The work of a spiritual director has been beautifully compared to that of a midwife. A companion in, and witness to, the miracle of new spiritual life. As someone who has given physical birth to four children, I appreciate the depth of this metaphor. That not only is each pregnancy, labor, and delivery different, but each outcome, each child, is unique. Who I was before and after each of their births is a testament to growth and experience. This metaphor gives me great comfort and patience as a spiritual director to be able to wait with, witness, and encourage in timely ways each of my directees as God continues to bring newness of being into their lives.
I am able to be moved by this metaphor because I know that my basic life needs are being met. I feel safe in my physical surroundings and cared for in my relationships. I am also able to easily distinguish where I am in time and I feel connected enough with my body to engage in sensate memories. All of this allows me to be reflective, to use my “observing I” to consider not only my present circumstances but also my responses to them. I am able to wonder, use my imagination, and generally be in awe of the world around me and my place in it. Simply put, I am not currently traumatized.
Trauma causes disruption in our experience of time and space, our use of language, and our sense of embodiment. The disconnect from these foundational parts of our being can result in a spiritual “stuckness". A difficulty in experiencing, not to mention expanding our experience, of the Divine. An understanding of trauma and its effects, as well as the trajectory of healing can help us create spaces in which traumatized congregants can find spiritual rest and relief from the exhausting work of daily living.
Both a person’s faith experience and general life experiences need to be considered when we are attempting to understand her spirituality.
Being willing to be honest and listen well are important skills for anyone who spiritually companions others in any role. These skills are also invaluable because as leaders we often find ourselves not only leading a congregation, but also sitting across from just one person who is hurting. How might our understanding of formational dynamics be applied here? Both a person’s faith experience and general life experiences need to be considered when we are attempting to understand her spirituality. The deep questions do not only revolve around what she knows, but rather what she believes. And for better or for worse, these are not always the same. Most people already believe many things to be true about life and love long before they can recite a creed or participate in a ritual. Life experiences give us deep, core beliefs from which we build our spiritual practices. Sometimes it is these deep beliefs that draw an individual to a particular doctrine or tradition. The publicly adhered to behaviors associated with the faith tradition actually enable the core beliefs a person holds, rather than being the foundation that has helped shape their soul. Exploring these deep beliefs, finding God to be in them or not, is much of where the “rubber-meets-the-road” in spiritual direction. It is in the acknowledging of these places that people begin to experience freedom that comes from being deeply loved.
Spiritual exertion in an attempt to avoid or move past the trauma often seems to make it worse.
Trauma can feel, spiritually, like spinning wheels stuck in the mud. Spiritual exertion in an attempt to avoid or move past the trauma often seems to make it worse. Companioning someone through the spiritual affects of trauma requires patience and grace on our part as companion, but also requires that we help our soul friends have patience and grace for themselves. Walking with others as they forge paths through the Valley of the Shadow of Death often includes being the bearer of hope when others see all as lost. It takes a significant amount of time to reach green pasture after surviving a trauma. Even once the circumstantial dust has settled, the spirit can still feel disturbed. It is in this disconcerting place of experiencing physical safety but spiritual unrest where a spiritual director becomes a valuable companion. The spiritual director’s gift in this season may be to help the directee begin to attend to how the story of their trauma integrates into the story of their life. As a directee moves from feeling that the trauma story is the story of their life to a sense that it is a story in their life, we can help them to draw up from their deep wells of experience the corresponding deep beliefs. We can create a safe space to examine those beliefs as our directees decide which ones to reclaim and which ones to let go.
We hold the person in front of us as having inherent dignity and ability to heal.
Some questions to consider as we sit with others might be:
In a posture of wondering, we hold the person in front of us as having inherent dignity and ability to heal. We hold and offer this hope to the whole of them by acknowledging and honoring their trauma, but also the whole of their life. We wait as identity comes back into focus and we bless every step of the journey. And by the grace of God we see spiritual formation that was interrupted, but not stopped.
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