Seeking the guidance we need for a deeper relationship with God
“Contemplation is a radically transforming process. For this reason, many people … avoid it altogether or practice it only halfheartedly,” according to Father George Aschenbrenner, SJ, in his book “Contemplating Jesus.”
Indeed, the costly experience of prayerful intimacy with God is both attractive and fearful. We are drawn to and resist such prayer. We fear the cost of losing our false identities rooted in lies about ourselves and the world in which we live, yet we are made for intimacy and authenticity; we are created to be in the presence of and united with the one whom we love and who loves us.
Christian contemplation is never solipsistic. It is fundamentally relational — God in us, and we in God. It is radically Trinitarian in that it transforms us into the very Persons we contemplate — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Such a union with God inevitably requires what spiritual writers call mortification and an experience of the Paschal Mystery. Behavioral sciences call it cognitive restructuring, detoxification and abstinence. It requires a death to a self-constructed lies about who we are in the world. It is a suffering. The Paschal Mystery within us comes about after much tension, stretching and renewal. It is dying and rising in the spiritual life. It is a conversion, a spiritual and human maturation into the person who is fully known only by God who gradually reveals it to us. This contemplative relationship with God is a costly, lifelong process needing daily attention.
Similarly, the behavioral sciences and those in recovery from addictions speak of sobriety, honesty and increased self-knowledge found in a relationship with God. They speak of sobriety as a costly lifelong process needing day-by-day attention. Those with ongoing mental health concerns know that recovery requires new ways of thinking and living.
At first glance, this is something to which we would all naturally aspire. It truly is attractive, and many beautiful things have been written about it in spiritual theology and in psychology.
At second glance, although we reach out for deeper prayer, and long for it, we find something hinders us. What is it?
St. Ignatius spoke of the enemy, which thwarts our movement toward God. To Ignatius, the enemy is not only Satan and his demons, but also whatever is inimical to human nature, including spiritual, emotional, relational and physical wounds that war against prayerful intimacy with God. The enemy wants to keep wounds unhealed, for they are ready sources of confusion, drawing us away from the One who heals.
What can we do? That is the thousand-dollar question, and there is a million-dollar answer: spiritual direction. It is difficult to overstate the importance of having a competent spiritual director. Alcoholics need sponsors. Deacons need spiritual directors with whom they are vulnerable, honest and transparent about their wounds, spiritual lives, ministries and how God moves in their lives. A good spiritual director can guide us to deeper self-awareness by letting go of false identities based on the effects of sin and disordered life experiences, and toward an embrace of the truth of being a beloved son of a loving Father.
There is a need for more trained spiritual directors for deacons. This reality is currently being addressed. Good schools of spiritual direction are now training men for this vital ministry. In my diocese, three of us deacons are in training or have been certified. Perhaps this is a ministry to which you are called. Pray about it.
If you do not have a spiritual director, ask yourself why. As Aschenbrenner above suggested, might it arise from a fear of the transformation that occurs in spiritual direction? Are you worried that you may no longer recognize yourself if you plumb the depths of your interior life? Are you concerned you may lose yourself in becoming a new man known in the mysterious love of God for you?
Take the risk. Resist whatever holds you back. Seek out spiritual direction. God be with you as you do!
DEACON ROBERT YERHOT, MSW, is the assistant director emeritus of the diaconate for the Diocese of Winona-Rochester in Minnesota. He sits on the editorial board for the Josephinum Diaconal Review and has previously published articles on diaconal spirituality.