TLC3: Spiritual Direction Verbatim
This spiritual direction verbatim was originally written on March 4, 2005 for a “Christ’s Ambassadors Spiritual Formation Group” I was leading. It is an example of how to write up a word-for-word (as best as you can recall!) account of a spiritual direction session. This is a common tool for spiritual directors in their training or in ongoing spiritual direction supervision with a mentor or peer group. We use this in our training of pastors and leaders in TLC, our two-year certificate program in “Spiritual Formation and Soul Care Ministry.”
Writing out a verbatim forces us to be specific, clear, and accountable for how we guided a spiritual direction session. Reflecting on your conversations with “directees” or soul care recipients and then sharing these with others anonymously (e.g., without breaking confidentiality) helps you to better understand those you care for, how God is working in their lives, and how to adjust the way you’re caring for them.
For this spiritual direction appointment I was walking outside with a priest whom I’ll call Timothy. (The friend pictured above is not the one in this conversation. Also, I’ve omitted or changed some other identifying details of this conversation to protect confidentiality.) Timothy had met with me for spiritual direction for some time. We began with initial greetings and comments about the drizzle outside. Then the following dialogue developed:
Bill: “What has God been showing you lately?”
Timothy: “What has God been showing me lately? (Brief pause.) What has God been showing me lately? (Longer pause.) Well the other day I was reminded of Pope Gregory’s words, ‘Christian, remember your dignity!’ I want to see myself as God sees me.
Bill: “When have you sensed God honoring you since you heard that message?”
Timothy: “Hmm. Let’s see. When have I sensed God honoring me? (Brief pause.) I had the opportunity to lead a baptism preparation for 70 people in my parish. Usually, the Pastor would do this, but he asked me to. I felt so privileged! There were 70 people, young and old, they’re all using lent to get ready to be baptized in the Saturday night service before Easter morning. I got to address them and introduce them to the congregation. It was very exciting…”
Bill: “This inspired you to see their growing faith, their eager commitment to Christ.”
Timothy: “Yes. And after the service, the words of appreciation from people really blessed me too.”
Bill: “When else have you sensed God honoring you recently?”
Timothy: (He paused to reflect. Then we happened to walk under a tunnel and when he started to speak he noticed a loud, melodious echo.) “Wow! This echo is neat!…
Bill: (I spontaneously joined in his excitement.) “Woo-hoo!” (The echo replied!) “Whoooo…”
Timothy: “How else have I sensed God honoring me? (Brief pause.) In that conflict that got resolved. (He went into some detail about how this came about.) I saw that God used me to listen to both of these people and then to encourage them to talk with each other…”
Bill: “If you’re offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother has something against you then leave your gift at the altar and go be reconciled to your brother.” You helped these two people to do what Jesus taught. This was a great honor for you. (At this point I noticed a huge rainbow spanning the horizon ahead of us.) Look at that rainbow! A rainbow is a promise from God. We’re going to walk right under it!”
Timothy: “Oh, that’s beautiful. We might not have seen it if we hadn’t of turned around when the rain got heavy. Thank you Lord, that we got to enjoy this!”
Bill: “I’d like to hear about another time recently that you felt your dignity as a Christian.”
Timothy: “Well, the pastor asked me to fill in for him during the week while he was away on business and when he came back yesterday he offered me words of appreciation in front of the whole staff for the good job I did. I felt that was God honoring me.”
Bill: “I’m happy for you Timothy. It’s exciting to see how God is elevating you.” (We were quiet for 60 seconds or so. I prayed silently, wondering where God might direct the conversation.) “The beautiful thing about honor is that it’s the way of the Trinity. The Father thunders from heaven before a crowd of people waiting to be baptized, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!’ Jesus says to followers and critics, ‘I only say and do what my Father says and does’ and ‘It’s okay if you speak a word against me, but don’t speak a word against the Holy Spirit!’ Then Jesus gives a rousing introduction of the Holy Spirit to his disciples: ‘I’ll be leaving soon and he’ll come to be your Helper and Counselor.’ And the Spirit in the hearts of all believers cries out to get our attention, ‘Abba Father!’ and ‘Jesus is Lord!’
Back and forth the Trinity honor one another. And, as David told us in the Psalms, God stoops down to make us great! All three members of the Trinity do this for us. This is where we really see God’s greatness isn’t it? It’s why in movies we love the heroes who are humble and sacrifice themselves for others. But the circle of honor keeps growing! We get to honor others as God has honored us. And we get to praise the Lord who alone deserves all honor! It’s so beautiful, isn’t it?”
Timothy: (He nodded as he looked at me. We reflected quietly on the Trinity.)
Bill: “I wonder when God has used you to honor others recently?”
Timothy: (He paused to think.) “On two occasions I got together with a friend for ‘venting sessions.’ I listened to him…”
Bill: “That is honoring, to spend time listening like that. That’s neat that you see it that way. Did you tell him that?”
Bill: “You know you could say to your friend, ‘It’s such a privilege for me to spend this time with you and to listen to you share your heart with me. I’m so blessed to have you for a friend.’ You’ve talked with me about this friend before. Isn’t that how you feel about him?”
Timothy: “Yes, that is how I feel. I’d like to share that with him.”
Bill: (We were almost done with our walk.) “Let’s finish the circle of honor. When in these days have you explicitly given glory to God, putting weight on his importance to you?”
Timothy: (Brief pause.) “I have in general ways… But I can’t think of a specific example…”
Bill: “I suppose everything you’ve shared with me would be an opportunity to honor God, to be aware of his greatness and talk to him about it.”
Timothy: “I want to do that more.” (Quiet pause. Then he began to pray.) “Thank you Lord for speaking to me this morning in so many ways. Thank you for inviting me into your circle of honor. You’ve blessed us with the rainbow, the birds singing, and with thoughts about your glorious community of Three. Help me to be more open with sharing my warm feelings with my friend and others. In the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.”
Bill: “Dear Father, it’s been a joy to listen to how you’re working in Timothy’s life, how he’s growing in his awareness of ways that you’ve bestowed dignity upon him and how he’s sharing your honor with others. Bless him Lord as he seeks to honor you in all that he does. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
Timothy: (He looked at me and smiled.) “It’s been an honor to spend this time with you this morning Bill.”
Bill: (I smiled back and put my hand on his shoulder.) “You’re a good man Timothy. It’s a privilege to talk with you.”
Timothy: “You’re a good man too!”
I really enjoyed this conversation with Timothy and writing out the spiritual direction verbatim wasn’t as bad as I feared!
Overall, I felt good about this session because it seems that God used me to draw Timothy closer to himself. I began this dialogue, as I often do, with a question of “examen,” (a variation on, “When have you sensed God’s presence?”) seeking to increase Timothy’s consciousness and appreciation of the blessing the Spirit’s presence in specific, recent instances from his life.
The crucial point I thought was that the Holy Spirit — the real Spiritual Director! — drew our attention to focus on Timothy’s reflection and application of Pope Gregory’s insight about the Christian’s God-given dignity. This happened through my persistent questions in the examen of consciousness which focused on Timothy’s experience of God’s honor. (Experiencing God and conversing with him is the focus of my spiritual direction work with people.)
My spontaneous meditation on Scriptures that reveal the Trinity’s way of honoring seemed helpful to Timothy, but this was a deviation focusing on his personal experience of God. Maybe it my response wasn’t the most helpful? It was rather didactic-like. I wonder how he would’ve responded if I’d let the silence linger and then asked him about his experience during the silence? He seemed to appreciate the meditation, but next time I want to wait longer to see what he does with the silence and understand his experience with that.
The open questions I asked him focused on worship, personal growth, and service (a triangle of God, self, and others that I find conceptually helpful). Then our discussion of how Timothy had honored his friend and wanted to show his honor for God gave a richness to our discussion of honor. I felt that we were fellowshipping with the Trinity! I’m hopeful that as a result of our conversation he’ll move into overflowing with honor to others and to God more than before.
Upon reflection, one thing I’d for sure do differently is the way I responded to Timothy’s comments about honoring his friend by listening to him vent. I like the way I affirmed Timothy, but after that I think it would have been more helpful if instead of suggesting what he could say to honor his friend I would’ve simply asked him the question, “If you were to verbalize an affirmation of your friend to honor him what might you say?” For Timothy to verbalize his own emotions would’ve done more to increase his self-awareness and made it’d a smaller step for him to share them with his friend.
I could’ve done more to focus on the rainbow as a way that God was honoring us in that moment. I wonder how he would’ve experienced contemplating the rainbow? In any case, it’s clear from his prayer that he sensed God’s presence in the rainbow and the birds. (This is one of the advantages of offering spiritual direction in the informal context of a nature walk.) Also, I wish I had affirmed Timothy’s wonderful recognition that our turning around early when we did wasn’t just a coincidence, but God’s sovereign blessing for us.
The way our conversation ended with Timothy spontaneously honoring me showed me that he had immersed himself in the way of the Trinity!
Incidentally, I enjoyed the moment we shared with the echo. It was interesting how he “echoed” some of my questions to him. I’ve noticed before that he benefits from me mirroring him (reflecting his feelings) — it seems to strengthen his self-awareness and connection to me. I especially want to remember to reflect back his emotions and experiences of God.