I was very nervous the first time I went for spiritual direction. I had never done anything like this before. I wasn't even sure I knew what spiritual direction was. And I'd never met Ed, the spiritual director I found through a brochure someone gave me. We arranged to meet at a historic church near the campus of the University of Wisconsin. As I walked up the steps, I wondered how I had gotten myself into this.
Ed met me in the hallway of the church. We went into a large, Tudor-style parlor and sat in two wingback chairs. I thought, This is like a scene from a novel. Ed looked more like a college professor than the retired minister that he was. He even had a briefcase; he opened it and took out a doily and a small candle. This seems very Roman Catholic. What if I don't know what to do? As Ed lit the candle, he said "This is to remind us that we aren't alone." Good thing. I guess he means that God is here with us.
Then Ed introduced himself to me and asked me a few questions about myself. He read from the book of Isaiah: "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you." Maybe this won't be so bad after all. Ed said he liked that passage. I said I did too. Then he asked me a question about my relationship with God. I don't remember the question or my answer. What I do remember is that when I had finished what I wanted to say, Ed just sat there, waiting and listening for more. This is different, I thought. People don't usually wait for me like that. They usually just talk more. But Ed waited and looked at me. What I am supposed to do now?
We sat in the quiet for several minutes. I wonder if Jesus looked at people the way Ed is looking at me. I don't remember who broke the silence, or what we said, but I do know that after every question Ed asked me, he waited. And waited. When I left that first spiritual direction session, I felt a deeper peace than I had experienced for a long, long time. Perhaps, I thought, we really weren't alone in that room. God was indeed with us.
I went home to the more familiar experiences of my life, to my own stresses and anxieties, and I realized that God was still with me. Before my meeting with Ed (and the Spirit of God), I certainly knew that God was with me. I knew that God had made me and sustained me. I knew that God promised peace. I knew all of that. But I had forgotten. I was like Jacob in the Old Testament. His life was full of very stressful circumstances. One night he had a dream where he met with God. When he woke up, he said, "Surely the lord is in this placeand I did not know it" (Genesis 28:16). That's what my first spiritual direction session did for me. It reminded me that God was in my life. I had not been aware.
Awareness of God is one of the gifts of spiritual direction. The apostle Paul said in the New Testament that God is not far from each one of us. In fact, "in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:27-28). But on my own I cannot always perceive God in my life. My spiritual eyes are clouded by the stresses, the fears, and the unsolvable problems that are in the forefront of my awareness. Since that first meeting with Ed, I have been in dozens of spiritual direction sessions, with Ed and with others. As God listens to me, through my spiritual director and through silence, I begin again to listen to God.