Heads I go north, tails I go south How spiritual direction can help us make choices
Trusting the flip of a coin can be OK if you really do not have a particular destination in mind, or if two choices seem equally good. However, it is not a good idea to approach your spiritual life like this. Imagine a person flipping a coin to determine whether to get married, or enter religious life, or to change jobs. Life is too important and sacred to be resolved by the toss of a coin. Our choices place us on a certain spiritual road with a certain spiritual direction. Ultimately, it’s God’s choice that gets us to heaven, but our choices either assist or confound God’s choice to draw us near. We have freedom and need to use it wisely. It is easy to lose our way. We can become frustrated, confused and wonder which way to go. A coin toss is tempting! At least the answer is right there. Fortunately, God knows our needs and provides for our direction in many ways. One classic way is through spiritual direction, in which a fellow Christian offers herself to listen and help a person identify how God is speaking to him. A spiritual director assists the seeker to hear God’s word and to put it into practice through encouragement and accountability. Spiritual direction is truly a gift from God. Not everyone can do it. Those who discern this gift in themselves and respond to God’s movement in their own lives receive special training and are themselves walking as pilgrims along the road of personal conversion to Jesus. Most retreat centers have experienced spiritual directors available, or can help find one. Spiritual directors can be bishops, priests, deacons, religious sisters or brothers and lay people. In other words, spiritual direction is a charism of the Holy Spirit that is given to individuals throughout the body of Christ. St Teresa of Avila was asked whether it would be better to have a holy director or a wise director. She said, “Hopefully both holy and wise, but better wise if not holy!” In some ways, the title “spiritual director” is a misnomer, since the Holy Spirit is the real director. People who expect spiritual directors to give a quick and easy answer to their problems will be disappointed. A spiritual director is not an all-knowing guru, but will help the person listen to God for the answer. A wise director may offer good insights and point out where God’s wisdom is revealed in Scripture and church teaching, but ultimately, it is the individual who needs to wrestle with God, as did Jacob. (Gen 32) What is essential is hearing the word of God and keeping it. Spiritual direction will assist in this endeavor and help a person reach the goal we all seek: complete union with God.
Spiritual Exercise This month I want you to take a retreat. Yes, for a whole month! St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, put together a one-month, directed prayer experience called Spiritual Exercises. Most of you probably cannot go away for a month to pray. If you can, do it! But St. Ignatius developed a similar directed prayer to do at home. (Visit the Manresa Center in Detroit at www.manresa-sj.org for more details.) It consists of similar meditations – just extended over a longer period of time. Now, if you are just not ready to take the deeper dive into the complete exercises of St. Ignatius, consider working through the following outline of prayer and meditations. They are based on the Spiritual Exercises and will help open your heart to the grace of the Lord. During this directed prayer, many people have found keeping a journal to be helpful. You may also want to consider finding a spiritual director to help you through the exercises on your own. These exercises are divided over a four-week (more or less) period of time. God may want a person to spend a little more time focusing on the meditations of a particular week, so please do not approach this outline as though it must be strictly followed. Remember it is the Holy Spirit that dwells in our hearts who truly knows how we are to pray. Let the Holy Spirit be the real guide. This requires us to be attentive and listen to what God is saying to us within. One can usually discern this by what happens in prayer. If one is experiencing greater contrition, greater love for God and people, a greater desire to renounce self and live by the cross of Jesus, that is a good sign that prayer is going well. Keep at it. If those particular consolations are drying up, yet the fruit of the consolations – a greater desire to love God’s will – is present, the Holy Spirit usually prompts one to move on to the next period of prayer. To begin prayer during any of the weeks, make the sign of the cross and pray the Our Father slowly with love and devotion. Ask for the grace to meditate well and ask the Lord to be your teacher.
Prayer of Week 1: The wonder of God, the purpose of creation and my purpose. During this week, prayer will focus on awareness of God’s creation and my place in it. The prayer time may deal with the following questions: Why did God create the universe and humanity? What is my purpose? How does sin thwart God’s plan for me? How much do I desire to be free of my sin? You can focus on one of these questions each day in your prayer time. God wants to heal the damage of sin within us. We begin a process of healing sin by becoming aware of it – naming it and confronting it within ourselves. Read Gen 1-2, Ps 8, Ps 139, John 1, Rom 1:18-32, Heb 1, Col 1, Rev 4, 21. End the week by celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation.
Prayer of Week 2: The life of Jesus. During this week, pick stories about Jesus from the Gospels. Meditate on them and write down what Jesus says to you as you walk with him through his life. The joyful and luminous mysteries of the rosary could also be used.
Prayer of Week 3: The death of Jesus. During this week, pray through any of the accounts of Jesus’ passion found in the Gospels. Meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary could also be helpful. The gift of this week is a greater love for Jesus and a greater resolve to conform one’s will to Jesus’.
Prayer of Week 4: The Resurrection. Pray through the account of the Lord’s resurrection and ascension; and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. You can find these accounts in the Gospels and in Acts. Pray this prayer daily: Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty; my memory; my understanding; all that I have and possess; my entire will. You have given all these things to me, and to you, O Lord, I freely return them. All is yours now. Dispose of them wholly according to your will. Please, Lord, give me your love and grace. That is enough for me.