Saturday, June 22, 2019

PBT Stories #7: Spiritual Direction

Spiritual Direction is a type of relationship I learned about a decade or so ago. A spiritual director is trained to listen and encourage as someone shares about their personal spiritual journey, a companion that you meet with regularly. This is not the kind of relationship you'd have with a therapist, pastor, or even close spiritual friend. 

My pastor friends would mention their spiritual directors, and I would be jealous. While participating in the 2 year Academy for Spiritual Formation (which I highly recommend!) I "tasted and saw" that having a spiritual director is a rich and yummy treat (Sorry! Bad metaphor!). Here's a link to a perfect book if you want to know more: Abba, Give Me a Word: The Path of Spiritual Direction. In this very accessible book, Roger Owens, a fabulous speaker at that Academy experience, describes his beginning relationship with his spiritual director. 

Knowing the work I do at PBT, my spiritual director recently suggested that at our next session I bring a picture book that best describes my understanding of God. An obvious choice was Our Tree Named Steve, a book I featured my first year of PBT and again for my Grab & Go series
Many times I've said that picture books can be great tools for spiritual direction, but I'd never experienced that myself. Before our next session, I read Zweibel & Catrow's book again with a grocery list pad next to me to list allusions to God as I perceived them. The list was soooo long! 
Highlights follow with illustrations you didn't get to see back when I posted about a book each day for a year: 
The book is in the form of a letter from a father to his children while they are away. I thought of Paul's letters about God. The dad reminds them that they were awe-struck by the unusual tree near the house being built for them many years ago. The youngest child couldn't say "tree" so she declared her love for "Steve" which became the name of this important family "member."
This tree had been a sheltering, presence in the lives of each family member and "the center of our outdoor life."
Like God, Steve was such a facilitator of joy & love in this family. Steve endured everything from swings & jump-ropes 
to laundry & sewer backups in a way that was for me evocative of the kind of unconditional love we all have from God, despite the dirty secrets and unmentionables we share with no one but God. 
Steve also encouraged their neighborly love and was a divine inspiration for play, art, and problem-solving.  
Like God, this peace-giving, place of security became a sort of center of the family's identity. So why the letter? 
In a recent storm, Steve's protection of the family left him broken and lacking the imposing presence they were used to.
For me, Good Friday came to mind.
The dad ends the letter reporting that Steve (like Christ) has been transformed (resurrected?) and will be found in another tree in their yard as a playhouse that will continue Steve's important membership and influence on their family. 
After creating this list, I chose to imagine myself in a tree during my morning meditation. It was a powerful experience that brought me some insight about my relationship with God. My spiritual director guided me through more insight during our session. 

Providentially it seemed, that same day I discovered an adult book that you might also want to explore, especially if you are a tree-lover like I am. In Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach Us about the Nature of God and His Love for UsMatthew Sleeth explores the many scriptures that include trees or bushes. Sleeth shows that "every major biblical character and every major theological event has a tree marking the spot." 

Yeah! Picture books can lead to imaginative and fertile ground for adult spiritual formation and spiritual direction. Let me know if you want suggestions for other books that might lead toward similarly deep spiritual experiences for you or adults in your church.  

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