“Spiritual Direction” by Gordon T. Smith is a thin book. Having read a few of the author’s books, I looked forward to this one. Particularly since the subject was something I was interested in. It was an easy read. It was obvious that the author, though an evangelical, is aware of different traditions of spirituality, but is appreciative of this Catholic practice. He is obviously a practitioner himself. I found the book informative and useful and practical. Here are the many things I learned:
The aim of spiritual direction is to help the directee enrich his or her intimacy with God and to learn how God is present and at work in his or her life situation.
The best form of training for spiritual direction is to have received good spiritual direction. The wannabe spiritual director (SD) has to be formed, not just skilled or informed. Some formal training will then be helpful.
The SD focuses attention on the presence and movement of the Spirit in the directee’s life.
Listening with empathy is an absolute must for the SD. It is good to have biblical knowledge, and some understanding of spiritual heritage but listening well is a premium.
Pastoral work should include spiritual direction since the aim of spiritual direction is to held the person grow in his relationship with God and to learn to see things from God’s perspective.
Ideally the directee should be teachable, hungry to grow, willing to submit to God and be of the same sex as the SD.
Spiritual direction skills can be used in pastoral work, evangelism and friendship.
It is better for the meeting to be formal and separate from a meal so that there is no distraction.
One format of the SD meeting is:
Listen to the directee talk about significant experiences in relationships and work (30 minutes).
Comment of where God seems present and active, and response from the directee (20 minutes).
The mornings and evenings were lovely and cool and the birds and squirrels always came alive with their song and dance routines. The afternoons were warm but not so humid.
“Relax, do whatever relaxes and refreshes you. Don’t force the scripture passage to yield anything. Just relax”. This was the advice my spiritual director Fr David Towsend, SJ, kept repeating over the next few days. Yes, we Singaporeans are always in the productivity game. Since walking relaxes me I took several long walks….and jogs. The Chiang Mai University is a mammoth campus, as I found out, during these explorations.
The other retreatants were going through a whole morning and afternoon of talks. The returning retreatants only needed to attend the morning sessions conducted by Simon and Rinda Tan. They each would meet with spiritual director Simon or Rinda daily for thirty or more minutes. Simon and Rinda were gracious to allow me to join the community as and when I wanted and to have the priest as my spiritual director. There were four pastors at the retreat(see pic below).
Silence began at dinner time. It would continue for the next six days. It’s the spiritual equivalent of not opening the oven too often to see if the cake was baked. Sharing prematurely would dissipate the depth to which the Lord wanted to work with us on an issue.
Sunday, 14th November:
Attended the Sunday morning mass. An hour and ten minutes. A liturgical service with scripture and sermonette interspersed with songs and climaxing with the Mass. Fr David Townsend spoke about why the Creeds were so important to the church and how it often required courage in the ancient days to recite them. There was certainly a price to pay for speaking the truth. John the Baptist knew that. When he saw Jesus he declared, Behold the Lamb of God, and straight away he lost two faithful members. Later he would lose his head, literally, again for speaking the truth. This business of truth speaking was serious stuff.
David had already given me a passage to meditate on and as it was Sunday, I did not meet with him.
Eat. Pray. Journal. Sleep. Getting into some kind of rhythm.
They tell me reading biographies is sort of okay during a silent retreat, unlike reading books on spiritual stuff that might lead me on a detour from what God is saying or doing inside me. The same goes for MP3 messages. So I brought along and finished “Born for Blessings” by Bishop Moses Tay. It was a straightforward account of his life and career as Bishop and then Archbishop. Was impressed that the Bishop, later Archbishop, was very committed to the Lord’s work in his youth and later as a general practitioner. He received his University of London theological education via correspondence and was ordained a priest while still in medical practice. Bi-vocational- this is something the church will see more of in the future, I believe! Anyway this book offers an insider’s view of what happened in the upper echelons of the Anglican communion during the denomination’s recent turmoils.
Just some notes for readers to get an idea of what a silent retreat looks and feel like. Nothing matches the experience though. Of course what happens in the interior life remains private in my own journal. However, brief diary notes over the next few days may give readers an idea of what it was like. Hopefully they may want to have a retreat themselves.
Thursday, 11th November:
Here I am. The common response when God beckons His own. Here I am. Half a day of travel, with an hour’s transit in Bangkok. Half a day to settle into the Seven Fountains retreat house in Chiangmai. Mine was a little room with a view and a balcony on the corner of the third floor of Block 2.
Here I am Lord.
Had a cheap and good Japanese meal before the retreat proper began. Tsunami is just three minutes walk to the left as you walked out the entrance gate of the retreat house.
To view videos clips of the Seven fountains grounds see below:
Friday, 12th November:
It was good to begin. House rules and orientation. Shown the different blocks, chapels and dining area and other spaces. Simon and Rinda brought us out to the Chiang Mai University lake area just fifteen minutes away.
Watched the “Bucket List” movie, which gave new meaning to the scripture catchphrase, Watch and pray. Hmmm….what would my bucket list look like?
The dining hall was still crowded with animated conversations.