Unlike pastoral counselors who use a therapeutic method based on a theory such as: Adlerian, Freudian, Person-Centered, Gestalt, or Cognitive Behavioral, spiritual directors are much more free-form. We generally do not give homework to our directees, nor do we set goals for them. We are taught that the directee sets the agenda. Our job is to listen for the Holy Spirit, discern God’s action, and to assist in cooperating with it. The Holy Spirit is the actual spiritual director.
We say things like: “What do you think God is inviting you to in that situation?” “Where is evidence of God acting there?” “Have you prayed about it?” “Why do you perceive that God is not responding to you?” and “What do you discern when you pay attention to your interior movements?”
During my spiritual direction internship, we (my spiritual directees and I) had an education process to go through and a steep learning curve. Some of them discontinued the process, and others never were really engaged in it at all. Perhaps spiritual direction was not what they expected? Analogous to when Vernon Ware lamented about his counselees in his excellent article “The Nerve of Some Clients,” perhaps my directees had one idea of what their experience of spiritual direction should be and I had another.
I am in my last semester in the M.A. in Spiritual and Pastoral Care program on the spiritual direction track. I am in the throes of writing my professional seminar paper and working out how I will respond to resistance in spiritual direction . . . more to come on that subject in an upcoming blog article.
I am far from having all the answers, but what I do know is that I want to meet my spiritual directees in the middle somewhere so that we can take each others’ hands, and together navigate that sometimes arduous journey of the spiritual life. I want us all to one day see God’s loving face smiling back at us. After all, isn’t that the purpose of why we are here in the first place?
JoAnn: How did you find your calling to Loyola?
Deb: While working with a special family – members of my Unitarian Universalist congregation – I learned pursuing pastoral care with greater commitment was my path. My minister recognized it before I did. When I thank her, she denies that she deserves the credit. At first, I could not use the word “calling.” I kept saying “no” until finally I couldn’t any longer. I stumbled upon Loyola’s program. It was the perfect fit for me.
JoAnn: What is your lasting impression of Loyola?
Deb: Spiritual and Pastoral Care with Fr. Kevin Gillespie shaped me as a caregiver. He taught us Care of the Entire Person or Cura personalis and – “where there is a story, there is hope.” Being present to someone listening to their story is the foundation of how I do pastoral care. When you are really attentive to the story, the heart of the matter is revealed. That is where God is! I come to it with the skills that I need and God does the rest.
JoAnn: How is God found in your work?
Deb: When I have the right words for someone that aren’t mine – during a baptism a Scripture verse comes to me that I didn’t even know I knew, or miraculously I run into someone and events just fall into place so that I am able to meet a need.
JoAnn: How do you use your education in your work?
JoAnn: Since graduating from Loyola what have you been up to?
Deb: Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). I did one unit each at the Hebrew Home, Sinai Hospital and now Johns Hopkins. I have had different supervisors, groups, and clinical components and learned a variety of skills. Typically, someone does a full-time chaplaincy residency in the same place for all four units. It is 60 hours a week – physically and emotionally intense. That was not the correct path for me. I have Muscular Dystrophy and I was not sure that I could handle it physically.
JoAnn: In your work in CPE, have you worked with people of various faiths?
Deb: Yes! My current supervisor is a ṣūfī, my supervisor-in-training is Episcopalian, and I had a Jewish Rabbi supervisor. I am comfortable praying with people of all faiths. I am leading the worship service at Johns Hopkins every other Sunday, and it is a surprise to me how much I love it.
JoAnn: Do you like your work?
Deb: Oh yes! I am where I am supposed to be. People ask: how can you do it? It is so sad to see people suffering. I think how lucky am I to be able to do the work that I do!
The top 5 lessons I learned in the MA in Spiritual and Pastoral Care Program in no particular order are:
1. Be careful sharing your theology with others – What you believe about God may not be what another person believes, and even if you are well meaning you may hurt someone else by imposing your views. In Theological Anthropology, Dr. Gerry Fialkowski told us many stories. One that stands out for me was the story of what one well-meaning, but misguided person said to a child grieving for her mother. It was not a pastoral response. She said, “God needed your mommy in heaven, which is why she died.” That child needs her mother. Only a cruel God would deprive a child of her mother. Is that the God I believe in?
2. God is mystery – God continues to reveal Godself to us, God is continuously creating, and God’s work is never finished. All we have are metaphors to describe God. Our human minds do not have the capacity to fully understand God. If you think you understand God, drop that concept you think you know because you have got it all wrong. St. Augustine said, “God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you understand, you have failed…”
I now live by that concept. Surprise and discovery are what I find here at Loyola on this journey toward union with God. I am constantly reminding myself to stay open to new possibilities, new understandings, new invitations, and new calls from God.
3. Self-Care is Sacred. – It is not selfish to practice self-care — it is self-preservation for someone in a helping profession. We are so highly prone to burn out, and when this occurs we can cause harm to those for which we care. “Physician heal thyself.” (Luke 4:23). I have studied the wounded healers (like Henri Nouwen) who bind up their own wounds, and in so doing learn empathy/compassion. They sooth others’ wounds because they first tended to their own.
4. I AM capable of being a spiritual director – In my tradition of Roman Catholicism, priests and religious do most of the spiritual guidance. It is only in the last generation that lay men and women have taken on a greater role in Ministry within the Church. There are still many traditional and conservative individuals who would rather go to a priest or nun with a spiritual matter viewing him or her as “more qualified.” I had carried this with me and it made me doubt my ability to be a spiritual director. But then, I took Spiritual Direction with Fr. Brian McDermott, SJ. He showed me that I do have what it takes, that I can be a spiritual director, and that anyone who has a true calling regardless of whether or not they have been ordained can companion someone in their spiritual journey.
5. There are distinct differences between spiritual direction, pastoral care, pastoral counseling, and psychotherapy – As I sit with someone in a spiritual direction session, often relationship issues enter into our space and that is okay. The Spirit is there between us continuing God’s work of creating by mending fences, changing hearts, calling to conversion, reconciling, nurturing, tending, and challenging. My directees and pastoral care receivers constantly teach me what they need from me. If I can assist them with that need then I will; however, if I cannot then it is time for me to refer them to another professional.
A plethora of personal growth and formation takes place here at Loyola. I could communicate so many more lessons I have learned. This is just a sample of life at Loyola as an MA student in the Pastoral Counseling Department.
by Karla Wynn
One of the things that struck me as a new student in the Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care Department at Loyola was the welcome that I received from the faculty, staff, and students. However, upon embarking on my first semester here at Loyola, aside from my professor of Human Development, Frank Richardson, Jr. Ph.D., few of my professors and the vast majority of my academic colleagues never heard of Bahá’u'lláh, the Bahá’í Faith or Its Teachings. Most of the time, when introducing myself as a Bahá’í, the usual responses received are blank stares, or “forgive my ignorance, but I have never heard of this before. How do Ba-what did you say, yes, Bahá’ís feel about Jesus?”
Here is my short description: the Bahá’í Faith (www.bahai.org; www.bahai.us) is the latest chapter in the Eternal Book of God’s Revelation, and was founded by Bahá’u'lláh (1817-1892). As Bahá’ís, we believe that He is the Mouthpiece of God for the time in which we live and that He is the Return of Christ, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth come in the Glory of the Father (John 16:7, John, 16:13, Mt, 25:31, KJV). Hence, Bahá’u'lláh, is one of the many Divine Messengers, Teachers, and Manifestations of the God that include Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ, and Muhammad.
Our core beliefs are that there is One God, that there is One Eternal Faith of God, and that Humanity shares One Common Ancestry. Bahá’u'lláh teaches that humanity is in its turbulent adolescence and is in the process of entering a stage of adulthood that includes the unification of the entire human race under one spiritual umbrella. However, in order to achieve unity of the entire human race, the Bahá’í Faith promotes these principles – which we wholeheartedly believe are spiritual principles: the abandonment of all forms of prejudice; the assurance to women of full equality of opportunity with men; the recognition of the unity and relativity of religious truth; the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the realization of universal education; the responsibility of each person to independently search for truth; the establishment of a global commonwealth of nations; and the recognition that true religion is in harmony with reason and the pursuit of scientific knowledge (http://info.bahai.org, 2010).
My personal encounter with the Bahá’í Faith happened in 1976 when I was 12, and a neighbor in my native Brooklyn, New York neighborhood, introduced my mother, younger sister and me to the Teachings of Bahá’u'lláh at a dinner meeting that was held at her home. There, we met some people whom I thought were a “new brand of Puerto Ricans who ate green rice.” Since that night, we began attending Sunday Public Meetings at the New York City Bahá’í Center in Manhattan, and eventually my mother joined the Faith. I followed suit on the eve of my 17th birthday in June of 1981. My sister did the same in 1985.
What attracted me to the Faith, initially were not the teachings – per se, but the early history of the Faith itself through the pages of a book called The Dawn Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation, 1887-1888, (Trans. from the Original Persian and Edited by Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, IL). Following that, my interest in the Bahá’í Teachings remained alive by the principles of the elimination of all forms of prejudice, the eradication of racism, the equality of women with men, and the need for universal education for everyone regardless of socio-economic class, ethnicity, gender or the like – all spiritual teachings in the Bahá’í Faith that others consider to be “social justice issues.” Incidentally, the Bahá’ís in Iran where the Faith was born, are being denied basic human rights and I wish to direct your attention to the documentary entitled “Education Under Fire” at http://educationunderfire.com/.
Inasmuch as there is limited space elaborate on the Bahá’í Faith, please visit the following websites for more information: www.bahai.org, www.bahai.us, http://bahhai.org, and a recent CBS News broadcast “What they Believe: Zoroastrians, Hindus and Bahá’ís” at: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7405258n&tag=api.
Have you ever seen your professor shakin his booty? Well, I have. That image will remain with me always from the spring retreat, The Sacredness of Self-Care for the Emerging Professional. All of us, even Fr. Brian McDermott S.J., were dancing and shaking to African drum music! It is apparently a technique used to alleviate depression. Any time I need a lift, I can recall that mental image of my Spiritual Direction professor shakin’ what his momma gave him, and it will make me smile.
I anticipated the retreat held at The Shrine of St. Anthony in Ellicott City ever since Monique Daniels, Continuing Education Coordinator, (firstname.lastname@example.org) emailed the announcement for at least three reasons: (a) one of my favorite instructors, Fr. Brian McDermott S.J., was presenting, (b) it was being held at one of the most serene and picturesque spots in the area, and (c) practicing self-care for me and preaching it to others is one of my passions.
It did not disappoint!
I actually got some quiet prayer time in around the excitement of the day. What a blessing it was walking in silent contemplation around the Grotto to Our Lady!
The library is my favorite indoor spot with its cozy fireplace. I have been there on two other occasions for retreats. The last time was on a chilly day in March. While we kept the fire blazing by adding log after log, I curled up right next to it. I never wanted to leave. When I realized that my group was meeting in there and I would get to revisit the spot, it added to my bliss.
Narrative artwork hung all over the monastery. Its stories instructed and inspired me. Especially intriguing were the series of paintings on the life of St. Anthony that graced the hallway’s walls. Apparently he was quite a preacher. So much so that legend has it that even the creatures wanted to hear him. The painting shows even the fish jumping out of the water to lend an ear as St. Anthony speaks!
My sense of love for and belonging to the Loyola community strengthened that day. My classmates and I bonded over sharing our wisdom and survival tips of self-care. Honestly though, I am not sure if I am more consoled, or more freaked out over having to write my thesis next year, but at least I will have a plethora of self-care tools in my toolbox to see me through.
I grew from the encounters I had with classmates from other departments thanks to a grant from The Foundation for Spirituality and Medicine students in Pastoral Counseling, Speech Pathology, and School Counseling all took the self-care journey with us free of charge.
I got to see a different side to Dr. Tom Rodgerson, Director of the M.A. Program, who will see me through Pastoral Care Integration and Pastoral Care Professional Seminar next year. He told some interesting anecdotes about himself that were really endearing regarding his younger motorcycling days and his father who was a pastor. If you want the details, you will have to ask him yourself. I will never tell…
As my academic journey as a candidate for the Master of Arts Degree in Spiritual and Pastoral Care at Loyola nears its end, I can’t help but reflect on the moment that led me to pursue an advanced degree program at this institution.
Employed as a Workforce Development Specialist at a local government agency, I realized, once again, the need to earn an advanced degree in order to remain competitive in the labor market. Inasmuch as I had spent at least 20 years of my professional life serving as a “career counselor in the Workforce Development Industry” I felt the time was right for me to pursue a counseling degree program. As a result, I began looking into a variety of masters’ degree programs in order to obtain my professional goals.
After researching numerous ‘counseling programs’ online, the Pastoral Counseling Degree program at Loyola University Maryland captured my attention. I contacted and met with Ms. Brenda Helsing (email@example.com) and after attending my initial meeting, I felt right at home – that obtaining a Loyola Education would be beneficial and provide the tools needed to continue serving as a Workforce Development Counselor supporting dislocated workers and others in obtaining their next professional adventure in a spirit of service.
Instead of pursuing a Pastoral Counseling Degree, I entered the Spiritual and Pastoral Care program at Loyola (www.loyola.edu/pastoralcounseling/academics/care.html) and followed the Chaplaincy Tract. During the course of my studies, I gained both the theological and theoretical tools that enables me to be of service “ministering” to those who suffer losses – whether those losses be in employment, health, or a loved-one; to assist individuals in crisis situations, and empathetic listening skills to support people who wish to resolve their spiritual and religious questions, concerns, or challenges. As my graduate student tenure comes to a close, I can say that the Spiritual and Pastoral Care program has heightened my awareness of spiritual and pastoral questions and concerns, helped me grow as a person and provided me with the technical support system to serve my sisters and brothers – regardless of their Religious Traditions – grapple with their questions and concerns to form a new and/or elevated spiritual identity.
Many students in the Pastoral Counseling programs were attracted to Loyola specifically because they are encouraged – and even guided in how – to approach counseling through the lens of their faith. I am one such student. My journey began in the MA program after several people had asked me to be their spiritual director. Having no qualifications to do that, my answer to them was no. However, I felt God asking me to become qualified. I am a consecrated virgin in the Catholic Church and I understood my new calling as a way in which to reach out to others considering their own vocation. What I realized very early on was that my new calling is really a way in which to live out my own vocation. I switched over to the MS program at the end of my first semester, anxious to become a licensed clinical professional counselor…a career I would have never guessed I’d be in.
I am a Christian. I believe God is love and Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus also is love. When I took my vows in the Order of Consecrated Virgins, I became a “bride of Christ,” as the rite declares. As such, I believe I must also be love. Before starting at Loyola, I thought I was doing pretty well at being love. I was very accepting and respectful of others – of their faith traditions, sexual orientation, ethnicity, personal stories. Or so I thought. Classes like Contemporary Religious Perspectives, Psychopathology, and Diversity Issues in Counseling opened my eyes to the many ways in which my heart had been closed. I began to see how many limits I had been trying to place on my limitless God and I was given tools to break apart that box I was trying so hard to fit Him in.
I am constantly amazed at how other people understand God. In this program I have encountered Buddhists, Muslims, Baha’i, Orthodox Jews, Hindus, Protestants, and Seventh Day Adventists. I have been blessed to hear them share the God they know so well. I see their God and my God are not as far removed from one another as I once thought. God, as I know Him, looks much different than He did the day I married Him. He is more beautiful and more loving than I gave Him credit for. And the more I meet Him through the program, I am falling in love with Him all over again.
Why grad school at Loyola now when I am 47 years old you may ask? I have always had a heart for service. I have had various jobs in my adult life, but none that I would call a career. My family always came first, I must admit, although that is not very modern of me. I went to undergrad two times: the first time to University of Dallas (UD) in Irving, TX, obtaining a B.A. in French Literature and the second time to University of Central Florida earning a B.S. in Psychology where I took some Masters level courses and joined a research team. I found Psychology lacking in spirituality, moreover, I craved and felt called to something faith-based.
After undergrad, I did a year of service where I met my son’s father. We married and moved to Contra Costa County, CA. Five years later, I moved back to the East Coast. While there, I married my current husband and we became involved in a large, vibrant Catholic Parish called Ascension Catholic Community in Melbourne, FL. I rekindled my faith at Ascension. I participated in a retreat/formation process called Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP). I still meet with my sisters in Christ (the ladies of CRHP Team 24) via Skype most Tuesday evenings at 7:00.
Feeling as if we had “retired” too young in Melbourne, FL, where the median age is 62, my husband and I took an opportunity to move to the Baltimore area when he was offered a better job by Northrop Grumman. It was a win-win-win situation. My husband had a great new job, I was now able to pursue a career that I could believe in by pursing an M.A. with Loyola in Spiritual and Pastoral Care, and my son had many opportunities in Maryland post graduation from Florida State.
I am excited to see what the future holds for me in Ministry. I am volunteering in various capacities at some local Catholic parishes and at Beans and Bread. I aim to see what type of ministry for which I am best suited. I am on the spiritual direction track, and I am doing my internship at this time. It is challenging, rewarding, and exciting. I knew after taking Spiritual Direction last semester that I was on the right track for me. I meet with my directees monthly to gain experience. My spiritual direction supervision course is at another great Catholic university, Washington Theological Union which unfortunately is closing its doors this month due to financial issues.