What is spiritual mentoring?
Here it is November and this spiritual development column might have been about Thanksgiving but that is not what the writer gods have spun in my soul. Instead I would like to describe to you what spiritual “direction” (or the term I prefer, “mentoring”) is.
During the 20 years I spent in the Jesuits we were expected to have such a mentor and to see him (at that time it was usually a male) once a month. We would talk about “How are ya?”, “What’s happening in your life?”, What’s going on in your prayer?” It was great to have the ear of a long series of great men who were holy themselves and who genuinely cared and who, for the most part, were skilled in moving things forward.
In those days (1968-88) it was pretty much the conventional wisdom that such pursuits were for the professional religious and/or clergy although there were a few exceptions as the so-called “laity” began emerging. (Did you know the word “laity” means “amateur”? Probably the medieval clergy thought that was about right and maybe preferred it that way). Then along comes German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner whose thought served as the basis of Vatican II. He announced that the Christian of the future (you may substitute any religion here) would either be a mystic or not a Christian at all. Vatican II attempted to liberate the “laity” from serfdom but, as it turned out, many, though by no means all, of them seem to prefer serfdom and many of the hierarchy and pastors seem to feel more comfortable that way. Those lay folk who do seek to emerge from the shadows are fortunate if they discover that their pastor is on the same page. (Shepherdstown is blessed with a disproportionately high number of enlightened clergy).
All of this should translate into people seeking spiritual mentoring but truth be told this still seems like an arcane practice to the few who have heard of it to begin with. Again there are significant exceptions in Shepherdstown.
So what goes on in spiritual mentoring? Well, when I am the mentor, it goes about like this. First, I respect and address the person’s presenting issue. When the person feels genuinely peaceful on that subject, I then I suggest that he/she begin establishing a daily spiritual practice such as meditation in any of its varied forms. Here we are moving away from canned, pre-packaged prayers into the person’s own expression and beyond their ego’s expressions to those of their truer, deeper selves often breathed wordlessly. I also encourage them to begin examining their cultural conditioning a la their religious upbringing to see if it all conforms to what seems to be emerging in their personal journey. At this point I serve as their cheerleader as they step out of the comfort zone boat and walk on the glorious waters of Mystery. Here we may also spend some time sorting through the attic to see if perhaps there are treasures there that might usefully be retained. At this point the person is on the grand high road to the pearl of great price: the discovery that all is Love and I myself, in my essence, am Love. Along the way of this whole journey I nearly always include in each session a deep interior guided imagery meditation that serves to free the person from wherever he/she is stuck. I bring in material from sacred paths, both their own and others, to illumine things with new stories or perspectives. I also do what can be done to position the person for mystical experience but whether that happens or not is up to Spiritand also is the subject of another column in the future. Happy Thanksgiving!
Bill O’Brien, M.A., M.Div., is a spiritual practitioner and mentor. He and his wife Linda have lived in Shepherdstown since 2005. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-876-6071