human goal as in counseling, spiritual direction involves the meeting of the directee and God before another person, the spiritual director to pursue a divine goal (Temple 91). The roll of the director is then to observe the interactions between God and the directee. The Spiritual director has a keen ear listening both to the experiences the directee has with God as well as the stirrings of the Spirit.
“Spiritual direction is a kind of discernment about discernment” (Bakke 18). Through direction a directee can better learn how God has been speaking to him or her and then better be able to recognize God’s voice in the future. Much then rests on the Spiritual Director to not only listen and observe well, but also to demonstrate integrity in response to God’s promptings, and the Spirit’s giftings.
Spiritual GiftingsGiven the roll of the Spiritual Director as a discerner, the gift of discernment is an important quality to have. The Spirit gives this gift as he chooses, but, as with all spiritual gifts, it is strengthened through practice. As we just mentioned above, a good way to practice and experiment with discernment is through spiritual direction. This is why a good spiritual director should have had much experience as a directee, and should continue to meet with a spiritual director.
In more directive traditions, like the orthodox or in some cases the charismatic, gifts like discernment (1 Cor. 12:10), words of knowledge and words of wisdom (1 Cor. 12:8) give the authority for a director to step out on the limb of offering directions. This kind of spiritual direction is not palatable to most in western culture, though it is more the pattern of the desert fathers and the Russian Orthodox staretz. Dostoyevsky describes how people would attach themselves to these elders, these holy men. When my first Spiritual Director asked me what I imagined a Spiritual Director was like I thought of Zossima, the staretz from one of my favorite Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. The intrigue and romance his description left me with still makes the Orthodox tradition of spiritual direction the most fascinating to me.
What was such an elder? An elder was one who took your soul, your will, into his soul and his will. When you choose an elder, you renounce your own will and yield it to him in complete submission, complete self-abnegation. This novitiate, this terrible school of abnegation, is undertaken voluntarily, in the hope of self-conquest, of self-mastery, in order, after a life of obedience, to attain perfect freedom, that is, from self; to escape the lot of those who have lived their whole life without finding their true selves in themselves. This institution of elders is not founded on theory, but was established in the East from the practice of a thousand years. The obligations due to an elder are not the ordinary “obedience” which has always existed in our Russian monasteries. The obligation involves confession to the elder by all who have submitted themselves to him, and to the indissoluble bond between him and them (Dostoevsky 27-28).
To be sure this kind of obedience can be dangerous and should in now way be undertaken with out much practice in the wisdom gifts mentioned above. The only place an Elder could exercise such authority is where he or she is convinced the authority is not of themselves. Likewise the directee volunteers his or her obedience, not slavishly, but only under the recognition of God’s voice in the matter.
Listening SkillsMore often the kind of direction that Spiritual Directors offer is an active listening ear, attentive to both the directee’s experiences of God in prayer and the stirrings of God during the course of direction. Bakke notes that prayer is the heart of spiritual direction, both during out outside of the meeting. Prayer is when “the human heart discloses itself to God and is open to listen and respond” (39). In spiritual direction the director is invited to listen along.
Effective spiritual direction meetings depend on both people intending to listen attentively for the Holy Spirit, which leans more toward patient waiting than active striving to hear God. Prayer becomes a mixture of activity and passivity: an active intentionality to be available to the Spirit and a passive open willingness that invites God to set agendas for spiritual direction conversations. Directees do not need to have what they describe as an outstanding or successful prayer life. But they do need to be willing to pray regularly and explore the Spirit’s invitations. The willingness of directors and directees to continue to pray and seek God even when prayer is not satisfying or comfortable is essential for spiritual direction to take place (Bakke 39).
The spiritual direction meeting is, then, a place of prayer – a place of the bared soul. Both the directee and director must have this attitude for effective spiritual direction to take place. A good director will bare his or her soul to God and listen for the stirrings of the Spirit. A good director will also have a bear soul toward the directee, absorbing the directee’s heart, prayer’s and experiences as his or her own for a time. This gives the directee the benefit of another heart to feel the consolations of the Spirit and the warnings of desolation.
This is no doubt difficult work for the director. It takes a full and constant attention given to God and at the same time full and constant attention given to the directee. This kind of presence to another takes much practice even for those gifted with relational prowess. It requires a high view of the person sitting across from you as well. “A true director can never get over the awe he feels in the presence of a person, an immortal soul, loved by Christ, washed in His most Precious Blood, and nourished by the sacrament of His Love” (Merton 34). This requires a heart that is ready to be exposed before another, not by the way of disclosure but passively laid bare to receive and commune in prayer.
IntegrityIn the process of direction the director is on the look out for resistance within the directee toward growth in God. In order to be ready to receive such resistance without defensiveness and to recognize the opportunity for growth, the director must have a simplicity of heart – an integrity that rests it’s trust in God(Bakke 62-78).
A good director is quick to realize that the primary relationship in spiritual direction is between the directee and God. If the directee responds with shocking or inappropriate feelings toward the director, the director should be quick to contextualize these reactions in terms of the relationship with God.
A director cannot do this if biases exist in the heart of the director that blind, or stir up shocking or inappropriate feelings in return. The bare heart of the director is his or her best asset, the conduit for prayer. He or she must guard the heart. Again ongoing spiritual direction helps the director maintain growth of their heart. Supervision also offers insight for the director as to where the heart might be blocked or not completely bared to prayerful communication(Barry and Connoly 160).
ConclusionThe roll of the Spiritual Director is an important one. With importance comes great responsibility. The director must be a man or woman of prayer, who prayerfully interacts with people as well as God. He or she must also be continually growing in spiritual giftedness, practicing the unique mixture of gifts the Spirit has granted and developing his or her heart in continued spiritual direction and supervision.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
“Solidarity is the social meaning of humility,” writes Dean Brackley. He applies the ancient rules of St. Ignatius to social justice today. “Just as humility leads individuals to all other virtues, humility as solidarity is the foundation of a just society.”
Henri Nouwen wrote of Christ’s “way of downward mobility.” To follow Him we must reject the council of yuppie culture to climb the ladder of success. The witness of Christ and the challenge offered by Nouwen and Brackley lead us to ask questions. “How much should we have? Better to reframe the question,” writes Brackley, “Do we feel at home among the poor? Do they feel comfortable in our homes? Or do our furnishings and possessions make them feel like unimportant people?” (100)
The solution to our global social crisis is not that the poor become rich, which is neither feasible nor desirable, but that the rich join with the poor. The only solution is communities of equals, resisting pyramids of inequity (see Luke 22:25-26). While some economic differences are legitimate, discrimination and misery are not. In communities of equals, personal talents, instead of advancing some at others’ expense, are stewarded for the benefit of all. Authority is a service for the common good (101).In my graduate work I have been studying spiritual direction. The director meets with people desiring spiritual direction in an attitude of contemplation. He contemplates God and at the same time the directee, and the directee’s relationship with God. One book, The Practice of Spiritual Direction concludes with an observation of where direction and social action meet.
We need to know how God is experienced by the very poor and destitute. A few directors have begun to work with the destitute. The work is still in its very early stages, but where the director’s contemplative attitude is well developed, it seems promising (196).
I dream of one day studying as a cultural anthropologist the ways faith is formed and transmitted from one generation to the next across culture. I imagine joining with the poor working in the world’s coffee plantations and doing the work of contemplation with them, while also finding ways to get them living wages for their crops.
What is God dreaming for the poor? What is he dreaming for you and I to do with Him about poverty?
Monday, October 13, 2008
“It is important to remember that these patterns or images organize both our experience of others and our experience of ourselves. Thus, the way we see ourselves in interaction with others is involved. Part of the change that must occur if an intimate relationship is to develop is a change of the self-image, at least in relationship with this intimate person. As I allow the other to be different from my expectations and thus more himself, so too, I allow myself to be different from my ‘ideal self’ and thus more transparent to him. When relationships are allowed to develop, more of oneself and of the other is revealed, and each becomes better able to influence and change the other’s personality patterns. Each takes on for the other a life and a personality that is independent of that other’s expectations, and in the process each takes on for himself a life and personality freed of at least some of the constraints of his own self image” (86).
This reminds me of an Anime I have been watching lately. In Shugo Chara, “All kids hold an egg in their soul, the egg of our hearts, our would be selves, yet unseen.” The plot is interesting as the kids wrestle to find their true selves and strip away the characters they have built to meet others expectations, or to simply cope. Their would be selves are tied up with their dreams and aspirations that so many let die as they grow up. There is a resistance in society and their own lives that crops up to keep this from happening.
In the Brother’s Karamazov, Katerina Ivanovna wonders why her relationship with Dmitri was facing resistance too. He had spent some three thousand rubles she had asked him to send to her sister in Moscow. Now he is ashamed and has sent Alyosha his brother to talk to her.
For Dmitri there must be that kind of change of self-image that will allow him to talk to talk with unashamed intimacy with his fiancé.
“He did speak about it, and it’s that more than anything that’s crushing him. He said he had lost his honour and that nothing matters now,” Alyosha answered warmly, feeling a rush of hope in his heart and believing that there really might be a way of escape and salvation for his brother. “But do you know about the money?” he added, and suddenly broke off.
“I’ve known of it a long time; I telegraphed to Moscow to inquire, and heard long ago that the money had not arrived. He hadn’t sent the money, but I said nothing. Last week I learnt that he was still in need of money. My only object in all this was that he should know to whom to turn, and who was his true friend. No, he won’t recognise that I am his truest friend; he won’t know me, and looks on me merely as a woman. I’ve been tormented all the week, trying to think how to prevent him from being ashamed to face me because he spent that three thousand. Let him feel ashamed of himself, let him be ashamed of other people’s knowing, but not of my knowing. He can tell God everything without shame. Why is it he still does not understand how much I am ready to bear for his sake? Why, why doesn’t he know me? How dare he not know me after all that has happened? I want to save him for ever. Let him forget me as his betrothed. And here he fears that he is dishonoured in my eyes. Why, he wasn’t afraid to be open with you, Alexey Fyodorovitch. How is it that I don’t deserve the same?”
The last words she uttered in tears. Tears gushed from her eyes.
Friday, October 10, 2008
What was such an elder? An elder was one who took your soul, your will, into his soul and his will. When you choose an elder, you renounce your own will and yield it to him in complete submission, complete self-abnegation. This novitiate, this terrible school of abnegation, is undertaken voluntarily, in the hope of self-conquest, of self-mastery, in order, after a life of obedience, to attain perfect freedom, that is, from self; to escape the lot of those who have lived their whole life without finding their true selves in themselves. This institution of elders is not founded on theory, but was established in the East from the practice of a thousand years. The obligations due to an elder are not the ordinary “obedience” which has always existed in our Russian monasteries. The obligation involves confession to the elder by all who have submitted themselves to him, and to the indissoluble bond between him and them.
The story is told, for instance, that in the early days of Christianity one such novice, failing to fulfil some command laid upon him by his elder, left his monastery in Syria and went to Egypt. There, after great exploits, he was found worthy at last to suffer torture and a martyr’s death for the faith. When the Church, regarding him as a saint, was burying him, suddenly, at the deacon’s exhortation, “Depart all ye unbaptised,” the coffin containing the martyr’s body left its place and was cast forth from the church, and this took place three times. And only at last they learnt that this holy man had broken his vow of obedience and left his elder, and, therefore, could not be forgiven without the elder’s absolution in spite of his great deeds. Only after this could the funeral take place. This, of course, is only an old legend. But here is a recent instance.
A monk was suddenly commanded by his elder to quit Athos, which he loved as a sacred place and a haven of refuge, and to go first to Jerusalem to do homage to the Holy Places and then to go to the north to Siberia: “There is the place for thee and not here.” The monk, overwhelmed with sorrow, went to the Oecumenical Patriarch at Constantinople and besought him to release him from his obedience. But the Patriarch replied that not only was he unable to release him, but there was not and could not be on earth a power which could release him except the elder who had himself laid that duty upon him. In this way the elders are endowed in certain cases with unbounded and inexplicable authority. That is why in many of our monasteries the institution was at first resisted almost to persecution. Meantime the elders immediately began to be highly esteemed among the people. Masses of the ignorant people as well as of distinction flocked, for instance, to the elders of our monastery to confess their doubts, their sins, and their sufferings, and ask for counsel and admonition. Seeing this, the opponents of the elders declared that the sacrament of confession was being arbitrarily and frivolously degraded, though the continual opening of the heart to the elder by the monk or the layman had nothing of the character of the sacrament. In the end, however, the institution of elders has been retained and is becoming established in Russian monasteries. It is true, perhaps, that this instrument which had stood the test of a thousand years for the moral regeneration of a man from slavery to freedom and to moral perfectibility may be a two-edged weapon and it may lead some not to humility and complete self-control but to the most Satanic pride, that is, to bondage and not to freedom.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
This is true of the Pentecostal tradition as well. I found the places where McMahan found spiritual direction in my own tradition interesting. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms. (The terms the other authors who write about spiritual direction use make these ideas foreign and in many cases McMahan seems to find it hard to distinguish between pastoral council and spiritual direction.)
I remember many times growing up when the Spirit would talk to us in the midst of a service. Talk about spiritual direction! There he was, the Spirit speaking directly to us. I’ve often wondered why God would choose this method to address us, and why we didn’t take it even more seriously.
Here’s how I remember it happening then: the service would come to a place where it was particularly warm, what I would call today, consolation. Sunday nights were always warmer to me, they were less restricted, or stuffy, no one seemed in a hurry to leave. Often it would happen even before the sermon was given (the sermon would always still be given) when the time of singing was coming to an end and this feeling of consolation was over us. The music would be playing and we’d all be worshipping on our own a sort of melding of voices all expressing the worship of each heart. The voices would rise and fall together, and in some beautiful moments create new harmonies – a new song that would build, as a group and no one knew where it was going or even what language it had become. Then in the midst of this someone would feel a bubbling with in him or her, the Spirit tugging on them to speak out. They didn’t know what they would say, but they yielded and words came out – they spoke out loud sensing that what the Spirit was about was for everyone, they would raise their voice above the rest. As those around them recognized that a voice was standing out, they would hush and soon the whole room would be in hushed, uneasy silence as we waited hearing a message in a language not our own, perhaps not of this earth. The speaker would finish and we would wait. We understood that if this was of God, there would be an interpretation we all could understand. So I would continue my uneasy silence with the rest, listening to the Spirit afraid he might want to use me to bring his message. Then the interpretation would come, in the same way as the message in tongues. I don’t think the interpreter would know what she was going to say ahead of time, perhaps just a phrase or a word would come to her mind and as she said it the Spirit offered more.
There were of course times they would get it wrong, times when you could sense where they left the trail and finished under their own power. The message always had to be weighed against scripture and understood. Then there was the matter of responding. Often it would be something like, “This message was for someone here to night, if you sense it was you take the message to heart and do what it says,” though I wonder if the message wasn’t always for all of us, since it was given to us all and we had to do more wrestling with how it applied to each of us.
Sometimes it would be a comforting reminder that Jesus would come for us soon. Sometimes it was a warning to get our house in order, or to love more fervently.
Sometimes the interpreter would preface the message with “thus saith the Lord…” echoing the words of the prophets in the King James Bible that they undoubtedly loved very much. We pastors usually teach people to offer a little more wiggle room, “I feel the Lord may be saying…” Either way we recognized that the words coming from the voice of God had great authority and importance.
In this way the direction offered by the use of the gifts of the Spirit is like the direction of the Russian Staretz, it can be very directive and authoritative when truly discerned and spoken.
McMahan mentions also the use of testimony (155). From the very beginning of our movement publications spread the testimony of what God was doing in the lives of individuals. The Apostolic Faith was a publication from the Azuza street revivals covering 1906-08. They contain direction in the form of testimonies, instruction and answers to questions. This tradition still continues with Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
There is a danger of the Spiritual Direction becoming too individual. I think McMahan is wrong to suggest that meeting one on one with a spiritual director increases that danger. The spiritual director as another human member of the body of Christ is a point of contact with the community that can be lacking in the anonymity of the worship service. I dare say every believer finding growth through the charisms (charismata) of the Spirit would do well to find a mature director.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Simply put, when we are following after God, “It is characteristic of the Holy Spirit to move us to ‘true joy and spiritual delight, taking away all sadness and turmoil induced by the enemy.’ It is characteristic of the enemy to ‘work against this kind of joy and spiritual consolation, introducing false reasons, subtleties, and persistent fallacies’” (135). I have been trying to be more aware of those feelings of joy that are disproportionate with their cause, and follow that consolation as the way God is leading me. Likewise I have paying attention to the feelings of desolation that are disproportionate to cause, trying to track down where that feeling began and address that incursion of the enemy as a departure from what God would lead me. This has been exciting, as I have learned to hear the voice of the Spirit in the sensations of my soul. There are of course dangers in false consolations; I can’t trust my feelings, only my God. So I need much practice in these experiments to learn to tell the difference.
Brackley made an immediate connection to my Pentecostal heritage when he mentioned that the Greek word for this consolation is paraklesis: the very stuff of the Paraklete (one of our favorite names for the Holy Spirit). “The comforter has come!” and it is even by his comfort that we learn to hear his will.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Java Junction ***
West Branch, MI
Located on the railroad tracks, in a building that used to be a grain elevator, the interior has a quaint cafe feel. White pine mixed with rail and country artifacts. While the atmosphere wasn't what I look for in a coffeehouse, there were plenty of regulars there, of all ages. There was a lot of energy with the guests talking sports or politics, there was a real sense of community that was great to be around. I have concerns about their milk frothing technique, but each of the places I visited I had either a straight shot or an americano so I could comment on the espresso. The espresso here was sharp - a high acidity with a medium body.
Roast and Toast *****
I made a point of stopping here as one of my Barista Exchange friends works there. With big blue neon signage, corrugated steel, and mosaics made of coffee cups, this place has a festive atmosphere to say the least, attracting a generally young, hip crowd. It was a happening place with a brisk trade throughout the afternoon. What really impressed me was that they integrated an extensive lunch and dinner menu with out diminishing their emphasis on coffee. The 'spro was good with a booming body and low acidity.
The Woolly Bugger ****
This shop in Charlevoix is a satellite of a Harbor Springs roastery. The shop is tiny with one table to sit at. There is an understated fly fishing theme. The run a Rancilio machine, and produce a great 'spro - excellent crema and a balanced flavor. I had a straight shot here. The shop is not geared to coffee-to-stay, and unfortunately my espresso came in a four oz. paper cup. We sat in tight quarters by a mom with two toddlers and had friendly conversation.
Truffles Bakery *
As we walked to the Woolly Bugger, I noticed the bakery next door also served espresso. I wondered how two espresso shops did next to each other, especially with the bakery and additional seating available in this shop. On our way back to our car I thought it would be nice to sample their espresso as well. As soon as I walked to the counter, I told my wife, "oops, lets go." There were red flags sent up that told me that I would not be happy with the espresso here. They had a Rancilio machine like the Wolly Bugger, but the portafilters were sitting cold on top of the machine. On our brisk way out the owner, an exceedingly nice man, asked me what we had come in for and I felt I had to acquiesce and try his stuff. Back at the counter I saw more red flags. He had a nylon tamp (probably came with the machine), at least he had one, but after admiring the tamp in the Woolly Bugger, my stomach twisted. Then he pulled out a Tupperware bowl covered with plastic wrap and scooped out a couple tablespoons of pre-ground espresso beans! I just wanted to pay and get out. He poured the espresso into a 16oz cup and charged me $2.30. He asked me if it was hot enough. I said, "Yes, it is plenty hot," not having the fortitude to tell him that it had no crema, tasted foul, and all things considered, ridiculously overpriced. My first sip, I thought I could handle it. It wasn't too unlike a drip coffee... second sip, I gagged and nearly threw up. The cup lasted all of a half a block to the nearest trash can.