“We begin with the edge of mystery, because anything coming to us from the beyondness of God has an origin that is deeper than our minds can take us. The beginning of our experience thus is shrouded in darkness. Whatever we can know at the deepest place we know not through our cognitive thinking but through our spiritual hearts (the subtly conscious dimension of our souls) or through the even greater immediacy of our contemplative intuition (our capacity for direct, unitive involvement).”
Tilden Edwards, Spiritual Director, Spiritual Companion, pp. 48-49.
The founder of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation shares with us his teaching and experience as a Spiritual Director and Spiritual Companion for over a quarter century. Edwards takes us on a journey with him in his book about how spiritual companionship evolved, the nature of the soul, the nature of the spiritual experience, the nurture of the Soul, recognizing a spiritual companion, practical aspects of being in spiritual companionship, being in a spiritual relationship with the communities in which we live, and his perceived future for spiritual direction.
Edwards believes that our true identity and being is our soul. He shares his longtime experience of how our soul might interact with another. The site and fruit of this interaction is love.
Edwards seems to put “skin” on the Soul. He makes the soul become more real, enticing all of us with a longing and a deep yearning to begin to connect to the Soul not only in our neighbors but ourselves.
Edwards describes an “empty experience”, the “expansions of emptiness” as an expansion of the soul. Emptiness is not the absence of God: it is simply experiencing God in a way with which we are not familiar. We are experiencing God emptied of our normal ways of understanding the spiritual experience.”
As Edwards talks about the difference between the spirituality of men and women, I suddenly looked into the spiritual life of my father who loved duck hunting, not for the killing but to be in the marsh. That was one of his last wishes before he died, to go once more to the marsh. All my life I never thought of him as a spiritual being, but now I see it.
In Edward’s section of the nature of the soul he describes four levels of knowing the Spirit’s presence, an outer interpretive
level of knowing, a little deeper descriptive knowing, then deeper heart knowing, and finally at our inner self is immediate knowing.
Edwards reminds us that it is the Soul that does the work of direction and that we are to learn to seek and follow the Soul in a spiritual companion rather than staying with a set plan we may have in mind that may not necessarily come from the Soul. The advantage of a spiritual companion is that there are now at least two Souls longing to be loved and heard, and to teach and spread love with each other and beyond.
Edwards offers many very practical ways to listen and be open to a spiritual companion that could be useful individually or with spiritual friends. When the workplace is mentioned, we can ask if there is any object at the workplace which reminds the spiritual friend of God’s presence? At times a spiritual director can ask if there are others who are spiritually supporting the spiritual friend besides the director?
Edwards challenges us to be more aware of the Soul in ourselves and in our neighbor and be more aware of the love and peace that comes when Souls meet.