By Maryanne V. Tuite
It was a warm June afternoon in 1984 as I arrived at the Brothers’ House of Prayer and rang the doorbell feeling a little nervous. All that dissipated once I met Brother Jack Mostyn.* His attentive demeanor was warm and welcoming, and he had a gentle-looking face that radiated kindness when he smiled. This has remained constant all these years. After some brief informal conversation, Jack asked if I’d like to share how I came to be inquiring about Spiritual Direction and what might be my expectations. I told him that I was curious about how spiritual direction might add to my life and that the idea of having a professional someone with whom to talk about my spiritual life had been germinating in me for a long time. I also told him a mutual friend had given me his number. So, there I was ready to begin what turned out to be a life changing journey.
When I asked if he would give me books to read or guidelines to follow, Jack smiled. “You pray,” he said. “That’s it?” I responded. He followed with further explanations. We then set up regular meeting times where I would bring to our conversations what had been happening in my prayer. He helped me set up what would eventually become my daily practice. He also said that keeping a journal would be a great help in noting what happened during prayer.
I was very new at this. So, it was good that Jack was very patient. I set about creating a location in my living room — a chair, a small table with my favorite Trinitarian icon, a shawl for my shoulders which I called my ‘prayer shawl’ and a lit candle. I was like Art Carney settling in to begin. I was all form and no substance.
Poor Jack! I would bring him stories of my students about whom I was concerned or something that happened that week, not in prayer. Jack would listen and then gently ask the question,”‘How was your prayer?”
“Oh, that, hmm, yes!”
Praying was a struggle. I remained faithful to the practice, though, and ditched the shawl and candle. I just loved sitting in my chair and telling God about my day. I felt better and noted that in my journal. I didn’t do a great deal of listening, but God got an earful. Thankfully, over time things evolved. I evolved.
This might be a good place to mention how Jack “directs.” His manner is always reverent from his greeting until we say good-bye. During the session, which can be anywhere from ½ hour to an hour depending on the conversation, Jack is usually quiet. When he speaks, he chooses his words very carefully to communicate exactly what he wants to say. He looks directly at me, listening deeply, allowing the Spirit to influence the moment. Jack possesses an innate gift for this work in addition to his professional training.
Several years into this relationship the style of our meetings began to change due to Jack’s new assignment as a member of his congregation’s leadership team, causing Jack to travel to other states and countries for extended periods of time. Always the caring director, he suggested some names of other spiritual directors. I tried two but for me the match just didn’t work. I was so used to Jack’s style and the fact that he now knew me was important. So, he sought out information as to how we could continue direction on the phone and that became our new way. Emails were less than helpful. Zoom was not quite on the horizon and Skype had technical issues almost always! Although in-person meetings were the preferred method, on the phone Jack was astute at listening to changes in my voice, inflections, tears, and silent pauses.
Speaking of tears, I remember once sharing that during my prayer I was on a boat moving along my stream of consciousness and seeing scenes from different stages in my life. I recalled tears coming as I noticed myself as not always the best I could be perhaps hurting others or responding in a negative way. I wondered where God was in these moments helping me to be a better person. That’s when Jack asked, “I’m wondering who is in the boat with you?” That took me by surprise. “I don’t know,” I responded. “Is that important?” Again, he simply noted, “Perhaps God is in the boat with you showing you where He was in those moments.” I became silent in the conversation. Jack then asked “Is this something you could take to prayer and see where it leads?” “Yes,” I said, “I can do that.” He also mentioned that tears dissolve “blocks,” emptying me. Jack added, “Perhaps God is emptying you and inviting you to something more.” I agreed.
Soon after this conversation I recognized that these pictures of my life were coming up so I could let them go. I felt so moved that God was so involved in my life that He was attempting to empty me because He had more abundance with which to fill me. Had I not been in Spiritual Direction I might have missed the connection.
On another occasion I moved to Albany, New York, and a new job. I was feeling very dislocated. I had no history in this new place, and it was difficult adjusting. One day while perusing books in Border’s bookstore a book fell from a shelf and landed right at me feet. Honestly! It was Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris. The author describes her move from New York City to her grandparents’ farm in Lemmon, South Dakota and her adapting to a completely different way of life. It was just what I needed and here it was!
I brought this incident to my meeting with Jack along with how my prayer was filled with feeling lost in this new place. Not necessarily the geographical location but rather the place within myself. Again, Jack’s insight was so comforting when he suggested that “Perhaps God was inviting me into the pain of the in-between.”
And I said, “Yes, it fits.” I recognized that I was not dislocated but firmly planted, rooted in this place “in-between” the old and the new.
Another affirmation of recognizing this in-between place as the right place to be, came during the Ascension Thursday Mass. The homily was based on the Scripture “I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2) The priest suggested, “What if the place where you are right now is the exact place God has prepared for you?” Well, there it was for me. God could not have been any louder in His message.
There is always more to my relationship with God than I know and having the right spiritual director with whom to share these movements is a special gift. Over the course of almost 38 years with Jack Mostyn, my relationship with God has become a deeper well of Mystery and there is always more to experience. My faithfulness to my practice of prayer each day has enlightened me by helping me to see the world around me differently. God is not only with me in my prayer but with me throughout my entire day.
One criterion in choosing a spiritual director – or staying with one – is how well they support us as we move deeper into the Mystery. God blessed me with a spiritual director who did this with kindness, insight and compassion. For that, I’ll be forever grateful. Thank you, Jack.
* Brother Jack H. Mostyn, CFC, as a teenager, turned down 15 athletic scholarships in order to join the Congregation of Christian Brothers. He spent many years as a coach and teacher before focusing on spiritual direction as a ministry and helping to develop several training programs. Before the founding of SDI, he served on a national committee with Sister Mary Ann Scofield to research the need for a nonprofit to serve the needs of spiritual directors. In the early years of SDI, he took a leadership role as chair of the Coordinating Council to expand membership and support the growth of training programs. He is 81 and continues to offer spiritual direction – as he has since 1981!
Maryanne V. Tuite is a retired teacher and Pastoral Associate for Faith Formation who enjoys solitude, reading, walks, writing poems, lunch with friends, all things chocolate, a hot cup of tea and dancing when the occasion arises.