It’s hip to be a monk. Monastic practices have become the rage in North American Christendom and not just among Catholics and Anglicans. It would not be surprising to find a young Southern Baptist for whom the praying of the hours has taken a significant place in their life with God. Or a Vineyard pastor organizing a retreat for solitude and silence. Of course, there is always the complaint that these ancient spiritual practices have been co-opted and misused. But maybe these practices are just what the doctor ordered for evangelicalism and the Church at large.
In Abba, Give Me a Word, the Path of Spiritual Direction, L. Roger Owens introduces us to one of these ancient practices, spiritual direction. The roots of Christian spiritual direction are as old as the church itself; from the desert Fathers and Mothers, to the practice of having a “soul-friend” in the Celtic tradition, to the Quaker practice of calling for a “clearness committee”. It is simply the practice of “looking together at my life – my desires, fears, doubt, perplexities – so that I can become more attentive and available to the Holy Spirit’s direction in my life,” (42) and “learning to trust yourself to God’s grace in all things – God’s supportive, loving, buoying grace.” (104) Who wouldn’t want to become more aware of the Holy Spirit’s direction and learn to trust in his grace? This is what spiritual direction offers.
Owens is clear that he is not writing a how-to book on giving spiritual direction, but rather receiving it. Ultimately, this is what attracted me most to this book. I was immediately drawn into the story of a search – a quest really – of a man much like me trying to discover more about himself, God, prayer, and living “in the house of God’s love.” (4) That quest leads him to learn all he can about the history of spiritual direction. But more importantly, it becomes a yearning to have someone in his life who has walked with Jesus for a long time – a spiritual guide, an Abba.
Owens serendipitously meets his spiritual director (Larry), but this is where I encountered a difficulty. Where do I find a Larry who understands the Holy Spirit and spiritual direction in this way? The Church is filled with spiritual technicians – people who understand the mechanics of Christianity or church, but not life with God. I’m left with a longing to have an older believer in my life like Larry. And perhaps that longing is part of the process – to wait, to watch, and receive when God says the time is right.
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