Janet Duke-Warner, Victoria Regional Meeting.
ALL MY EARLY life I longed for one who would listen to me as I pondered the reality of my life. Someone I now realise who could have helped me to understand and comprehend how I had been “knitted together in my mother’s womb”, (Ps. 139). As a young adult woman, but still at many levels a youngster, I found Quakers. I was attracted to the Society of Friends for many complex reasons.
Several of the older women who were members of Ministry and Oversight took me gently under their wings. I now realise that this was an experience of “a nursing mother “in Christ, as Margaret Fell was described by early Friends. However it was a time of reticence in speaking directly of one’s faith and places of struggle. A small group of Friends met regularly one Sunday night a month for a shared meal and Meeting for worship. This group of loving Friends gave to me an understanding of my acceptability to them and we together could ponder some of the complexities of life. It still however left places of hunger within me.
Years later after developing a successful career as obstetrician and gynaecologist, and marrying and creating a new happy extended family, I first read these words of Douglas Steere:
To listen another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.
At the time of my marriage preparation to David, who is an Anglican Priest, I had experienced spiritual direction for the first time. For the first time ever, I was encouraged and challenged to verbalise my experience of prayer and therefore to ponder and enunciate my experience of God. Nineteen years later, as I dealt with an identity crisis, these words appeared. I realised that spiritual direction would be an aspect of the inner work I needed to do. Only by doing this work could I truly become who I was created to be.
Intense inner work, what the Quaker writer Sandra Cronk, describes as “inward re-patterning towards a life centered in God”, happened over the next few years. I moved from the place of being a very busy “perfect” obstetrician and gynaecologist to the place of contemplation and happiness in knowing I was loved by God. I grew in my love and compassion for myself. A recognition of the gift of the command of Jesus to love your neighbour as yourself. I heard the call to the vocation of spiritual director. After some time and much further work I was accepted into the formation programme, The Art of Spiritual Direction, at WellSpring Centre in Melbourne. This is an ecumenical formation programme under the auspices of Ashburton Baptist Church and a recognised teaching institute of MCD University of Divinity.
Over a two-year programme I gradually developed and honed my God given talents. I was already a well seasoned listener and observer of people. In medicine I had felt I was “totally” responsible for the safety and care of my patients—“Heaven forbid that I believed that someone did not care for them with the same intensity I did.” Now I grew in the knowledge, that, as spiritual director, my task was different. I was merely a conduit, a facilitator and observer of the Holy Spirit at work. It was no longer just up to me but rather was the feeding nourishing work of the Spirit. Half way through the second unit I rediscovered my Quaker way of being. I truly could resonate with the words of George Fox:” to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.”
As I have matured in my new way of being I have had the joy of journeying with a number of people. In our formation we were taught that we are pilgrims on the way—sometimes guide, sometimes pilgrim. When I am guide my role differs depending on why someone has sought and asked for Spiritual guidance. I work from the place of the narrative—both the spoken word and what is felt but unspoken. Sometimes the work is that of loss or bereavement. Sometimes of hunting to see where God is calling a person to become-vocational work. Sometimes this is dark night work—a time when God is silent and what does this signify, what is happening. Sometimes just simply a person’s desire to have the opportunity to speak of their faith or prayer life.
In this country, spiritual directors do not advertise. It is felt that the Spirit will lead people to directors. So writing an article like this at some levels feels strange. I do so with diffidence, but in the knowledge, that I have been asked. I know that the ministry of others has been gift to me and I wish to share this knowledge with the broader community.
Quakers are appropriately apprehensive of “professionals.” In the 1970’s as a young medical student I was often challenged about the perceived omnipotence of the medical profession. This grounded me. It encouraged me to be a better caring empathetic doctor. To speak out about injustices I saw about attitudes and the ability to access quality care. Unfortunately it also helped to drive me to places where I was not as tolerant as I now desire to be. Perhaps if I had had a spiritual nurturer at that time I could have been gentler with myself and towards others.
The quote from Douglas Steere goes onto say: “For in penetrating to what is involved in listening do we not disclose the thinness of the filament that separates people listening openly to one another and that of God intensely listening to each soul?” As I have been held in the Light by those who have journeyed with me I remember the ordinariness of all our lives and the words of the George Hodgkin who, in 1918 for a second time, left his young family “to travel in the service of Truth’ only to die in Baghdad:
So much of life is just going on and going on, long after the excitement and stimulus has faded . . . There is so much to ask for that I get very lost. And then I just come back to the simple longings, the simplest prayers of all; that Christ may be in those we love, that our love maybe more Christ-like, more unmoveable, that we may be kept sinless by some immense miracle, and by God’s side whatever happens. We must give up trying to hold His hand, and just stretch out our hands even if they are just fists for God to hold. There is all the difference . . . between holding and being held.
I believe that for some spiritual direction enables them to live into this place.
Janet Duke-Warner is currently an attender at various Meetings of Victoria Regional Meeting. In the 70s and early 80s, prior to her marriage, she was a very active member of Toorak Local Meeting and Victorian Regional Meeting. Her desire is to facilitate people to live as Spirit led people.