Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

A lecture on spiritual direction

Today I came upon a page by the New England Jesuits of download-able oral history booklets made by the Jesuits of the province, and one was by spiritual director William A. Barry SJ - the interview covers his time as a Jesuit: making a retreat given by Karl Rahner as a novice, getting a doctorate in clinical psychology, falling in love, teaching at the Weston School of Theology, his involvement in the directed retreat movement, writing The Practice of Spiritual Direction, becoming rector of Boston College, and then provincial of the New England province.

At the end of the document, there's also a lecture Fr. Barry gave in 2007 - Campion Lecture:The Present State of Spiritual Direction. Here's just a bit of that fairly long lecture ....

[...] Let me say something about the kind of spiritual direction we fostered. It was based on the premise of the 15th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises, namely that the Creator communicates directly with the creature. The Spiritual Exercises presumes that God wants a personal relationship with people. The one who gives the Exercises is there to help the person with this relationship, to be a facilitator for this relationship. So we modeled our way of doing spiritual direcdirection on the way the one who gives the Exercises helps, namely by giving help with this relationship. One could define spiritual direction as help given by one Christian to another to attain what God wants of them .... her. If God wants a personal relationship of intimacy with each person, then the focus would be on what happens when the directee engages in that relationship with
God ....

Thus, the focus of spiritual direction practiced at CRD became what happens when the directee relates to God. Early on we talked about religious experience as what happens in this relationship. Later I came to prefer the term, “the religious dimension of experience,” as the focus, because the term, “religious experience,” can so easily be used for something esoteric, even odd, or something only experienced by holy people. I believe that any human experience can have a religious dimension, since God is present and active in our world at all times. We can find God in all things; hence there can be a religious dimension in our experience of all things. All that is needed is to pay attention to our experience and then to discern in the welter of dimensions of any experience what is of God.

Thus paying attention to experience became a key function not only in our advice to directees but also in our work as spiritual directors. We encouraged directees and spiritual directors to pay attention to their experience, especially to any experience that seemed to hint at the presence of God. Thus we encouraged people to take a contemplative stance toward the world and toward God’s presence in the world. We meant contemplative in its Ignatian and etymological sense, not in its mystical sense. To be contemplative in the Ignatian sense means to pay attention to what one encounters and to what one experiences in the encounter. We tried to help those who came for direction to pay attention to their experience: to notice what happens when they smell a rose, see a sunset, listen to a gospel story, watch a baby crawl, hear of a tragedy, etc., and to reflect on what they noticed and to talk about what they noticed with us in direction. The contemplative stance is something like what the examen of consciousness fosters, a way of noticing what has happened during the day in order to discover God’s presence in our day and our own way of dealing with God’s presence ......


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