I have extraordinary blessed in my life. I have had real life contact with a number of spirituality authors. I know Margaret Silf, Ivan Mann, Esther de Waal, Trevor Hudson, Denise Ackermann, Gerard O’Mahoney – meaning they would all walk across a crowded room to greet me. I have met Gerard W. Hughes (now of blessed memory), Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault. On Wednesday I got to have lunch with William Barry .
Bill Barry has been a name long associated with spiritual direction. It is hard to imagine going through any Ignatian spiritual direction program which fails to refer to ‘Barry & Connolly’ aka ‘The Practice of Spiritual Direction’. Bill was at the meeting where the idea of Spiritual Directors International was conceived. And his recent trilogy of books on relationship with God published by Loyola Press are excellent spiritual reading for anyone.
He was kind enough to write a blurb for my book Rooted in Love a few years ago. As he is based in Massachusetts, and I am here on sabbatical, I thought I would be audacious and ask if we could meet. I’m glad I did.
Meeting him condensed for me the feeling I have had in my encounters with the other spirituality authors that I know – he is wonderfully human. He has a gift of articulation in written form – but he treats it as a gift not an identity. He has used it to good effect, and credits Bill Connolly with much of inspiration for ‘The Practice of Spiritual Direction’. In this sense there is a real humility.
What struck me forcibly was his utter freedom in talking of the Center for Religious Development. The Centre, which gave birth to The Practice for Spiritual Direction, was one first places to run a program in spiritual direction formation. It existed for 25 to 30 years and then was closed as numbers dropped off. As Bill spoke about it there was no weird nostalgia for ‘good old days’, there was simply a recognition of the enjoyment of being a part of its establishment, gratitude for existence, and a genuine understanding of the decision made to close it.
It struck me that he is a very good Jesuit – totally committed to the task at hand, and totally willing to move on. The fruit of a life lived in surrender to the greater good. I have enough Jesuit friends to know the genuine surrender when I see it.
It left me wondering how to achieve such freedom as a lay person. I don’t have a good answer to that yet!
I am deeply grateful for my connection with all these contemporary literary contributors to spirituality. It has made me believe, above all else, that real connection with God is possible for everyone. The people behind these familiar names are not all that different from you and I.