Together We Will Do the Work



They sit in the red leather chair or across the country, connecting with me through Skype. Either way, I settle deep into my hand-made, craftsman-style armchair in my small study, a lit candle by my side, my spirit ready and waiting.

They come to be heard, to be seen in ways that are welcoming and formational. I come to learn, to listen, to pray. And what we find is a kind of newness, a refreshing reminder of God’s presence and an ever-increasing willingness to do this good work. Together.

Spiritual direction is what it’s called. Companionship-on-the-way is what it is. Long a practice of the ancient church, surfacing in the 20th century in broader and wider corners of Christendom, this partnering together is holy ground, a sacred place. It’s where one person, trained in a variety of disciplines, prayerfully listens to the life of another, asking gentle questions, pulling out threads, weaving them together into a new idea or question. 

I am relatively new to the whole idea of direction. I first began to hear and read about it in the late 1980s. I learned that direction is not therapy, though it incorporates many ideas and even techniques from that discipline. It is also not pastoral counselling, something I did quite a lot of during the seventeen years that I was a pastor. It is its own unique animal, a thing unlike any other. 

I began direction for the first time when I moved to Santa Barbara in the late 1990s and continued with it for three years. I took a break from that process for a while until a new boss suggested I look into pursuing certification as a director myself. A seed was planted, deep in my spirit.

I prayed about that idea for over a year and came to the conclusion that before I could even consider becoming a spiritual director, I had to re-enter direction myself. And so I began to look, prayerfully and carefully, for someone new to meet with. I had done enough reading by then to know that I was drawn to the Roman Catholic traditions surrounding direction. I soon discovered a small monastery in a town 125 miles north of us, a place that offered direction and also provided training for giving it. 

So, I shot off an email. 

And never heard a word.

But fourteen months later, early in the morning of my day off, my cell phone rang sharply. “Hello, Abbot David here. You wrote about spiritual direction?”

I burst into laughter. “Well, yes, I did. But that was a LONG time ago.”

“Well, your message just got to me. Would you like to come and talk it over?”

And so began some of the richest three years of my life. Until his death in March of 2012, Abbot David and I met monthly in his small “Holy Spirit House,” situated in the hills of San Luis Obispo County. He was a leader in the Catholic charismatic renewal movement and founded a monastery in New Mexico that invited women oblates to live and work in community with men. He was also well-trained in world religions, depth psychology and his specialty, dream work—much like Joseph-and-the-sheaves, Daniel-and-the-king dream work.

Abbot David appeared in my life at exactly the right moment, just before two difficult deaths in my family, two vicious wildfires in our community, and as I was beginning to make important decisions about my own retirement. The work we did together changed my life in ways I cannot even begin to describe. 

I began to meet with directees while I was in training and still meet with a few of those kind souls who volunteered to be guinea pigs. Others come and go, as God leads, and the hours I spend with these good people each month are wonderful and rich. I am amazed at what they teach me, and how wondrous it is to watch God work in the lives and hearts of others. 

Among the many rich gifts of direction, this is the one that stands out to me now, after doing this work for five years: direction invites authenticity to the deepest level of the human spirit. 

With a skilled and empathetic director, there is freedom to admit failure, doubt, struggle. There is also generous room to celebrate growth, change, movement. 

And all of that is critically important to the primary call on each of our lives—the call to become fully human by making space for both the broken and the redeemed parts of who we are. You see, I believe that is why Jesus came. Not only to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” but to show us what it means to live an authentic human life.

And each time I sit in that handmade, craftsman-style armchair, that is the invitation I extend in Jesus’ name: Come, I will listen, I will pray. Together, we will do the work.


Image credit: Jens Karlsson