Summertime is story telling time. Whether it is a presidential candidate intent on “telling the narrative” he hopes to provide for the nation, kids sharing the excitement of a first scuba dive or swim across the pool, or Garrison Keillor at the Hollywood Bowl meandering through Lake Wobegon with his elderly mother, a story captures us. Often it is where we find the truth.
I am entranced by stories. That may be why I love the work of spiritual direction. I revel in the sagas and epics from people with whom I sit as they regale me with the ways in which the Spirit precedes, follows, interweaves and shapes their lives. I hear endless variety, unimagined worlds, perspectives that are original and poetic, almost magical and miraculous in their arc of unfolding!
I learned to preach in seminary from a winsome, quirky, beloved Scot who taught us the practice of speaking to connect the story of the Holy One to the stories of our listeners. How is God present and moving in the lives of those who listen? That is also what I learned to do in spiritual direction, to listen to and evoke the telling of the sacred story that inhabits the daily life each one who come to me. It is when each guest begins to tell a story that a sacred space is opened to our senses and insight; together we see, hear, feel the Presence of God-in-Person intersecting the narrative of that life.
Someone comes with a sad saga of broken-heartedness, cruelty or a sense of God’s absence. Others come with whirling epics of overcommitment, overextension, overtired and overtired flurries that render the teller of the tale too exhausted to move. A few emerge with a tangle of invitations in their hands: come this way! go that way! try this opportunity! just follow me! The story that those friends bring is a pastiche of “I wonder” and “if only.” And my call is to hear those stories with an open heart, one that believes that God’ story has intersected each one.
It is having a spiritual director myself that has taught me most about discovering the places that God’s story intersects with my own story. As many others, I have carried a interior stories about my life and faith with varying degrees of veracity. Anna Quindlen in her book, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, captures what I mean:
Oh, those little stories we tell ourselves. They make us what we are, and, too often, what we’re not. They are the ten commandments of incapability, cut to order. I can’t cook. I’m not smart. I’m a bad driver. I’m no jock. Maybe they’re even true. It’s hard to tell at a certain point. The little stories we tell ourselves become myths if not impossible to discount or overcome. (PP. 89-90)
When I begin my own version of Quindlen’s litany, my spiritual director is the one who hold up a mirror to me, asking the questions, “Who told you that? How do these events fit into that sad story? Where did you feel the presence of the Holy One at that moment? What in your past and present experience invites you to rewrite your story to a new tune?” When she then opens her heart to hold my tale, I become free to answer those questions, to see where and how, in fact, God has been present in my life and to take heart once again so that I may do my part in God’s intended rule in the world. Healing, comfort and energy comes both from telling my sacred story, and having it received and reflected by another.
The summer is half over, and there are many more stories to come that are expected from the Olympics, the political conventions, the denominational gatherings, family reunions; I know from experience that unexpected ones will howl through the lives and moments as well. The gift I am called to offer is to tell my own story and to receive the stories of others, all the time grounding us in the Grace and Providence of the Holy One whose story with humans does not fail.
Patheos blogger Elizabeth Nordquist reflects on the hearts of the spiritual practice called spiritual direction.