Sermon for Sunday, April 2, 2017 – Lent 5
Let God Breathe
Elisabeth Rotchford Haight and Rev. Dr. Marlene Kropf
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; John 11:1-45; Romans 8:6-11
M: We’re grateful to Dianne for inviting us to offer this sermon together as a way of introducing spiritual direction more fully to folks at St. Paul’s.
E: In the newsletter each week you’ve seen a brief description of spiritual direction and an invitation to check it out for yourself or to let others know about it.
M: Still, some people have told us they’re not really sure what happens in spiritual direction.
E: Both Marlene and I are trained spiritual directors. We hope to open a conversation with you today by demonstrating a bit of a sample spiritual direction session and by describing what typically happens in a session.
M: If you have questions, we’ll be available during coffee hour to talk further. So let’s begin …
Role-Play of Sample Session with Spiritual Director (SD) and Directee (D)
SD: (Lights a candle…) Good morning, Marlene. It’s good to see you again.
D: And it’s good to be here with you. I always look forward to our conversations.
SD: Let’s pause for a moment to quiet ourselves and hear some words from the Psalms that express our longing for God (Ps. 130:5,6):
I wait for God; my soul waits, and in God’s word I hope.
My soul waits for God, more than those who watch for the morning. Amen.
I’m wondering what you might want to talk about today.
D: Usually I bring something that is happening in my life that I want to listen to more deeply, but today I want to tell you about a dream I had.
SD: Yes … please go ahead.
D: My dream was a bit troubling. I was hiking in a wilderness – maybe it was somewhere in the Olympics. I was all alone and getting tired and thirsty.
After a while I came through a hilly area and began a descent into a valley. Suddenly I stopped because I saw that the ground was littered with bones – mounds and heaps of bones everywhere, dry and bleached from sunlight.
I wasn’t sure if I was scared or curious, or both. It felt a bit spooky, but I also knew somehow that it was OK to be there.
SD: Then what happened?
D: I kept wondering, “How did these bones get here? And could they live again?” But I heard nothing, sensed nothing.
When I woke up, I felt a deep sense of desolation – like something was weighing heavily on me. The image stayed with me all day.
SD: And so you brought it here for us to look at together.
D: Yes, I felt like there was something very familiar about the dream. Like I should be able to understand what it meant – but I can’t quite get there.
SD: Let’s explore it together. Can you tell me more about what the hike into the wilderness was like? How you felt?
D: Well, it wasn’t a leisurely hike. I felt like I was on my way somewhere – and I had walked a long time. But I wasn’t making much progress. I was hot, tired, maybe even discouraged.
SD: And tell me again how you felt when you came down into the valley and saw the bleached bones scattered across the valley floor.
D: I was surprised, of course – and immediately felt a bit frightened. But what’s strange is that it also felt very familiar. It seemed like I knew this place.
SD: And do you know it?
D: I suppose I do. At least I know what it’s like to feel dry or dead or alone.
SD: Yes …
D: I think what I’m trying to say is that I’ve been feeling disconnected from God – like God has deserted me. All through Lent I’ve been reading the daily reflections that are sent from the church office. But it’s like nothing is happening. I don’t sense God is speaking to me. To be truthful, I’m dreading Easter this year. Everyone will be smiling and happy; the bells will be ringing, and we’ll be singing all those glorious songs. But my heart won’t be in the celebration.
Discussion of Spiritual Direction
E: This is the kind of conversation that might happen in spiritual direction. It’s a time when two people come together to reflect on the directee’s life with God and their life in the world.
M: Spiritual direction ministry has ancient roots in the church. People went out to the deserts of Egypt and Syria to receive guidance from the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
Since that time, spiritual direction has taken many forms. During the past 40-50 years there has been a resurgence of interest in spiritual direction. Training programs have sprung up all over the world to respond to the spiritual hungers of people.
E: Spiritual Directors International, with headquarters in Seattle, links all these spiritual directors together and holds annual conferences, publishes a professional journal, and hosts an online directory. SDI has developed an Ethical Code of Conduct which directors around the world live by (see sdiworld.org).
M: Spiritual direction is typically a one-with-one ministry. And contrary to what the name implies, a director doesn’t really direct anyone. The Holy Spirit is the true director. Spiritual directors sit with people, listen to them, listen to God, and help them pay attention to what is happening in their relationship with God. And what happens in direction is confidential.
E: Some people ask: Who comes for direction?
Anyone can come – anyone seeking a more vital spiritual life, anyone seeking discernment or wanting to pray or wanting to find God for the first time.
Sometimes people feel like they hit a dry spell, as in our role-play, and want a place to reflect on that experience and be renewed in their faith.
Typically we meet with someone every 4-6 weeks for an hour or so. Sometimes what people are looking for is short-term, and a directee might come for just 3 or 4 sessions; but more often, a relationship lasts indefinitely, as long as both people feel it is working well.
M: Spiritual direction is not the same as pastoral counseling. Barbara Brown Taylor says:
We go to counselors when we want help getting out of a cave;
We go to directors when we are ready to be led further in.
In other words, spiritual direction isn’t about fixing things; it’s about going deeper in our faith.
One person told me recently: I appreciate my pastor very much, but a pastor doesn’t have time to sit down for an hour every month or so to listen to each member reflect on their faith. Pastors are responsible for the entire congregation. But I’m at a place right now where I need individual spiritual direction to pay deeper attention to what is happening with God.
E: Besides individual direction, there is also group spiritual direction where 4 or 5 people meet monthly to look at their lives, listen to God, and discern how God is leading them. A trained director can facilitate groups like these.
M: We’ve prepared a handout (found below) that describes what spiritual direction is and also gives the names of trained directors in the Port Townsend area if you want to contact someone or want to tell someone else about spiritual direction.
All of those listed have been trained to offer spiritual direction and also receive ongoing supervision for their work.
E: Our library has a number of books on spiritual direction, which you can explore if you want to learn more about spiritual direction. Two classic texts are:
Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction by Margaret Guenther (Cowley
The Practice of Spiritual Direction by William Barry and William J. Connolly (Seabury
M: The fifth Sunday of Lent is a good time to reflect on our spiritual lives. Both the story of dry bones from Ezekiel and the story of the raising of Lazarus from the Gospel of John show us that dying and rising are part of the spiritual journey. They give us a glimpse of Easter to come; the curtain is parted momentarily – and we see that struggle and disappointment and even failure and death are ahead, but beyond them is the promise of resurrection.
That territory is familiar in spiritual direction.
E: We close with a reading based on Ezekiel 37 by Steve Garnaas-Holmes, a Methodist minister:
There are parts of you,
maybe great parts,
that have withered and died.
Maybe spiritual gifts that you have buried,
a face of yourself you have closeted,
wounds ignored, hopes starved.
Some have passed on, forever.
But some, God may breathe life into.
God may bring bone to bone and sinew to sinew.
You may be aware of it; a daily ache.
Or it may be unknown to you,
a hidden mystery.
What part of you is God bringing back to life?
Where is God’s breath blowing,
the dry bones moving?
Be open to the miracle.
Let God breathe, and wait.