November 3rd, 2008

Generic Meditation Issues: Spiritual Direction

 I was a Protestant until I became an agnostic; but for 47 years I have been married to a Roman Catholic, attended Mass, taken instruction, and otherwise been on the periphery of a local Catholic community.  The idea of receiving or giving spiritual direction has some appeal to me.  But how does an agnostic give spiritual direction, let alone receive it?  I have a spiritual director, though he doesn't know it and I only discovered it very recently.

My brother is mayor of a tiny village in eastern Oregon.  He would sometimes talk about a friend who helped him keep this strife ridden "community" from flying apart.  "Bob W" had begun holding religious services in his cabin.  These services were of a highly "generic" nature; neither Christian nor eastern; later, when a fundamentalist protestant preacher came to town, Bob graciously conceded the responsibility for these services to him!  About seven years ago, Bob had to come to Boise for medical treatment and I was able to meet him.  Bob had been raised in a Roman Catholic home in western Kentucky where he was "so different from the other members" of his family that he was "pretty much raised" by the nuns.  After high school, he entered the army where he was picked for Army Intelligence.  Given a choice between Romanian and Korean, he chose Korean, because "I knew that someday I would go to Romania and learn Romanian, but this might be my only chance to see Korea or learn Korean."  I understood without being to told that Bob wished to go to Romania to experience the riches of eastern Christian mysticism.  One enlistment convinced him that military life "was not his cup of tea."  He spent the rest of his work life as a carpenter and river barge crewman.  Always he sought to live near monasteries and as often as possible he sought employment as a carpenter on the grounds of monasteries.  He has a special attraction to Gethsemane Trappist Monastery near  his home in Kentucky.  He married a remarkable woman and raised three children.  He is currently a member of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in Louisville because he likes the priest there.

As I came to know Bob, I realized that his knowledge of western and eastern religions was large, but more importantly, the awareness and insights he came to were beyond those I had ever experience in a living person.  Bob is a saint.  His special devotion is to Siluan of Athos, but  his appreciation of all efforts to attain truth is unequaled in my experience.  The few conversations I had with him over a two year period as he drifted into profound deafness and advanced Parkinson's disease willl stay with me always.

He would be embarrassed if I acknowledged him as my spiritual advisor.  He would say: (a) what do you need a spiritual director for anyway; or (b) be really, really careful to pick a director who will do you more good than harm.  But, I needed him and I need someone to replace him now that he is sick, deaf, and in Kentucky.

I occassionally correspond with his wife or talk to her on the phone, but each call is more bad news about his health.  It is good to know his spirit is alive and well, but still...  especially because he is younger than I in chronological years, it is hard to take.

Why is he my spiritual director?  His total commitment to God is matched by a total tolerance of my agnosticism and of all other paths?  He is the embodiment of a sage.  I miss him.