Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Next Thing

For the past couple of years, I've been wondering about The Next Thing. By that, I mean that, once Coffeewife graduates from her latest program, what would I do? Once it would be "my turn," so to speak, what sort of education- or career-related change or additional thing would I want to pursue?

As I considered my options, there were a wide variety of possibilities. These included another Masters or even a Doctor of Ministry degree, training in spiritual direction or further Clinical Pastoral Education, or becoming more involved in some justice issue or organization. I thought about all of these for many months, and none of them really stood out to me. In a way, I wanted to do them all, which also meant that I wasn't really committed to doing any of them. So I waited and I prayed and I considered and I weighed pros and cons, and after a while I started think that maybe none of these are really something I want to do right now. After all, who says that I have to take on something when Coffeewife is finished?

But then, at some point as I considered that, the notion of spiritual direction began to rise above the others.

I've taken an increased interest in spiritual practices since my seminary days, during which I was exposed to a wide variety of them. At our opening retreat I walked the labyrinth for the first time and have treasured it as a practice ever since. That first semester, I took a class on spiritual practices and had an opportunity to experience many including Lectio Divina, the Examen, prayer postures, the labyrinth again, and others. My second year I participated in a spirituality group called the Healing Circle, which again exposed me to a wide variety of practices. This is to say nothing of other experiences in both college and seminary including a wide range of worship practices, taking on a 40-hour fast, special practices and abstentions during Lent, occasionally attending a Reform synagogue on Friday evenings, Taize worship, and others. All of these contributed to my appreciation for the breadth of spiritual practices that are available, and an ever-increasing desire for people to experience them; for people to know that there can be so many possibilities for cultivating an awareness of divine presence besides the singular tradition with which many have been familiar for their entire lives.

Becoming certified as a spiritual director seemed to me to be one way to make this desire a reality. For the uninitiated, a spiritual director is one who is trained in a spiritual tradition in order to guide others in discovering God's presence in their daily lives, usually in encouraging people to practice the disciplines in which the SD is trained, but also by asking questions about where and how one has experienced God since the last meeting. One could argue that I already do this as a pastor, but this is a more specialized and intentional way of doing that that includes training in a discipline and more regular meetings than most pastors and parishioners have together, among other differences.

Anyway, I filled out an application the other month, had an interview, and have been accepted into the spiritual direction program at the Ignatian Spirituality Institute at John Carroll University in Cleveland. This program trains people in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. It's a two-year certificate program featuring classwork the first year and a practicum the second. However, it was suggested to me that I wait an extra year to begin the classwork and just experience the Exercises with a spiritual director in the meantime, which every student would have to do in addition to classwork anyway.

I actually liked this suggestion. I think that I'd like to take an extra year and not have these activities on top of each other. To be honest, part of the appeal of this program was its minimal schedule as it relates to how much time it might take away from family and church. To take this extra year and spread out the requirements would, I think, make the schedule more manageable for the Coffeehousehold. I've discovered that I actually don't want to do a full-out academic program such as a Masters or D.Min; I have no desire for that lifestyle at this point in my life. So going through this program at a more leisurely pace is fine with me.

And, of course, at the same time it's my Next Thing. I don't know that I'll even desire any other Next Things after this Thing, at least in terms of formalized study. But wondering about that doesn't even matter right now.