Snow, spiritual direction and clarity...

In about and hour we will venture out into the new snow. It is sunny but brutally cold today so it will be a short sojourn with the puppy. Last night, no matter how much I wanted it, sleep eluded me until about 4 am. So rather than fight it, I read - and read and read and read until I dropped off for about 7 hours!

My recent posts have been about discerning my soul's journey in the quest for a spiritual director. Given yesterday's "snow day" I was able to search through my study and pull out a few books that have aided me the the past. William O. Roberts, Jr. has a slim volume, Crossing the Soul's River: A Rite of Passage for Men, that I have found read and reread a few times. Robert Wicks' Prayerfulness has also been valuable. As is Jean Stairs' exploration of pastoral care and spiritual direction: Listening for the Soul. (When I finally get over to church tomorrow I will comb through my library there for additional spiritual direction texts, too.)

Two additional kernels of clarity came to me while I wasn't sleeping last night that are illuminating. First, my tradition in the United Church of Christ, has never been strong when it comes to the inward journey. We are known for - and celebrate with vigor - our social activism. We are proud of our prophetic positions, sometimes to the point of vanity, and trumpet God's call for justice to roll down like a river. What we have forgotten, however, is the ability to listen for the soul.

What North American mainline Protestant churches once understood to be central in pastoral care is not marginal in pastoral practice. Because we have neglected to foster soulfulness (soul fullness), the church and the world alike cry out like the psalmist of old: "No one cares for me... my soul thirsts for you like a parched land." A jarring dichotomy exists between society's pervasive longing for meaningful spirituality and the faltering pastoral responses of Protestant churches... for many, the church seems too much in appearance like the world - too busy, too tired, too involved, too demanding, too unstable, too spiritually impoverished, too leadership deprived. (Stairs, p. 1)
Small wonder that I have found myself nourished by Roman Catholic spiritual directors as well as those from the Anglican tradition. These groups have not lost touch with the practices of the soul. Neither have they abandoned their "care of the soul" to professionals practicing psychology. Stairs wisely observes that for the most part, "Roman Catholics and the Eastern Church preserved the tradition of formal spiritual guidance and accepted counseling as complementary to it."

Protestants, however, increasingly viewed psychological counseling as having the strongest possibility for alleviating individual and in-depth pain. For Catholics, care of the soul remained a sacred art for spiritual directors, while Protestants increasingly identified care of the soul with cure of the soul administered by therapeutic specialists. Cure of the soul became associated with the tasks of fixing, adjusting or making healthy. The restoration of the soul became increasingly less spiritual and more therapeutic... (Consequently, today) too many churches are captive to a professionalized model of pastoral care and they find themselves unequipped to listen for the truth that speaks form the deep, often hidden places of the soul. (p. 5)

Like Kathleen Norris wrote in Dakota, monastics seemed to be the only ones practicing spiritual care of the soul by the 1980s - so off to the monasteries many of us went in search of God's inner peace. I know that there were NO spiritual practices emphasized while I was at Union Seminary (the academy had not yet caught up to the fact that many if not most of us had no training in spirituality in our home congregations) and after ordination I was unable to find a spiritual director in my own United Church of Christ tradition. Thank God for the work Howard Rice has done at San Francisco Theological Seminary over the past 20 years. He has reclaimed Reformed Spirituality for the contemporary church and SFTS continues to bring both wisdom and sound training in the sacred spiritual arts to a Reformed tradition that has long forgotten its origins.

This reality helps me understand why I have been pulled towards the depth of key Roman Catholic spiritual directors.  The other insight for me is closely related to my tradition's over-emphasis on activism. For the most part, we don't do well with silence.  We don't do well with a ministry of presence either: we want results. How did the prophet Jim Morrison of the Doors put it?  We want the world and we want it... NOW! Such a frenetic way of being, however, has created a careless aesthetic in worship and a sloppy approach to the sacraments. It almost seems to me that our busyness becomes an excuse for rushing through worship and throwing together prayers at the last minute. 

I recall reading an essay written years ago by Reinhold Niebuhr in which he confessed that he hated to go to Christmas Eve worship in most of our churches because our prayers were banal - and even stupid. No, he would go to a high Anglican liturgy with Mrs. Niebuhr where attention was given to the place of beauty in service to the Lord. I know that when I was in seminary there were NO courses on what are called "liturgics" - the drama and beauty of sharing the liturgies with grace.  No, with our Reformed commitment to only relying on Scripture and getting things DONE, we didn't believe it was necessary to train anyone in the mechanics of serving communion.  Toss out the bread and mumble a few phrases and leave the rest to God seemed to be the order of the hour.

Again, small wonder that my quest for soul food could not be addressed from within my tradition.  Nobody was paying attention.  So I wandered into the liturgical practices of my charismatic Episcopalian friends in the Community of Celebration (Aliquippa, PA) They prayed the hours. They used contemporary and ancient music well and creatively. They paid attention to silence and beauty.  And they taught me how to listen for the soul.
I grieve that there are so few "soulful" practitioners grounded in the quiet arts in my tradition.  At the recent Jazz as Liturgy conference I attended in Cleveland, I experienced this anew in what passed for common worship.  Don't get me wrong, the music was stunning - if sometimes at odds with the liturgical moment (an invitation to go deep within was juxtaposed against a pounding and insistent gospel song performed way too loud for inner prayer) - no what was problematic was both the absence of silence and the preponderance of gimmicky words.  All of which created not a sense of a community on a journey, but a group of frenzied individuals running around trying to be cute.  A few of my church folk had to walk out...

I guess what I am saying is that in my quest for nourishing the journey of my soul at this moment in time, I find myself once again bumping up against the limited resources for spiritual direction in my own tradition. As I search out Spiritual Directors International postings, there are almost NO Reformed directors in my region. What's more, there are precious few men doing this sacred work. Well, I trust the saying that when the student is ready the Buddha will appear.  I guess there is more waiting to be done, yes?


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