Friday, August 6, 2010

Spiritual Parents

I saw Mary R. this morning. The last few times I've seen her I spend my time in the car driving over there thinking 'I really don't have anything to talk about. Hmm...' But then I get there and she asks a simple question and suddenly all this pain comes flooding out. Today she simply asked me how I was doing with my grief over Andy's death.

Mary was my therapist before and during my years in the Ph.D. program; she heard all of my angst and self-doubt as I struggled to become more and more my authentic self during those vibrant years under Andy's wise and gentle tutelage. And I remember how she'd say, "Katherine, trust Andy's words. Trust his perception of you. Trust his confidence in you."

As we spoke it became clear to me how losing Andy was ... well, he was more than a father figure to me...he was my spiritual father. I think that's a good way to phrase it. When I think back on those years (wow, I first met Andy 15 years ago now), Andy, and in fact Mary R. as well (and I told her this today), were spiritual parents to me. With them, because of them and the grace and wisdom and love they embody(ied), I was slowly reborn.

You know, when someone older and wiser takes an interest in you, really seems to understand you (at times I've thought Andy and Mary both could read my thoughts) and care about you, it opens up such beautiful space for transformation. Even though it remains difficult and painful, that space has always been so enticing to me, partly, I know, because of my love for those who offer it. My "spiritual parents" made it clear that they really want(ed) me to grow and mature and to know what true joy is like -- and part of the transformation I experienced was motivated by my desire to prove their confidence in me was not misplaced. Often, underneath my courage was this thought: "If Andy (or Mary) think I can do this, then I must be able to do it."

Mary knew Andy slightly. She attended a couple of events where he was the speaker and they talked a bit, I believe. She said today that she was always able to feel his power whenever she was in his presence -- he just had an energy of love that she could always feel, she said. Just before his book on the subject was published, she heard him speak about Hope. Somehow we got off on Andy's notion that is it only penultimate hope that we place in people we love, and how "great" it is that the people in our lives are less than perfect because that reminds us that ultimate hope can really only be placed in God. [Pretty funny -- we joked about that, which, of course, reminded me so viscerally of Andy and how so often his greatest teachings were communicated to me through humor.]

Mary said that she believes that Andy could see, like she sees, how much I love God. Part of me objected, and yet when she said it, I immediately began weeping like a baby. Weeping with such fragile hope that it's true. Weeping with an embryonic recognition that she had given utterance to the deepest desire of my life. And weeping with a vague memory of Andy saying something very similar to me.
Dear God, how spiritual-parent-like to convey words with the kind of power to actually evoke exactly that to which they point. So amazing.

I am grateful for my spiritual parents. Grateful that I had 15 years with such a giant of a human being, Andy Lester. And yes, so grateful that Mary R is with me still, still loving me, still offering such wise and gracious space for an ongoing transformation.

So grateful.


Robin said...

Funny, I was thinking about just this thing yesterday. How, having been very lacking in the parenting department -- one dead and the other preoccupied -- and completely depleted of parenting energy myself as my boys reached late adolescence and one of them created some major challenges, the man whom I think of as my spiritual father appeared in my life and exuded such hope and confidence in me and conveyed such wisdom. I cannot imagine how I would have survived the two years since my other son's death without his emails and occasional visits.

I am so glad that you have had such generous and loving spiritual parenting.

Sue said...

Katherine - This is so eloquent. Thank you. It has helped me to realize that I have a spiritual mother. She was my therapist when I was learning to be myself and to not be afraid. My very soul had been ripped to shreds and she helped me put it back together again. She is now learning to be a spiritual director and I still meet with her in that capacity. She was at my baptism - maybe you remember her - Janet. In fact, we had a wonderful conversation about the meaning of my baptism before hand, which made it all the more meaningful. I am so lucky to have her in my life - she is truly a life saver and a mender of souls.