In September, Janet and I lost our home and retreat space in the Oregon Holiday Farm fire. In the weeks that followed, we spent significant time sifting through the ashes of our home and belongings. We found recognizable bits and pieces, and some of them we could even piece back together with glue, but there is not much that survives a fire intense enough to melt glass.
In our sifting, we uncovered an unbroken Christmas ornament formed in the shape of baby shoes and made of porcelain. A gift from my son’s great-grandmother in 1987, this “Baby’s First” Christmas ornament has, as you may imagine, always been handled with the utmost care. Remarkably, this seemingly fragile gift is one of the few things that endured the flames and emerged whole.
This porcelain ornament has led me to contemplate my own fragility, particularly as it relates to my vocation as a spiritual director. How can I companion others well when I am bereft and broken; seared by the flames of catastrophic loss? The gentle response of the Spirit was to guide me to the story of the Apostle Paul and the fragility he bore in the form of a “thorn in the flesh.” Desperately desiring deliverance from this weakness, the word received was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Paul’s discovery is mine. “When I am weak, then I am strong.” As I consider who I am in the light of love, I am reminded that my wholeness includes everything - the seared fragments that have been through fire as well as the shiny stuff that I am proud of. My wholeness encompasses my entire life experience.
The temptation for me, and I suspect with others, is to take those pieces we are not comfortable with or the experiences that are particularly painful and try to silo them off. We attempt to pack them off to another place instead of welcoming them as part of what makes us whole. This can be particularly true when we are companioning others.
To be able embrace our whole selves, fragility and weaknesses included, is part of our work as spiritual pilgrims and as companions on the way. We do this best when we show up in the context of who we are, where we are.
As a Spiritual Director, it is vital to notice what I am experiencing and what is happening within me as I prepare to go into a session with a directee. If I discern that I am grieving and suppose I will set it aside and pretend that I am not, I will not show up in the context of who and where I am. If, instead, I name my grief, I can acknowledge it and incorporate it into my wholeness.
Showing up in weakness is, in truth, the companion’s vocation. This came clear to me the day after we learned we had lost our home in the fire. By the mystery of grace, I had a previously scheduled meeting with my spiritual director that morning. During our time of listening to the Spirit together in that space of deep bereavement, we discerned the invitation: choose to show up, walking purposefully and vulnerably with folks in spiritual direction.
How do we companion others when we, ourselves are bereft and broken? We choose to show up with vulnerability, honestly and humbly recognizing who we are and whose we are. And we do so purposefully, engaging in the practices through which we are sustained and strengthened, such as the practices of presence, connection with the spirit, supervision, and ongoing soul work (particularly the sifting through our own stories in spiritual direction).
It is a fragile gift, this choosing to show up when bereft, yet I am learning that divine strength will, indeed, “show up” in our weakness as we companion others as our authentic selves. The fire drove me to live out in an intense way what I had been learning along the way. I now recognize that when we go through fire, it is not a time to step away from the companioning call, but it is a time to lean into it with who we are in the context of where we are.
“When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Jeff Savage is a spiritual director, retreat guide, and couples facilitator shaped by over 30 years of pastoral ministry and contemplative practice. He also serves as a spiritual director and faculty advisor for Portland Seminary. After the brutal wildfires, Jeff and his wife, Janet, are rebuilding their vision for retreat space for reflection, rest, and renewal at their home above the McKenzie River at Vida, Oregon. In each expression of his calling, Jeff finds abundant joy in holding space for folks to pay attention to their life in God. The values that center him in his vocation include hopeful trust, hospitality, attentiveness, and integrity. Jeff finds balance in tending the garden, photography, wandering, and being Pop Pop to four grandchildren (photos supplied on request). https://www.sacredspacevida.com