Monday, May 19, 2008

Spiritual direction points the way inside

The English language (and probably most others) has few good words for the processes that happen inside us: thinking, feeling, sensing. One process that doesn't have a very nuanced language is healing. Sure, we know the process of healing from physical wounds, because science has given us words that describe what's going on. But psychological trauma is relatively less understood. So people with PTSD and awful childhoods and genocide survivors and other experiences that have hurt them are the walking wounded, only they don't have bandages or crutches.

This is by way of introducing a spiritual therapeutic technique I ran across while hunting for story ideas and investigating spiritual direction. Visio divina sounded intriguing; it's a particular type of contemplative prayer practice that can happen in spiritual direction. Spiritual director Karen Kuchan says visio divina might be especially helpful for younger adults -- Gen X -- who as a generation have very good BS detectors and also a deep longing for authenticity, that is, the real McCoy beyond slogans, commercials, and clay-footed idols.

Visio divina involves the use of internal images during contemplation. As Kuchan describes it in an article she wrote for Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction , it's a time of silent opening to the presence of God, which prompts an emotional experience -- what is called cataphatic, or experience- or emotion-based, as opposed to apophatic, the wordless contemplative space that Buddhist meditation teaches. She also suggests that the contemplative process that includes three "persons" -- spiritual director, client (I hate the word "directee") and God -- "reflect the inner life of God imagined in the Trinity. " This is hard to understand at first blush, but I find the notion that God is a process more intriguing than imagining the relationships among an old guy with a white beard, his son and their pet bird.

I hesitated to write about this because it really is hard to find the words for something so internal. Psychology has a very good language for it. But psychology generally doesn't traffic with religion, thanks to Herr Doktor Freud and others who have found religion an illusion. It's up to the mystics of religion and spiritual directors such as Kuchan. Maybe Quakers too. Sitting in silence for an hour at meeting has given me lots of practice in waiting for God, which holds much more promise than waiting for Godot.

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