From Letters on Spiritual Direction by Susan Muto, a book of “imaginative” letters that St. John wrote to his directee Dona Ana Penalosa.
John writes about the danger of placing ourselves under the spiritual care of the wrong person and writes sobering comments about who should NOT be a spiritual director:
One is perhaps highly educated but inexperienced, or one full of clever answers but indiscreet, not a listener but a controller, not a humble person but one proud of being so accomplished, not an experienced guide in spiritual matters but a counselor mainly trained in psychological techniques and personality analysis. 90
I want to continue my progress in dealing with the “veil of temporal detachments” (which Ana says, “hinder longing for transcendence 23) and natural affections that block the soul from union with God. (21, 65) Yet, I realize how easily I fall back into old habits and especially the big three: appetites for power, pleasure and possessions. A sad and sobering reminder to me was the statement made by John about many people, “Called for much more, they settle for much less.” 72
I must remember as John says, “Your delight in him is the delight he feels in you.” 51
We need to be available to people as they feel an empty life apart from God, “a thirst that is unquenchable, a hunger that is never satisfied.” 67
God is always the initiator, “It is humbling to realize that we could neither raise our eyes to the divine light nor desire it if God were not turning our eyes in the right direction.” 72
What do you do when you have a compassion deficit?
Consider the empathy and compassion of Jesus and ask God to help us feel the same compassion He feels when we see others in need. Susan Muto says that reception of mercy generates compassion for others; compassion “will flow from the sacred heart of Jesus.”
Here is a poem from Practicing the Prayer of Presence by Adrian van Kaam and Susan Muto that I read last week. I have been anything but gentle of late and there is a restlessness within me that I don’t like these days. As a new journey lies ahead, the following line is one that I need to pray every day! “Free me from the need for achievement. Make my life less forceful, more gentle, Centered in you alone.”
The Splendor of Your Presence
by Susan Muto and Adrian van Kaam
You want me to learn from you
Gentleness of heart.
No matter how I fail you,
Your gentleness never fails me.
You are slow to anger;
Your kindness is without limit.
You tell me not to be distressed,
To make your gentleness my own
So that my soul may find rest.
Give me the wisdom to make time in my day
For a gentle nursing of my soul.
Free me from arrogance,
From goals too sublime for me.
Still and quiet my soul
As a mother quiets the little ones on her lap.
Free me from the need for achievement.
Make my life less forceful, more gentle,
Centered in you alone.
Let the splendor of your presence
Light up my everydayness.
Make me a smooth channel for the outflow
Of your Divine Will in this world.
Let me move gently
In the omnipresence of the Divine.
Harmonize my frail spirit with the Infinite Spirit
Who fills the universe and its history.
Love of my Lord,
Invade my soul and melt away any trace of vehemence.
Following are some of my reflections after I read Epiphany Manual by Muto and van Kaam
As I seek to provide spiritual direction to others, I need to respect and honor the way God is already at work in the other person and should “never get in the way of the process already in motion in the heart of a person-in-formation.” (14) Rather than seeking to control the process, I was reminded that “Good facilitators let common formation happen.” (22) It is not necessary that I “click” with all the participants; only that I respect and value each participant’s contribution to how the Spirit is at work in the group. My role is to try to discern the spiritual needs of the group.
It is necessary to debunk the notion that spiritual formation-in-common will lead to some special or ecstatic religious experience. Formation should include a commitment to “expose the self-deception that covers up our total dependence on God.” (62) A key point for me is a reminder that “Transformation is a grace only the Spirit can give.” (63)
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Following are my own reflection about Pathways of Spiritual Living by Susan Muto.
This small book provides an excellent summary of some of the basics needed by anyone seeking to pursue holiness through spiritual self-direction. “The call to holiness beckons us to return to the basics, that is, to those conditions for fostering single-hearted, awe-filled, grateful abandonment to God’s will, revealed in the midst of our life in the everyday world.” 31 In particular, she addresses silence, listening, reflection, prayer and contemplation.
Since I am at the point of transition and moving from a ministry which involved public recognition to one that seems to be more hidden, her words on page 47 spoke to me. “Perhaps it is God’s will for us to remain in a service that is hidden, but it may also happen that we have to bear, as Christ did, the burden of public recognition and the consequent envy and jealousy it might arouse in others, to say nothing of the pride it could breed in us.” I have only of late discovered that the more the public ministry the more the need to withdraw into silence and solitude.
Silence has been a significant part of my own healing from burnout and so Muto’s encouragement to silence encourages me. Rather than seeing silence as an escape, I can see it as an opportunity for God to be at work, it becomes a place in which I can develop an intimacy with God. Indeed God has used silence to rebuild my fragmented soul. Muto says that everyone needs silence. “To neglect this need is to risk living a tense, fragmented, spiritless life. . . .If we do not nourish our souls, they atrophy as do bodies without food.” 58 However, since many people with which I work find it difficult to get away for longer periods of silence, I need to work with them to see how they can creatively build silence into the structure of their existing lives.