Spiritual guides provide support and an example to emulate

An appreciation for “the givenness of life” helps people thrive in their daily existence. The world around them needs this appreciation too.

Jul 10, 2015

By David Gibson
An appreciation for “the givenness of life” helps people thrive in their daily existence. The world around them needs this appreciation too.

But what is “the givenness of life?” To speak of life’s givenness is to speak of “the eternal truth that God’s grace is never exhausted,” Chicago’s Archbishop Blase J. Cupich said in his May 18 commencement address at Jesuit-run Boston College.

Children, he remarked, “instinctively grasp” life’s givenness. “They sense that more is always coming, and the ‘more,’ because it is beyond their making, is inexhaustible, leaving them unafraid of their God-given thirsts.”

Others who surround a person often stand as reminders of life’s givenness, Archbishop Cupich suggested. He told the graduates, “These are the folks who have been grace for you in their steady and supportive presence, by the example of fidelity to their own relationships to one another, in their commitments to work and family on your behalf and in the many second chances they gave you.

“While others around us fulfill the role of supporting our appreciation for life’s givenness, however, we may well see, at many points along life’s road, that others need us to fulfill a similar role for them.”

“The world needs the hope of those who know the givenness of life,” Archbishop Cupich said. “Keeping fresh that sense of givenness will have an impact, not only on you but on our world.”

It makes a big difference when the sense of life’s givenness is kept fresh, the archbishop made clear. He explained:

“Keeping fresh a sense that grace is ever breaking into our existence is the pathway to living a truly free, authentic and rewarding life. Trusting that God is always rushing in with more will sustain you in moments of doubt about your future.”

Can those who support and encourage our appreciation for life’s givenness be regarded as spiritual guides of a sort? There are different kinds of spiritual guides, it seems.

What is essential for me, though, is that spiritual guides recognize the meaning below life’s surface, believe that human existence is undergirded by divine presence and accept, to borrow words of Archbishop Cupich, “that God’s grace is never exhausted.”

Spiritual guides in a formal sense may be priests — including confessors who enter into conversations in the context of the sacrament of penance — who are supportive.

These are conversations inspired by a hope that someone’s sense of having reached a dead end in life can be overcome by another sense, namely that God never ceases to offer second chances intended to impact life here and now — third, fourth and fifth chances, too.

Spiritual guides in the formal sense also include pastoral counsellors on parish staffs, in retreat centres, monasteries and convents, in the campus ministry centres of colleges and universities and in other settings.

Spiritual guides in a less formal sense may be found among one’s relatives, friends or others in the faith community who stand out for their balanced appreciation of life’s givenness.

Way back in the sixth century, The Rule of St. Benedict for monasteries indicated that those guiding monks need to be able to “point out to them all that is good and holy, more by example than by words.”

Speaking of the abbots who head monasteries, St Benedict insisted that if they teach “that something is not to be done, then neither must (they) do it.” An abbot, moreover, must not neglect, or treat lightly, “the welfare of those entrusted to him,” St Benedict wrote.

At the outset of his rule, he described himself to monks as “a father who loves you.”

Perhaps in all this, St Benedict offers a bit of advice regarding spiritual guides in our times. If so, our formal, and less formal, spiritual guides should be people of integrity who do not take our lives lightly, whose counsel assumes the form of words, yes, but more so of example, and whose presence to us is not self-centred but is an expression of authentic love.

People often seek a spiritual guide because they are confused, or feeling at a loss over a stressful turn of events in their lives. It may also be that a spiritual guide’s counsel is sought because a fear of some type is exerting excessive control over a person’s life.

Then again, this need may arise because someone who is part of one’s life is becoming difficult to understand and a big challenge to handle alone.

More simply, a conversation with someone able to listen attentively and whose presence is genuinely nourishing, as well as honest and caring, may be sought because an individual, a couple and even an entire family, needs support and understanding.

Possibly, what they need is refreshment for their roles in life. They may need to believe in themselves again, and to reawaken their appreciation for life’s givenness.

Few of us, if any, really want to go through life entirely alone. Anyway, why should we? People benefit in this complex world from the insights and companionship of others who care.

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