Gerard Guiton, New South Wales Regional Meeting.
IN LISTENING TO the Spirit it is essential to distinguish between God’s desire for us and our own desires. How might this be done? There are lots of ways, I guess, but here’s one from my own experience and what it means for me:
During the early nineties a Friend suggested I take up spiritual direction (SD), also called ‘spiritual friendship’ or ‘spiritual companionship’. Her idea came as a surprise because I had never seen myself in that light. Wasn’t I the one who needed SD?
She knew I had often shared times at work listening to colleagues and had served on my Meeting’s Ministry and Care Committee besides penning a small work, Stillness, which had reached folks in the SD community.
My ‘colleague times’ at work were quiet, private and often very deep moments during which they would off-load concerns about work, family life, private worries, fears about this and that, but also about the good things happening in their lives.
I found listening to them enjoyable. In fact, I discovered I wasn’t a bad listener. I think being a Friend helped in that respect. What gave our times together a spiritual friendship character, so to speak, was the fact that my colleagues were a spiritual lot, and at times I was aware of a third party—God, the dynamic principle of Love within us and among us.
But whatever their views and experiences—my work mates were invariably evangelical and/or fundamentalist in their Christian beliefs—I found their ideas and experiences fascinating, and felt highly privileged to be invited into their confidences. As I say, there was a sacredness to the times we shared.
This experience and others—‘God-nudges’ you might call them—plus much thought and further advice led me (at long last) into taking my Friend’s advice. I began a three year course at the Wellspring Ecumenical Centre in Melbourne and from the start my time there was a dream. I graduated in 2012.
My Friend had seen a gift in me. That sounds like boasting but it’s important to acknowledge that it was/is not my gift. I hold it in trust for God. George Fox used to say, ‘Give God the praise’ when people thanked him for his many gifts. My gift was given to help spread the Way (i.e. the ‘Kingdom’) of justice, peace and compassion. In terms of my spiritual companionship, It opens up a path of discipleship on which to journey with ‘directees’ or ‘pilgrims’ while offering whatever help they may require—any requirements coming from them.
Spiritual friendship is a mutual process, therefore, of listening and learning. It is a ‘doing’ sort of prayer and one which can greatly benefit one’s own faith community.
The perseverance to follow a particular spiritual route is a test of a Leading before it becomes a Concern. My Concern involves listening attentively to the Spirit who is the real director or spiritual friend in any encounter. To live this reality is to be ‘humble’. Theologically, humility means listening with all of myself to the Spirit and being careful, therefore, not to fall victim to one’s destructive ego. It also implies using one’s gifts for the work of the Spirit, not hiding them under the proverbial bushel.
Prayer is essential to SD, indeed to life in general because it grounds us in our servant-hood as I have intimated as well as helping us understand that, without the Spirit, we cannot be fully integrated and truly ourselves. Without the Spirit we fail to be authentic, then, and to grow satisfactorily because our human reason is never enough. In other words, we cannot be ‘saved’, i.e. we cannot be whole and in full unity with Love.
The greatest prayer is saying ‘Yes’ to Love even though Love is demanding and opens up vulnerabilities. A true ‘Yes’ means we dwell in our inner Holy of Holies, the Presence. In doing so, we trust in Love. Our contemplative moments like Meeting for Worship are essential here.
Importantly, when we trust in this way we let go of our will. We surrender. Of course, we have the ability to choose a dark path but if we are in the God groove so to speak (even for a nanosecond), then we will be perfect, and experience momentarily the purpose of our existence. At such a time we have no need of ‘free will’. We ‘let go’ freely so that Love/God invades us. Letting go, surrendering, saying ‘Yes’ is the key to waiting faithfully on the Spirit so that ‘way will open’. This is our age-old practice as Quakers and it is at the heart of discernment.
Speaking more personally, I have not ‘arrived’ in this new life by any means. I never will, I suppose, if only because discernment is an on-going process. I am happy with that because I need to be more attentive to my inner teacher, to learn to pray better and more frequently, to listen more profoundly to others, to be more aware of the Spirit around me. This doesn’t come easy because my human inclination is to turn away from these things which can be confronting.
And to be a better spiritual companion I need to be a deeper Quaker—to undergo a continual process of convincement in overcoming my own will and to free up my gifts. Finally, I need to value much, much more our precious silence in which I learn to openly accept the Life in myself and others, and to draw it out of them. Which is, after all, what my Friend did for me.