Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Guenther’
Book Review: Holy Listening—The Art of Spiritual Direction
By: Margaret Guenther Publisher: Cowley Publication
Over the past year I have read several books covering the topic and practice of spiritual direction. Counting my present experience, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction ranks among the very best that I have read to date. This guide, written by Margaret Guenther, is unlike some of the other books on this subject that I have read.
First, let me say that spiritual direction is not a discipline or art that can be necessarily taught. There are certain tools that can be shared and there is experiential wisdom that might be communicated to help perspective “guides” and directors, but spiritual direction cannot be taught from a clinical perspective. When speaking of “soul” therapy there remains much mystery, especially when considering that the vast majority of the work done in spiritual direction is done by the Holy Spirit of God.
Disclaimer aside, Holy Listening does not attempt to “teach” spiritual direction, but instead, Margaret Guenther humbly shares a lifetime of her experience as a “holy listener” and soul friend. The book is just under one hundred fifty pages long and divided into only four chapters. The first chapter reminds the reader that each soul is to be welcomed as Christ; Welcoming the Stranger, refers to the Rule of St. Benedict (Chapter 53: Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, “I came as a guest, and you received Me”). This is a delightful chapter full of real-life insight that offers bountiful wisdom gleaned from years of holy listening. Each page of this chapter drips humility from Guenther and points to God as the true guide in the work of spiritual direction.
Chapter two is the longest chapter in the book and my favorite. I think it offers the most practical wisdom and instruction in Holy Listening. I just checked my copy of the book and I think every page but three or four have some type of highlighting or note written on them. Let me reemphasize that the style of the book is not teaching method, but sharing experience and because of this style of sharing there is an invaluable amount of wisdom and insight gleaned. The personal stories, both successes and errors, are related with honesty and care. I found reading the stories themselves a holy experience for me.
Chapters three and four provided unique challenges to me as a male. Chapter three is written using the metaphor of a midwife to describe the work of the spiritual director. I had to take my time and open my mind to the metaphor, but the effort was worth it. Once I reached the half-way point of the “midwife” chapter, this wonderful metaphor began to yield bountiful fruit. Chapter four addressed specific challenges and distinctive to ministry and direction to women (chapter titled: Women and Spiritual Direction). I’m sure this will be a valuable chapter for me at some point and I will probably refer to again and again in the future, but I must admit that I was a bit lost for the majority of this chapter. I write this confession as a man who has been married almost twenty-four years and a man who was raised with two sisters. I have experience with the nature of the female, but much of what was shared in this final chapter was a bit outside of my experience.
This really was a wonderful book. It is one of the best I have read on the art of spiritual direction. There is nothing systematic or technical about it, but I don’t think there is a more complete approach to the subject of being a soul friend than any other book I have read to date. I’m confident to recommend this work to anyone who might be considering this type of counseling. It is a gem and a gift to the person called to spiritual guidance and direction.
There are many faces to this “Soul Coach” named Waiting. Some faces of Waiting are those of a blessed soul companion who teaches the spiritual pilgrim about such things as dependence, trust, self-emptying, and the evisceration of pride. Then, there are other faces that Waiting shows to the soul sojourner… these faces taunt, mock, and belittle in effort to test the pilgrim’s resolve and learning through the season of wait. These are faces I have come to know during this past year.
While I have counted myself blessed to have this season in my life, the lessons and the experience are not easy. The price of learning to be dependent upon God and learning to really trust Him is very exacting. Pride’s roots run deep. The desire to achieve, compete, and consume are so deeply intertwined in my earthly DNA that to have them removed means that I very literally lose myself. And, the “aha” comes… this is what is meant by self-emptying.
These spells come and go like a tempest at sea; it’s almost as if I can see it coming upon me like the darkened and angry-brooding clouds swirling to gather into a storm on the ocean’s horizon. The same is true when the ravages of Waiting descend upon me. Fortunately, I have learned to be prepared for these seasonal downpours and I’m learning how to navigate the taunting waves and mocking winds when Waiting showers its wrath.
Waiting can be the most intense and poignant of all human experiences—the experience which, above all others, strips us of affectation and self-deception and reveals to us the reality of our needs, our values, and ourselves. -W. H. Vanstone; The Stature of Waiting
I am learning things with Waiting that I cannot learn anywhere else. No other teacher, no other university, and no library of books can teach what this “angel of God” named Waiting can teach me. Waiting is not only stripping me of me. Waiting is also stripping me of my self-created images of God. The course of my four and a half (plus) decades has created many versions of God and not one of them is even remotely close to the GOD who exceeds and rules over all man-made images. What I’m learning is this: not only do I have to be re-imaged, but my images of God have to be de-imaged. If I am to walk in deeper relationship with the True God, all images of God I have created must be stripped from my memory and revealed for the crutches and stumbling blocks they are.
Even the theologically sophisticated (person) can be helped by the reminder that our images of God are just that—images—and as we see their limitations, we outgrow them. The difficulty comes when we forget that they are merely images and think instead we have outgrown God. The spiritually stagnant are able to live in a state of denial, but the seeker after God may panic: “Perhaps I have gone too far! I should have been content with the God I had!” At its very best, this is an unsettling place to be. The ground no longer feels firm beneath one’s feet and, as one down-to-earth seeker has said, “Everything is up for grabs.” –Margaret Guenther; Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction.
And so, I will close this little confession with a prayer of David:
1 O Lord, I give my life to you.2 I trust in you, my God! Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat. 3 No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others. 4 Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. 5 Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you. 6 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past. 7 Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord. 8 The Lord is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. 9 He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way. 10 The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands (Psalm 25:1-10).
But it is good for me to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge (Psalm 73:28). Amen.
Consider all loose items on deck as being secured and all open hatches locked down tight…I’m ready to ride this storm out.