Thea, I tread the untrodden path and wonder with worry where I'm headed. Then I remember that you are with me and I trust the journey, step by step by step. Teach me to be mindful in the present moment and to shed the bulk of future concerns. Amen.
If you've never had the experience of participating in a spiritual discernment committee, I invite you to consider it. After my fifth (and final) meeting with my discernment committee for priesthood yesterday evening, my committee confirmed that they heard my call to priesthood. And that's not even the extraordinary part. The extraordinary part is that, as I prayed yesterday before my meeting, I prayed for total surrender to God's will, and for the faithfulness not to run if that will was something my ego didn't like. My total surrender granted me total, deep, quieting peace. The extraordinary part is that, having let go of my attachment to the outcome of my discernment process, I happened to read (during evening prayer) the story in Matthew about the disciples who wanted to know why they couldn't heal the sick on their own when Jesus so easily could. Jesus told them it was because they lacked faith, and that if they had faith even the size of a mustard seed, mountains would move for them. And I realized at that moment that my mustard seed faith was what had moved the mountain of my ego in order to make a straight path for Spirit to enter and dwell deep within my heart. The extraordinary part is that, despite having a clear sense of call when I walked into the process, my sense of call widened and deepened and became more rooted as the dialogue went on.
The extraordinary part is that, especially in the final two meetings, as I listened to the challenging questions of my committee members, I perceived Spirit doing the asking. And as I offered my vulnerable, open-hearted answers, I perceived Spirit speaking through me. (It's fair to say that I've never experienced God's voice speaking to me so powerfully as I have in my discernment committee meetings, and for a Benedictine who hears God speaking to her through liturgy and scripture and encounters with others all the time, that's saying a lot.)
The extraordinary part is that, despite my Enneagram-three-personality-type's desire to manage a situation in such a way that the outcome is "positive," I was required to relinquish my ability to do that in order to speak plainly and truthfully. I was painfully aware that my deep honesty could at any moment result in the humiliation of my ego, and I spoke anyway. In that total risk of my ego, I realized it was not my ego that spoke, but Spirit.
When I walked out of my meeting last night, I had no idea what my committee members had heard. I didn't know what they would say. My three-ish ability to anticipate the outcome of the process failed me spectacularly. And I perceived in my failure the possibility of God's success--success in finding a way to make use of the quirky instrument that I am.
My committee is passing me on to the next steps of the discernment process, steps that will be challenging in their own ways. What my committee heard may not be confirmed by the next folks I encounter in the discernment process. But what happens next is not my concern.
The most important piece to emerge for me from this discernment process is the profound recognition that my heart--my whole heart--belongs to the one I call God. Whatever comes, I know that I will be faithful to the path God has prepared for me. I won't turn away. This is God's gig, and I am God's beautiful, imperfect instrument.
What song(s) will God choose to play through me for the uplifting, healing, and reconciling of her creation?
My Benedictine brother, Philip, made his solemn profession as a member of the Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation yesterday. In the card I gave him, I wrote this: My dear Brother Philip-Martín,
I wish you every blessing on this day of your solemn profession. The pall has been placed over you that you may be raised into new identity as a Benedictine Canon. May you always strive faithfully to uphold the Rule and the Gospel, and may you remember that in both your successes and your failures, God abides with you always.
Love and blessing, Sister Kate
The temptation of Benedictine life as I experience it is to believe that divine favor is greater when one does more--prays more, works more, gives more. But the remedy for that temptation abides within the Benedictine tradition as well. Even in death, when our will and power to act passes away, we are God's beloved. Br. Philip-Martín allowed the funeral pall to be placed over him as a sign that he had relinquished every power of his life, that God might accept his lowliness. Benedictines approach God by emptying themselves, that God might fill them. A Benedictine's success in praying, working, or giving isn't her own--it is God's. When my novitiate comes to an end, will I be ready to give my life over, to release my every power, to lay myself bare before God in a death of all that I can do and accomplish and be on my own? Will I trust, in that moment of utter powerlessness to please God, that I will be called forth to rise up again as God's Beloved?
Caryll Houselander wrote a little book over fifty years ago about the mother of Jesus called The Reed of God. Houselander's idea is that Mary became the reed through which God's Word was played into the world. When I first read this a few months ago, my old religious context had me shaking my head. I didn't like the idea that Mary was merely a reed for God to play as God chose. Mary is always merely this or that--merely a woman, merely a vessel, merely an obedient human--and it touched a little too close to my own experience as a woman in the Roman Catholic Church, which was an experience of being lesser, lower, and either diminutive or diminished. Today, however, is the Matronal Feastday of my community, the Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation, and I find myself regarding Houselander's metaphor with new appreciation. In my present context, where to be a woman is not "merely" anything, but rather a strength and a tremendous gift, I can see the reed metaphor with awe and wonder. If Mary was not merely obedient, but radically and willfully obedient, I can get on board. If she allowed God transform her into the most beautiful instrument of music the world has ever known, rather than simply accepting God was going to do what God wanted, then Mary may be the greatest heroine I've ever encountered. I behold myself in her, a woman lifted up and honored fully for who she is and what she brings to the table, and I, like Mary, am choosing to let go of less important schemes so God can act through me. I see myself becoming a reed of God because I trust the music God can breathe into and through me is awesome beyond what I might produce alone. I see in this book, and in today's feast, a celebration of a strong woman who allowed herself to be made even stronger, a capable woman who allowed herself to become even more capable, a powerful woman who allowed the greatest power in all the universe to take root in her, to become her very flesh. She could have said no. Her yes wasn't the obvious choice. Her yes, as I understand it, was a considered choice. She perceived that God was inviting her to allow God to be born into the world through her. What an invitation. Mary is often seen to be extraordinary because she's a nothing who's turned into a something when God deigns to dwell in her. I don't buy this. Mary is no mere Sleeping Beauty, waiting for something to be done to her to give her life meaning. Mary is Merida, brave and bold and primed for adventure--and she is called to this adventure because she cultivated an adventurous life long ago. God rarely calls people out of the blue. God calls people to do in extraordinary ways what they already do well. Mary was already making her own beautiful music for those around her when she was asked if she would be the instrument for God's music. She was no arbitrary choice. She, a Jewish woman who would never have been chosen for anything important in her patriarchal world, was the best possible choice to bring forth God's Word in a world filled with lesser words. God was calling her to subvert the status quo, and she was ready. All she had to do was say "Yes" for the fate of the whole world to change. May I give a well-considered, powerful yes when God invites me to allow divinity to make a dwelling-place deep within me, and may I bear God's marvelous, life-giving, death-destroying fruit wherever I go. For I am no mere woman. I am a woman: brave and strong and fit to do God's most important work. When God asks me to be the key player in God's next adventure, I'll have my Benedictine running shoes laced up and ready to go.
Many weeks ago I was invited by the vicar of St. Augustine's Church to give a homily at both Sunday liturgies for the third Sunday of Lent. Yesterday was the third Sunday of Lent, and these are the words that I shared with my fellow parishioners. Lent III Lessons: Genesis 44:1-17, Psalm 95, Romans 8:1-10, John 5:25-29 "From the wilderness the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as God commanded. And they camped, but there was no water for the people to drink." This is what we hear from the book of Exodus. God's people had been journeying for a long time. They were hopeful and excited about their newfound freedom from slavery in Egypt. But in the midst of their journey, tired and weary from walking, they found themselves in a place that had no water to quench their thirst. When they got upset about it, Moses got upset at them for being upset. And then God finally relented and gave the people a spring of water. The scripture writer notes throughout the story that God's people persisted in doubt.
There's something strange about this. Why would God bring God's beloved people out of slavery and then leave them out to dry, literally? They're in the wilderness, a place unknown to them, and they're thirsting. Thirst is no insignificant thing. Thirst, if left unquenched long enough, could lead to death. Thirst is such a fearful experience that there are psalms dedicated to it: in Psalm 42 we pray, "As the deer that pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for God," and in Psalm 63 we pray "My soul is thirsting for you, O God, like a dry, weary land without water."
For the people of Israel, a dry land was an unfruitful land. A dry people was a dying people.
And here we are, on the third Sunday of Lent, not quite halfway through our journey in the Lenten wilderness, and we find ourselves parched. My guess is that you, like I, have given up something for Lent (in my case, being the overachiever that I am, I gave up four things). If you're like me, your Lenten fasting leaves you yearning, sometimes bitterly, sometimes desperately, for the familiar comforts you gave up on Ash Wednesday.
This Sunday's lessons are all about water and thirst, and they may be the most important ones we hear during Lent. We think of Lent as a time to honor Jesus' ultimate sacrifice on the cross by making sacrifices of our own, and Lent is that, but Lent also has something far more difficult to teach us.
The harder lesson of Lent is difficult to perceive when our fasting is overshadowed by our certainty that relief is coming. Unlike our voluntary Lenten fasting, for the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, there was no timeline or guarantee of reaching an oasis. Their journey out of slavery in Egypt meant leaving behind all their known sources of refreshment, period. It meant taking the extraordinary risk that they might involuntarily and without warning have to abstain from water--an abstinence that, if prolonged, even for a few days, would have the power to claim their lives.
By leaving Egypt, they weren't just taking their lives out of the hands of Pharaoh; by seeking freedom, they were submitting their lives to the mercy of their God, their sole protector from the dangers of the wilderness. As they found themselves stopping to camp in a place with no water, they were terrified. They were so sick with parched mouths and deep thirst that they were no longer sure that the God in whom they had put all their trust would be willing or able to save them from death. They had already journeyed too far from Egypt to go back. Their lives hung by a thread, and they could no longer save themselves. Only God could. And that scared them.
Centuries later, when Jesus offered living water to the Samaritan woman, he was offering her God's new covenant: the promise that as long as she sought this new living water, rather than seeking water from the source she had always turned to, she would never have to fear dying from thirst the way the Israelites had feared dying from thirst in the wilderness.
The lesson from John's gospel isn't merely a story about the Samaritan woman. It's a story about us. We have been offered this same living water by God in our baptism, and yet what do we do? We build up storehouses of comfort around ourselves in order to make sure that we never have to rely on anyone but ourselves. Our lives get so cluttered by the comforts we take for granted that when we tear away some of those comforts during Lent, we feel a deep, uncomfortable emptiness. We taste a morsel of the same bitter fear that haunted God's people in the wilderness, and we can't wait to get back to the way things were. In the end, we would rather drink from the well that we've always known than trust in some guy who doesn't even know to bring his own bucket. We might give up what we cling to for a few weeks, but who among us is willing to let our comforts go indefinitely? If I let my sources of comfort die, I risk dying, too.
I'd like to suggest that we ask ourselves what we left behind in order to enter this Lenten wilderness, and whether we're willing to leave behind all the rest. Do we dare to empty ourselves of everything we cling to until all we have left is our aching thirst for God and the trust that God won't let us die? Perhaps, as we enter the second half of Lent, we can risk losing it all--every thing we think we need to be happy, all our enslaving attachments, every shackle of our obsessions--and move forward to the unknown, unguaranteed future. And maybe then, as we go forward bearing nothing but our thirst and radical trust in the face of terrifying dryness, God will lift up for us a spring of living water, and we'll be able to rise from our knees to unfettered, quenching, resurrected freedom.
For weeks, I've let it get under my skin. Several weeks ago I was invited to give a homily (i.e. a sermon/reflection) for Lent III, which is next Sunday. As of yesterday I hadn't yet been able to write one word of it. Think of it as a bad case of writer's block, except it only applied in this one case. I've written a dozen blog posts since Ash Wednesday alone, so it's not as though I didn't have a command of words elsewhere. The lessons for Lent III are richly evocative, so that wasn't it, either. When I'm about to do a new thing, especially a thing that's bound to make a tremendous impression on people, anything short of excellence and complete satisfaction on my part will send me fleeing in the other direction. And even though I've written and given a number of homilies in the past, I've never stood up as "The Preacher" for Sunday liturgy. It's a new thing, and it scares me. The other day I talked about how I spend one or two hours writing per day--and that's on the ample side. Yesterday I gave this homily no fewer than five hours of feverish attention. Why? A lot hangs on this, in my mind. It's a classic case of first-impression-making. If I do well, the parish as a whole gains not only a thoughtful homily, but a set of implicit expectations about who I might be and what I might do at the service of the parish in the future. If I don't do well, the parish will wish they had heard the vicar instead, and--more importantly--the leadership might see my future and vocational path in a different light. Giving this homily is about so much more than giving a homily. It's a moment in which I'll have an opportunity to prove wrong every single person who ever told/taught me that women in general--and I in particular--weren't meant (or designed!) to be pastoral leaders (and Jesus said so, forever and ever, and let the church say "Amen"). That's a lot of disvaluing to overcome in ten minutes. For the record, neither the vicar nor anyone else has said to me that my vocation is at stake in this homily--they have been generous in trusting that I will do well (I wouldn't have been asked otherwise). I trust that they trust me. Nevertheless, I can't help feeling that my vocation and the integrity and valuing of women on the whole are wrapped up in this small opportunity I have to stand up before a hundred people and speak with authority. Patriarchy and Hegemony are powerful demons in the Christian tradition, and every battle waged against them matters. My homily is ready. May I speak this Sunday with the authority of the one I call Lord, that they may be powerfully silenced in my presence.
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.
My dreams this week concern me. I've dreamed about killing someone I didn't know; I wasn't convicted in court for lack of evidence, even though I knew I was at fault. I've dreamed about others I did know dying of natural causes, leaving me to pick up the pieces. Last night I dreamed about an elderly friend of mine asking me to help pack up two houses: the one in which he used to live and the one in which he currently lived. He was preparing to move elsewhere, though I didn't know where. Everything I touched in his current house was laden with memory, whereas everything in the other house was strange, rich, and unlike him as far as I knew him. I'm no expert on Jung or Freud, but I do know that dreams can point dreamers to insights about themselves and their lives. What is with all the death, hiding, and transition? I woke in the middle of the night last night to get my baby daughter a bottle. When I returned, I flashed back to a conversation from my last Benedictine Canon chapter meeting. Br. Philip talked about preparing for his final profession as a Canon next month, in particular about the placing of the pall over his prostrated body. Like Br. Chad and Br. Rawleigh, Br. Philip will lay down his body at the service of God, the community, and the world. He'll be covered with a pall, the pale garment of baptism and death. I realized in the chill of the night that if I make my full profession as a Benedictine Canon, I will be committing myself to die. I crawled back into bed and closed my eyes, but words rose up, and I ended up texting myself with the words of a haiku so they wouldn't be swallowed by sleep. A funeral pall veils the diff'rence between old and new. Ego die. My dreams point me to an unexpected revelation: my old self is dying. I am being put to the test. My identity as a religious person has long been plagued with fear, self-absorption, doubt, and horded treasures, all carefully saved so I would have something to cling to in case God ever failed me. Now, step by step, I am moving forward into the intensely uncomfortable unknown: a place of overflowing trust. Father, I put my life in your hands. I'm dying--and it's okay. I'm letting the precious treasure of my life go. And what a relief. Mother, I put my life in your hands. My life will be whatever it is meant to be. The particular outcome of my life is no longer my concern. Living from moment to moment at the service of God and God's magnificent, multi-faceted creation is enough. Being able to turn again and again from my selfish fears toward God, the holy Fire who burns within me, is enough.
Yesterday, during the Candlemas liturgy at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Tempe, Arizona, I made simple vows to become a Benedictine Canon Novice. This is what I promised: To dedicate my life to Holy Godthrough the vows (Because vows imply radical commitment, and to become a member of a religious community is akin to entering a marriage--dissimilar in the way one relates to other members of the community, but similar in one's level of commitment to those members.) of Stability in this community of canons, (A vow to stick with this novitiate in this community, no matter what. I will not blithely abandon this community. These vows are to last at least twelve months, and I will see them through, no matter what insights or doubts or failures may come.) Conversion through the monastic way of life, (A vow to allow my life as a Christian to be formed by the wisdom and requirements of this Benedictine community's life.) and Obedience according to the Rule of our Holy Father Benedict. (A vow I have long dreaded, ever since I began to take seriously the possibility of religious life. Obedience could always mean that I would not be taken seriously, that my voice would ultimately be ignored, that I would be bullied by my superiors. To obey, however, is to listen--ob audire--and I was able to make this vow because the capacity to listen in a self-emptying way is so clearly manifested in the superior of this community.) By taking simple vows, I have been given the title of Sister. I am choosing to embrace that title in a broad way, and I invite anyone who encounters me to address me as Sister (abbreviated "Sr.") Kate if they feel comfortable doing so. I used to joke with my Roman Catholic friends that they'd be calling me Sister Kate someday. I spent many years investigating seriously the possibility that I might be called to a religious vocation as a sister in the Roman Catholic Church. I assumed when I got engaged that that door would be closed to me forever. But lo! in the Episcopal Church, I have found that not to be true. One can be called "Sister" or "Brother" as a Benedictine Canon and be married with children as well--or not married, not a parent! I find that embracing the title of "Sister" is a way of making a statement about my role as wife and mother as much as it is about being part of this Benedictine Canon community. Claiming this title is the same as saying that my roles of spouse and parent are indeed deeply holy, just as the role of the celibate religious person is. It isn't celibacy that forms the foundation of our holiness, according to this manner of Benedictine life. That is true of Episcopal clergy as well, of course--one can be single or in a committed relationship or married, and none of those things determines whether you are considered called to ordained ministry. I asked the Prior of the community if I could make my simple vows on Candlemas because dates matter to me, and Candlemas in particular stands out as a date of significance. In 2006 (or perhaps it was 2007?) I participated in a Candlemas procession coordinated by my classmate, Cody Unterseher (of blessed memory). Cody had been Roman Catholic growing up, and he became an Episcopalian later on, partly (or perhaps mainly) because of his identity as a gay man. He found in the Episcopal Church a place to call a very dear and hospitable home, which I didn't relate much to at the time. I remember all the candles being carried by many warm hands down the long hallway into the chapel, where they were placed together around the Paschal Candle and blessed with water and holy words. I considered how much light the candles would give over the coming year as they burned down, down, down, the same way the baptized bear light in the world as they move toward the final extinguishing of their baptismal wick. I remember the smell wafting from the swinging thuribles of incense. I remember listening to the profound stories of Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph, and of a small child born to be light. I remember wondering why I had never celebrated Candlemas before. That procession was with me yesterday. In this place, where fresh air flows freely, my baptismal flame burns brighter than ever. I find open doors and fresh air where I used to find locked doors carefully guarding musty, airless rooms. I get it now. I get why Cody felt at home. Because now I, like he, am able to be wholly who I am called to be--no hiding or sneaking or wondering if I'll get caught for saying things too radical to people with power to diminish my light. I get it because I am now a religious novice in addition to being a wife and parent. I am invited to speak with my expertise and to utilize my gifts where before I was looked on with suspicion and, sometimes, pity. I am no longer being asked to choose one part of my call at the expense of another. I am a novice of the Benedictine Canons, vowed to live out the Rule of Benedict in a way that honors my whole calling--as a woman, as a parent, and as a member of the baptized. I welcome this time of testing. I no longer fear that vow of obedience because I trust that I will never be asked to deny the many facets of my God-given vocation. I trust that I will be asked to chip away at the crust of my superficialities so that who I am called by God to be may glow brightly for all to see.
In my almost thirty-two years as a Roman Catholic, I have never been prouder of any pope. Granted, I've only encountered three in my lifetime, but I am also a student of Christian history. You stand out among your predecessors.
You have rocked the entire world with your embodied proclamations of the good news. You kiss the wounds of the sick. You share tables with those who have neither tables of their own nor food to put on them. You warn your clergy again and again against the glamour of clericalism. Your love is abundant, like Christ's was and is, and I have seen it have a multiplying effect, even (perhaps especially) among non-Roman Catholics.
I am tremendously grateful to God for your faithful, living witness to the teachings of Jesus. Your heart is wide open, and I feel quite certain that if I happened to walk into your midst, you would smile and greet me with the warmth of an old friend, and I would greet you likewise.
I need to confess something to you. On February 16, 2014, God willing, I will leave my cloak of Roman Catholic identity behind in order to be received as a member of the Episcopal Church.
Despite having spent my entire life as a devoted (albeit flawed) Roman Catholic, I cannot remain Roman Catholic any longer. Because despite the gospel of Jesus you now proclaim miraculously through your very body, and despite the many ways in which I encounter Christ's presence through your holy example, I'm afraid there is at least one way in which you, like most if not all of your predecessors, have failed to hear the voice of God and heed it: in the calling of thousands upon thousands of women around the world to ordained ministry.
I was able to name my own God-given call to ordained ministry thirteen years ago. I was still a teenager then. I am close with several Roman Catholic women who share the same call. Yet you, like your papal predecessors, have dismissed even the possibility that women might be called to ordained ministry.
I don't understand this hardness of heart. Not from you.
What I do understand is how hard it can be to hear God's earnest whispers when so much of one's culture screams against it. My favorite psalm is Psalm 51, because it is a perpetual invitation to be changed, transformed, turned around:
Create in me a clean heart, o God. ... Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
I suspect this psalm is as dear to you as it is to me. Please, then, let God's whispers reach your ear through my meager words: God calls some women to serve as ordained ministers. That the Roman Catholic hierarchy refuses to acknowledge this (or even to discuss it) is gravely sinful. It is presumptuous to deny God's calling to those whom God has chosen.
Please, for God's sake, don't allow whatever is lacking in me cause you to be deaf to what God is speaking to you through me in this moment. If anyone with the authority to effect gospel change in the Roman Catholic Church can hear this prophetic word, I believe you can.
Please, open your heart and listen for the sake of my daughters, who will grow up in the midst of your legacy even if they never set foot in a Roman Catholic church.
Please, listen. Listen because you know better than almost anyone that God speaks prophetically through those who are marginalized, women included.
Please, I beg you from the bottom of my heart, listen--allow yourself to be importuned by me, just like the judge was importuned by the widow, or like Jesus was importuned by the woman begging for scraps. You and I both know what happened in those latter two instances. If Jesus' mind could be changed, surely yours can.
I believe that the world-wide turning of hearts to God, if you listened in this one way and acted accordingly, would be a miracle of biblical proportion.
With blessings and love in the One who creates, redeems, and sanctifies all the world,
M. Kate Allen
This letter originally appeared at parentwin.com, where I am a regular contributor on topics of religion. The letter went viral among my Facebook friends and received more discussion and shares there than anything else I've every written, anywhere. A friend of mine encouraged me to mail it to Pope Francis. I did. If he responds, I will share his response here. (Unless he asks me not to.)
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.