Sunday, October 4, 2009
The Direction of a Life
If I know what to do on a retreat and how to be myself in those circumstances, if I know how to talk to a spiritual director, I have Tom to thank.
The news of his passing this past Friday prompted me this afternoon to visit the grounds of the retreat house where I had first met him. I had applied to make an eight-day retreat twenty years ago, and although no stranger to retreats, I had not made a directed retreat since my seminary days. The application asked me to put on paper some of my present circumstances, and I determined that I would be as honest as I could. I had to trust that I would get assigned the right kind of person to listen to me and guide me through the days of quiet and prayer.
Tom delighted me.
The chance to sit in his office and talk to him once a day for eight days was a privilege and a comfort and a challenge. He would not let me serve up unexamined judgments about my life and what I had done with it. He would not let me apologize for things that had taken courage and intelligence to do in the face of centuries of a spiritual tradition.
The fresh air in that office was something I realized I craved, and I asked to continue to visit him for ongoing spiritual direction. It was not directives that I was looking for in that context, and it was certainly not directives Tom was doling out. The goal of spiritual direction, he explained once, was to help people discover the scriptures written in the events of their own lives.
I will never forget the day he listened to me lament what I felt had been some significant failings. He let me talk and then finally asked me where the “lily-white perfectionism” in my life had come from. He asked whether I preferred to reach the end of my days with a record of irreproachable correctness or whether I could emerge as someone who had risked and taken chances and tried to discover what his heart was saying.
I envied how Tom managed not to be afraid of his life.
I vowed I would not be afraid of mine.