I attended a talk some weeks ago by a retired philosopher, Augustine Shutte. As he developed his argument, he presented an idea of a particular quality of relationship which he termed the guru and novice. The essence of the relationship he was describing was one of an elder whose care for the younger allowed the younger person to become more fully themselves. This was not a relationship of indoctrination, or even necessarily, of apprenticeship in a particular way of life. Rather, the kind of relationship where an elder held the space for the younger one so that she could truly find herself.
The idea has stuck with me, not least because I am mentally preparing to teach on another course on the introduction to spiritual direction. The idea of this quality of relationship certainly resonates when I consider the people who have so generously served as my spiritual directors through my adult life. My spiritual directors have taught me a great deal, and have helped me to grow into myself. I know I would not be the person I am today if without these monthly conversations over the last 15 years.
But I have also been blessed by a number of elders. Some have been friends – some much older than I am. Some have been academic mentors. With most I have shared a common faith, but certainly not with all.
Perhaps most importantly, all have been people who are themselves growing and all have been willing to learn from me. The list is not particularly long – two hands provide fingers enough to count them off – but each one has been pivotal. Some have been part of my life for longer periods than others. Nonetheless, each has left an indelible trace on my being, and to each I am profoundly indebted.
I have had many mentors over the years, but not all fall into this particular category. The people I write of here are those who were willing to share their knowledge and way of being with me, without requiring that I necessarily will follow. They were not trying to induct me into a way of being, so much as they were opening the possibility to me. They have all been able to hold and appreciate the entirety of my experience – from the chemist to the spiritual director.
There is a tremendous gift in a relationship which clearly has a mentoring dynamic but which does not require a particular outcome or goal. It is almost as though they were willing to tend a flower bed, not knowing at all what would emerge. Perhaps the gift to me has been that they believed that there was something worthwhile in me; something worth tending to. Certainly, with one friend in particular who is well respected in her own right, the thought that she was willing learn from me gave me confidence in my own giftedness over time.
There is no way I can repay such a gift. All I can do is express my gratitude and endeavour to pass it on when occasion permits.