Spiritual Direction: The Glory and the Burden

7 April 2008

Things have been quiet in Wingèd territory recently.  So said Beth, and she’s right.

All is well, if a little trying in terms of teaching.  The time before Passover is always somewhat hairy: we’ve been in school with almost no break for about six months now, and teachers and students alike ready to flip out.  The first weekend of break, Beth and I are heading out to a much needed mini-vacation to Michigan.

And with that as the back drop, I met with my Spiritual Director last Friday.

One thing I had noticed lately was an Akeidah dynamic to my life lately.  Last year I gave up my office because I wasn’t using it; now because Beth has rented a small office out of the house, I’m getting a chance to have my own space again.  The Loyola library made me give back my first Breviary, the breviary I usually use during Lent, an old 1964 Roman Breviary in English; I popped into the Armadillo’s Pillow halfway through Lent only to find a virtually identical copy their for a few bucks.  My decision to become a part of the Episcopal church meant that I had to give up doing things like assisting at the altar or the possibility of preaching (both things I would’ve been able to do more or less frequently at MyChurch); yet now I am a chalicebearer and will get my first shot at preaching in a few weeks (more on that later).  The pursuit of ordination and divinity school/seminary meant I would give up the idea of a PhD; yet now it looks like I’ll be getting a PhD in something before seminary/ordination.

Abraham was asked to give up the most precious thing in the world, his son, only to find that he was given his son back.  I told my SD that I felt this had been my major spiritual dynamic of the last few weeks: I’ve been given back a lot I thought I would have to give up.

My SD affirmed that this pattern definitely seemed to be happening to me, and told me the story of the Fall as as a kind of reply.

Most people (theologians, that is) read the story of the fall as a story about disobedience, with the moral being that the corrective to that disobedience is obedience.  And while that certainly is true, my SD said, the story is more complicated.  After eating of the tree called “The Knowledge of Good and Evil,” Adam and Eve are both exhiliarated  by the glory of meaning, significance, value, judgment —all that is knotted up in what is “good” and “evil”— as well as incredibly burdened by it all.  Coming in contact with what is good also means being burdened with the knowledge of what is not so good, burdened by the possibility of mismanagement of the good, by the loss of the good.

My SD told this story to illustrate how my spiritual disciplines and practices might feel glorious, but the real work is being aware of how everything comes together, the dynamic of the spiritual life itself, and not just the fruit of it.

I told him I knew what he meant: people have told me that they admired how self-aware or wise I am, but what I realize (and I hope they do too) that whatever self-awareness or wisdom I have comes from moments, days, or even longer periods of frustration, confusion, or stubbornness.  It is precisely this aspect, replied my SD, that is the burden of spirituality and a spiritual life: knowing how things change and how they change you.

It was a great compliment from him (he’s been giving me lots of compliments lately), and I think we’re moving toward less frequent meetings.  It’s as if he’s trained me (or helped me train myself) to be a little more independent spiritually, which is a good thing.


One Response to “Spiritual Direction: The Glory and the Burden”

  1. […] I’ve been thinking about what we’ll talk about, and to some extent, it is an extension of what we spoke of last time. […]

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