Spiritual Direction and the Creative Mind
People who come to me for spiritual direction usually want to understand their experience or lack of experience of God. Most have many concepts about God, but are fuzzy on what an experience of God is. "I donít hear God talking to me!" is a normal complaint. While there are the rare few who have experienced a verbal communication from God, most of us "hear" from God in other ways.
A spiritual discipline that is very effective in helping us "hear" God is known as Ignatian contemplation. Some of you may have heard of "contemplation." The Carmelite form is closer to the modern movement of Centering Prayeróa quieted mind gently aware of oneís love for God and Godís love for oneself. The Ignatian form makes use of the creative mindóallowing one to enter into a scriptural passage and become one of the characters in the scene. While I practice the Carmelite form most often, I find the Ignatian form very helpful in grounding me in practical, earthly reality. Ignatian contemplation helps me integrate my humanity and spirituality (as if you can separate the two). At least the Ignatian form of contemplation reminds me that I am no angel.
Anthony de Mellow, in his book Sadhana, A Way to God, provides a beautiful example of entering a scriptural story in an Ignatian way. He uses the story of the man healed at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2-8). He guides us through the story. First we quiet ourselves by breathing slowly and deeply, noticing our breath coming in and going out. When we are relaxed, eyes closed in a quiet place, we begin to imagine the scenes in the storyóthe pool, what is it like?; the architecture?; the surroundings, what are they like? Then we invite the whole scene to come to life. What are the sounds? What are the smells? What are the other people wearing? What are they like? What are they doing? What kind of illnesses are they suffering from?
Just observing is only the beginning. We must enter the scene. What are you doing? Why have you come? Do you speak to anyone? Get as many details of the personís life as you can?
Then you notice Jesus coming toward you. What are you feeling? Jesus talks to the person near you. What does he say? Reflect on Jesusí question, "Do you want to get well?" Notice what happens when Jesus heals this person. What do you want to ask Jesus or tell him? Are you ill? Do you want to talk to Jesus about this? What does Jesus say to you? Simply be quiet with Jesus present to you.
This exercise may give you some experience of God in Jesus the Christ. Now it is time to note in a journal what that experience was and what you felt, what you now know that you didnít know about God and Godís relationship to you. Bringing yourself to the Gospel story each day through the lectionary readings, you can grow in your self-understanding and relationship to God, not simply holding concepts about God, but actually interacting with God through your creative mind, a gift to us from our Creator who has created us in Godís own image. Talking with a spiritual director about your contemplations helps deepen and refine your experience. Spiritual direction also helps keep you centered in the truths of scripture and the traditions of the church.
Nancy Pfaff, MA, received her graduate degree in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska, and provides spiritual direction, workshops in spirituality, retreat experiences and written articles on the spiritual journey. You may contact her at (775) 560-3030, or visit her website at www.sacred-quest.com.