An affirming source (6): Empowered

[See Parts 1234inter-mission, & 5]

Spiritual direction relocates authority from out there to in here.

It’s about an authority that emerges from yielding not to an alien will but an affirming source … [We] are empowered, emancipated, to use the transforming energy we can exercise by acknowledging our dependence upon an unconditional source of affirmation.

Rowan Williams: Being Human, pp. 72–3

The language of much religion conveys the impression that God is a distinct and separate being out there. This image underlies the very way prayers are said in church, requests formed in the thoughts and spoken out into the space. Authority rests with a distant God, a set of scriptures, a leader, or the way we do things around here. Often these are power-and-control-games, and conflicts are set up between my own innate wisdom and these other authorities. I lose basic self-trust and self-confidence.

Spiritual direction offers the rediscovery (for you knew it once) of another authority, not in the person of the spiritual director – God forbid! – but your own, authentic voice. [author, authority, authentic – ed.]

There are two ways of thinking about this. In the first God is no longer imagined as out there, but in here. I begin to distinguish the authentic voice of this body from all the other voices clamouring for attention, and know that this voice is not separate from God. I may not be the author of my life but the authority that bodies me into being speaks in and through my being.

and there was a new voice
which you slowly recognised as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world

Mary Oliver, The Journey

In the second, I realise that all is God, that I am not separate from the world, that there is no inner and outer, and I recognise that there is no possibility of discontinuity from Divine nature. God is what I am, what everything is. I am the voice of the author speaking with authority as this little life.

Of course there is discernment to be done. Not every wish I have is Divine. The cacophony of voices echoes in the chambers of my head. But the true voice is not in the head; the head is merely an emissary. It is elsewhere in this body. Where in this body? Some say the heart. Others the belly. I urge you to listen. And take your time about it. [See “A beginner’s guide to this bodyelsewhere on this page.] The authentic voice, the voice of God, is like a shy creature that needs you to be still and quiet before it can trust you enough to venture from its refuge.

I do not believe we can know the meaning of life. I do not believe we can know what our purpose is. What is a human for? What is the Universe about? The answers to these questions are above our pay-grade. How can a brain cell realise the meaning of mind, or a human person divine the purpose of the Cosmos?

So what can we know? We can know when our lives, our choices, our actions feel meaningful and purposeful. This is the purpose of discernment. We listen to our life, to each day, to the life of this body, and in this attention to ourselves we start to notice what challenges us into life, or joy, or contentment, or fulfilment. (Note: I do not mean complacency or inaction or freedom from anxiety.)

Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive…

Howard Thurman

Being emancipated from the idea of an alien will, through yielding to the affirming source, and being freed into the authority of our own presence (which is God’s Presence), we are empowered for the life and work that is ours. We no longer have to ask, “What do You want me to do?” Rather we can say, “What do I most deeply want to do? What feels most true to me? What satisfies me most? When do I feel joy? When does life feel meaningful?” It may only be an inkling, a whisper, a frisson. Trust and follow this authority that is deep in your being. This is what spiritual direction is ultimately about.


I’ve come to the end of this series on “an affirming source”.

What do you think?
What have you found helpful?
What have you struggled with?
What would you like to hear more about?
When does your life feel meaningful?

I’d love to read your reactions to this. Please leave a comment.

11 thoughts on “An affirming source (6): Empowered

  1. Thank you I have enjoyed this series.

    The source of affirmation enables me to affirm myself as I discover who that is I become one with the source and I am enabled to share in the work of affirmation.

  2. I would like to print out the complete set of six pieces and go to a very quiet corner of the house and read them carefully.

  3. Loving the mental exercise of this series and like Paul I’m going to be reading it again as a whole.
    Meanwhile I am still striving to recognise my own voice in the clamour of my bodies history, to truly ‘know’ me and my unique relationship with God, which I believe to be the source of my creative spirit. However what I think you are saying here is that my authentic voice is actually Gods voice, which which would be the same for you, and for everybody. What of my uniqueness then? Is it only my striving which is unique?

    1. Thank you, Julia, for these thoughts. I believe each being is unique by virtue of its unique place in the Universe. You see the world differently from me because of our different vantage points. So, God, as us, sees the world from our unique places in the world. We are distinct but not separate. Like a wave breaking on the shore at Blakeney Point or at Otamure, NZ. The same vast ocean, different droplets of water.

      A quote from an otherwise unremarkable film, Ghost in the Shell, I saw the other day: “When we see our uniqueness as a virtue only then do we find peace.”

      Do you know this poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins?

      As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
      As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
      Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
      Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
      Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
      Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
      Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
      Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

      I say móre: the just man justices;
      Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
      Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
      Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
      Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
      To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

      1. Thats helpful. My peace at the virtue of my uniqueness was rattled for a moment. And I hadn’t come across the poem;
        ‘Whát I dó is me: for that I came.’ That restores my peace!
        Thank you Julian.

  4. My thoughts are that we are co creators with God and it is when our voices are in harmony that we produce something new and wonderful. We can achieve this when we are able to quieten the voice of the ego and become indifferent to the world. The voice with in for me is my authentic voice that is able to hear the voice of God more clearly. the clearer it is heard the more we become united as one voice. What say you Julian?

    1. Thank you for commenting, Rose. I like what you say. Lots to think about here; easy to say, not easy to live in practice.

      (An aside: I assume you are using the word ‘indifferent’ in Ignatius’ sense, i.e. desiring God more than other things (e.g. “health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, long rather than short life”). It is important to distinguish this from the way ‘indifferent’ is commonly used meaning ‘uncaring’.)

      A way to say it in line with this series: when we relax, let go of ourselves, by “yielding” to the “affirming source”, which we can trust absolutely because it is what I am, then the creative force we sometimes call ‘God’ is who I am and what I do. To reference what Julia says, although we are all one with the same ‘God’, who I am and what I do will be unique because of my particular location in time and space.

      You and I are saying the same thing with different imagery?

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