One of my favorite ways of praying is hiking with my dog Zoe through the state park. I was remembering today a hike we did a couple of years ago when Zoe, after following a scent for awhile ran back to me, begging me to follow her. She brought me up around a bend in the trail and happily pointed out to me a huge deer. So there we stood a long distance away, motionless, just watching, knowing that a sudden move would send this majestic creature fleeing from us. And yet, hopeful that if we could stand still long enough maybe the deer would see us as part of the landscape and trust us enough to come a little closer.
That day, that moment, which Zoe and I spent silent and motionless, just hoping together was a beautiful lesson to me in what God asks of us in the ministry of spiritual direction. I've often heard the phrase “Dogs are natural therapists.” But in even more ways I think dogs are natural spiritual directors! They never talk about themselves or force their opinions. They never try to guide the conversation or give advice. A dog will never criticize you or become uninterested in your experiences. Rather, they will sit silently and attentively just looking at you with that empathetic, loving gaze that lets you know they care, and are fully present to you in that moment. If the goal of the spiritual director is to help one notice the presence of God, then Zoe has shown me this time and time again in her attentiveness to me and our family. She moves from room to room, house to car, errand to errand alongside me as if she is my shadow (I don't mean in the Jungian sense either :), silently and patiently inviting me to relationship with her whenever I am ready and willing to notice: A perfect analogy for the way in which our God invites us to relationship. She is a wonderful reminder to me that I don’t need profound insights or deep reflections into the lives of my directees to be a good spiritual director… just a kind gaze and perked ears!