Friends Of The Heart -- By: Elaine A. Heath

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 26:0 (NA 1994)
Article: Friends Of The Heart
Author: Elaine A. Heath

Friends Of The Heart

Elaine A. Heath

Elaine A. Heath is completing her studies at ATS for an M.Div. degree in theology. She plans to pursue doctoral studies in theology and spirituality with the goal of teaching in a seminary.

Personal faith nurture, the careful tending of one soul’s health by another, is in short supply these days. We are hurried people, busy people, estranged people, anemic people. In our haste to go important places and do important things, we have taken the swing off the front porch of our souls, removed the welcome mat, and turned off the lights. It is not that we meant to become isolated. It just happened.

There are seasons in our lives when spiritual direction is more needful, times when we are driven to hang the swing back on the porch and call a trusted friend. While group direction is perhaps adequate for most people most of the time, (small Bible study fellowships, a Sunday School class), at certain junctures in life one-on-one direction is necessary. Adolescent and midlife crises, grief due to death or other loss, times of difficult vocational decision-making, and times of “spiritual darkness” are all times for personal direction. In these contexts, as Adrian van Kaam puts it, spiritual direction is not

mainly to educate the mind, nor relieve the Christian’s bodily, cultural, or psychological needs, but “ assist his innermost search for his spiritual identity.”1

The search for spiritual identity is a continuous process for all of us, though, whether in crisis or not. The search for spiritual identity is, quite simply, the search for God. It is the quest of all quests, the homing instinct of the human heart. Without spiritual direction we tend to, in the words of an old country western ballad, “go lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.” Evelyn Underhill puts her finger on the problem when she speaks of our restlessness, heroisms, and attainments as the effort to “still that strange hunger for some final object of devotion...some great and perfect Act within which your little activity can be merged.”2

While private, one-way direction is, as van Kaam says, not available to most Christians and is filled with risks,3 companionable direction is not only accessible, it is a key factor in “stilling the strange hunger.” We need companions, fellow travellers who walk with us in our restless, homesick longings, who help us find our way home to the One who is Love. As Simone Weil wrote in a letter to one of her spiritual friends, “... nothing ...

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