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Spiritual Conversations

I’ve been blessed with two very good spiritual directors over the years, but I struggled when the last one died. It was probably not a bad idea to have a break for a while, but finding a new one, someone who would encourage, stimulate and challenge me spiritually, proved depressingly difficult.  Then, one evening, sitting smoking my pipe in my shed I was listening to a podcast in which the American poet Mary Oliver was being interviewed. I was gripped, listening to Mary talk about her life & her poetry. ‘That’s what I’m looking for” I thought “I’m looking for spiritual conversations not a spiritual director.”

Spiritual direction may well lead into a spiritual conversation, and often does. But the latter has pointed me to a much bigger picture.  Eavesdropping on Mary’s conversation with someone else wouldn’t qualify as spiritual direction as normally understood, but it certainly  encouraged, stimulated and challenged me spiritually. As did recently watching a film on BBC iPlayer ‘The Art of Improvisation’ about Keith Jarrett the pianist, who goes on stage on his own or as a member of a trio, with no idea of what he’ll play, trusting that inspiration will come to him and that he[and the others in the trio] will be led into creating something of beauty. 

I’ve been led into the reality of this bigger picture of spiritual conversation in many varied and different ways.  I remember holding a baby on my knee, she made noises at me and I made noises back to her, sometimes we were silent and we simply looked into each other’s eyes. There was a powerful spiritual connection/conversation, without any words being exchanged.  I’ve had similar moments of connection with animals too.

David Hockney, the artist, reminds me to open my eyes, for ‘there is always an awful lot to look at’. When I’m out walking I stop and stand and stare at a vista, and the more I look the more I see, and the more I see, the greater the connection I feel with the landscape I’m looking at, and the sense of connection both challenges and changes me. The same principle often applies to when I’m looking art, listening to music, watching a film, reading poetry or a good novel.  It also happens of course, unexpectedly, in meetings with other people. It doesn’t always happen, I can’t make it happen, but sometimes, more often than I might have expected, there is a deep spiritual connection, a conversation with or without words, & I am changed, enriched and challenged by it. God meets me there.

The wonder of this for me is several-fold. Its potentially happening all the time. It can happen in pretty much any context. If it happens for me it probably happens for other people too, people of all faiths and none, and its an experience that I suspect profoundly unites us.

This is not to dismiss spiritual direction, but rather to point out that its a small and specific part of something much bigger. The bigness of the picture is due to the grace of God, Who is active in and through all of His/Her creation. Its a bigger picture that I’m finding increasingly exciting. And it serves as a gentle reminder that those of us who see ourselves as ‘spiritual directors’ need to be aware of the temptation of taking ourselves too seriously.  Neither we nor the church has the sole franchise. We are occasionally involved in a very tiny part of something that God is up to, in a quiet and under the radar sort of way, all the time.

1 Comment

  1. Henry Morgan

    I read Henry’s piece about spiritual conversations with huge agreement. In fact the Quakers share this view that connection with God can come from many areas of life – nothing is off limits! Why would there be limits?! I find that dreams sometimes take me to places of connection but it took me years to realise that this was what was happening. Henry puts it very well and I shall read his piece again.
    It would make for an interesting house-group discussion.
    Mary Little

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