7.11 Pathways of Spiritual Living
Pathways is yet another book written by Susan Annette Muto
Contribution to my understanding of spiritual direction
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.
The sections on formative reading and journaling provided me with some useful material to explain these concepts and in continuing to model them in my own life. She provides a useful explanation of how reading, meditation and action fit together. “To read is to receive the word into the heart; to meditate is to listen to its deeper meaning; to act implies a silent exchange of love in which I know that the Lord is the source of my strength.” 77 Muto provides some helpful answers and practical helps for those who make excuses about not journaling (“don’t have the time, fear of others reading our journal, people feeling that they must do it perfectly). As she says, “A journal is not a manuscript being readied for publication. It is a record of a dialogue between ourself and God, a quiet reflection on a particular event to discover its formative or deformative meaning.” 100
Impact on my present call and commitment to shepherd others
Muto challenges all to a deeper spiritual walk. She says that Jesus was not looking to influence the spiritual elite of his time and is certainly not doing that today. “ His teaching is full of hope for average people because he always promised them they could begin again despite their failure.” 25
Since I am at the point of transition and moving from a ministry that had a lot of 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, as 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.
As I model and teach about these things, I as reminded about the importance of humility. As Muto says, “Humility opens our inner ears. It enables us to acknowledge the truth of who we are and who God is.” 78 Humility is an important component in moving from merely informational reading to formational reading.
I have noticed that spiritual formation could become an introspective self-focused spirituality. However, Muto points out that these basic exercises should lead into transformed ways of service to others. The goal is inner transformation so that we can serve others. “We want to deepen our inner resources so that we can become more faithful instruments of God in our families and professions. . .Holiness is loving God with our whole being and radiating that love in every dimension of life and world.” 171 However, I have also personally experienced what happens when we enthusiastically give out in service and do not nurture own relationship with God. This usually results from a pride in refusing to accept my limits. “What causes trouble is the exalted nature of our intentions insofar as these tend not to be rooted in realistic appraisal of the situation and of our own limits and talents. Our pride stands in the way of our seeing clearly what can and cannot be done.” 175
Strengths and weaknesses
Muto helpfully warns about overemphasizing the role of emotions in our formational reading. If we expect that each time we read, we will have a dramatic insight from God, people will be quickly disappointed and tend to give up.
Muto begins this book by saying that Jesus offers change to the average person and in this book, she has taken some often misunderstood areas of spiritual formation and has demystified them. Clear explanations are given to encourage both the beginner and those already somewhat advanced in this journey. That said, the topics of contemplation and union with God may remain somewhat mysterious for many reading this book.
Scriptural and use of the masters
A number of the Masters are used to illustrate various aspects of these basic disciplines (especially in the areas of contemplation and union). Since these are the most difficult topics for people to digest, it would have been helpful to have more discussion on what the Scriptures have to say about these areas.