AUTHORITY BOTH EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL
Thoughts on the helpfulness of having a Spiritual Director. What we might call a critical friend in our faith journey.
The two pillars of Scripture and Tradition are seen as sources of outer authority, while our personal experience leads to our inner authority. For me, we need and can have both. Only when inner and outer authority come together do we have true spiritual wisdom. Christianity in most of its history has largely relied upon outer authority. But we must now be honest about the value of inner experience, which of course was at work all the time but was not given credence.
Information from outer authority is not necessarily transforming, and we need genuinely transformed Catholics today, not just people with answers. I wouldn’t my words in these blogs to separate anyone from their own astonishment or to provide them with a substitute for their own inner experience. Theology (and authority figures) have done that for too many, for far too long. Rather, I hope my words—written or spoken—simply invite you on you’re own inner journey rather than become a replacement for it.
I am increasingly convinced that the word prayer, which has become a functional and pious thing for believers to do, was meant to be a descriptor and an invitation to inner experience. When spiritual teachers invite us to “pray,” they are in effect saying, “Go inside and know for yourself!”
Father Thomas Keating (1923‒2018) wrote:
“The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from [God]. If we get rid of that thought, our troubles will be greatly reduced. We fail to believe that we are always with God and that [God] is part of every reality. The present moment, every object we see, our inmost nature are all rooted in [God]. But we hesitate to believe this until our personal experience gives us the confidence to believe in it. . . . God constantly speaks to us through each other as well as from within. The interior experience of God’s presence activates our capacity to perceive [the divine] in everything else—in people, in events, in nature. We may enjoy union with God in any experience of the external senses as well as in prayer.”
This is a foundational belief of the ministry of spiritual direction: everyone has access to an inner experience of God, but we don’t always recognize those experiences for what they are. We may be too busy, too bored with our church services, or too “bought in” to the narratives of our consumer culture. A practice of slowing down, of reflection, of asking “big questions” about our desires, our wounds, our values, and our relationships helps us to discover and trust in the truth and authority that lies within us.
As the wise Joan Chittister points out, “Spiritual direction, ‘holy friendship,’ can be found in every great spiritual tradition. But the purpose is not to attach us to someone wiser than ourselves—the guru, the great guide, the spiritual master, the bodhisattva, the saint. The purpose of spiritual direction is to enable us to become holy ourselves.”
My prayer is that we will all realise how close to God we are and how he so wants a close relationship with each one of us.