A couple of weeks ago my spiritual direction class spent a Saturday with a Jesuit on the topic of the inner movements of consolation and desolation: medieval terms which reflect the soul's movement toward and away from God. Not language you are likely to hear in the context of church, but language which directors in the Ignatian tradition use all the time. Our day-long discussion was lively and envigorating as we tried to grasp essential but often elusive concepts, and at one point I said, "I am in awe of this entire process, and more than a little apprehensive about my own role in it."
I was reminded, as we so often are, that it is not about me. It's an oft-repeated truism that in spiritual direction it's the Holy Spirit who is the director. The human "director" (for want of a better term; other terms like "guide" or "companion" are often tried, but people always seem to come back to the ancient one, since its connotations are generally understood) is present to ease the process, but is by no means actually directing anything. These days I tend to think of the director as a pointer, as someone who gently indicates, and not necessarily by saying so: "Maybe that way."
Yesterday I spent an hour with the head of our program -- my end-of-semester consultation/evaluation -- and as we talked I realized, yet again, how dramatically my interior life has been changed by the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius. It's a great relief to have found community in my program, since few people in my worlds of family, friends, church, or seminary have much interest in the kind of immersion in relationship with God that direction fosters. I'm not at all sure about how that happens -- it seems that when the time is right, a path opens, although you may be unaware of it when it happens.
I do know that it's something people can't be "sold" on. Earlier in the week I ran into a mom I knew from our Montessori days; two of her children have attended one of the major Jesuit high schools in town. I mentioned what I am doing and that several of the women in my program have emerged from the spirituality program for parents hosted by that particular school. "Oh, I know about that," she said. "I just haven't had time for it." I wanted to say, "Reach out and grab it!" But I had had an almost identical conversation last summer with a neighbor whose children have attended the same school, so I just commented that, "They do great stuff," and moved on to the next topic.
It's baffling. You can be carefully raising your children in your tradition and surrounded on all fronts by some of the best it has to offer, but not moved to wade into it yourself. Or you can be the only person in your entire family who even takes note of the existence of God, and find yourself, to all appearances completely by accident, making your way through a 500-year-old process of prayer with a Jesuit who after his own 50 years of experience can listen, completely unperturbed, to everything you have to say, and every once in awhile gently point, "Maybe that way."
It really is awesome, in the most traditional sense of the word.
Advent all year.