Spiritual Direction: A Wakeup Call
Preacher: Bob Keller
I pray with you this morning Win the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
That’s some Gospel reading we had this morning! I’ve taken my text not from Luke, but from the same story as it appears in Matthew’s Gospel 24:29. Listen to this…
In those days…the sun shall be darkened,
and the moon shall not give her light, (this doesn’t sound like your typical eclipse)
and the stars of heaven shall fall, (meteor showers maybe, but a bit more than that I think)
and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. (hard to imagine)
And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. (definitely not your ordinary meteorological event)
Then shall he send his angels, and gather together…His…elect…from the four winds,
from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
Isn’t it interesting that on this first Sunday of Advent, the Season in which we begin to prepare our minds, bodies and souls to receive the Christ child into our world…isn’t it interesting that we are called also to prepare for the Second Coming for that’s what this Gospel reading is all about.
This may seem a bit scary in that that those of us who are not among His Elect will be left behind to be destroyed with the heavens and earth.
But it’s not so bad because Jesus then tells us what to do to become one of the Elect, and this is really important: watch, keep awake. And we know it’s important because, whether it’s in the Gospel or in fairy tales, if it’s said or it happens three times then you’d better pay attention.
… keep alert; he says for you do not know when the time will come…. Therefore, keep awake-he continues– for you do not know when the master of the house will come…. And as a final command he says: what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.
OK, great advice, Jesus, I hear you, but what exactly does that mean?
And I’m going to put off answering that question for now. After all, if I answered that now, my sermon would be only 2 minutes long, and you wouldn’t have time for good nap. Hopefully it will all come together in the end.
My Spiritual Direction Training.
Over the last two years I have been part of a training at Adelynrood just down the road in Byfield, in which 20 or so of us were learning the art of spiritual direction. This was an intense experience with lectures, discussions, meetings for spiritual direction and much more. I was exhausted by the time we finished last August.
And with all that preparation, our teacher has the temerity to say, “This training does not make you a spiritual director, only God does that.” So whether or not God has done that for me seems likely to have an evolving answer.
What is Spiritual Direction?
So, what is Spiritual Direction? Let me start by saying what it’s not. It’s not psychotherapy, it’s not counselling, it’s not financial planning. It’s not anything else where the goal is to fix something in your life.
Simply put, spiritual direction is a way to help you explore your own personal daily life relationship with God.
What’s It Like?
A meeting for spiritual direction takes many forms, but it may be about an hour, one on one between you as Directee, the one who is to be directed, and a Director whose job is to be a guide. Usually you come with questions and stories about your experience of God in your life, and a sense of seeking to know Him better.
The Director, me for example, is primarily a listener whose job is to sense the story behind your stories and questions, and to ask questions and make suggestions to help you to see and to work with that back story.
I say that we’re not trying to fix anything in your life, and that’s true, but you may well bring up personal situations of conflict or other stress. Some of the more dramatic things I’ve heard include: “I think God has abandoned me,” or “I’m losing my job that’s the meaning of my life,” or “my husband has left me, my daughter is dying, where is God?”
My response to those situations is not to provide easy answers, but rather to help you put God into the equation. This is not to try to make everything OK, but to put the things that are happening to you in a larger context. I want you to explore and try to understand what God desperately wants to be for you just at that time.
It’s all about your becoming more aware of God in your life. It’s about responding to His guidance, and about understanding yourself as a willing participant in God’s plan for you.
Incidentally, Spiritual Direction can happen in groups, and it does, here at St. Paul’s. Our weekly Adult Forum is often an excellent example of group Spiritual Direction.
And a couple of miscellany: Unlike therapy, meetings for Spiritual Direction are not frequent. While you might go once a week for therapy, there are likely to be six weeks or a couple of months between meetings for Spiritual Direction. It often takes a long time to integrate insights you may have had during a meeting.
And second, regarding cost: I and most spiritual directors view your payment as a free will offering although the training suggested that $50 per meeting is a good guideline. But this is completely up to you. Neither I nor any other spiritual director is going to get rich doing Spiritual Direction. Between infrequent meetings and the fact that I am not likely to have more than two or three Directees at any one time makes it not very attractive financially.
History of Spiritual Direction.
Spiritual Direction has been around since the early days not only of Christianity, but of Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism as well as every other religion on earth. Until the 1950s in the Christian church, however, Spiritual Direction was available mainly to Priests and other clergy, to monks and nuns, and to others who were insiders in the religious establishment. But then there was a burgeoning interest in couselling, psychotherapy, and the like. And in the Church, pastoral counselling became more central and focused.
For various reasons, Church people began to see spiritual issues as fertile ground for guidance, and the need for a new kind of consultant—one who was not a therapist nor a keeper of orthodoxy. And so in the 1980’s there blossomed interest in the art of spiritual direction as a way to meet this need. Today there are several training programs around the country, but a deficiency in most people’s awareness of both the existence and benefits of Spiritual Direction. A deficit I hope to correct.
So, back to the beginning.
Perhaps you’ve heard a version of the story about the Buddha, in which he is asked, “are you a god?” He says “No, I am not a god.” “Well, then the student asks, are you an angel?” “No, I am not an angel.” “Are you a guru or holy man?” “No, I’m not even that.” “Well, then, what are you?” and the Buddha replies “I am awake.” And of course, the Sanskrit word Buddha means awakened.
What does it mean to be awake?
In St. Paul’s words, it means to continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. This is a thought echoed by 13th century philosopher and mystic Meister Eckhart who said: “If the only prayer you ever say is Thank You, it’s enough.”
From other scripture, being awake means not to let your heart be weighed down by worldly cares, by dissipation and drunkenness, by malice, deceit and hypocrisy. It means to keep faith in all situations.
It means that you can’t just talk about the Gospel (talk the talk as they say), but you need also to do the work God lays before you (walk the walk).
And most importantly, it means being constantly aware of God’s living presence in you, of tuning your awareness so you can hear God speaking to you, however faintly.
And how does Spiritual Direction fit in?
Is Spiritual Direction the key to salvation? Of course not, but it may be your yellow brick road that leads to unexpected spiritual wakefulness. It can help you watch, help you wake up, and stay awake. Helping you awaken to your evolving relationship with God in daily life is the main point of spiritual direction. And even more importantly, it’s what God is asking of each of us in order to be among His Elect.
Here it is, three times: First, God asks you to awaken to His living, minute by minute presence in your daily life, being aware of His glorious majesty working through you.
Second, God waits for you to awaken to what He wants to be for you. He waits for you to get to know Him intimately, to love Him, to be awake.
And third, God needs you to wake up to being an essential part of His work of creation. Think of God is an infinite white light shining through a prism where it appears as a rainbow spectrum. And think of each of us as an individual color in that rainbow. Wake up to your being an incarnation of God on earth.
St. Paul says (in Aramaic) maraná thá, the Lord is coming (1 Corinthians 16:22).
And so finally, in order to be among the elect at the second coming, what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!
WIn God’s Name, Amen.