Reflection for June 2016


Reading the last page of a good book and closing the cover is always bittersweet. You wish you were still in the middle of the book while also looking forward to what you’ll read next.  It’s the same with finishing a chapter of our lives.
Two weeks ago I graduated from the adult spiritual formation course I’ve been taking. For nearly two years, I’ve met with this baker’s dozen of people to learn, discuss, share, process and, hopefully, grow.  It was quite intense.
At the time of our first meeting in Sept. 2014, I described my spiritual state as “unmoored.” I was the only student with no church affiliation. I felt odd and lost.
But to the leaders and other class members, I was OK. The only prerequisite for the course is to write a spiritual autobiography.
Founded in the 1989 by Father Chester Michael, the Spiritual Direction Institute based in Charlottesville has graduated hundreds of adults from courses held at various locations around Virginia. Unfortunately, I did not get to meet Fr. Michael.  He died scarcely a month before I started the course.
However, I read his books and essays, listened to his talks and watched his videos. The course instructors told many stories about him. He was quite the character: brilliant, compassionate, open-minded, nature-loving, devoted to God and … a tad snarky. He was Catholic through and through but, as the SDI director said, would have been thrilled at the ecumenical make-up of our class.  More than half of us were Catholics. The rest were Methodist, Mennonite, Lutheran and unaffiliated (me). Our various backgrounds made for some fascinating discussions.
That previous summer, I had discovered Carl G. Jung, the founder of Jungian psychology. I’d picked up his autobiography, “Memories, Dreams and Reflections,” from the bargain box at Downtown Books. While I had known about the shadow side of each human being, the book opened my eyes to how it influences our thoughts, personality and behavior. It was quite a pivotal book for me.  So I knew I was in the right place when SDI assigned me to read Fr. Michael’s controversial book, “Arise: Jungian Insights for the Christian Journey.” In its pages I learned to embrace and nurture all parts of myself, especially the shadow side that my former church experiences had taught me to suppress and deny.
We took the Myers-Briggs personality test based on Jung’s teaching, followed by a reading of Fr. Michael’s “Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types.” Contrary to what I’d been taught, there is no one right way for everyone to pray. While I had always intuitively known that, it was liberating hear this expounded and expanded upon in class.
The class met for a full day monthly with weekend retreats in the fall and spring. We had books to read, assignments to complete, disciplines to adopt. We could also choose books from a long list. Authors included Dorothy Day, Richard Rohr, Henri Nouwen, M. Scott Peck, Joyce Rupp, Frederick Buechner, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Parker Palmer, C.S. Lewis, John Sanford and many others.  The monthly class included teaching, videos, personal sharing, meditation, reflection and meeting with my spiritual partner.  There is not enough space in this column to share all that I gained from taking the SDI course. But I will say this. I still feel unmoored, but no longer think there’s anything wrong with that. I have learned to love sailing.

(Reflection by SDI graduate Luanne Austin — originally printed in the Harrisonburg Daily News Record)