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THE THIRD CHAIR

At the end of a meeting, my directees sometimes say some variation of: “I spoke so much about ‘other stuff.’ Is that ok here?” My answer is always a resounding “YES, how could it not be!” 


The required training spiritual directors must complete before being certified is filled with study, prayer, and sharing; but we mostly learn how to listen. We listen to the person sitting across from us, of course, but we also listen to our own hearts, seeking to recognize the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. It is through this intervention that we are able to “direct,” if that word is truly appropriate to describe what happens in the room. Many directors choose the word “companion” instead, which resonates perfectly with me.  


I think my most productive preparation to be a director came from both a deep desire to know and love God and a lifetime of prayer in pursuit of that goal. My formal study and continuing education helps me identify with this desire more deeply. It helps me put words and structure to what I’m feeling inside. I am also exposed to many new ways to pray and seek God. These are all concrete tools which I share with my directees as needed. As great as these tools are, I submit that they pale in comparison with those emanating from the third chair in the room.


The Third Chair

Directors are taught to never forget the “third chair” in the room. The Holy Spirit is there with us, desiring the best for both of our spiritual journeys. Even though my focus is always on the directee and their journey, it is impossible for my own to remain unchanged. If you think about it, how could the Holy Spirit be with us both, yet only affect one of us?


When I worked with 9th graders who were preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation, I always shared my image of the Holy Spirit:


The Holy Spirit is like the energizer bunny: always fired up and moving all around us. If the Spirit had arms they would be waving furiously, saying ‘Here I am, look at me! I have custom made a path just for you, to help you know the Father’s love for you.’ If, every day, you could be aware of this presence, of this personal Advocate gifted to each of us by God, you will know true joy.


This image remains with me today. This eternally energetic dispenser of the Father’s love is not only part of, but the best part of, our conversation in spiritual direction. Therefore, this energy can be found in the most ordinary and “un-spiritual” aspects of our lives. So, how could anything we say be off topic or out of line? The key is to remember the presence of the Holy Spirit in the first place, which is a tremendous challenge for most of us.


This is where spiritual companion-ing has its place. When we come together with the specific purpose of journeying to closeness with God, it helps us stay on track. As spiritual directors, we work to create a place of hospitality, joy, and non-judgmental openness. In other words, we create a safe place for our directees to “be,” and then we simply “are” with them. God’s Holy Spirit does the rest. And this is what my training helps me to recognize. While I myself am imperfect, I strive to rely upon my awareness of both God’s presence and lack thereof, at times, within me and within the sharing of my directees. 


The Consequence

It is through this awareness that “direction” can happen. Below, are two examples to illustrate this point:

1. As I listen to a directee, sometimes my heart is touched deeply by something they’ve said, so I slow the conversation down and direct the person to that something, and our conversation lingers there awhile. 

2. Sometimes, my mind is struck with a persistent curiosity about something, so I ask the directee if they could share more about that something. 


When I sit in either chair, (as directee or director) I find that these moments almost always lead to a deeper awareness of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And the consequence is the true joy I promised the Confirmation candidates. 


Like everything else that matters, the more we practice spiritual direction, the deeper our awareness of God becomes; and the deeper the awareness, the deeper the joy.


The Boundaries

I also feel that spiritual direction is an avenue of hope. So often it is when we are brought to our knees with life struggles that we realize our need for God. Suffering, while painful, is an excellent vehicle to God, but it is not one we can always navigate alone. Spiritual direction offers us the gift of a companion who is hopefully objective enough to keep our eyes on the prize. My role as a director is to keep my focus on God, and to trust that God will do “the rest,” whatever that is. I am not there to solve problems or give answers and striving to notice God in the moment helps me to resist the temptation to fix or provide false certainty.


Help For The Director

Most directors meet with a supervisor and a peer supervision group once a month. In these meetings, the focus is on the director, not their directees. This is a place where the director can talk about those moments where he/she was distracted by their own discomforts, memories, etc that interfere with their ability to listen well in a direction session. Knowing I have these supportive tools at my disposal often helps me set things aside for a better time and get back to focusing my attention on the two other people in the room.


Most, if not all, directors I encounter gratefully acknowledge their need for help from their supervisors, peers and, most importantly, God. Let’s face it, the journey to God is daunting. This mystery we call God is beyond human comprehension, yet many of us have experiences that convince us we know God, which ignites in us a desire to be closer to Him. But the more we know God, the more we realize that complete knowledge of Him is impossible. The fact that a director needs help accompanying someone on this impossible, yet life-affirming, journey shouldn’t be a surprise!


Words Fail

Spiritual direction, through simple conversation, supports us on this impossible mission to God. The articles in this blog list many specific skills and ways to pray, all of which are indispensable in their own way. One could argue, however, that the companionship of a spiritual friend has many intangible, yet real, qualities that are too deeply precious for words. Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be, and maybe that’s why spiritual direction is so difficult to describe. 


My experience teaches me that true clarity and wisdom is only dispensed from the third chair in the room. It is done with perfect precision and received in as many ways as there are seekers of God. We can never capsulize this amazing essence, but through this special ministry, we can share it with one another. Amen 


PS. 

My love for spiritual direction drove me, out of my comfort zone, to share the joys of this ministry through the twenty-two articles in this Blog. While I will never run out of things to say, I believe I have said enough to dispel the age old joke that “spiritual direction is the best kept secret of Christianity.”


An unexpected side effect of this endeavor has been my great pleasure in sharing the ups and downs of my spiritual journey with you, dear readers, with whom I sense a keen friendship. 


Without my dear spiritual director, Anna, I would have absolutely nothing to say and, again, words fail.


Experiencing the excellent editing of Alicia Furlan has taught me much about writing a blog, and her openness and honesty have kept my feet on the ground. I think she is terrific! (And I’m not just saying this because I’m her Mom.) What a fun mother/daughter project. I can’t wait to see what’s next.


Leave your email on my mailing list if you’d like to see what aspect of spirituality God calls me to write about next! 


If you have been following this blog, you are absolutely on a spiritual journey. Thanks for sharing the road with me, and I wish you Godspeed along the way. 


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1 comentário


Gerry Moss
Gerry Moss
4 days ago

Wonderful


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