Obviously the physical needs of the congregation have to be addressed immediately then, once basic needs are met, there are several powerful ways that spiritual direction can be used. First, spiritual direction creates a space for holy listening. After trauma our thoughts race uncontrollably. Our mind is on overload as we process, grieve, recover, and begin the healing process. Our bodies are exhausted and weak from the intense stress. Our spirits are fearful, scared, and doubtful. So our minds, bodies, and spirits are desperately longing for silence and stillness. Creating an intentional space for holy listening can bring life back into our whole being as we are fed by silence and stillness.
Creating a space for holy listening can take place in many forms. During the worship service there can be parts of the service that are for the purpose of being silent. Holy listening can also be used in religious studies or meetings. The gathering can begin or end with a few moments of silence so that each person can be strengthened by the stillness. Holy listening can also be used in ministerial care situations. The minister can provide a time of silence for the person or people to sit in silence. Holy listening creates the space for a congregation to step away from the racing thoughts and exhausting actions and be renewed by the Holy Spirit.
Visualization is another way that congregations experiencing trauma can use spiritual direction. In spiritual direction there is a form of visualization specifically used for extending forgiveness. In this practice a person holds a physical picture or visualizes the person up against their heart. For example, someone might visualize or hold a picture of a person they want to forgive, then place a hand on their heart and sit in silence. The aim of this practice is for the hurt and anger to melt away over time. It is in no way aimed at making the actions of the other person right. Rather the purpose is to release the power that the person has over the one who was harmed. Similar to holy listening, the practice of visualization can be used in worship, small groups, or individual ministerial care sessions and be worked into weekly worship. Visualization time can be a few minutes or an extended period of time. The minister leading worship can invite each person in the congregation to take out a picture or visualize a person. Then the minister can invite the congregation to place their hands on their hearts and hold them there for a given period of time. As the practice begins, the minister can pray the following prayer or a similar prayer:
Spirit of the living god, fill this worship space with your healing presence. Fill each of our hearts and hands with your healing grace. Open up our minds, bodies, and spirits so that we can each let go of the hurt and receive the gift of your wholeness. Give each of us the strength to acknowledge the trauma, feel the intense pain, and release the pain and hurt to your spirit. Thank you Oh divine presence for your power that is greater than our circumstances. Together all of God’s people say, Amen.
Depending on the level of trauma, the practice of visualization can be repeated in worship as many times as necessary. As the healing practice can be used in worship, it can also be used in small groups. The small group can use the same picture if there is one person or a specific group of people that the small group needs to forgive. Or, each person in the small group can bring their own picture or do different visualizations of people they need to extend forgiveness to.
Using the spiritual direction practice of visualization can also be extremely powerful in individual ministerial care sessions. The minister can guide a person or people through the process. Through these sessions deep personal healing can take place. The practices of holy listening and visualization are two healing spiritual direction methods that can be used as congregations seek to heal from various types of trauma. While there is no one direct, quick practice that will work in every congregation, there are multiple ways that spiritual direction can be used for healing and wholeness.
Rev. Laura Bratton
Rev. Laura Bratton was born and raised in Greenville, SC. At the age of 9, her sight began to deteriorate due to a retinal disease. Over the next 10 years she lost all of her sight. In 2010, Laura was the first blind student to graduate from Princeton Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity. Laura currently serves as a senior pastor of Laurens Road United Methodist Church in Greenville, SC, while maintaining a spiritual direction practice at Ubi Global Ministries.