Most of us probably wouldn’t think about embarking on something important without any planning and, perhaps, talking with another person who had already done what we’re going to do.
If we needed to learn a complex computer program for a job and everything depended on us having details correct, we’d seek advice from others who know the program or from a supervisor or IT person.
The same is true when we’re embarking on a spiritual journey. If we seriously want to commit ourselves to learning how to listen to God, how to pray or how to understand Scripture better, we can seek out others who have gone on this journey before us.
The person could be a friend or might be a “spiritual director” or “spiritual companion.” These titles cover a select set of men and women who have studied how the spiritual life develops. They are aware of the stages of spiritual growth that can be expected and what it takes to commit oneself to this kind of an inner journey.
Their well-honed skills in listening can help us develop our own abilities to listen, while helping us grow in our relationship with God. When sensing a desire to deepen our spiritual life, finding a spiritual director can be invaluable. Most retreat centers have people who specialize in this service. Some parishes have them as well. It can be a key decision we make to nurture our spiritual growth.
Blessings on the journey,
A line from Scripture jumped out at me today: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Once in a while, people come to explore a vocation with an unhealthy spirit of sacrifice. They may think, “I’ve sinned so much; I have to make it up by giving my life to God” or “I made a promise to God that if he got me out of a situation I would become a nun.” The thing is, there is no joy or freedom in this approach. God always invites, and does not demand. Of course any life commitment involves sacrifice, but it’s not supposed to be a resentful, begrudging sacrifice. It’s a willing sacrifice that is also graced by mercy, by compassion, and by love.
That’s an important piece for discernment. Are you free? Could the decision go either way and you could still trust that God is walking with you and guiding your life? If you say, “I just have to be accepted by this congregation” or “I’ll just die if he doesn’t marry me” you aren’t free. God wants our love, not our sense of obligation. In whatever you are discerning in your life, where do you find yourself most drawn to make a healthy sacrifice in a spirit of love?
In order to make life decisions with God’s help, we need to learn to dialogue with God about the things in life that matter most to us. By developing intimacy with God through prayer, our ability to share life with God grows slowly and steadily. Praying with Scripture is foundational to this growth in intimacy with God.
In my own journey of developing an intimacy with God, I benefited greatly from a book by two Jesuit priests, Dennis and Matthew Lynn, called Healing Life’s Hurts. Using St. Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer of imagination with Scripture, I learned how to identify imaginatively with different figures in Scripture who might be feeling the same negative emotions I was feeling. I then learned how to encounter Jesus in this prayer and experience his response to me.
So in my anger and resentment, as though with stone in hand ready to punish the one who hurt me, I hear Jesus saying, “You who are without sin may cast the first stone” (Jn 8:7). Or to overcome with my fear of failing, as if I am about to go overboard in the storm at sea, I hear Jesus saying, “Get hold of yourself. It is I. Do not be afraid” (Mt 14:27). Or in my guilt and remorse, I find myself as the penitent woman washing Jesus’ feet with my tears and drying them with my hair, and I hear Jesus saying, “Your sins are forgiven …Your faith has been your salvation. Now go in peace” (Lk 7:48-50).
Through such encounters with the living Word, I began to realize that the Bible included me. The biblical story and our story become one story that mediates God’s unconditional love for us! As St. John of the Cross so beautifully states it, “The gospel has eyes – the eyes I so long for. The gospel has eyes; they reach to the heart and change it.”
Does your spirituality include praying with Scripture? Have you experienced God relating to you through the biblical story? What are some of the different ways in which you have grown in your intimacy with God?
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a new video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!