Editor’s note – This heartfelt account comes from the Christian Catholic tradition. But the story of hearing the call to spiritual direction after being the beneficiary of deep listening is one that many spiritual directors and companions will appreciate.
By Margaret Meisen
When preparing for marriage, my husband-to-be and I heard a woman religious talk about listening. The sister spoke eloquently on the relevance of our own individual stories, how marriage reverences those stories, integrates them, and unites them to create another shared story. This message stayed with me and no doubt influenced my eventual choice to become a spiritual director.
My positive experience as a directee was also a strong influence. I came to spiritual direction seeking more insight. I wanted more freedom. I hoped for deeper faith. What I received was generosity itself – as my spiritual director listened to my stories of relationship with God, myself and others.
Over time, I have reflected upon the fact that many people, family, women religious, clergy, and lay people have invested in my spirituality, in my life. They have shared their time and their presence with me. They met me where I was and walked with me, leading me closer to encountering the real director, the Holy Spirit. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I recognized the Spirit, I recognized that Jesus was there with me along the way of my life many times – especially in the communion of shared conversation. The disciples’ vision was clouded by grief. Later they were comforted by the interior knowledge of the resurrection and Jesus’ presence. Like them, I noticed more in retrospect, as I talked and then reflected. The result was change. My life changed, deepening in awareness and so much more.
How did this happen? Acts of hospitality and presence came through to me in environments that were safe, simple and ordered. Directors and companions listened without judgment or aiming to fix anything. They listened, reflected what they heard me say so that I could hear it, too. They accepted me. They affirmed the good and, with love, encouraged sprouts of interior development. They pruned with patience – and a few questions – as they waited for growth, my growth.
In time, I realized what a great gift I was receiving. A call to offer the same to others as a spiritual director began to develop. Though told I was a pretty good listener, it became apparent to me that there was much to learn to be a more effective listener. I prayed about it for a good while, eventually sharing the desire with my spiritual director. The result of my search for spiritual direction programs available to attend was that they were all too far away. I wondered how could I ever attend such a program with a growing family, responsibilities and a job. I questioned my rationale and timing, giving the desire up to God to work out the details and then taking it back again. When I made an act of trust and started to move on from wondering how it could be possible, something shifted. At a session with my director, she informed me that a program was about to start at that very location and asked if I was still interested. My fears and concerns about qualifications and worthiness dissipated as I moved through the interview process and was affirmed by women religious, by friends, family and others. They encouraged me and highlighted what they saw in me as fitting with the calling.
It has been 20 years since that time!
The New Testament (2 Peter 3:8) tells us that, “… one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.” The moment I felt the call to deep listening can really be described better as a progression of time and reflection where the desire grew, the spark was fanned into flame through education, prayer and community. It came from a place rooted in gratitude for all that had been invested in my life, and in my spiritual life by spiritual directors, clergy, family, lay people, and especially women religious, sisters from numerous orders. I desired to be with others who valued the gifts of this special ministry. For me, the blessings I have experienced through spiritual direction have helped me to become more aware and to listen more deeply to others in various settings and relationships, not only in direction sessions.
At this time in our aching and beautiful world, directors are needed to be present to participate in the healing changes that can occur through the acceptance and presence of a spiritual companion. As directors, we are graced with the gift – the privilege – to listen deeply to the story of another, to hold the story in confidence and prayer, to respond to Jesus’ command to “Love one another.”
Margaret Meisen is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She enjoys working as a teacher and spiritual director. She also has written guest posts on the Abbey for the Arts website. Learning, painting, writing, sharing with family and friends – all these things bring her joy.