St. Stephen,

Last year, you may remember, I took a class at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem.  The class was called, simply, “Prayer.”  We not only learned about prayer, we also practiced prayer, reflecting together about our experience.  I walked away from the class with a new appreciation for God’s stillness in prayer that feeds our active life, and for the lifelong movement of prayer, which one writer called, Talking at God, Talking to God, Listening to God, and Being with God.[1]

I have you to thank for this class.  You paid for it through my Continuing Education allowance.  You made room for me to spend Wednesdays in Bethlehem.  Our Wednesday bible study was especially flexible.

Your investment in my education has born fruit.  Because of this class, I am a better pastor—more centered and patient, better equipped to offer spiritual guidance.  Concrete example include past newsletter articles and sermons addressing prayer, the many informal conversations about prayer the class sparked, and the centering prayer we pray together before worship on second Sundays in God in Me.

“Learning” is the first word in St. Stephen’s purpose statement.  This includes my learning too.  Let this example of the value your pastor’s continuing education encourage you to invest in your own continuing education—as a person of faith, a professional in your field, a parent, or simply a curious person.  What might it mean to love the Lord your God with all your mind?

Another lasting effect of this class is curiosity to learn more.  Since the class ended I’ve read a number of books on prayer and congregational practices of spirituality.  But even this has not been enough.  So I’m going to take another class at Moravian Seminary, in the same concentration.  This one is called, “Group Spiritual Direction.”

A “spiritual director” is someone who guides others to God, and “spiritual direction” is the time a person devotes to seeing a “spiritual director.”  In short, spiritual directors help people pay attention to the Holy Spirit in their life and prayer.  A person sees a spiritual director either regularly or occasionally when the need arises.  With questions like “How is your prayer life?” and “Where is God?” a spiritual director helps people notice God and discern God’s voice and will.

I have been seeing a spiritual director for about a year and a half.  He is a Jesuit priest at the Loyola House of Retreats in Morristown.  I meet with him every six weeks or so.  It’s not therapy; it’s deeper than that.  It’s intentionally focused on God and on the life of faith.  I value my spiritual director’s wisdom because he keeps reminding me to “wait for the Lord.”  He mostly listens, but when I ask or he senses I need it, he offers advice not just about prayer but also about my role as a pastor primarily and also as a husband and friend.

Spiritual direction is what pastors did before we expected them to be part psychologist and part CEO.  In time, as these emphases left people hungry, a separate profession and certification called “Spiritual Direction” emerged, drawing on centuries of wisdom from Christian and other mystics.  But recently, across denominations, there has been renewed interest in spiritual direction.  Concern for a pastor’s connection to God is balancing previous decades’ exclusive emphasis on expertise in the various pastoral arts.  In fact, as I was graduating, my seminary added spiritual formation as a core component of the curriculum, and Moravian Seminary recently added a concentration in “Formative Spirituality,” of which these classes a part.

So, given my own curiosity and this renewed interest of the church, spiritual direction is something I want to know more about.  In addition, I have heard many of us here at St. Stephen express a hunger.  We are searching for Truth.  We are wondering how to know if an idea or plan or program is from God.  We feel drawn to pray but don’t know where to begin, or we pray and want to talk to other praying people but, self-conscious, we say nothing.  We want to connect the outer rules, activities, and rituals of faith with an inner awareness and an inner compass.  These questions and yearnings are what spiritual direction is for.  They are what a pastor is for.

So stay tuned.  I will attend “Group Spiritual Direction” at Moravian on Tuesday nights, from February to May.  You will be hearing more soon.

Thanks be to God, and thanks be to you.

Pastor Clark Olson-Smith

[1] Mark E. Thibodeaux, Armchair Mystic: Easing into Contemplative Prayer.