7.3 Divine Guidance

Critical Response to Divine Guidance

By Susan Muto and Adrian van Kaam

Contribution to my understanding of spiritual direction

This book primarily addresses self-directed spiritual formation. The author’s state that their goal is to help the reader discover how to find and follow the will of God. (12) However, this book could be useful for a spiritual director to refer his directee to find help in the practice of guidance. We should expect that God’s guidance us will move us along the path of being conformed into the image of God. (12) We should not expect to receive divine guidance in specific areas if we do not first develop a lifestyle in which our normal living of life is shaped by God’s will. Since there will be times when our patience is tested as we wait on His guidance, recalling His past guidance in our life should encourage us. (14)

As I read about van Kaam’s friend Rinus, I long to experience the contemplative union that he seemed to so easily experience. (15-16) I was encouraged to continue on in what I know of God’s calling for me as I read how van Kaam discovered, “Disobedience to his guidance . . .could result in losing the real mission God intended for me.” (17) Lately, I have been asking for clarity on God direction for me and I asked myself, “What is distracting me”? I sense God is calling me to a ministry of spiritual formation among people and yet I am able to come up with a number of reasons why continued movement along this path does not make sense. After reading this section, I realized that I need to face my fears of failure, about what people think and of ultimate rejection. I wonder if I have anything to say to people. There is some doubt about my ability to give the right direction to others. Yet, I need to “experience myself as God’s work of art” . . . and “appreciate my gifts.” (191) The lack of interest of many people in spiritual growth causes me to question the relevance of spiritual formation to most people. However, I realize that I my thinking is wrong here. I need to focus on learning to listen to God in order to try to help others see where God is at work in their life. The authors both warn and encourage me with the following words:

“Not to commit ourselves to fulfilling our call because we do not know its outcome would be a tragic mistake. Without faithfully following the lead of the Lord in our lives, we risk living a scattered, inconsistent, and ultimately disappointing experience. We become prisoners of the passing whims of our age. We find ourselves absorbed in functions that have lost their spark. The music of eternity fades so far into the background that it takes almost a tragedy for us to hear its refrain.” (188)

“The bad news is that by not following a decisive disclosure of divine direction, it may or may not return.” . . . “The good news is that it is never too late to recommit ourselves to what God wants us to be and to do, even though this “what” always remains mysterious.” . . . “All we can do is abandon ourselves into God’s guiding hand, appreciate our call, and follow its beckoning with as much fidelity as we can muster.” 189

Many people experience anger but few know what to do with it. I now understand that I can encourage people who become angry to see their experiences of anger as “invitations to offer forgiveness to others.” (92) The author’s suggest that we can and need “to change the course of anger rather than bury it.” (124) I want to help people see that “peace is more than a cessation of conflict or the avoidance of trouble.” (158)

In spiritual formation, we should all seek the same purpose, “We want to allow the life and love of the Trinity to flow through us, to behold the world as God’s house where we serve his people with love.” (158) One of the best reminders for me was found on page 175, “However astute our study or practice of spiritual direction may be, divine grace alone can give us the insight and the courage we need to turn our wills and our lives over to our Beloved.”

Impact on my present call and commitment to shepherd others

I am determined to continue to trust God’s love for me even when alone and in pain as evidenced by the example of Nunny. (19) Muto’s own struggle with God encourages me to be honest with God in my journey even during my low times. She mentioned that often when she is honest with God when down, “the gloom lessens and a new direction is delicately disclosed.” (20) As a scuba diver, I understand that it is not only dangerous to fail to be patient and wait but it also prevents me from seeing all that God wants to show me. I need courage to “endure the darkness of not knowing.” (28)

Since I am one who seems at times to have a compassion deficit, I appreciate the suggestion to consider the empathy and compassion of Jesus and ask God to allow me to feel the same compassion when I see others in need. (97) It seems that what generates compassion for others is the reception of mercy or as Muto says, our own compassion “will flow from the sacred heart of Jesus.” (100) In the same way, as I seek to be a peacemaker with and for others, this begins with my own “internal harbor of tranquility.” (129)

I was personally challenged by the discussion on inordinate attachments that can lead to bondage. (142) As I have reflected on what brings me consolation and desolation, I become aware that there yet remains in me these inordinate attachments. Yet, I was encouraged by Muto’s statement, “As long as God comes first in our lives, we can love ourselves and all people and attachments as gifts to treasure, not objects to own and discard.” (150)

Strengths and weaknesses

There are stories sprinkled throughout the book which illustrate the principles discussed. These along with the “Time to Reflect” statements and questions help in understanding and processing the material. In particular I liked the imagery of “cleaning barnacles” to capture what happens in this transformational journey. The poems at the end of each chapter powerfully drive home the content of the chapter. The last stanza of “Serving You in Poverty of Spirit” (154) has already become one of my favorites.

“Lord, send me out into the fields,

And when I have done all I could,

Remind me kindly that I was only

A useless servant

Serving you in poverty of spirit,

A humble mirror of my self-emptying Lord. “

Scriptural and use of the masters

The authors say that the Scriptures and the masters are “most worthy guides” for Christians and they back this up in the book. The basis for chapters 4 to 11 was on the “Be Attitudes” and in each chapter, writing from one of the masters is used to help the reader to anticipate obstacles to guidance and to learn how to cultivate conditions in which guidance can best take place. (24) When the authors write on p. 59 that God really forgives and forgets our sinfulness if only we are sincerely repentant”; I think they misrepresent the nature of the believer’s relationship with God. As a believer, my forgiveness is based upon what Christ has done for me and upon my appropriation of that forgiveness (through confession) and is not dependent on the sincerity of our repentance. The author’s state that repentance is but the beginning of conversion (67); that there should be an ongoing conversion of the heart (70) and that longing for holiness assures our continuing conversion (71). Yes, we need to keep saying “yes” to God and no to self but I would prefer to use the term conversion to represent a state or a condition and the process of continuing to be transformed into the image of Christ that is not yet fully formed in us is sanctification or spiritual formation.

I am not sure I agree that there is such a thing as a “healthy spiritual guilt” (83); a “wholesome guilt” (84) or that guilt’s purpose is to help us to see our need of forgiveness. (84) My understanding is that guilt is a tool that Satan uses to make us feel condemned and unworthy to approach God’s throne and for the believer in Christ there is no longer any condemnation from God. The Spirit’s ministry does convict us when we are wrong but I do not think His ministry produces guilt.

I like and plan to use the two word prayer “Draw Me” that Therese used since we will be “united in an intimate way to the object which captures our heart.” (75) I found very useful the insight of Teresa of Avila that we should see every occasion as a formation opportunity (87). Thus we can see God using all of our life experiences to shape us into His image as opposed to a dualistic mentality that says we are spiritual only when we pray or read the Bible. I was very challenged by Mother Teresa’s words, “I am not here to be successful but to be faithful.” (184)

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