Focus and linger

December 28, 2011

In our December 27
issue, Amy Frykholm describes
the rapid development of the spiritual direction movement, and
Daniel Schrock reviews Angela Reed's book on the subject (subscription required). There are currently
more than 6,000 spiritual directors working in conjunction with Spiritual
Directors International. Spiritual directors often turn to this model after
other forms of spiritual and religious leadership fail them. In an earlier post,
Ruth Workman told the story of the reinvigoration of her ministry through
spiritual direction. Below, spiritual director Sandra Lommasson tells of her
quest to find that "something missing" in the church.

For information on
finding a spiritual director, see
Spiritual Directors International. For
questions to ask a potential spiritual director, see
Anam Cara. --Ed.

At
age 29 I cried out to an empty universe in the first authentic prayer of my
life: "God, if you are, I need help!"

The
help came in ways I couldn't imagine. Most significant was my involvement in a self-help
process for family members and friends of alcoholics, and I drank from that
well like a woman dying of thirst. God became real, a palpable and living
presence, and I found practical ways to live this relationship, gradually
finding my way into a congregation with which I could share the story that was
becoming central to my life.  

By
the early '80s I became a lay staff member of a Presbyterian congregation. I
was hired to do family ministry, but I was still puzzling over the fact that
the Pentecost I had experienced as a member of the 12-step group was missing in
my congregation. I suspected something beyond conventional Christian education
was needed: formation rather
than information.

Surely
there was a practice that both awakened us to the work of the Spirit already in
our lives and helped us to live Spirit-filled lives! I read widely in search of
this kind of practice. In Catholic literature, I read of a process called
spiritual direction that was less about sharing a mutual story and more about
serving as an evocative witness to another's sacred story. I wondered if this
was what I was looking for.

I
entered the three-year program at Mercy Burlingame, a center run by Catholic
sisters, and began to practice "holy listening" to individuals, church staff
teams and governance groups. As I listened to the stories of ordinary people I
learned to recognize the golden threads of the Spirit: perhaps in a desire to
repair a broken relationship, or in the courage to let a program die in trust
that death is never the final word, or in noticing a new thing arise as a
possibility in an organizational mission.

Focusing
on and lingering in those places where the Spirit is moving changes us. Most of
us benefit from a witness who helps us notice what's already present--to enter
it, explore it and respond to it as a prayerful practice.

Mark
Nepo says that to listen is to lean in softly with a willingness to be
transformed by what we hear. In this kind of listening, Pentecost becomes an
almost daily experience. Ordinary life is extraordinary life.