But my consciousness, or awareness of God, was there early. Maybe always. I have memories of being in my crib. I have memories of encounters with God's presence in nature. I have memories of sitting in deep quiet, being wrapped in solitude and safety. I didn't have the vocabulary then for what those early encounters meant, but I know that for me they meant survival.
I long ago discovered that relating one-on-one to people is my highest creative gift. My hunch is that this, too, started in childhood, with my "preschool" friends, although in the early 1950's we weren't called that. Kindergarten was still a novelty. But, looking back, I have an inkling that my early friendships with other children my age -- Tommy, and Karen, and Kenny -- have everything to do with my gift for connection. I nailed it as a certainty when I was working through the exercises in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way--a tool for unlocking and unblocking our creative selves. I realized that one-on-one connection is what I do best, an expression of my keen interest in people, moderate introversion, creative imagination, and spirituality.
Tommy was my favorite early childhood friend--the one I could count on. He lived three doors down. I still remember some of the things we talked about, wearing a path to the swingset, digging in the sandbox, playing "cowboys and indians" in the alley. (Tommy wouldn't go near a doll, and if I was wearing a dress when he showed up, he would go home.)
Tommy believed in me. I could tell by the way his eyes lit up when he saw me; and by the way he would do anything I said, even if his mother told him not to. Unlike Karen and Kenny, Tommy would take risks with me. Together we were fearless, a fearlessness fueled by imagination. It's the way true friendship is supposed to be. It's this exact kind of connecting that later grew into my vocation as a spiritual director.
I first encountered spiritual direction in a formal way shortly after Eddie's death (my first husband), when I moved from the Baptist church to a Presbyterian church, mostly because I liked the building. Also, I was certain that worship there would be calmer and more focused than in the Baptist church. It turned out to be a long transition (since Presbyterians weren't an exact fit for me, either) to the Catholic church, where I feel very much at home.
During Lent one year, I attended a series of reflections led by Joyce Rupp (you can find Joyce on the Links Page here). From there I joined a spiritual journey group she was leading, and we remained friends. I found that Joyce and others in the group spoke my language. This kind of relating was what I knew best.
Today I'm on staff at a local parish. My job is in Faith Formation, but it's a job that provides the framework for me to do all of the things I love most: writing, speaking, studying, and spending time with people. I like group process a lot, and I like speaking and teaching. But there is no greater privilege than to companion another person on their spiritual journey.
Spiritual direction is a listening ministry. Mostly, it's simply a matter of hearing, from the heart, another person's story. I play the story back to them in different words, until the story reveals its truth. I ask probing questions. I ask to hear things again. Sometimes we sit in silence, in unknowing. We wait. Together we ponder how the Spirit may be moving, in this moment, this year, this life stage. No subject is off limits, and we never know where things will go.
Often I'm surprised, and sometimes my heart breaks. Always, I'm astonished. I'm astonished because our stories are sacred, and it's sheer gift when someone shares their journey with me. I'm astonished at learning again all that we hold in common--our glorious struggles and failures, losses, joys, crazinesses, discoveries. I'm astonished at our capacity to hold things given by God, even the things we don't fully understand.
In recent years, I've come full circle, in a sense. I realize now that my bewildering, slightly off-center family, too, is a gift. That my parents' and siblings' stories are sacred, as is my story. And I recognize that the beginning, beginning place of this insight began when I first became acquainted with a little rusty-haired boy called Tommy.