Have you ever felt a stirring in your heart? You sense something is changing within you - a calling to do something different, a hunger for more meaning in your life, or a yearning to be closer to God? You're not sure what it all means but you desperately need a safe person to affirm what's going on inside of you.
That was me fifteen years ago when I walked into Father Michael McKeon's office. I had just started participating in a spiritual growth ministry, the Ministry of Mothers Sharing, and this big and confusing spiritual awakening was happening within me. I felt alone and stressed in all of my questions. The pastor of my church at the time, Fr. McKeon, saw the Holy Spirit working in me and affirmed that. He was one of the first people to do so, and last week I said good-bye to him as he passed away on Thanksgiving day. He empowered my spirit with books to read, homilies that challenged me, and availability to talk whenever I needed it.
Saying good-bye to Fr. McKeon is making me reflect on the importance of spiritual companions and mentors. I don't know where I'd be today without the three people who took the time to affirm and empower the Spirit unfolding in me during that time: Fr. McKeon, Sister Paula Hagen from the Sisters of St. Benedict and the foundress of the Ministry of Mothers Sharing, and Colleen Gregg, the director of Mercy Center Auburn. These three people saw my awakening and encouraged me to air out my feelings, thoughts, and questions in a non-judgmental way. They made me feel like I wasn't crazy! They showed me the face of a merciful and generous God which made me less intimidated to form a personal relationship with God. They were gentle, loving, kind, and... well Fr. McKeon was more direct and gruff... but that was refreshing for me and I loved it. All three of them created a sacred space for me to talk freely.
Do you have a spiritual companion or mentor? I think this is one of the most significant things we can do for ourselves and for others while committing to the spiritual journey. Many times - but not always - these are people who are older in age. Sadly, we live in a society that dismisses people when they start to age, but many times these are the people we need to seek out and learn from the most. Wisdom comes with age. There's a depth you cannot get anywhere else. They've seen struggle and pain and tragedies so they are honest about the journey of life, the questions that are impossible to answer, and the mystery of God. These are not people who are there to "fix" your problems, but rather to listen and allow the Christ in themselves meet the Christ in you. They won't give you perfectly packaged answers to your questions. Instead, they will offer insight so you can see you're slowly living into your own answers.
Maybe you're reading this and feeling like you have something to share. You do. Your life experiences - good and bad - impart a piece of wisdom that is unique to you. If you catch yourself wanting to talk to someone about their experience of God but don't want to intrude, I urge you to allow yourself to take the risk. Not in a way that is giving advice. Not in a way that is fixing a problem. Give the gift of listening and affirming and sharing your story. This is one of the most beautiful ways you can serve others and share Christ's light. The more I bridge the subject of spirituality with people, the more I see the yearning people have to talk about their experience of God. You'll immediately know if it's a conversation the other person is willing to enter into and the majority of the time it is. Know how important it is to share your truth so others can find theirs.
Most importantly, make time in your life to listen. As I'm writing this, I'm remembering that I once met with Fr. McKeon and at the end I said, "Father, you're so busy and you just took all this time listening to me. I feel so bad. Thank you so much for your time." And he looked at me with this face that seemed to say, "What are you talking about?!", and said, "But that's what time is for." I took that to mean, What else are you supposed to do with your time but be right where you're called to be to serve? What else are you supposed to do with your time but to be present and to listen?
Father, thank you for reminding me what time is for: to be present, to listen, and to serve in a way that gives thanks to God for all that we are and all that we have. I'm a woman in constant tension with her to-do list. I can get so wrapped up in the 'work of God' that I forget to do the work of God.
We have just entered the season of Advent: a time of waiting and listening. May your Advent season be full of moments of waiting and listening to yourself, to others, and to the voice of God. May you find opportunities to share what you hear with a spiritual companion, mentor, or spiritual friend.
I leave you with the Stewardship prayer Fr. McKeon had us read every Sunday. His passion was serving the poor and marginalized:
O Merciful God,
You are the provider of all that we are
and all that we have.
You open wide your hand to provide
for the needs of every living creature.
Make us always grateful for your loving mercy and
grant that we may be faithful stewards of your gifts.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who, with You and the Holy Spirit,
lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever.
Reflect & Share
Do you have a spiritual mentor? Or have you mentored someone? How has that relationship enriched your life? And if you want to take the time right here in this space to thank them, please feel free to do so.