It has been quite a couple of weeks. The constant stream of outrageous acts from our new President - from causing chaos at airports by barring legal residents entry to firing the Attorney General for questioning that Executive Order - has left me incensed, wrung out, despondent. I wrote this piece on Spiritual Direction before these recent events, but I think it is a message that carries forward to today. How do we combat despair? Where do we find hope? How do we trust God in the midst of so much outrage?
One thing that has helped me is the scary-silent room of my spiritual director. I wrote about it in my latest installment of my column "The Skeptic's Guide to the Spiritual Practices." (Also, side note, check out the image my publisher chose to accompany this essay! Way cooler than my current frumpy-mom look.) It starts like this:
"Mary’s house is clean. She has no laundry piles on the couch, the floor is free of Legos, and a white pillar candle is always burning on the coffee table when I creak open the front door. It’s a peaceful place, but the stillness never fails to shock me. Her living room seems to exist outside of reality; a room that stays quiet while the world is screaming.
She offers me coffee or tea, and I cradle the warm mug in my hands when I sit on her overstuffed couch. I look around at the framed pictures on the wall; I feel unsteady in the stillness. Her home has no background noise to muffle the discordant edges in my day. Now it’s time to face the silence. I breathe in. And out.
Mary is a slight woman with warm blue eyes. She listens with those eyes, the way they gleam and radiate. She starts with a prepared reading. Sometimes it is Scripture; other times it is a poem or hymn.
Today she reads the words to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I close my eyes as I listen to her voice; willing my mind to focus. After the reading, the room returns to quiet. I can speak if I want, or not.
I sit on the couch, uncomfortable, and the thought scuttles in the corner of my mind: What exactly are we waiting for? But I turn to look at Mary, and her face is slack and serene. She exudes confidence that God’s Spirit will blow in.
I follow her lead, trying to be open; steeling myself to what the silence might reveal. How potentially dangerous it is for numb people to feel again, the sharp pins and needles returning to fingers and toes, extending life to otherwise dead tissue.
Annie Dillard wrote once that, instead of velvet hats, we should “all be wearing crash helmets” to places of worship because the God we so blithely invoke in our church prayers “may wake someday…[and] draw us out to where we can never return.” In this silence, will God draw me out to where I can never return?
Yet that is exactly what the practice of spiritual direction does: It dares to invite the Living God into an ordinary living room. It dares you to trust that God will, indeed, show up, and it gives you an accomplice in the consequences.
I stay still, listening to my breathing. Mary is here, so at least I am not alone."