My safety net(s)

I have had one of those weeks. The confluence the climax of a journey I have been on acutely since the start of the Lent this year (and more chronically for at least the last six years), and the serious illness of someone close to me has made it quite a week. In addition, as minor players, it is the start of exams and I have the third cold in as many months.

I am done in.

Yesterday was a duvet day.

It was also a day that I went to see my spiritual director. I am still astounded at God’s grace in bringing this particular person into my life.

Now, as I think back over this crazy week of emotional turmoil I realise that I have had not just one, but several safety nets.

Firstly, the email conversation with a friend. A conversation where I can speak my fears and concerns and have them held lovingly. It is a safe place where I could process the stuff in my head out loud and not fear judgement. What a grace!

Secondly, the friend and colleague who simply said – if you need to get on a plane, all you have to do is make me a list of what I need to take care of. And I know her offer was genuine, because I made the same offer to her a little over a year ago. She would have marked my exams herself if need be.

Thirdly, the two people whom I am leading a spirituality course with – I sent them an email just to say I may have a problem. The immediate response was simply thoughts and prayers with you – if I had had to drop the course I could have, they would have made a plan.

Finally, my spiritual director who painstakingly helped me untie and discern my way through the minefield of stuff.

With any one of these safety nets I would call myself blessed – that I have so many – I am astounded. How can this possibly be my life? And yet here I am.

It doesn’t change any of the detail, but it makes it all so much more manageable.

Sacred spaces

A young friend of mine is working on an assignment. She asked me to respond to a couple of questions about my living space, and it got me thinking…

I love where I live. I’m sure it wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice but it works very well for me. Aside from the convenience and security afforded by the situation, it is a happy space for me. I get to watch the sun rising over the mountains as I sit in my bed for my morning prayer. I have magnificent view of the Table Mountain range from my study.

My lounge is a sacred space too. It is a space where I get to have good conversations. Conversations with friends which last long into the night, over all sorts of things. Conversations with those who come for spiritual direction and supervision – which are much more focused.

I am not the kind of person who needs my living space to look ‘just so’. I have bought furniture that I like, and haven’t quite got around to hanging my pictures. And yet somehow my living space is my sanctuary. It is a place where I feel entirely myself.

There are other spaces in my life which I would consider sacred – being immersed in nature is always reviving for my spirit. And there are a few places which are deeply laded with particular memories – the Kolbe library and chapel, the chapel at Loyola Hall, the chapel at St Beuno’s. I am deeply appreciative of those spaces, and the memories associated with them.

But for now, I am most grateful that my home provides me with such a sanctuary: A space both of retreat and of rich encounter.

Growing into spiritual direction

In the midst of teaching a course on spiritual direction, I find myself once again reflecting on my own journey. Spiritual directors tend to be older. There is a wisdom that come with having lived a reflective life over decades and seeing God at work in all of that. I began working full time as a spiritual director at the age of 27. Ten years on, I am still significantly younger than most spiritual directors.

I am deeply indebted to those who journeyed with me in my early twenties. They helped to lay a substantial foundation in teaching me how to notice and how to name the feelings that were going on in me. Occasionally, I encounter people who remind me of the person I might have been if I had not had the opportunity to explore this field. I am reminded of my early struggles to answer that most simple question ‘How are you feeling?’ I really didn’t know how to access that information and I was determined to be ‘fine’.

I would not be who I am today without the years of both giving and receiving spiritual direction. There has been a great gift in growing up as spiritual director. I don’t mean that literally, but certainly the kind of maturation process that takes place as a direct result of grappling with whole complex reality that is life is a real gift. I am grateful that I have been able to watch myself growing into the role, and that I have had the tools of spiritual direction at my disposal as I have grappled with some major life challenges. I am not sure whether I am a better spiritual director now or not, I suspect that I am though, because I am not afraid of sitting through the pain and confusion of life. I understand that it is important to engage with and process the pain, and to engage with and process the joy. It has been a great blessing to be able to watch myself grow into this role. Sometimes I look back to starting at Loyola Hall ten years ago and I wonder what audacity I had, but all that is useful to do now is to look back in gratitude for all that I have learnt along the way.

This brings me to the two most important tools of spiritual direction – the capacity to sit with one’s own journey, and a fundamental belief that God will show up. I believe that both are crucial, and both require vigilant discernment. And I learnt both from sitting with people and listening to their journeys.