Season's Greetings? Happy Holidays? Merry Christmas? All of the above? Does it matter? While battles rage about whether or not "Christmas" is a deal-breaking moniker for the faithful, and culture wars are won and lost based on who uses the word, perhaps we should abandon the effort in favour of new and fertile fields: "advent." Advent - that seldom-used word, rich with meaning and tradition - mercifully falls completely outside the outposts of debate. Advent is the word that signals us to the presence of God and urges us to the call for shalom and justice and goodwill to all. For the Messianic world that God yearns for. It's a far cry from nativity scenes and yuletide tropes. It hearkens to prophetic pointers of an age to come in the days of old. Advent: come, Lord Jesus. Christmas or not.
This week, Dr. Sarah Patterson introduces WikiGod Podcast to the world of spiritual direction. She is a CSD (Certified Spiritual Director) and Doctor of Ministry. She teaches us what spiritual direction is, what it isn't, why it's vital in the life of the church, and how the so-called spiritual disciplines can revitalize the person and the community. Maybe you're a Jesus-follower who practices the disciplines, a Jesus-follower who doesn't, or a non-Jesus person who is wondering about how to slow down and engage your own inner workings; Sarah will shed light on how to become more engaged with the self, with others, and with the God who speaks.
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Notable Quotes from Dr. Sarah Patterson:
"Spiritual direction is a holy, ongoing listening. essentially one person puts aside his or her own needs - social, emotional, spiritual - to listen to God on behalf of another, and in that listening to discern where God is, and direct that person's attention to where God might actually be present in their lives. And then to a lesser degree to direct them to ways in which they might be able to more readily seen or experience where he is in their lives."
"I actually now, and early on, refer to spiritual direction as a holy soap opera. And - not to denigrate it - every person's life has drama: has tragedy, has comedy. And a good soap opera is going to have all those elements. Soap opera happens in instalments; it's daily, but spiritual direction is generally monthly. And I get to hear the next instalment. and when I start preparing and praying to be in spiritual direction with someone, it's amazing how in the prayer time, all the details from the last session come back and there's this anticipation that builds up in me."
"A lot of spiritual directions have issue with the title, but it's a historical title and has historical weight and so it would be really hard to rename it now. Direction sounds so directive... and that's not at all what it is. It's directing attention to where God is; it's much more passive."
"Many people would argue that training isn't really essential. You need - I needed, and I assume others do - a good theological understanding of God and is actually the whole Trinity and how the Holy Spirit works. Especially the seminary experience at Tyndale pushed me beyond the boundaries of my own thinking, my own tradition, my own denomination, and prepared me to give me spiritual direction to people of other cultures and other traditions, and also prepared me to understand how much culture, traditions, and our own personal spiritual histories affect our view of God, our image of God, and the way you relate to him, and the way we relate to everyone else."
"I think, unfortunately, spiritual direction is something many pastors did naturally. And as the CEO model of pastoring kind of infiltrated our churches, that's one of the things that got pushed to the side - that spiritual directors and counsellors are having to pick up the slack on."
"We don't listen well. To anyone. Not even ourselves."
"That's another reason why there needs to be training - because there's a power-differential in the relationship. And there is huge potential for spiritual abuse. Because it's generally a one-on-one practice... I needed the training and I need the ongoing accountability of being in spiritual direction and receiving supervision."
"Spiritual direction, unlike counselling, is a spiritual discipline. It isn't a crisis-management; often (not always), people start counseling because there is a crisis - with a presenting problem. And spiritual direction, as a discipline, is something, that a lot of people engage in for a long period of time. You don't have to necessarily be in trouble to engage with it."
"I think one of the areas where [spiritual direction and counseling] overlap is... nothing is just about 'that.' 'This' is often about ‘that.' And so counselors and spiritual directors all have to discern the many layers that are being presented in one person, and that that one person is actually representative of many people when they come in."
"Jesus knew how to handle all of that - and Jesus was so good at deflecting triangulating situations by asking questions and not getting anxiety-ridden, but being the least anxious presence in the room or at the table."
"When it comes right down to it, I cannot "help" them other than suggesting they pray or read. But I have a number of times suggested to my diretcees is that they see a counselor. And that's where I see the two disciplines actually converging and visit teamwork that can occur there."
"There's a lot of pointing out things. And letting the person have the time, and waiting for them to be ready to deal with something, face it head-on, name it. I spend a lot of time helping people name things. and then in naming them there is a freedom to either let it go, or face it head on, or any other myriad of actions."
"There is a huge, huge need for us to de-program and take that time out.... And what's really interesting is that pastors are recognizing how much they need it; and in allowing themselves to have that need met, then they are talking about it in their churches."
"I think there will always be a need for formal spiritual direction. But I think if churches were generally doing what they should be doing, we wouldn't need as many spiritual directors. It wouldn't need to become a 'movement' necessarily."
"There is an ongoing suspicion of [spiritual direction], because I think it is seen as something that should happen more naturally. And so the professionalization of it disturbs some people. And I understand it. Yet if it's truly a need that some people have and it's not being attended to, then we've got to do something about it. And if the professionalization of spiritual direction is the worst that happens, I'm okay with that."
"The silences get less and less awkward. Silence becomes our companion - our friend - in [spiritual direction]."
"Spiritual disciplines are foundational for our relationship with God. He's not a tangible human being, and the onus is on us to find our way - our own personal way - to relate to him. It's not the church's job. It's our job. So we have to take on the responsibility of finding out where and how that daily connection occurs."
"I don't blame anyone for the way they try and help children or youth engage in spiritual disciplines. Unfortunately, what does happen is it's often presented as the only way. And that's another thing that happens in spiritual direction: I've sat with people who have been Christians and Christian leaders for years and I've given them permission to not do what they've always thought they had to do. And that's been powerful, too."
"Spiritual disciplines range from that daily reading of Scripture, to our weekly worship to fasting, times of retreat. Interestingly enough, many of them share the common denominator of silence and solitude - and that is I think where God gets the opportunity to restore us and to refresh us. And so it is essential."
"What intrigues me so much about spiritual formation is that it's happening all the time whether we recognize it or not. And if we can actually harness some of our energy into individually thinking about, 'How do I want to form spiritually...?' Rather than be reactive to external circumstances, be responsive to the Holy Spirit's prodding - 'Maybe I should actually think about this and experiment in a safe way - in a way that allows us to think beyond what we've always thought our disciplines had to be.' And for many people it changes by seasons and what they need in one season of their life isn't going to work in another."
"Spiritual direction provides the consistency of Jesus with skin on - another person actually hearing, seeing. And so I would encourage people who are perhaps either really new in their faith or are dealing with a number of crises that have caused them perhaps to have a faith crisis to engage in spiritual direction. And think about or allow themselves to think about God in a totally new way. And to take responsibility for making sure he's being given the space and time in our lives to do that. To minister to us. To see him in new ways."
Next Week, Episode 13 >
Guest: Scott Moore, Exective Director of Youth Unlimited GTA