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Taking The Less-Trodden Path

At a loss for inner direction in a confusing world, the need for guidance seems universal. How often do we feel estranged from our deeper selves, confused as to who we really are and what we are to do?

When The Teacher Comes

Reflection on this human predicament has been a perennial topic for writers. Dante in the medieval period remarked:

In the twilight of the wood I yearned for food; even more than that, I yearned for a guide to set me on my way. The guide I had been relying on, my body with its aches, pains and sensations, was weakening for lack of nourishment. The blood slowed in my veins and felt like gritty sand. Jangled nerves and a lack of focus replaced my revelatory insights. I was distracted by every sound and motion of this living place, which seemed to have a will of its own to swallow me up in its mould. I thought of the promise of new life at the top of the mount. I thought of the bitter but gracious truths I had learned about myself, that these truths would die with me, leaving no opportunity to be translated into life. I was ready but my teacher had not come

In various spiritual traditions over the centuries, mentorship has meant the guiding of a seeker by a master, teacher or sage, occurring often in a formal setting, one-to-one, or in established communities.

In China, where the Tao (or "Way") was taught, disciples were guided through stages until at last they attained "security amidst the world's confusion."

The Spiritual Director

The Sufi accounts present the typical master as "a robust and vigorous man, full of life, paradox and humour."

In ancient India, sages taught from village to village
The guru
Is a potter
And the pupil
A pot.
How it hurts
When he thumps
From the outside,
But see
How delicately
He supports
From the inside,
So a beautiful pot
May be created.

Early Desert Christian Fathers dispensed their wisdom to study groups organized around their "abbas."

When asked what the meaning of a scripture was, the master declared, "Truly Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said, 'I do not know'."

Is Mentorship Subversive?

Mentorship seems like an anachronism today. Mentorship seems accepted, or tolerated, in some areas of contemporary life - the trades, academic life, writing and other artistic pursuits - but in terms of personal spiritual direction, why is mentorship so rare and suspect? Psychologically, many have therapists, but to have a spiritual mentor seems almost subversive. Perhaps in a largely compartmentalized, "flatland" culture, to admit to a need of spiritual nourishment seems foolish, and to not desire total individual autonomy absurd. And yet mentorship, rightly configured, seems so contextually appropriate given the fact that developing spiritually does not occur automatically but takes an inner evolution, a process which can be aided by a teacher.

Mentorship Is About Mapmaking

As Watershed's Lorna Derksen experienced in her year of guided reading, mentorship is about seeking the inner map into the deeper rhythms of your particular life - into Life itself. It was said, "Whoever travels without a guide needs two hundred years for a two days' journey."

What Makes a Mentor?

  • someone who loves God; in our tradition - God-in-Christ
  • has negotiated several of life's difficulties, or fulcrums, directly
  • is willing to discern the spiritual needs of individuals
  • has the ability to discern the character/gifts of others
  • can see from a second person perspective
  • is not threatened by the success or failures of others

What Makes a Mentoree?

  • someone who has the desire to be liberated from their dark wood - unhinged passions, dogmatism and ego
  • has the humility to stop and listen and learn
  • prays that God can deliver you from their compulsions
  • has the courage - after experiencing pain as well as God's love - to take baby steps in a different direction
  • has the willingness to ask for help and to try again
  • has respect for, and trusts that, God is working in their mentor as well as themselves

You Know Nothing; You Know Everything!

The tone of mentorship, as Arthur Paul Patterson has shown us, depends on what level of hell or purgatory we are going through, on the way to liberation. Sometimes mentorship can take the form of translation, the process of reinterpreting spiritual wisdom in terms of our own experience. Inner transformation happens when we are ready to have God chisel away at the egocentrism that obscures our true character.

Types of Watershed Mentorship

  • literary classics and other readings
  • spiritual friendship
  • email check-ins and responses
  • tutorials
  • group discernment
  • Lady Wisdom in everyday life.

Listen to me, devout sons,
and bud like a rose growing by a channel of water.
Give fragrance like frankincense
And blossom like a lily.
- Jesus Ben Sira

Where Shall I Look For Enlightenment?

... the disciple asked.

"Here," the elder said.
"When will it happen?" the disciple asked.
"It is happening right now," the elder answered.

"Then why don't I experience it?" the disciple persisted.
"Because you do not look," the elder said.
"But what should I look for?" the disciple continued.
"Nothing. Just look," the elder said.

"But what should I look for?" the disciple continued.
"Nothing. Just look." The elder said.
"But at what?" the disciple asked again.
"At anything your eyes alight upon," the elder answered.

"But must I look in a special way? The disciple went on.
"No. The ordinary way will do," the elder said.
"But don't I always look the ordinary way?" the disciple asked.

"No, you don't" the elder said.
"But why ever not?" the disciple asked.
"Because to look you must be here.
You're mostly somewhere else!" the elder said.

We all thirst for the golden heart. The enlightened heart. The pure heart. The heart of God. We are all one.

The mentorship theme is important for someone like myself who tends to be an individualist. To submit to the wisdom of a mentor, or a covenanted community in terms of group mentorship, is difficult at times. However, I feel that when I've been graced by a sense of openness to listen I've been given an immeasurable sense of being deepened, and pointed towards my true direction: the direction of unity in myself, in community and in God, and towards service. So all I need to say is thanks.

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