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 voiceMary Oliver, The Journey
which you slowly recognised as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
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 body” elsewhere 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.Howard Thurman
Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive…
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.