Updated: Nov 7, 2022
One morning recently, I managed to wake and proceed with my morning routine without looking in the mirror. I was therefore left with nothing but my own picture of myself…. Until the mirror inevitably reflected the truth later in the day.
Of course, my interior image isn’t a lie, but it’s more of a preference. I see myself as I want to see myself. When I look in the mirror, that self is still there, but she’s much older. Her hair is peppered with gray, her middle is thick and there are wrinkles where there weren’t before. Some days, I don’t like what I see in the mirror. But on most days, I accept it and am even a little grateful for its honesty.
Another Tool of Spiritual Direction
Reflecting back is a tool in spiritual direction that I have come to treasure. In previous blog articles, I have hinted at this tool, but in this post, I will offer an expanded description of a kind of “spiritual mirror.” This mirror reflects our spiritual self, which enables a very special kind of seeing.
I share a journal entry below, one which I also read aloud to my spiritual director. It is a prayer review, something I do when I need to process what happens in prayer:
I had some quiet time. I was able to relax, melt into my chair. Nothing new happened: distraction - prayer word - silence - distraction - prayer word - silence over and over again. But one time as I said my prayer word, I was struck with a million questions. “Where are you (God)? What does my prayer word mean? What do I want from this prayer time?” More questions filled me. It was thrilling. Why? I think because I had a taste of your mystery God. Just how much I still don’t know. This thrills me, when it might frustrate me. I am happy to peer into the chasm that is you (God), The empty, never ending, ever present chasm. Amen.
It was a happy moment I wanted to share with my spiritual companion of several years now. Though I expected nothing more than a hearty affirmation of my experience–which I, of course, received–my spiritual director surprised me with much more.
At this point, I am quite sure that my spiritual director was following the promptings of the Holy Spirit when she said, “close your eyes for a minute” and she asked me to ponder two questions, “What does God’s Mystery taste like?” and “What is it like to peer into the chasm that is God?”
And so I went back to that moment with those questions in mind, and what I experienced next was unexpected. This is another journaling of what I experienced because of my spiritual director’s promptings:
The taste of God’s mystery? It was a cool glass of water on a hot summer day. Why mystery would present itself in such a refreshing, peaceful way is a mystery in and of itself. But I kind of get it.
What is it like to peer into the chasm that is God?
As I pondered this question, I almost immediately saw Jesus. He was sitting with a look of relief on his face, but he was also crying tears of joy. ‘I’m so happy you are here - I love your company. I’m just so happy you want to be here with me’ I had a sense that he was lonely - not just for anyone - but for me. He had been waiting. He said ‘You are peering into the mystery of me - GO FURTHER - GO FURTHER and KEEP GOING’ For me this requires courage, which I know you supply, Holy Spirit. But to understand Jesus’ strong desire that I do so, is quite another story.
As you can imagine, the rest of that entry dealt with my feelings of inadequacy and prayers for God’s help to keep going as Jesus urged. But that’s beside the point (of this article, at least).
Naming the Real Spiritual Director
It would have been enough for me if my spiritual director delighted in my initial experience with me and moved on with our conversation. But spiritual directors are not only listening to their directees. They are also listening for the promptings of the real spiritual director, the Holy Spirit.
As a side note, my director is also a teacher of the type of prayer I was practicing, Centering Prayer. In that practice we usually encourage focusing on the silence, and clearly I focused on the distractions. She could easily have offered a gentle reminder of the priorities of Centering Prayer, but she did not. For me, this is confirmation of the Holy Spirit’s strong guidance in our session that day.
We directors are keenly aware that the relationship between God and our directees is solely in God’s hands. We are simply mirrors for your spirit. Hearing your personal prayer out loud can reveal something new to you. Seeing your spiritual director’s reaction can expand your own reaction. Laughing or crying together lightens the beautiful load that can sometimes accompany powerful prayer experiences. And responding to the director’s questions can sometimes bring you to new depth and clarity.
While not a piece of glass coated with reflective material, these kinds of interactions can produce a reflection of the Holy Spirit’s work in you. This reflection offers the opportunity to experience your prayer again from a different perspective. This, in turn, takes you deeper in your relationship with, brings you closer to, or helps you to know God.
Can you see how my spiritual director’s curious questions helped me to encounter God with a greater depth and clarity than my original prayer did? This is an example of how spiritual direction can bring us closer to God when we contentedly rest in what we think is “all there is.” Reflecting back to the directee is a precious tool indeed.
Recognizing the Holy Spirit's Promptings
Spiritual Directors dedicate a great deal of time to recognizing the Holy Spirit in our own lives and in the world around us so that we can, through the grace of God, be attentive to the Holy Spirit’s desire for closeness to our directees.
This isn’t magic. It is a time-consuming process of discernment. We attempt to understand the stirrings of God in our own hearts and process how God wants us to respond. I asked my director, Anna, to share her memory of that session and how she knew to encourage my further ponderings:
Regina’s words “I am happy to peer into the chasm that is you (God) the empty, never-ending, ever-present chasm” tugged at my heart, and evoked in me a holy opportunity to explore more. I sensed the Holy Spirit prompting me to unpack, and encourage Regina to go deeper into that chasm. As spiritual directors, we learn (and live) through leading a discerning life, to trust these movements.
I can feel the Holy Spirit moving me to draw on what I know to be true, through the great teachers I’ve had (and have) and to trust what I have learned and experienced. To “stay” with my directee.To not jump out of this mystical yet ordinary moment too soon. To enjoy what is like a holy dance with Regina and the Holy Spirit.
For me, as I reflect today on our time together during that session, I am filled with gratitude and awe. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit that I have come to understand deeper and deeper through events like this.
Just remembering and writing about this session is prayer for me at this moment. My 9 yr old grandson asked me, “Ammah, how can you be sure there is a God?” Without hesitation I answered, “because what I see happen in spiritual direction sessions, I know I can not make happen. Only God can.”
As Anna continues, she describes the study, experience, and surrender that contribute so beautifully to our conversations:
As spiritual directors offering the “Contemplative Approach,” we are deeply aware of the need and importance of noticing, waiting, savoring, lingering, exploring, listening and “not jumping ahead of the grace of the Holy Spirit” in each session.
Along with that, and what Regina explained so clearly about the movement of spiritual direction, when I sit with a directee I remember what I have learned and experienced as I trained to be certified is sealed in my heart by the Holy Spirit. It has become part of my being.
While our focus is on the directee, it is clear from Anna's sharing that the grace of the Holy Spirit fills the director as well. How could it be otherwise? As we know, God’s love is beyond measure. It simply isn’t possible for the Holy Spirit to be present to one and not another in the conversation. I believe the business world would describe this as a “win-win.”
As I said, mirrors are honest and therefore valuable. But the reflection we see in the company of a dear spiritual friend facilitates palpable, everlasting joy and a sustenance we never knew we needed.