Companionship for the spiritual journey
Where do you turn when your life comes unglued? When your clever plans don't come together? When your spiritual life has gone dry and feels useless?
Who can you talk to?
"If your pastor — if you have one of those — seems too busy for your personal questions, and your friends don't seem to have the spiritual depth to help, you need a spiritual director," says Spiritual Director Barbara Punch. "A spiritual director practices the art of holy listening, walking with you through a time when your own prayers and resources don't seem to be enough to answer the question, 'Where is God at work in what's going on in my life?'"
Punch, who retired in June after 10 years as pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church, recently began offering spiritual director services.
She explained that spiritual direction is a companionship model of being with others rather than the interventionist model of therapy.
"Spiritual directors accompany you in your questions and bring reflection and accountability to your search for guideposts and answers," she said.
Punch quotes Rachel Naomi Remen, who says: "Our listening creates a sanctuary for the homeless parts within another person."
This is the model spiritual directors follow.
Punch has a place in her Prineville home where she meets with those seeking her guidance.
"After we hang up their coat, we go into the kitchen to make tea, and then we sit down to talk in a quiet corner of my living room with a view out to the Crooked River," she says.
Depending on the individual director, spiritual directors are paid by a set fee, by donation, or on a sliding scale. Typically sessions last an hour and a half.
Punch will meet with anyone, regardless of their denomination.
"This is a conversation with anyone who recognizes the spiritual components of the changes and processes of their lives," she says. "You don't have to be religious to meet with me; only recognize that your life questions have a spiritual component that you want to address with someone who will honor that spiritual journey and be willing to listen with you."
She has already met many people in this community who have sat with her in her office or at Starbucks to talk about their lives, expecting that her listening and her prayers will be the beginning of answers for what they are carrying in their hearts.
"Often, my listening and my prayers have been what was needed at the time," she says. "Now, under the title 'spiritual director,' those services are available to everyone."
Punch believes her role as spiritual director can benefit anyone.
"The world is a crazy place, and there is so little time and space to open up the deepest longings and questions that confront us in our lives," she says.
In the face of losses or big changes, there aren't many places to go where people can open their hearts and have someone listen lovingly and respectfully to their search for meaning. But, Punch says, that's what spiritual directors do.
People may want to talk once or twice, or create an on-going relationship that brings reflection and accountability to the questions and changes that they are experiencing.
Being a spiritual director is not a new calling for Punch.
Her training to be a spiritual director was her first training for ministry.
"While I was in sales, I often visited the same locations weekly, talking to sales people in showrooms, bringing them up to date on product information and keeping their product literature current," she recalls. "As I got to know people better, our conversations wandered into more personal territory."
They shared with her the importance of their family life, their longings in life, and their ambitions to find a job with more meaning to them.
"I loved sharing those stories with people, responding from my own struggles to be faithful to the deep work of my own life," she says. "I wondered if I had some special gift that made people want to share such important stories with me, but I realized that the only gift I brought to these conversations was my interest and my willingness to listen and respond."
It was about that time in her life that she learned about spiritual direction and the possibility of training in that art.
"I realized that I wanted to get paid to hear people's life stories, not to sell them faucets," she said.
In 1993, she entered a program at Mount St. Mary's Spirituality Center to train in spiritual direction. It was a three-year program with two years of learning and a year of practice.
"It was in the course of this training that I realized that I was answering a call to ministry that I had been experiencing for a long time, but that my call involved more than the one-to-one connection with people and their life stories," she said, adding that there was a component of consecrating those individual stories into a community's story that was missing from the work she was learning.
"That's when I realized that the work that was calling me was that of parish pastor, and that I had been experiencing this call for most of my adult life, but without the context necessary to recognize it, and respond to it," Punch said. "I believe that my gifts of listening, reflecting and praying were the source of what I brought to full-time parish work."
When she finished her training in 1996, she moved away from her parents and her children to go back to school to finish her undergraduate degree with the purpose of entering seminary to train to be a pastor. She graduated with a Master's of Divinity in 2006.
She had practiced spiritual direction for a short time in 1996 and 1997 before going back to the university, but once she began to work full time and go to school part time, she no longer had the time to be a spiritual director.
Now that she is retired from full-time pastoral ministry, she's returning to the practice of spiritual direction.
"I invite people into relationship with their questions and prayers while we walk together as spiritual seekers," she said.
Punch wishes everyone could have a spiritual companion to listen deeply to their struggles, to walk with them through change, to pray for them as they carry burdens or want to lay those burdens down.
"Many of us have had spiritual friends who are able to do that for us, but many do not, and they walk alone through challenges," Punch said. "Those are the people I want to meet, to minister to, to walk with for as long as they need my companionship."
Barbara Punch, Spiritual Director