Spiritual Direction

A Mentor’s Gift

God brings certain people into one’s life at just the right time to help that individual discern God’s leading in ways that prove life changing. Pastor and theologian Ray S. Anderson was such a person to me.

I learned about Ray from a distance – through Fuller Seminary’s catalog. I was intrigued by his professorial title, “professor of practical theology,” and I was drawn to him by an aura of friendship and care that was conveyed through his picture in the catalog. I was at a crossroads in my life when a friend recommended that I call Ray and inquire about doing a doctoral degree at Fuller.

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Poetry as a Spiritual Compass

Perhaps this is true for everyone, but I can only speak about myself: I was an English major in college nearly 30 years ago, but I still act like one nearly every day. I cannot read anything without a pen in my right hand, ready to underline a phrase or section that hits me or to scratch out a quick note in the margins. Whether reading a book, a newspaper or even a magazine in the doctor’s office, I still look to see whether there is a thesis, body and conclusion. And when someone sends an email, I’m looking for spelling errors as much as whatever information is being communicated! I’m hopeless.

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Breathe, Look, Trust
By |   August 20, 2012 |   in Blog, Spiritual Direction |   1 Comment

For almost 30 years my wife Nancy has been one of my best spiritual teachers.  A woman of deep faith and a centered heart, he’s my primary teacher in learning to appreciate the daily holiness of life.  She keeps trying to teach me three important spiritual lessons.

The first is to breathe.  I am a driven, Type-A person.  I rush from task to task, checking off completed work, and thinking (or over-thinking) about what lies ahead.  I get totally focused on myself and my work.  Just when I’m about to reach the point of feeling majorly overwhelmed, Nancy will walk by and utter one word – “Breathe.”  She knows, by looking at me, that I’ve forgotten to.  Oh, I’m respirating. Mostly I’m gulping air.  I’m not breathing deeply and evenly.  I’m not inviting God, with each breath, to breathe the Divine into me and nourish my soul and not just my oxygen supply.  I’ve reach the place where I now hear her simple instruction “Breathe” even when she’s not with me.  Then I slow down and think of a variation of an old hymn lyric – “Breathe with me, breath of God, Fill me with life anew, That I may love what Thou dost love, And do what Thou wouldst do.”

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Lessons Learned

Both of my spiritual directors over a span of 20 years have taught me a great deal. Here are the top three things that come to mind first.

It’s OK to be quiet together with someone.  In the beginning I was quite chatty and my director seemed almost austere.  But we were meeting at the altar of the church where he served and the sunlight would come through the stained glass and I could see the communion table behind him.  I was amazed at these holy moments. 

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What is True

The gifts I have received from my spiritual directors include their sensitivity, alertness to my story (both my successes and my struggles), and their support as I continue my spiritual journey. These soul friends have helped me identify the particular path on which God is leading me without telling me the way.

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Three Gifts

Who I’m becoming and who I am is a testimony to gracious mentors in my life along the way. Not all of them would call themselves “spiritual directors,” but they have nonetheless served me as such. So many of the good assumptions, expectations and beliefs I hold dear I was given in mentoring relationships.

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When God Chooses Friends For Us

In my final year of seminary, my friend Mike approached me and asked if I would meet with him to pray on a weekly basis. He was interested in church-planting, and he knew that I was interested in church-planting, so he suggested that we pray together to discern whether God was calling either of us to this ministry.  Thus began months of praying together every week through which we sensed a call to plant what is now The Upper Room (http://www.pghupperroom.com/main/). What Mike didn’t tell me at the beginning of all this was that God had spoken to him earlier and told him that “You and Chris are going to plant a church together.” But it’s a good thing he didn’t share this with immediately. Through patiently discerning God’s call together, we learned a lot about prayer and we forged a new and deep friendship.  Almost five years later, our greatest strength as co-pastors is that we pray well together, and our weekly prayer times continue to be the center of both our ministry and our friendship.  God has used these years of praying regularly with Mike to teach me a number of lessons. Here are three of them:

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Spiritual Directors From the Past and Present

I have been gifted with the delight of having several spiritual companions who have guided, taught and helped me pray along the way. Companions who have shared their very best selves with me as we have nurtured our souls and sought out the wondrous mystery of life with God. I am grateful to them all.

In the late 90’s I met Sister Mary Dennison as I attended the Spiritual Directors training at the Cenacle Retreat House in Houston. She urged me to read the classic spiritual literature and let me tell you it’s timeless stuff.

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Can You Say That Again

Here are the top three lessons I learned from my Spiritual Director: “God loves you, God loves you, God loves you.”  And, honestly, that little line probably has a clean sweep for at least the top ten.

We revisited it countless times, never setting out to get there but always ending up there.   And patiently, each time she spoke it anew to me.  Each time I became a boy on Christmas morning, turning it over and over in my heart, marveling at its goodness.

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Three Beautiful People

My grandfather came to live with us when I was in high school.  He was my first spiritual director.  When he was fifty, he started losing his sight so he began to memorize large portions of scripture so that he would have something on which to meditate.  I have this vivid picture of this eighty-something year old man in his overalls with his black-framed thick glasses and large hearing aids sitting very quietly on the back porch.  He spent hours thinking and praying.  Often he would cry.  If I went to sit beside him, he always had a question for me about the scripture passage he was pondering, “Do you think we can be perfect, Pat?”or “What has God been teaching you lately, Pat?”  I loved to talk theology with him although neither of us called it that.  So, my first lesson from my spiritual director was the richness of meditating upon God’s Word.

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