Although I have been interested for several years, for the first time in my life I am under spiritual direction. In my low-church evangelical world this practice is almost completely absent and I had a difficult time finding someone. Even my Roman Catholic friends weren’t able to recommend a suitable director, although they lauded my interest. Last December I was finally able to make a connection, thanks to a reference from a colleague who is also an Anglican priest.
My Spiritual Director (“my” doesn’t sound right– too possessive) is an Episcopal priest who serves primarily as a psychological counsellor. He offers spiritual direction for clergy, gratis. I’m appreciative. He is a warm bear-hug of a man and radiates joy. His eyes sparkle and he has a rich laugh. He is spiritually intuitive and seems strongly influenced by Eastern Orthodox mysticism. A print of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal decorates his office and continuously communicates a central message of love and acceptance. We have read many of the same authors and share an interest in spiritual disciplines and practices. I think he is a wonderful person and I trust his insights already.
We meet once per month for about an hour. Mostly it seems like talk therapy, except focused on my spiritual practices. He asks questions and I describe and describe, followed by his comment. We pray together. He has been focusing a lot on the Christian virtue of joy and that is a good thing. He recognizes that I tend to take myself too seriously and strive, push, always competing against my imagined best self. He wants me to be more open to experiencing the wonders that God has for me each day.
We began our meeting this week discussing Lent. I told him about the kinds of fasting that I am doing (pretty traditional stuff) and also about taking on a practice: I have started to run again. I hadn’t meant to talk about running. I immediately felt the need to justify this as a spiritual practice and not just an exercise routine. The first descriptors that came to mind were ‘open’ and ‘silence.’
I am pretty insistent about not running with music. This is partly for safety. I spend most of my time running on the roads, and cars are an ever present danger. I have become a connoisseur of road noise. I have learned to tell what kind of a vehicle it is, how far away, and how fast it is moving from the sound alone. My hearing is never sharper than when I am running.
But it is not only physical. There is something about running that heightens my spiritual hearing. Not every workout. When I am pushing pace or even doing a threshold run, I don’t think about much except running. But when I run without regard to speed, simply according to whatever my body wants to do that day, I experience a special kind of openness to God. When people ask me what I think about on these runs, I always answer: everything and nothing. I simply let my mind go and it wanders back and forth, up and down. I pray. And I listen. Often thoughts just come. Ideas, convictions, spiritual direction. Things get figured out. I am always healthier mentally and spiritually when I am running.
I think it is because of running that I have become addicted to silence. My enjoyment of silence has spilled over from running to driving (I rarely listen to anything on the road–it’s another important time of spiritual reflection for me), and even chunks of time at home, when appropriate. But how can it be silence when it seems so full of the presence of God?
I have recently finished reading Shusako Endo’s Silence. It pains me to admit that I had not even heard of the book before I read about Scorcese’s new movie. Silence is a deeply Christian novel that explores that porous membrane between faith and doubt. It is about betrayal and apostasy in the context of Christian missions during the great persecution under the Tokugawa Shogunate. It is about Christians who fail to be heroic martyrs and have to live with their weakness. It is about the silence of God. But as I was reading, I was astonished by the opposite– by the continued presence of God, manifest through suffering. A God not of glory, but of the Cross. The Word this God speaks is so powerful and I can hear it all the way from early modern Japan.
Unlike Endo’s main character, Father Rodrigues, I can’t remember ever suffering under the silence of God, ever enduring a “dark night of the soul.” Perhaps it is because I have never had to suffer much at all. I wonder if my running might be a voluntary embracing of silence and suffering, my own sort of asceticism, my own sort of death-to-self. I am sure that my spiritual director would laugh at this line of thinking and say, “Now you are taking yourself too seriously again.” My son, my son, why are you striving? Embrace the wonder. Exult in the joy of the presence of God that you find in silence and in running. And he would be absolutely right. I think spiritual direction is going to be really helpful.
Friday 6 (treadmill in Chicago hotel)
Saturday 5 (treadmill in Chicago hotel)