Spiritual Trails

I have a cacophony happening most of the time in my head. Voices, images, to-do lists, want-to list and “shoulds” are all there. My inner critic usually has a megaphone leading this mixture of silent thoughts which coats everything with doubt and confusion. I find it hard to push through the confusion to find what might be Spirit’s nudge, or invitation or direction. As a mental health clinician, I know how to listen to my clients. It isn’t just the pitch, cadence, content or choice of their words. It is also the posture, eye contact, presence and response that speaks volumes. Listening to a client’s story, whether it is in adult words or child’s play or feelings expressed in art, gives me direction about their world and its effect on their life.

Listening for God’s voice somewhere in the silence is a whole different ballgame. Spiritual
direction has been hard for me to wrap my head around. I kept asking my spiritual director exactly what it was and what was expected of me. As a mental health therapist, I knew it was not therapy and I knew it was about God, but how does it work, and what am I supposed to say. I needed God and a good therapist.

I am stumbling around in “almost retired” for the third time. I sold my house in Maine and returned to the South looking for affordable housing and a community where I could make a contribution as well as thrive personally. I reached out for spiritual direction when I could not make sense of this new chapter of my life. For years I have rebelled at organized religion having survived a huge dose of guilt and abuse from the church of my childhood. Thanks to my clergy friends, I have remained on a spiritual tether with God for many years.

In addition to those discussions, I have been reading Richard Rhor, listening to Carrie Newcomer’s music, memorizing Mary Oliver’s poems and following David Whyte’s poetry. All of this has been a nice little walk into actual spiritual direction which “invited” me to reflect on myself while laying the groundwork for an intentional relationship with God. I rebelled at the patriarchal language. I found one million distractions to keep from reading my assignments. And sitting silently and listening? Did I say I have undiagnosed ADHD? I like quick results. A text message from God would be great or at least an email.

While I sound disrespectful and ungrateful, I am neither. After about 10 months of spiritual
direction, I would describe it as having a wise, loving, spiritual person to look at the map with me and help re-center me so I can find a trail that offers Spirit nudges and reduces the cacophony of the traffic in my head. I have learned much about the need to go deeper before I can go forward. I am practicing contemplative prayer. I am currently doing Ignatius’ Examen almost daily. And most importantly for me, I am learning to be better attuned to the Spirit’s presence in and with me. I am breathing in God and breathing out my various anxieties of the moment.

I think it might be working. At least I am listening to the silence now.

Annie Beckham, LCSW

Chapel Hill, NC