What’s the point?

Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House

I have been in the parishes I serve for a fairly long spell (26 years) and yet I have no clear idea of the spiritual life of many of the individuals I have ministered to. Remarkably few people ever seek help and guidance in their spiritual life. In the New Year a questionnaire was distributed to the electoral roll to take the spiritual temperature. Just over a quarter of the roll (52 people) replied. Of these 63% reported that they had no daily quiet time or prayer time. The same respondents also reported that they would not seek any help or guidance to establish one.

I have found these statistics a little perplexing. How can anyone have any kind of relationship with Christ without devoting any time to him? Is it possible to have a vital relationship with the Lord that is sustained by attendance at Sunday worship (and this being compromised by being irregular)?

I daresay that this kind of statistic would be found in parishes up and down the country. Here are a few thoughts about the findings. First, I find it hard to believe that all 63% have no personal prayer life at all. The capacity for communion with God is ‘hard wired’ into humanity; what is more likely is that individuals do not identify aspects of their inner and reflective lives as anything spiritual. It has been my experience that, for a variety of reasons, a person is not able to identify and recognize the spiritual movement at work in them. Often they assume that spirituality is something ‘out of the ordinary’, whereas it is more likely to be the cause of their first thought or judgement; the source of inner consolation or guidance. There is an assumption that there is a gap between themselves and the divine; more disturbing than this is the absence of any expectation that the Holy Spirit will have anything to do with them at all.

This lack of self-understanding is the chief reason why spiritual direction is so vital. when someone is encouraged to share with another person some of their thoughts about and experience of God, they can come to realize that these are real experiences which help form their priorities and are sources of guidance and renewal. It is all too easy for individuals to discount their spiritual life as something ‘odd’ or ‘incidental’; but these same experiences and insights can be recognized by someone experienced in the various expressions of spirituality as the fruit of a living engagement with God. In the light of this assurance the directee can be encouraged ‘to take hold of that life for which Christ Jesus took hold’ of them.

But the essential first step is to find someone who can be a soul friend. This could be someone already well known – it need not be a member of the clergy. People of prayerful perception are present in every church community. without this ‘opening up’ of the inner life, many of us remain stunted in our growth in the spirit and tragically fail to experience the fullness of life that God seeks to give them.