And I wept . . .

Jesus on crossFor those of us who identify as Christian, the observance of Good Friday services is a commemoration of the suffering and death of Jesus the Christ. A time-honored tradition during this most somber of days in our church calendar is the reading of the Passion account from one of the gospels during this service. I have participated in this presentation in various forms for all of my life; yet, I felt that this one was taking on a deeper meaning for me – especially at yesterday’s service which I attended. It could be best encapsulated by my really taking notice of how some individuals and institutions (religious and civic) throughout history have inflicted the utmost cruelty and agony on people with whom they disagreed and posed a threat to their status and power. Quite often, the victims are those who have spoken prophetically and proclaimed messages of peace and justice. These gospel accounts certainly describe the worst of both religious and civic leaders, and this realization jumped out in front of me as though I had heard these words for the first time. They especially yanked at my emotions since such abuses still continue in our world.
“Where is God now?”, boomed the impassioned voice of the presider during the homily of the service. He was quoting someone from the well-known true story written by Elie Weisel Nazi concentration camp entranceabout his days as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. In the gruesome scene, a young boy was being hanged by the prison guards and the inmates were forced to observe the execution. Taking a relatively lengthy time to die from suffocation due to his light weight, he struggled for breath, his tongue was protruded, and his face turned blue. The anguished question came from someone within the crowd, and the response from someone else was, “He is hanging at the end of the rope.” Our gifted homilist then began to remind us that Jesus, who is love personified – God with us – became human in order to become one of us – to enter into humanity’s suffering – to walk with us.
Thus, who are the suffering in our midst today with whom this Jesus suffers? Our presider listed several:

• Families who are being torn apart in our country due to arrests and deportations of parents who are undocumented.

• Refugees from a number of countries who are mistreated by and dying at the hands of cruel people from their own country, the often-dangerous voyages they must make to find safety.bullied child

• Children who are being bullied at school.
As he shared these thoughts, my emotions were deepened, and tears began to sting my eyes.
What happened next, though, caused the tears to flow. As we processed forward to kiss the feet of the corpus on the large crucifix, I imagined examples of the above-mentioned people actually lying on the cross in agony. They also included AIDS/HIV patients whose emaciated bodies are wracked with misery and often die alone because of family body of toddler washed on beachrejection; the iconic news image of the body of the toddler from a Middle Eastern country which was washed ashore on a European beach after he drowned in the Mediterranean Sea as he and his family were escaping his war-torn country; images of loved ones for which many of us take care due to serious illnesses; women who are sexually abused and suffer other forms of mistreatment within a patriarchal society; and people who are members abused womanof sexual minorities (LGBTQ/gender non-conforming) who are often disowned by family members, lose their jobs, abused and killed, and thrown out of their church communities because they are trying to live their lives authentically.

If those of us who profess to be Christians believe that we are all members of the Body of Christ, then shouldn’t we recognize that when we venerate the broken Body of Jesus the Christ, we are also venerating all those in our midst who suffer? Then, what should be the consequences of this acknowledgement? How willing are we to “kiss their feet” and to embrace them as bona-fide members of the human community, treating them with dignity? Will these actions build a peaceful world?

Spiritual direction – walking the path to peace

Some of you may be aware that an important part of my ministry is providing spiritual direction. There are several ways to describe this important work. Spiritual Directors International provides this description:

Spiritual direction explores a deeper relationship with the spiritual aspect of being human. Simply put, spiritual direction is helping people tell their sacred stories every day.  Spiritual direction has emerged in many contexts using language specific to particular cultural and spiritual traditions. Describing spiritual direction requires putting words to a process of fostering a transcendent experience that lies beyond all names and yet the experience longs to be articulated and made concrete in everyday living. It is easier to describe what spiritual direction does than what spiritual direction is. Our role is not to define spiritual direction, but to describe the experience. Spiritual direction helps us learn how tSDI logo improvedo live in peace, with compassion, promoting justice, as humble servants of that which lies beyond all names.

I am particularly drawn to the last sentence of this particular description since I am indeed trying to live out my life as a humble servant who is a man of peace and compassion who promotes justice. Besides serving as a spiritual director, I am also on the receiving end of this practice, since I also visit with a marvelous spiritual director on a regular basis.

There is another description of this practice on the SDI website that I also really like:

[Spiritual direction is] the contemplative practice of helping another person or group to awaken to the mystery called God in all of life, and to respond to that discovery in a growing relationship of freedom and commitment.

James L. Empereur, SJ, supports this when he aptly states that “Spiritual direction is as much about becoming a more fully appropriated person as it is about being in union with God .” By this he means that this is a “humanization process which is salvational . . . To seize for oneself or as one’s right to be a full human being . . . . “ He also tells us that all people have a right to a spiritual life.

Thus, this sacred work of being human, finding our mysterious, beautiful innermost being as we have been created by a loving Creator is definitely holy work. Spiritual direction (some people prefer “companioning”) thus involves one person walking with another.

As we walk through life, we soon discover, at various points and at different levels, depending on one’s life experiences, how indeed beautiful and unique that we are at our deepest levels. However, because our fellow world denizens may not always understand other individual groups and individuals in their differentness, conflict often arises. This often can result in violence and even death. We all know that humans have been doing this through all of history, with disastrous consequences. As people of this earth, we should know by now that this is not the loving thing to do. It is only when we take the time and have the courage to encounter the other can we build bridges of peace, healing, and understanding.

One of the groups to which I am referring are those who belong to sexual minorities; more specifically, members of the LGBTQ+ community: the reference to all people in sexual minorities who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and gender non-conforming people. It is extremely important that loving and appropriately informed ministers such as spiritual directors be available to journey with members of marginalized groups such as this one. I myself am involved in various forms of LGBTQ+ ministry, including the service of spiritual direction. Realizing that this is a rather specialized area of spiritual direction, I am happy to announce that I will be soon be sharing information with my colleagues on a world stage. Next month, I will be attending the Spiritual Directors International conference, “Seeking Connection”. I will be one of the workshop presenters, presenting both on Friday and Saturday of the conference weekend. The title of my workshop is, “Walk With Me: Spiritual Direction With the LGBTQ Community”. I look forward to sharing my knowledge and experiences with my contemporaries as well as learning from fellow experts.  I look forward to reporting on my experiences post-conference!