My Journey to Becoming a Spiritual Director

My spiritual journey in adulthood has been marked by the themes of both connection and separation. I’ve always been a leader and a writer, using my gifts to write poetry, reflect on current events, discern the needs of others and encourage them on their journey. I’ve worked in politics, education, and religious institutions as a communicator and I’ve always brought to my work the passion to connect others in community.

Looking up after having walked the spiral path.

About ten years ago, my journey led me to begin “deconstructing” my faith. I was fortunate enough to have a nurturing partner, friends, and background all supportive of asking questions. No question was off limits and there was often someone I knew who had wrangled with the exact question just before I got to it so they had some good insight to offer right when I needed it most. Luckily for me, my partner functions more cerebrally than me, I have contacts in higher education even if I haven’t much under my own belt, and I am driven to find and talk openly with people from a variety of different walks of life. These connections have helped me find my path.

But perhaps the most formative catalysts bringing me to where I am today in my faith have not been connections, but separations. In the past two years I have experienced estrangement with my biological family, as well as the rejection of the Evangelical tradition of faith.

I have explored my journey toward and through estrangement from family with the help of my husband, therapist, and mentors, as well as through my writing. Attachment, family and community are themes I revisit in my writing regularly and I’ve discovered that attachment to a “herd” means survival. Dissolving attachments and forming new ones can be done wisely and at times is absolutely the right choice to make. Also, navigating a strained relationship with an unhealthy person with dignity and grace can also be done, and it doesn’t make the healthy person a fool for remaining in relationship. For myself, I needed to make the choice to be more distant from the unhealthiness of my childhood family, to ensure I found positive development for my own life’s journey and to make sure I was healthy enough to pour into my own family life in a way I never received.

A wild rose blooms beside the country road where I walk.

My family raised me with a Mennonite Evangelical heritage. I am what some might call a life-long Christian as I seem to have inherited my faith through conditioning, saying the sinner’s prayer as a child, serving and recommitting my life to Christ at Bible camp, and all that was expected of a good girls in Manitoba in the 1990s. Even as I became an adult, the falling away that seemed to plague others of Generation X/Millennial-ish didn’t claim me.

But the adolescence of faith can strike at any age and I began to question Christianity after becoming a wife and mother. While noteworthy milestones of feminine adulthood, I eventually encountered the struggle of what it means as a woman driven to discern for and lead others while striving to conform to culturally informed gender roles. I had often been told I had the spiritual gifts of leadership, faith, encouragement and discernment, and yet (and so?) I found the path surprisingly rocky as I questioned the existence of God and the theological constructs that form the foundation of the western Evangelical church.

Labyrinth, hammock, and wall hanging at St. Ben’s

When I started deconstructing my faith, I struggled to find understanding or support within my own church. I reached further and found others who had gone before me along similar journeys. I attended a silent retreat at St. Benedict’s Monastery and learned about the contemplative tradition of Christianity. I read and learned and found the bread crumbs left for me by others who have gone before: friends and authors who feel now like friends (Kathleen Norris, Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Rachel Held Evans, Brother Lawrence, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Pete Enns, Brene Brown, and more, so many more). I learned my identity, when based on neither family nor faith community, could be defined more simply than ever before – as Child of God/dess.

I learned about the Shekinah Formation program while at St. Benedict’s in 2018 and looked forward to when they would open their application procedures for student intake. In 2019, I learned the program was on sabbatical to take a much-needed break and they were not accepting students. I was disappointed, but accepted the development for the closed door that it was and looked around instead for an opened window.

We thought 2019 was rough!

Then 2020 happened. And the social issues raised because of and amidst the COVID-19 pandemic revealed an Evangelical body in turmoil. 2020 made it necessary for us to deal head-on with issues like anti-science mentality, vaccination, systemic racism, classism, patriarchy, and more. While I do not wish anyone to experience loss of relationship, these are divisive issues because at stake is the very real life and death of people, often the weak and oppressed. I learned if you choose to explore these important issues within the social body in which you operate, expressing different opinions with conviction, you might be ostracized, which I was.

I went from being active in ministry and helping with my church’s website, social media and other communications before the pandemic, to now currently not attending a church for the first time in a long time. I could not continue to be part of a group where the church fails to corporately empower people to discern and confirm information except that which upholds the status quo. Similar to my familial estrangement, the process was long and handled with as much grace and patience as I was gifted for the situation.

At each juncture where I grew with any significance in the past ten years, I found a way to discern truth and confirm it with people whom I knew were more knowledgeable than me in the area in which I was seeking growth. I learned that faith, as with anything worth contemplating in life, is both more straightforward and more complicated than many people think. It is simultaneously intensely personal and collective, with implications for living that affect both individual and societal trajectory.

Made my own labyrinth at home. Come walk and sit sometime!

My current spiritual path includes practices that are much less communal than they once were, and not just because of provincial health restrictions making it difficult to be together with groups of people. But I feel my faith is stronger than it’s ever been. Revival, for me, came not in fighting to be understood by or change my family or my church. It has come because now I have been given the gift of seeing God/dess as both parent and friend.

I walk in companionship and connection with God, my Father, and Goddess, my Mother, in a new way now.

A deer I saw on the morning on our road (a rarity despite being “in the country”) when leaving for my first retreat at St. Ben’s.
Later I would also see deer on my walk at St. Ben’s that same day.

In 2021, St. Benedict’s Monastery & Retreat Centre closed its doors, selling its land and its buildings to Southeast Regional Development Corp. to operate a pandemic isolation-accommodation service for people from eight First Nations communities. When the pandemic ends, the organization intends to utilize the space as a First Nations wellness centre. The redemption arc was not lost on me, and I was pleased despite my surprise and sadness to hear of the closing of St. Ben’s. So when the Shekinah Formation program reformatted itself as an online program and reopened its student intake for Spiritual Direction, I applied and began studying in September 2021.

I entered the program because of my calling to connect with others. I have been built to reflect, write, and speak. It’s true I would not say I feel a calling to an official position of a Spiritual Director at this time, as in with the goal of finding full-time employment with a traditionally organized ministry. But I’m a writer and as someone with leadership skills and a voice, I acknowledge the need for deep listening. Wherever I go I find myself desiring to build community and lessen the suffering of others. However I find myself giving of my skills in the future, I know I benefit from training from educators in a spiritual environment I trust.

In today’s social climate, there is a need for constructive voices to fill liminal spaces at the intersection of so many issues, and the unique opportunity to carefully provide spiritual direction for those deconstructing within the Mennonite Evangelical faith is a task with which I am well positioned to help. I see the transitional voice I am able to provide through writing as a form of possible help to readers, leaving breadcrumbs as it were. And the relationship between author and readership has broad similarities to Spiritual Direction.

Skiing the labyrinth = how it feels to try to navigate life sometimes. 😉

My life will continue to involve creating community. While I am looking for a new church, I continue to enjoy close relationship with many mentors, pastors, teachers, and friends I’ve made along the way. I continue to lead and speak at church events and connect to others by creating community online through The Prairie Thistle.

And now, I am offering the service of Spiritual Direction. As a student practitioner, my services are available FREE of charge for a limited time as part of the Shekinah Formation program practicum requirements.

If you would like to talk and share with me your spiritual story, I would love to hear it. Within the context of Spiritual Direction, I would hold space for the challenges, joys, explorations and meditations of your heart with the intent of deeply listening to how the Holy Spirit moves within and around you and your world. It’s not always an easy world we live in, but we are never alone.

If you would like to learn more about what Spiritual Direction is, please CLICK HERE to check out the new page up on the blog now.

At St. Ben’s for the last time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s