This is my last day as a Roman Catholic. Tomorrow I will be received into the Episcopal Church by Bishop Kirk Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, thus continuing my baptismal journey, continuing my journey as a novice of the Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation Benedictine Canons, and beginning my journey in a new-to-me Christian tradition. I am continually surprised at the deep connections I find between my adult faith and the faith of my childhood. I am about to enter the Episcopal Church, a church that liturgically isn't very different from the Roman Catholic tradition. My devotion to a relational, triune God was established before I knew it on Trinity Sunday, the day of my baptism. And my formation in the Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation Benedictine Canons, whose devotion is to God's preeminent open-hearted listener, the Theotokos, began not during my years of graduate study at St. John's School of Theology in Collegeville, Minnesota, but at my baptismal church, St. Mary of the Annunciation Church in Greenville, Ohio. My Prior suggests that synchronicities such as these are worth attending to. I have always been a fan of synchronicity--I have just never experienced so much of it in one place as I have in the Sonoran Desert these last five months. All the threads of my life of faith--the threads of liturgical practice, structured prayer, understanding of God as relational/transcendent/imminent, singing, feminism, openness, commitment to the seeking of truth in all places and people, and humility in the presence of God's wondrous deeds--all of these and more are woven into the pattern of my faith life at St. Augustine's and as a Benedictine Canon Novice of St. Mary of the Annunciation. And the pattern they weave takes my breath away. I say farewell to the Roman Catholic Church in kindness and love, and I greet the Episcopal Church with fondness and hope. I trust that my almost thirty-two years as a Roman Catholic Christian have not been in vain, but instead have created a strong foundation on which I can build a stronger faith.
I met with my new spiritual director for the first time about a week ago, and now I feel like my new spiritual dwelling has all. It's one thing to journey forth in a community; it's another to have a holy listener dedicated to hearing your story and helping you recognize divine whispers in it. Choosing a spiritual director who's a good fit isn't a simple endeavor--not all spiritual directors are good for all people. Part of discerning who might be a good fit is figuring out whether the spiritual director you meet with is the sort of person you can imagine yourself either wanting to be or called to be in some respect. My spiritual director is a female Episcopal deacon, and I have long felt called to ordained life as a female, even though my own female identity has prevented me from pursuing ordained life for my entire life as a Roman Catholic. Meeting with someone who shares (or who can adapt to) your communication style helps as well. If you're forthright and want to hash things out in an objective way while your spiritual director is highly sentimental, you may feel as though you're talking past your director. Compatible communication styles help bring forth the substance of the conversation rather than serving as a barrier to it. That being said, meeting with someone who isn't exactly like you can sometimes be the most helpful thing of all--someone who is older (or younger), someone who's from a different faith or spiritual tradition, or someone who has had major life experiences that differ from your own may be able to lend a fresh perspective to your context. For me, the most important aspect of a spiritual director is always my gut feeling about that person: Is this someone I trust? Faith and trust are of the same root, and one can hardly develop one's faith with another if one doesn't deeply trust that other from the very beginning.
My spiritual director shared a poem with me that I had never heard before as we began our first conversation together, and it seems to me to be a perfect encapsulation of what one experiences when one is ready for a spiritual director.
In out of the way places of the heart Where your thoughts never think to wander This beginning has been quietly forming Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire Feeling the emptiness grow inside you Noticing how you willed yourself on Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety And the grey promises that sameness whispered Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled, And out you stepped onto new ground, Your eyes young again with energy and dream A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not clear You can trust the promise of this opening; Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning That is one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk Soon you will be home in a new rhythm For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
-John O'Donohue, "For a New Beginning"
A spiritual director, or spiritual companion, is someone who bears witness to what is stretching and unfolding in the midst of your life and heart. A spiritual director is someone who walks with you, not to guide you, but to help you name how God/dess is guiding you.
While on retreat with St. Augustine's Church this weekend, adults were invited to pray with an icon.One of the mothers there had just commented that my daughter, Miriam, certainly qualified as an icon. So I prayed with Miriam, allowing God to behold me through her. I gave voice to my encounter in this way:
We are Godparents. We are God's parents. God is our child.
On the seventh day she rested because she was exhausted. She needed rest.
God needs the safety of our arms. God needs our vigilant care and protection.
God would die without us. God grows up in our midst.
We have a critical role to play in God's destiny.
God is a child and we are her parents. Without our constant attention, she suffers. We are her caregiver. She needs us to survive.
We are the parents of God, and she loves us implicitly. May we never betray her love. Our excuses not to care for her will burst like old wineskins.
She trusts that we will give her all she needs. She trusts that we will be there when she awakes. She trusts that if we put her in the arms of another, that that other will care for her just as well.
We are God's parents and we would die for her.
Her radiant smile stops time in an eternal, brilliant moment.
We feed her with good things.
We love God, for she is our own daughter, wonderfully made in our image. Her voice causes us to laugh, dance, and run. Her smile melts our chill anger. Her cries alert us.