Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Week Reflection: The Short Version

I am experiencing a remarkable Holy Week.

I don't think I can do it justice, but I will begin by saying that, a year ago, one of my seminary professors questioned the value of spiritual direction in terms of effective results vis-a-vis preaching, describing the former as "inefficient" in comparison to the latter, by which you can "reach hundreds of people at once."

I have given that remark a great deal of thought in the ensuing ten months, recognizing that the comparison is of the apples-to-oranges variety and yet, wondering what it says about how we spend our time and what our orientation to results is about ~ what the word "results" even means. My initial conclusions had something to do (1) with the fact that both of my spiritual directors (two years each) have been Jesuit priests who preach regularly and are engaged in a multiplicity of large-scale tasks ~ one is a university administrator and professor and the other a parish pastor ~ and yet consider one-on-one companionship with individuals to be a critical component of their ministries, and (2) with the recognition that much of what I am able to do for others is sustained by my prayer life and the opportunity to explore its unfolding dimensions with someone else who has cared for me over a long period of time.

Anyway. This week has been bracketed by a couple of hours spent with my current director last Friday and yesterday morning with my former director, who is in town for the week-end. In between and interwoven with my own turmoil have been a couple of conversations with other people about their suffering and about all of our inadequacies, and about their new insights into their relationships with God. And in the last couple of days: the Tenebrae service in my own church and a Catholic Good Friday mass.

I find that I am not yet remotely ready for Easter Sunday. In the Bible version, the Sunday joy comes much too quickly upon the despair for those of us who are in our own Friday-Saturday worlds to absorb. But ~ but ~ I am seeing things a bit differently this morning.

This endless conversation, this endless listening and watching for God, this careful vigilance to the pilgrimmage of a solitary person ~ whether I am the focus of the attention or the one trying to offer it to someone else, it is a remarkable experience of the presence of God's Spirit.

I don't think "efficiency" is the standard at all.


Hope said...

Me, neither.

Joan Calvin said...

I am struck by the dumbness of the professor's comment. When I was at my big church (you know the one) there was a group called "Effectiveness in Mission". I was a member of the group and loved it, but an associate EP once said to me that is was so much like that particular congregation to be concerned with effectiveness. Faithfulness, it seems to me, should be the test. If we are not faithful in our preaching, faithful to the text, to God, to the congregation, then we cannot be effective. And we can't be faithful unless we know people one on one. It might not be spiritual direction, but we have to be a part of their lives to preach.

And besides, I think when we put down a spiritual practice, we reveal our own issues.

Daisy said...

This lyric from Jesus Christ Superstar comes to mind:

"You'd have managed better if you'd had it planned.
Why'd you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you'd come today you could have reached a whole nation.
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication."

Efficiency? Results? Do those terms even belong in any conversation pertaining to spiritual direction? Hearts are won one by one by one.

karengberger said...

That is a fascinating statement by the professor. I wish I could have been in the room to share in the discussion! I disagree with his view, but I would love to know the premise of it. Does he think "saving souls" means getting lots of baptisms going? Or does "saving souls" mean comforting souls in agony?
The entire Paschal Mystery has been transformed, for me, by Katie's illness and death. Fr. Richard Rohr is one of the only teachers whose words made sense to me before she became ill, while she was sick & in treatment, and after she passed away.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to be part of a lecture/sermon/book/class/group of people who have experienced this kind of loss, sharing how it changed about their relationship to God. You bring up such interesting ideas. Thank you, and blessed Easter to you, ready or not.

Michelle said...

If God had wanted efficiency in creation, I don't think we are how he would have gone about it!

God himself spent 30+ years with us, much of them not preaching. Not very efficient!

Jodie said...


That's an excuse for lazy.

"I'll bless a few hundred people all at once by sharing my wisdom from a pulpit, that way they all can receive it in one shot and I won't have to waste my time imparting the same wisdom over and over again, one person at a time."

Get over himself!

Gannet Girl said...

Interesting that folks presume the professor was a guy....

Jodie said...



(But I got confused and was visualizing the professor as one of the Jesuits. They usually ARE guys. Got to read more closely...)

Purple said...


Stopped by to say...I am thinking of you...especially as you navigate these holiday days. (or daze...if that fits better).

Gannet Girl said...

Thanks, Purple.

I slipped into an Easter vigil last night and stayed an hour or so, until the lights came up. I'm ok.

Sophia said...

She sounds like Judas complaining about Mary of Bethany wasting all that sweet expensive oil on Jesus' feet. I'm guessing that besides "efficiency," a major attraction of preaching for this professor is that it gives her a captive and voiceless audience, versus the privilege and hard work of listening while people name the truth of their spiritual lives.

I am so glad that in the midst of your passion you were lavished with time and reverent attention, and that this enabled a bit of shift toward new life.

Minor liturgical trivia which may arise in directing Catholics: Good Friday is the one day which is so somber that mass cannot be celebrated (except by very rare special dispensation, as in the case of the Italian earthquake victims. There is also no mass except for the major evening one on Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday). The consecrated host is saved overnight from Holy Thursday and given out in a very simple ritual, without even the cup that Episcopalians save in their similar practice.

Gannet Girl said...

Thank you for the clarification, Sophia. Guess that's the Protestant in me -- if there's a liturgy and a homily and communion, even with reserved hosts, it seems like a mass -- careless nomenclature on my part, I guess.