On Returning to Spiritual Direction

For the last many months, I’ve been afraid that, if I called my spiritual director, Fr. Joe, he’d be angry that I hadn’t been in touch. Boy, was I wrong.

I felt so relieved when he greeted me like a long lost friend, with nothing but a sense of joy and pleasure at my arrival. You don’t get that too often in life, but when you get it it’s the best feeling in the world.

We talked for a long time. He told me a few things about how he’s doing. I told him about my life– the Camino and what it’s meant to me, the state of my spiritual life, the things that happened at Colgate this semester. There was a lot to talk about.

He gave me some good advice and told some great stories.

“You need time to get back to yourself, to a sort of baseline where you can even look at what’s going on. You need quiet. Know what I do? I go over to Onondaga Lake and stare at the water for a while. That gets rid of the noise. Then I come back and pray before the sacrament and ask Jesus what is going on in my life.”

“How long do you stare at the lake?”

“Eh, last time it was about six hours. Then I came back and prayed for four hours or so.” He said this without any hint of recognition about how unusual his behavior is.

He told me that it’s too early to know what the 19th annotation retreat I did last year (the 30 week work on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius) did for me, but that he was absolutely certain that God used it and that I’m different. “Go and sit at the lake. It’ll become clear.”

We talked about the Camino. I told him that I miss it and that I think about it every day and want to go back. “What do you miss?” he asked. I told him many things, but mostly the simplicity and the physicality and the quiet. I told him of my drive to rid myself of my possessions, and he smiled and said this was probably one of the things God was working on with me, giving me the grace to embrace that sort of freedom.

His advice:

1. Review Ignatius’ Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, from both weeks 1 and 2 of the Exercises.
2. When I don’t perceive God’s presence in my life, I should talk to God about it directly. “Tell God, ‘I don’t feel you present with me. Am I doing something wrong or are you doing something with me?”
3. Go back to the “Two Standards” in the Exercises and spend time with that.
4. Because of how hard I am on myself, spend time meditating on the question, “Is Jesus my friend?”
On the way to spiritual direction I listened to the On Being interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Lutheran minister of many tattoos. It was interesting enough, but I did not find her to be as awesome as I’d heard she was.  Maybe you had to be there, or maybe I know a lot of her tricks from my Lutheran seminary days.  But she’s obviously connecting with some folks, so may God prosper the work of her hands. On the way back, I listened to another interview from the same podcast, this one with Paulo Coehlo. It was better.

The most important thing I heard from Coehlo is that he realized after hiking the Camino that the spiritual pilgrimage began after his arrival at Santiago. I am finding that to be true. He spoke of the character of his life changing. The elements of the pilgrimage restored him to himself and awakened a desire to have a life characterized by traveling lightly, simplicity (which he termed elegance, a linguistic turn I loved), conversations with strangers, openness to new places, long stretches of solitude, deep connections, the sheer physicality of the walk, etc. I get this, and it’s where my heart or God or whatever is pulling me.


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