The following contains excerpts from my final reflection paper for Divine Mercy University and concludes the requirements to receive a certificate as a spiritual director.
“After Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight… two men in white garments appeared and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?’” (Acts 1:9-11)
As this certificate program ends, I think of this scene. I might be experiencing some of the same emotions the apostles felt while they were ‘looking at the sky’. What’s next? The source of my instruction and direction for the past two years is being ‘lifted’ from my life. Rather than relief, this is going to create a void and maybe a little anxiety. The Spiritual Direction Certificate curriculum has been font of spiritual growth and a well-spring of wisdom. I’ve benefited from both, personally and as a spiritual director. I worry that the well will run dry.
Jesus anticipated these fears and insecurities. After his Ascension, he sent the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. I can trust that as I leave this certificate program, I too will have the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire my actions as a spiritual director. Trusting in the Holy Spirit, however, is sometimes difficult. It’s too easy to ignore the gentle nudgings and slide into a more comfortable routine. The rigors of having weekly reading and writing assignments have propelled me forward in both my spiritual and intellectual formation. Relying solely on the Holy Spirit in isolation won’t have the same impetus.
The disciples also knew that there would be times when they needed something more to propel them forward. Immediately after the Ascension, they gathered in the “upper room where they… devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.” In essence, they formed a ‘peer group’. I can imagine each using this time to share their experiences and build each other up in their faith and ministry. For the same reasons, I too will benefit from a peer group that comes together to enrich each other in our collective ministry as spiritual directors and am looking for ways to join others in the same ministry.
As I stand “looking at the sky”, I also ponder two areas of great spiritual growth these past two years. One was a deepening of my friendship with Jesus. As I was satisfying the program requirements (assigned reading, residencies, practicum hours, role playing, retreats, spiritual direction…) I came to the uncomfortable realization that I don’t have a real friendship with Jesus. I know all about him, I teach him, I preach him. But I don’t really look to him as a friend. If I were in Galilee at the time of Jesus, I would be on the periphery of the crowds, listening to stories about Jesus and paying close attention to the details. I would relay those stories to others. Jesus, however, was no longer content to let me to stand on the periphery. In various ways he came to meet me face-to-face. And, like the early disciples, that encounter transformed knowledge about him into a relationship with him, one that I hope will develop into a deep friendship.
The relationship facilitated the second area of spiritual growth – a deeper healing of some wounds of the past. The early work in the DMU program (spiritual life map, spiritual origins, an attachment narrative of my past 60 years!) tilled some fallow soil. It exposed some rocks that did not belong in a fertile field, wounds that I didn’t know existed or had long ago forgotten. I have continued to revisit these revelations even up to my final retreat on the Spiritual Exercises, either finding a proper place for them in the field of my life’s story, or removing them altogether.
It’s almost as my newfound friend Jesus was able to look into my heart. Like the Samaritan woman at the well and probably many of the disciples at the Ascension, I felt like Jesus “knew everything I had done.” (Jn 4:39) Exposing these buried areas of my past brought about a surprising amount of healing. Without this healing, it would have been hard for me to help till the spiritual soil of another when my own remained firmly compact.
As I gaze looking at the sky trying to imagine “what’s next”, the words of the two men in white return. “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return…” Maybe he won’t return in the same way, but I look forward to the “what’s next”.