Friday, October 22, 2010

Making the most of spiritual direction (From Thomas Merton's "Spiritual Direction and Meditation)

How can one who has found a spiritual director, make the most of this grace? In the first place, he ought to realize that this is a gift of God, even though he may sometimes not be thoroughly satisfied; he should humbly appreciate the fact that he has direction at all. This will enable him to take advantage of what he has, and he may perhaps see that supernaturally he is much better off than he first realized. This gratitude will make him more attentive to the direction he receives and will attune his faith to possibilities which he may have overlooked.

Even if his spiritual director is not another Saint Benedict or Saint John of the Cross, he may come to realize that his spiritual director is nevertheless speaking to him in the name of Christ and acting as His instrument in his life.

What is one normally entitled to expect from spiritual direction? It is certainly very helpful, but we must not imagine that it works wonders. Some people, and especially some religious who ought to know better, seem to think that they ought to be able to find a spiritual director who with one word can make all their problems vanish. They are not looking for a director but for a miracle-worker.

In point of face, we very often depend on someone else to solve problems that we ought to be able to solve, not so much by our own wisdom as by our generosity in facing the fats and obligations that represent for us the will of God. Nevertheless, human nature is weak, and the kindly support and wise advise of one whom we trust often enables us to accept more perfectly what we already know and see in an obscure way.

A director may not tell us anything we do not already know, but it is a great thing if he helps us to overcome our hesitations and strengthens our generosity in the Lord’s service. However, in many cases, a director will reveal to us things which we have hitherto been unable to see, though they were staring us in the face. This too, is certainly a great grace, for which we should be thankful.

One thing a good director will not do is make our ill-defined, unconscious wishes for perfection come true with a wave of the hand. He will not enable us to attain the things we “wish” for, because the spiritual life is not a matter of “wishing” for perfection. Too often people think that all they need to turn a “wish” into the “will of God” is to have it confirmed by a director. Unfortunately, this kind of alchemy does not work, and one who seeks to practice it is in for disappointment.

It often happens, as a matter of fact, that so-called “pious souls” take their “spiritual life” with a wrong kind of seriousness. We should certainly be serious in our search for God—nothing is more serious than that. But we ought not to be constantly observing our own efforts at progress and paying exaggerated attention to our “spiritual life”.

Some who lament the fact that they cannot find a good director actually have all the opportunities for direction they really need, but they are not pleased with the available director because he may not flatter their self-esteem or cater to their illusions about themselves. In other words, they want a director who will confirm their hope of finding pleasure in themselves and in their virtues, rather than one who will strip them of their self-love and show them how to get free from preoccupation with themselves and their own petty concerns.


"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)