A Guest Post by Jessica L. Luzong
Why is Spiritual Formation, and specifically Spiritual Direction, important? This quote by Luci Shaw summarizes a deeper need for it in our lives:
"The pace of life and our preoccupation with unimportant things takes so much of our attention. The significant things, like taking time to develop friendship, to read and pray,... to listen to God- these all get sacrificed on the altar of good works and... busyness." - Luci Shaw
I don't know about you, but I would rather spend my life paying attention to what really matters!
Whenever I mention moments of revelation, growth and insight I receive from a Spiritual Direction session, I'm almost always met with the question: What is spiritual direction? Despite the consistent practice of accountability Whitney has offered me over the years of our meetings together, I usually hesitate to explain exactly what it is. I hope that in sharing some of these moments and experiences, you will be stirred to taste and see for yourself the goodness of God offered through Whitney and her ministry of Spiritual Direction through Exploring Peace.
I met Whitney at a Holy Yoga retreat in October of 2014. I had never heard of the ministry of Spiritual Direction, but I was stirred to meet with her and hungry to hear from God. The only briefing I was given prior to our first meeting was: "Even though it's called 'direction' a Spiritual Director doesn't really 'direct' you." But after our first, brief encounter, I knew I wanted her to continue walking with me on my journey with God as an accountability partner and a holy listener. The reason this was so important to me was because rather than giving me direction herself, what Whitney did was open up a space and hold moments for me to encounter God directly, to be directed by his Spirit.
Since that initial meeting in 2014, I can look back on the past 7 years and see very specific ways the Lord has used Whitney in my life to help me encounter, seek, and follow, which in turn, has encouraged me in making major life decisions. Some of these include moving across the country, serving overseas, quitting jobs and starting new ones, and letting go of fear! Less dramatic but extremely beneficial examples are: seeing and celebrating God in my every day life, pausing to savor good things with gratitude or actually feel the hard things in life, or naming my desires and surrendering them into the Lord's hands and perfect timing.
When I was first called to leave a dream job working in an art museum to move to California (unemployed), I thought it would be a temporary move, but the Lord had highlighted a one-way plane ticket for me to purchase. I felt a lot of trepidation at this and immediately thought to schedule a Spiritual Direction session. Whitney asked thoughtful questions, listened alongside me, and confirmed what we both heard as direction from Holy Spirit. After that session, with the affirmation I sensed Whitney shared that it really was a prompting from the Lord, I felt confident in my faith to buy that plane ticket! When I look back on that decision, it drastically impacted my future decisions and walk of faith with the Lord. What seemed a temporary place of travel became my home for the next 6 years!
Another example of the refreshment offered me by the ministry of Spiritual Direction happened when I was ministering overseas in India. I felt a bit burned out and very misunderstood by my team, especially the leaders. I met with Whitney, who graciously co-ordinated an 11.5 hour time zone difference! She listened- really listened- affirmed my feelings, gave me space to breathe (literally!), and invited me into a deeper freedom that I had somehow lost along the way of "doing" mission work. Caring for my soul in that season was more important than ever.
Because of my own yoga practice and investment as an instructor, as well as God's design of my body's flexibility and love of dancing and movement, I really appreciate how Whitney incorporates breath and posture (and movement if desired) into our sessions. "Embodiment" was never a terminology I consciously used, but began to understand more recently, through Whitney's usage, that I have always done this naturally. With her help, I am able to intentionally put into practice the embodiment of God's Spirit living in me and knowing God is there - Emmanuel - God with us! It's one thing to know some truth in your mind, another to know in it your heart, but it's absolutely transformational when we can know in our bodies, too. This practice solidifies our faith by making what is ethereal and unseen more tangible and alive.
There is such a powerful expression of faith that comes when we invite the Spirit of God and the Human-ness of Jesus into our lives. Whitney always reminds me in our sessions to slow down, become aware, and breathe. Even though I practice doing this on my own, I often still forget, speed up, or lose sight. Spiritual Direction grounds me back into the practices in which I know I can hear clearly from God. Having another Soul Friend on the journey with me is always such a great support and help.
Through Exploring Peace, Whitney has walked with me with God through major life decisions, not only in relocating several moves, but in listening to God's miraculous work in connecting me to my husband, getting married, and (most recently) having a baby! Experiencing Spiritual Direction while being pregnant offered me an incredible invitation to practice the embodiment of God's Spirit and his Creative Power within me during that precious time! Whitney invited me to include her as a prayer partner when I went into labor, and never neglected the wholeness of me as a woman, wife, new mom, and most importantly, child of God. She has lovingly remembered and reminded me of the call of God over my life, the dreams God has planted in me, while celebrating with me as they come to pass. When I've lost sight of these things, she offers subtle reminders, without any guilt or shame, for me to come back to the Loving Presence of God and simply be with my Creator, Savior, Friend of all friends. She is always and consistently "quick to listen" and shares in my walk of life in such a profound way, gently guiding me to recognize the Hand of God and his work within and around me.
With great honor I call Whitney my Spiritual Director, and can't imagine journeying through the spiritual life as a disciple of Jesus without such a precious witness and support from her!
If you're considering Spiritual Direction but have hesitation, my encouragement to you is to try it! There is nothing more valuable than the investment you make into your soul care. Scheduling time with Whitney is scheduling time with Whitney AND Jesus, with the accountability to meet with God, hear from God, let go of distractions, and have a safe listener there for support, confirmation and guidance into what you hear. God's love is always available for you! I have never, in 7 years, finished a Spiritual Direction session without feeling the love of God, having connected my body-soul-spirit with him, and being encouraged to continue walking closely with the Lord.
For this, I say a simple: thank you, Whitney. Thank you for offering your gifts to the world through Exploring Peace!
My spiritual director mentioned Martin Laird's book, Into The Silent Land, multiple times before I took the hint to read it for myself. I devour books, they are nourishment for my soul. So why did this one get put off for so long? Oh, I think we all know. This book was not a book to use as a "get away" as many of my historical fiction reads, this book was to take me inward and do some deep soul work. I was faced with the reality once again, I struggle with and often purposely avoid silence.
Silence is hard. And I'm not simply talking about being quiet. We can cease to speak and our minds still be quite noisy! Can you relate? When I finally read this gem of a book, Laird gave me encouragement in the first few pages. I realized, he understood. Laird explains the focus of the book is on the struggles we face when we enter silence and "the inner chaos going on in our heads, like some wild cocktail party of which we find ourselves the embarrassed host...we are not even aware of how utterly dominating this inner noise is until we try to enter through the doorway of silence."
Oh, wow. Yes, I indeed find myself not at all present but listening loudly to all the inner noise. That's why we practice silence. It doesn't happen on accident.
Why does the inner noise get so much attention? For one, I often think we don't realize we have the power to calm that noise. For another, the world has become so noisy that we allow ourselves to follow the crowd. So why not give into the noise?
Silence is fruitful. St. Isaac the Syrian wrote, "Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you and you will see the things that are in heaven."
Why wouldn't we choose to enter the treasure house within? If we believe God created us and is within, why wouldn't we choose to draw nearer in the quiet?
Silence can feel lonely. Silence is not the same as being alone. And yet, it's true that when we enter into the quiet, calming those often loud inner voices, we may realize that there is less distraction to keep us company. So at first, silence can indeed feel lonely. But, my oh my, are the treasures worth it. The connection with our Creator is cultivated in the silence, that's not lonely.
God is here, you aren't actually alone in the silence. So, why do we resist? Sometimes we simply need support. I find a regular contemplative prayer practice with quiet in the morning, time on my yoga mat, being in community with other seekers, and spending time with my spiritual director and soul friends to be the greatest support. These people and practices help me find the strength and courage to quiet the inner chaos and draw closer to God.
How are you embracing silence in your life in this season?
This month in our Peace Seekers online community and in my yoga classes, we're exploring what it looks like to enter the quiet. If you struggle with the inner chaos, I invite you to join us. I also currently have limited openings for private spiritual direction both in person at Bloom Yoga Studio and online.
Group Spiritual Direction was my introduction to the ministry of soul care. After my stroke, I experienced extreme anxiety. The anxiety was emotionally and spiritually paralyzing. I could barely go to the grocery amidst strangers, let alone be surrounded by people wanting to hug and communicate (at church). The church wasn't causing my anxiety. My anxiety simply didn't allow me to be present at church, which felt conflicting and overwhelming.
It was an isolating and lonely season. A friend knew I was in this searching season, trying to discover God in new ways. So when she heard that her church was offering a group spiritual direction series, she asked me to join the group. I had never heard of the ministry of spiritual direction. I was hesitant and also curious. You would think something brand new would have been harder to embrace than what I knew but what I needed in that season was simply a small group of people to hold space for me and my struggles on my spiritual journey.
This little group of listeners soon helped me hear God in brand new ways. They listened fully, completely, and without judgement. They didn't try to "fix" my challenges or change me. They helped me notice God's activity in my life and I'm forever grateful.
According to Rose Mary Dougherty, three conditions are essential to the life of a spiritual direction group:
Are you willing to be open and honest about your relationship with God (struggles and all)? Are you in a season of change, discernment, or longing? Do you simply want to learn to be a better listener? You're invited to join us for our first online small group inside our new Peace Seekers Community.
Attendance is important since our group will be intimate. Our time will be an introduction to spiritual direction so you don't need to know a thing about this ministry to begin. We'll meet for 4 Sessions on Zoom, Wednesdays from 10:30 AM - 12 PM Central beginning October 28, 2020. We'll offer safe space to share and ask questions about your spiritual journey among peers and with me (a trained spiritual director). You'll participate in weekly guided scripture meditations for listening to God's activity in this intimate group (limited to 6 participants). Your investment in this 4 sessions is the cost of 2 private spiritual direction sessions. You can find full details and register at this link.
BONUS: You'll become a member of our new online community during the time of our group. This community offers you support from other Peace Seekers, weekly scripture passages and ponderings, as well as connection.
Will you join us?
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC