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Monday, May 1, 2017

A Journey in Spiritual Direction

For some personal nurture, I recently returned to a book given to me by a friend.  My friend gave me this little book out of gratitude for something I did for him.  I suppose he knows I would have done it for nothing.  In fact, I am always a little embarrassed when he gives me something in return for a job I would do gratis. 

But not to accept the gift would be wrong on many levels.  In the first place, it somehow seems wrong to be ungrateful for someone’s gratitude!  How would that look if he says, “I want you to have this book,” and I say, “nah, I don’t want the lousy book!”  In the second place, I have known for a long time I am a better “giver” than I am a “receiver.”  In fact, many of the people I know are like me.  We need practice receiving!     

So, I have the book.  The good news is it is a book I very much like and it is by one of my all-time favorite authors, Henri Nouwen.  Along with Thomas Merton, Nouwen was a key formative figure in my maturing spiritual development.  Unlike Merton (who died in 1966), I knew Nouwen and counted him as a good acquaintance, at least.  Nouwen died in 1996.  He was one of the pioneers bringing spirituality to the Protestant (and somewhat secular) world from the 1960s on.  He was a Catholic priest, European-born, but lived in this country for a long period of time.  Like Merton, Nouwen was popular because he was willing to work out his questions and his spiritual queasiness publicly with people, with students, and with his myriad of friends. 

I was privileged to be with him for two or three days when we hosted him at Earlham, where I used to teach in Indiana.  I still have three or four pictures of Henri with me in tow.  And I have him in tow whenever I pick up one of his books, as I have recently done.  I lifted on to my desk his thoughts contained in Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith. 

There are a ton of great one-liners in the book.  I especially like the opening words of the introductory chapter.  Nouwen invites us along: “As we begin this journey together in spiritual direction, I want to invite you to create space for God in your life.”  Such a simple invitation; such a daunting challenge.  “Sure,” I want to say.  “But how,” I also groan. 

The desire is key.  I can create space for God in my life if I desire it.  God will create space in my life if I desire it.  Others, particularly spiritual directors, will guide me in this space exploration if I desire it.  It is not an evening’s work…not even a weekend suffices.  As Nouwen suggests, it is a long walk of faith and we need wisdom. 

The long walk is possible and goes well if we embark on it as a journey in spiritual direction.  Spiritual direction is nothing more than finding myself with one or a very few bunch of folks who are willing to help me make space and find the grace to walk this faithful path. 

They don’t need to be professionals.  In fact, they are more likely to be guides, friends, and fellow journeyers.  The journey is not as straightforward and clear as a pilgrimage.  In the pilgrimage, there is a clear destination, i.e. one is going to Lourdes in southern France known for healing. 

The journey is a lifetime walk in faith right into the Presence of God.  It begins not by lacing up your shoes, but by creating space for God.  I have done it a few times before, but it is easy to get sidetracked by other concerns in life.  I am ready to resume that journey and will now begin by creating space in my life.

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