It has been seven months since I retired from my position as a teacher-counsellor in a Catholic school. Before the school year ended, I eagerly applied and was accepted into a spiritual direction training program. Previously, I listened to many students experiencing difficulty in their lives. I helped them gain insight into the complexity of their situations and learn how to navigate waters that were often choppy.
It was critical in the school setting to see as many students as possible; teachers who identified those having difficulty wanted timely help for them. Now, I need to trust the slow work of the Holy Spirit and learn to surrender to the Spirit’s movement in the life of my directee. I guide the seeker so that she might hear the voice of the Spirit and discern the Spirit’s movement in her heart. My studies and this new role contribute to my own spiritual growth as well.
It is easy for each of us to believe nothing is happening in our inner life. One often reaches this conclusion as a result of too little attention paid to subtle nudging. God really wants to communicate with people but hearing God’s voice can be challenging amidst the noise and confusion in the world — the cacophony of our many thoughts crowding in upon themselves can drown God out.
Traditional practices do not always open doors for those who seek God’s voice. My first directee, Angela, found that her experience reading Scripture and attending weekly mass as a young person left her disinterested in pursuing those avenues in adulthood. Yet, Angela still yearns for God in her life and is blessed by a spiritual director whose sole purpose is to assist her. I help Angela gain insight and attend to the still voice of the Holy Spirit. It is a blessing that the Spirit speaks to the director and directee both simultaneously and individually during times of reflection afterward. My directee chooses to be open and allows herself to be known; she trusts the relationship with me as her guide.
A metaphor that has commonly been used to describe the spiritual director is that of midwife. Jesus tells Nicodemus in John chapter 3 that each of us must be born again in order to enter his kingdom, and as Margaret Guenther says in her book Holy Listening: “Even though we may die alone, no one was born alone, so to be born presupposes relationship, connection and community.” We know that birth is a difficult process. Not only is it messy, but it often is painful as well. We can turn to the midwife who gives us her time and support; we are encouraged to talk with her, to explore and to listen. When we are courageous and receptive, new life will come, this we can trust. God does not disappoint!
Since our society is outcome driven, we find ourselves pressured to produce results and feel judged on this basis; often such results are accompanied by monetary rewards and are associated with our own personal sense of success and failure. Achievers, according to Margaret, want to push hard at life even as they see that it only makes the pain worse. Directees often believe that only perfection leads to acceptance and worthiness. Yet, this attitude is in sharp contrast with the ways of the farmer who plants his seeds and is prepared to wait for them to sprout. The farmer nurtures the crop, is patient and trusts there will be a flourishing.
My first spiritual director, a Basilian priest, journeyed with me over 20 years. When I first came to him, I was not a practising Christian. He had a vision for my life with Christ in the long term.
Within the Catholic Church, many of our models in the realm of spiritual direction are men and women religious. In my own life, I have been inspired by such greats as Thérèse of Lisieux, a Carmelite, and Father Louis, better known as Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk. I have been guided not only by a Basilian priest, but also by a Benedictine monk and a cloistered contemplative sister, a Poor Clare. These directors have taught me to hope and to pay attention to God working in my life. They never displayed impatience. Consequently, I felt no need to hurry and was often encouraged to trust the slow work of God.
Now, I better understand the Benedictine motto which initially seemed stark to me: “God alone.” I think when people fail us we are tempted to believe God has failed us. My guides led me to know that God does not abandon us. Rather, they showed me how God is there for people whenever we turn to God. I have come to know God as “the Good Shepherd” who constantly seeks out the lost sheep and attends lovingly to all in the fold.
Eckert holds a MEd in counselling psychology and before her retirement was a teacher/counsellor at a Catholic high school for 27 years. She lives in Vancouver and is married with three adult children.