Margaret Guenther Holy Listening

Margaret Guenther I

“Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, “I came as a guest and you received Me”, Rule of Benedict, Chapter 53.

 This line from the Rule of Benedict opens the first chapter of Margaret Guenther’s book, called Holy Listening, The Art of Spiritual Direction. The title could so easily have been “Practical Spiritual Direction for Clergy and Lay.” Her writing describes very practical wisdom about being a spiritual director with illustrations from her experience and biblical stories.  She says her book is for the “beginner,” but I have kept her writings at my desk at all times for years. At her writing in 1992, Guenther was one of the few women doing and writing about spiritual direction. Her feminine wisdom adds a new way of talking about direction, allowing the director to self-disclosure or sharing parts of her life when appropriate (as opposed to therapy).   After a short “catch up time,” she begins the session with silence, asking the spiritual friend to let her know when she or he is ready. She ends the meeting with a “little” prayer. She keeps no written records and cautions the spiritual director to recite ten “Jesus Prayers” before saying anything or interrupting. She lets the spiritual friend know the session is nearly ending by saying “we’ll have to stop in a few minutes,” knowing that the person will now speak about the most significant material.  She still stops the session at the appropriate time by saying, “Let’s start with that next time”. She keeps reminding the spiritual friend to talk about herself (“This is your time.”), keeping on track with “what do you want me as your director to do for you? and What do you want Christ to do for you?” or “Tell me about your work, your family, your friends, your health, your Christian community, what you do for fun”.  She knows that sometimes, what is being said is a confession, and she names it. She tries to help spiritual friends discern the “next right thing” similar to Mr. Dick in David Copperfield. sharing humor, tears, modeling Jesus as a spiritual director.  Guenther compares the spiritual director to a midwife, waiting, like a ministry of presence amid the rocks, a hand to be held in the prevailing fear of labor, naming transitions. She identifies the process with the shedding of the skin of a snake, a skin which had to be formed to grow but no longer is useful. She describes a spiritual director as encouraging like a coach, celebrating new life.

 Guenther spends her last chapter talking about women as spiritual directors and the gifts they may have to offer and the special concerns of women seeking spiritual direction. I love some of her feminine approaches, “If Priscilla had written our epistles instead of Paul, I suspect there would have been more about Incarnation and relatively little about circumcision.”  This was meaningful to me as I have been reading Guenther’s book on a trip to  the Greek islands and thought so much about Priscilla when we were at Ephesus, as she had moved there from Rome when the Jews were thrown out of Rome. She became a big supporter of Paul. Some have said that she might have written Hebrews. I will reread Hebrews and see if that might be true.