This message was originally sent out to my newsletter subscribers but I was asked to post it as a blog as an introduction to this new section of my blog.
A long overdue message in two parts.
I was fortunate to have an appointment scheduled with my spiritual director, on the afternoon of November 9, the day after the election. I had lost my grounding. I told my director that I needed guidance in how to accept and respond to what I view as a national tragedy.
I was a mess of feelings: heartbreak, disbelief, grief, anger, fear and disillusionment, to name a few.
My spiritual director is Jesuit-trained, as am I; St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, guides his followers to see God in all things. A profound spiritual experience I had in the 1980’s showed me without doubt that everything is a gift, everything is grace.
I’ve seen God and found the gifts and graces in the three biggest personal challenges in my 75 years long (and going strong) life: integrating my faith with my sexual orientation; caring for, losing friends and not losing hope during the most devastating years of the AIDs epidemic; and living with a diagnosis of incurable (but treatable) cancer for nearly 20 years.
On November 9, I could not see God, grace or gifts, spiritual or otherwise, in the news of that morning. I had no idea how to respond; like many others I felt numb and paralyzed.
In the days that followed, I found that I was not alone in my feelings of shock and disorientation. With one exception, all of my clients wanted (or, more accurately) needed to talk about the election—this included directees from other countries. I received e-mails and Facebook posts from all over the country and around the world asking for help in “archetypally interpreting” the election. In other words, “Can you make any sense of this?” Answer: “No; I have a knack for re-framing things, but this will take time.” The last thing I want to do is speculate.
Some people told me they felt the way they felt on 9/11. Older people remembered where they were when JFK was assassinated. Others said they felt as if there had been a death in the family. Others simply could not contain their disbelief; they were in shock.
Common among the majority of people I’ve spoken to is that they have cut back on or stop watching television, particularly the news programs. I’ve had much the same response, as if I had been hypnotized by a news media that turned out not to know what it was talking about and that the spell had been broken.
I prayed for guidance, and looked for another way of seeing, and wondered what, if anything, I could do to make a positive difference.
The cliché that “God must have a reason,” doesn’t hold water here. Even if God does have a reason, God makes it pretty clear in the Book of Job, the scripture classic on the nature of suffering, that it’s none of our business.
Listening to James Finley’s post-election video-recording, https://cac.org/re-grounding-love-reflection-following-election/ has been enormously helpful to me. He speaks as a Spiritual Director and begins his reflection with this:
“What’s causing suffering in the election, I think, it really has nothing to do with the Republicans or the Democrats, it doesn’t have anything to do with being conservative or liberal, it has to do with the political order should bear witness to the universal dignity of every person.
As soon as you find, then, a political stance that speaks in a disparaging, disrespectful, hurtful or insensitive way, toward people because, instead of being a man they are a woman, instead of being white they are a person of color, instead of being in our own religious tradition, they are in another religious tradition, especially, you might say, wherever there is insensitivity to the poor, to the disenfranchised, this should concern us.
But the thing is, if we get so disturbed by it, we lose our footing in God, we get into reactivity, we get flooded and overwhelmed by it, we become part of the problem and we lose our way.”
He finishes his reflection this way:
“Touch the hurting places with love as given within our situation. There’s more than enough brokenness to go around for all of us. So how do we ground ourselves with the courage to be honest and real and tender-hearted and let it spread out to the world? . . . The more grounded we are in God, the more energized we are to give ourselves in love and tenderness to the world. Go out in and live in conditions that are not peaceful without drowning in the destructive and hurtful aspects of these conditions but to be that presence in the midst of it.”
This is where spiritual direction comes in to play.
Here are a few questions worth pondering. (There are more.)
- Given my situation (age, health, family responsibilities and work obligations, as well as particular talents and passions) how can I reach out and touch the hurting places with love?”
- In what way, am I, in particular, called to be present, to take action and to bear witness?
- What practices will help re-ground me and help me reestablish my footing so that I don’t drown in the destructive and hurtful conditions that surround me?
I’ve reflected on these questions in the days following the election, it has become clear to me that it is time to open my spiritual direction practice to new directees. I have never before put out an announcement like this, I’ve always let directees find me, but these times, I believe, call for me to be more pro-active.
If you are interested in exploring spiritual direction, contact me and we can talk and, if you wish, proceed from there. My direct email is JimCurtan@aol.com
It has become equally clear to me that I must write. The guidance was unmistakable.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I had a conversation with one of my wisest, most perceptive clients. It is always consoling to speak with her. We discussed what we could do in response to the moral and spiritual crisis that we are experiencing and she said, “I wish you’d write a blog.” People have been telling me to write, encouraging me to write, and nagging me to write, guilting me into writing, for as long as I can remember. I love to talk and tell stories, as anyone who has ever met me knows, but I don’t like to write.
“I wish you’d write a blog,” she says, not you should write a blog, and for whatever reason, I hear it as guidance. Guidance is more often than not, not what you want or expect to hear. But you know it when you hear it. It sticks in your head like an earworm: (Itsy-bitsy-teeny-weenie-yellow-polka-dot-bikini, for example).
In my experience, spiritual guidance rarely, if ever, sounds like a “should.” Guidance doesn’t shout for attention. It speaks softly. It sounds like an invitation, or an idea, that even if you’ve thought it a thousand times, feels like you’re hearing for the first time; or, in this case, a wish.
“Your wish,” as they say, “is my command”.
A day after this conversation, Julienne, the incredibly patient designer and manager of my website, calls and says, “Do you have any idea how long it’s been since you’ve sent out a newsletter?
My response is always, “I don’t have any news”, but this time I do.
1. I am opening my spiritual direction practice to new directees
2. I am committing to write a blog on a regular basis. It will focus on spiritual guidance, spiritual discernment and spiritual direction.
In my next blog post, I want to focus on resources for spiritual guidance that appear, and in fact, bombard us on Facebook and the internet, at the movies—I just saw Doctor Strange, I was unexpectedly enthralled, it filled me with hope and was a small “s” spiritual experience for me—on television (though not so much on the 24 hour news channels), billboards, on the walk or drive to work, and, of course, in the silence.
It is possible to see God and grace and the gift in all things. It takes practice, patience and discipline. I am beginning to see all of these revealed in this difficult time and I will share them with you in the time to come.
If you want to receive notifications by email as soon as new blog posts are published, you can subscribe on my website subscribe in the right sidebar where it says Follow Blog Via Email. New blog posts will also be posted to my Facebook page.
I invite you to write me with questions, comments, suggestions and charitable criticisms.
I collect quotes. I love other people’s writing. I plan to end each blog with a quote. This is a newsletter not a blog; I’m including a quote anyway.
“My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”
— From the film, Joe vs. the Volcano, screenplay by John Patrick Shanley
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, a Blessed Ashura, an Enlightened Bodhi Day, a Joy-filled Kwanza, an Awesome Solstice and a Glorious, Peaceful and Hope-filled New Year.