The wounds of trauma exist along a spectrum, so necessarily does healing. A phrase that has rightly grown in popularity in the last few years is “healing is not linear.” We at ICTG have certainly found this to be true in our work with various communities and organizations over the years. In this Easter season for the Christian tradition, I have been struck often by the words of Henri Nouwen about Jesus, “His resurrection was a hidden event…Neither his life nor death nor resurrection was intended to astound us with the great power of God.” This statement strikes me as very true about the type of quiet healing we are often privileged to witness in spiritual direction. There are certainly moments of deep emotion and meaningful insight, but often, the true work being done in the soul of the person sitting across from us is hidden. Its invisible nature however is still very much miraculous and powerful.
Part of the work of spiritual direction, and indeed most disciplines that bring about personal growth, is bringing the unconscious into the light of consciousness. This is how we make meaning out of what we have experienced in our lives. This is also how much of healing happens. Only when we are able to see clearly what we are carrying with us, can we handle it appropriately. Blessing it and setting it aside, or choosing to keep it with us as a companion that serves us in our journey. Much of this work is accomplished by taking tiny steps forward, then stopping to integrate our new position, then taking another tiny step. As spiritual directors, we can offer patience with and space for this process with our directees. It is tempting for our directees, and indeed ourselves, to want to see great leaps of progress. Huge movements of healing where everything feels different immediately after meeting. And that certainly can happen! Most often however, it is only from much further down the road that we are able to look back and see how far we’ve come. That the sum total of all of those small steps has moved us through to a new perspective is something usually seen in hindsight.
When I describe what spiritual direction is, including how trauma plays a role in someone’s life, there is often a general response of, “That’s good.” But unless they’ve experienced it for themselves, rarely is anyone astounded. Rarely does anyone respond with, “How powerful!” And that is just fine. Companioning is not a glorious path. It is messy, and slow, and often dark. That does not make it any less of a gift. To be present with someone and witness them facing their fears and struggles, witness them glimpsing light in the distance, watching them bask in the warmth of new found Presence or perhaps just getting comfortable with Darkness, and to get to say, “Remember…”. What more could we ask for?
As spiritual directors, walking with those who have survived a disaster in any form, we are a people of small steps. We look at the wound and we don’t flinch. We weep for the broken heart. We appreciate and celebrate the hidden work. We know that it sometimes requires more energy and faith to take a small step than it does to make a mighty leap. Our work may not always seem astounding to others, but we are witnessing miracles nonetheless.
Suggested Further Reading:
Spiritual Direction:Wisdom For the Long Walk of Faith, by Henri Nouwen
Phases of Disaster Chart
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Expanding understanding and best practices for holistic health in the context of spiritual direction.