This month I’ll be posting parts of a Lutheran Via de Cristo talk I gave about Environments. This is the first installment.
It’s has been said, and rightly so, that the Christian life is not a destination, but a journey. You might choose to think of it as a train trip. Our first talk spoke about the importance of having an ideal. It’s just crucial–think about it–you might be at the train station, but you can’t get on the right train if you don’t know where you’re headed. As Christians, we want to head toward the life of grace, a conscious and growing life in Christ. This means a lifelong process of reforming and transforming our lives as our will is conformed to His. Talks about piety, study and action gave us some idea of how to do this through personal spiritual discipline. Our last talk ,Leaders, presented a picture of the truly dynamic Christian as a leader. This talk goes a step further because Jesus called us to follow Him, not only for our own salvation, but for the salvation of the world. This is the true mission of the church. It’s not enough to get on the right train and sit quietly reading our Bible until the journey ends. It’s not enough to interact in a friendly and helpful manner with our fellow passengers. We must get off at every stop and invite others to come along with us.
There’s a very good book you might want to read sometime, called “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this book, Bonhoeffer says that Christianity means community and the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters is a gift of grace, pure grace. Then he goes on to tell us that the Christian’s calling is not in the seclusion of a cloistered life, but in the midst of the world, even among enemies! In the book of Matthew, Jesus instructed his disciples, saying:
“….you are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house ….Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
We can’t stay isolated in our churches and in groups of fellow Christians. We must go out — to our families, our workplaces, our communities –and radiate God’s love into our personal environments.
I first heard the term “spiritual direction” when I attended a Via de Cristo retreat weekend in 1990. Spiritual direction was mentioned in a list of disciplines that could be helpful in increasing piety, but we received little information to explain what this discipline entailed, or how to go about doing it. Being the curious person I am, I went back to my home congregation and asked my Pastor, “what is spiritual direction and are you my spiritual director?” Turns out he didn’t really know either. That started me on a journey that led to lots of reading and research, 5+ years of being a spiritual directee, and finally a two year program through Oasis Ministries called, “Spiritual Direction for Spiritual Guides” during which I had several directees of my own. After all of this, I still found myself asking, “Exactly what is this thing called spiritual direction?”
Most Lutherans, like me, are unfamiliar with the idea of spiritual direction. The closest concept in our tradition is probably “seelsorge,” or care of souls, which is regarded as part of the pastoral office.
Like other Christians, however, we Lutherans do want to explore and deepen our faith lives and we know that certain relationships with others help us do that. Even those who have not heard of “spiritual direction” are comfortable with the idea of having a spiritual friend or mentor. Luther himself spoke of “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, Life Together, says:
“God has willed that we should seek and find His living word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself …”
Simply put, spiritual direction is pointing another person toward God. I believe the ability to do this is a charism, or spiritual gift and it often occurs naturally in the Christian community, sometimes without the individuals involved being fully aware of it.
Stay tuned for my next post about my own experiences in spiritual direction …..
“But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another . . . but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more’ (I Thess, 4.9, 10).
God himself has undertaken to teach brotherly love; all that men can add to it is to remember this divine instruction and the admonition to excel in it more and more. When God was merciful, when he revealed Jesus Christ to us as our Brother, when he won our hearts by his love, this was the beginning of our instruction in divine love. When God was merciful to us, we learned to be merciful with our brethren. When we received forgiveness instead of judgment, we, too, were made ready to forgive our brethren. What God did to us, we then owed to others. The more we received, the more we were able to give; and the more meagre our brotherly love, the less were we living by God’s mercy and love. Thus God himself taught us to meet one another as God has met us in Christ. ‘Wherefore receive ye one another,”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together