A long time ago, up in the mountains, there lived an old peddler. This was back in the days before 7-Elevens and convenience stores. Back in those days, if you wanted to buy something you had to get it from a peddler or do without.
The peddler went around to any kind of place where people would gather, open up his pack, and spread out his wares for people to see what he had. Every once in a while a boy would come by and hold up a jackknife and say, "Well, how much is this?"
And the peddler would say, "Oh, it's 50 cents." And the boy's face would fall because that was more money than the child had. But when the peddler would see the boy's face he'd say, "Why don't you take it and put it in your pocket? It'd be lighter in your pocket than in the pack.'' And the boy would run off to show the knife to his friends.
Or a girl would come by, hold up a handful of bright pretty ribbons and say, "Well, how much, are these?"
And the peddler would say, "They're 10 cents.'' And the girl's face would fall, because she knew her daddy wouldn't have that much money for something he just thought of as foolishness.
And the peddler would say, "Aw, take 'em and wear 'em in your hair. They'll be prettier in your hair than they would be thrown in the bottom of the pack.'' And the girl, maybe she had her eye on some fella. She'd tie those ribbons up in her hair and run off to see if she could find him.
So the people laughed at the peddler. They'd nudge one another and say "He gives away more than he sells. He'd give away his own head if it wasn't tied on. You just watch. One day he'll give away everything he's got.''
The peddler lived in a little cabin. And outside the cabin was a big garden. And in the middle of the garden was an enormous cherry tree. Every night, the peddler would sit on the back steps as the rabbits would come down and eat most of the vegetables in the garden. Or the blackbirds would swoop down on the tree and pick off most of the ripe fruit. People would say, "Why don't you go out there and shoo away those thievin'' birds and animals? They rob you nearly blind.''
And he'd say, "They don't steal from me. Why, what they take is kind of a payment, because I love to watch the rabbits play. And there's no place on earth where the birds sing as sweet as in the top of that tree."
People would go, "He's a fool! A fool and his money are soon parted. You just watch. Before long, he'll be outside our back door, begging for a handout."
Well, the contents of the peddler's pockets kept getting smaller. And the contents of the pack got smaller too. And finally the day did come when the peddler had given away everything he'd owned. And that night he went to bed hungry. And a hungry man is going to dream.
In the middle of the night, he thought he saw an angel standing at the foot of his bed. And the angel said, "Peddler, follow the road into town. Stand by the courthouse. There you'll see what you're to see and hear what you're to hear."
But when the peddler woke up, his empty stomach seemed like an awfully poor traveling companion. So he didn't go anywhere. But that night the angel was back and again he said, "Peddler, follow the road to town. Stand by the courthouse. You'll see what you're to see and hear what you're supposed to hear.
But when he woke up the peddler was so weak and hungry that again he didn't go to town. But that night the angel was back for the third time in a row. So when the peddler woke up, he said to himself, "A third time's the charm." He walked all the way into town and stood by the courthouse. He stood there and watched people as they went by. Most of them were with their friends or family, but nobody stopped to speak to him at all.
At the end of the day, as the sun was going down, he said to himself, "Well, I guess I'll have to wrap my old coat around me and walk down one of those alleys and lie down. I'll never make it back home again. I'm just too weak."
As he was walking across the courthouse square, a man came out of an inn across the street and said, "Buddy, I've been watching you all day. You've been standing out there as if you were waiting for some kind of a message, but I didn't see anyone speak to you. I want to know what's going on."
When he saw how weak the peddler was, he said, "Come on into my inn and have a meal. You can satisfy my curiosity, and I can satisfy your hunger.
So the old peddler went in and had a better meal than he'd had in a long time. When he'd finished eating, the man pulled a chair up to the table and said, "Now tell me your story."
"I dreamed a dream."
"I dreamed a dream."
"You mean to tell me you stood out there all day long in that ragged coat in the cold wind because you dreamed some stupid dream?"
The peddler nodded. And the man said, "That's the dumbest thing that I ever heard of in my whole life. I dream dreams, too. But I don't pay any attention to the things I dream about. I stay right here and tend to business like a sensible person ought to. Why, just last night I dreamed that an angel appeared to me and told me that if I followed that road out into the country, I'd come to a little cabin. And outside the cabin would be a big garden. And in the middle of the garden would be an enormous cherry tree. And that if I dug underneath the roots of that cherry tree, I'd find gold. Now where would I be if I'd paid attention to what I dream about. I'd be out somewhere traipsing around the countryside looking for some stupid cherry tree."
The peddler thanked the man for the meal, got up and walked home. And when he reached his little cabin, he took a shovel and went out into that big garden and began to dig there. In an old wooden box covered over with strange foreign workmanship, he found gold, pieces of eight, pieces of six--old Spanish gold.
And the good he did in the spending of it, that part I haven't got time to tell you.
So, what on earth does this story have to do with spiritual direction?
Well, to start with, not everyone appreciates the need for it. Giving attention to dreams, seeking to hear messages from God, the direct experience of Christ---these are not things most take-care-of-business, sensible people are doing in North Dallas. Yet, there are some that hunger and thirst for this experience. And since Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled," it can reasonably be expected that God has made some provision for your hunger. In that same passage, he also said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Seeing and experiencing God, therefore, is to be an expected part of Kingdom life. The question therefore, is not "Can it be done?" but rather, "Do you want it to happen to you?"
Growing up in a rational, post-enlightenment culture, I was left untutored about how to fulfill my longing to experience God more deeply. It took a many years of searching before I actually ran into people and writings that could show me how. A lifetime of church upbringing, a bachelors from a Christian university, and eight years of medical school and residency did not enlighten me. Finally, after all my training was complete, I began observing directly the action of God in the souls of patients with whom I was honored to work. I began seeing patterns--the ways of God if you would--and this stirred my hunger even more. I then heard my own call to a deeper, more interior experience of God through prayer and soul work.
About the same time, I discovered also a repository of wisdom in the spiritual theology and spiritual direction tradition of the broader church. I found it enriching and very much in harmony with what I was observing objectively in my patients. The pieces began to fit. I was pleased to know that others had noticed the patterns of God I was seeing in myself and others. Indeed, a rich tradition of our forefathers was laid out before me through my subsequent years of group and personal spiritual direction. I enhanced my training further through the Anglican School of Theology. Finally, in 1998, I was invited to help teach the Spiritual Direction course at the Anglican School.
Through the years, I have grown fond of the privilege of shepherding souls on a spiritual journey. I have been unable to be quite as generous as the Peddler during my practice of psychiatry. Nevertheless, I gave out of my peddler's pack what I could those nineteen years until the pack ran out of goods. By God's grace, he had been watering my cherry tree and garden, so I would now be honored to share some of the wealth with you. Life circumstances and a growing call has allowed me to close my private practice of psychiatry and focus more actively on this ministry of "soul friending."
Though there is some similarity to psychiatry, spiritual direction is not exactly psychotherapy. The disciplines are compatible to be sure, and they frequently share raw materials such as imagination, dreams, emotions, ideas, and struggle. Indeed, often psychotherapy will progress into spiritual direction as it proceeds. My psychotherapy training and experience are deeply valuable, therefore, in this role. Nevertheless, it is not quite the same thing.
So what, then, is spiritual direction?
Spiritual direction is both a relationship and a discipline. The relationship is one with God, with the inner self and between two or more souls on a journey. The disciplines are those which promote spiritual growth and the experience of God.
The goal of the relationship is union of the soul with God. This involves passing through many stages of development in faith and understanding. A spiritual director helps you discern where you are on this path and facilitates greater clarity of outlook. He or she can also help you see what steps need to be taken to move to the next level.
Within the relationship called spiritual direction, the director teaches discernment of God's activities in the soul. He coaches in helpful life patterns. She companions, and shepherds. But always the director is a co-learner and co-participant with you and God in the journey.
This may involve removing road blocks to your progress. Because of my experience in my psychiatric profession and the particular gifts God has given me, an especially helpful activity I have done is called "Inner Healing Prayer." This means to take God with us through the developmental layers of memory and soul in order to enlist His healing of wounds and old patterns. Inner Healing Prayer is where I have seen some of my deepest blessings with people through the years, including myself.
In The Peddler story we saw him finding delight in the simple things of his garden. This is a good metaphor for what in spirituality teaching is known as "contemplation." A rich contemplative tradition exists within Christianity which is largely unknown to many. Contemplation comes down to this: paying attention to God. Assisting souls in the developing of these habits is an additional activity of spiritual direction.
A final way the Peddler story relates to spiritual direction is that the Peddler's life was not mainly about money. Life should not be so for any of us, but for the spiritual director, there is a tradition of working on a donation basis rather than a strict fee. I have chosen to not charge a fee. Should you wish to donate, I leave fully up to you.
For appointments or inquires, please contact me at 972-231-4469 or write firstname.lastname@example.org
For further reading, we recommend the following article from Christianity Today http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/117/51.0.html
In addition, PBS had a lovely video piece you can see at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/february-26-2010/spiritual-directors/5787/