In Hong Kong, Mr. Joshua Wong and Ms. Agnes Chow and Mr. Ivan Lam, have chosen to plead guilty to a charge of unlawful assembly. They are in custody awaiting trial having pleaded guilty at a pre-trial hearing. These two young people are freely choosing to make a personal sacrifice in the struggle for democracy. From afar, it seems that they could be following a bright star on their spiritual journey even it leads them into the dark. It’s like Frodo and Sam entering the land of Mordor to destroy the evil power of the ring. Only this struggle is for real.
Since returning to Ireland from Cambodia, I have been trying to discern a personal star in the sense of finding the next step on my spiritual journey.
Two books have offered much encouragement. The first is an old book by a French Jesuit, Jean Laplace and the second is a new book by a Dutch Jesuit, Jos Moons. Laplace’s book was published in French in 1965 as “La Direction de Conscience ou Le Dialogue Spirituel” which was translated into English as “Preparing for Spiritual Direction”. Moons’ book was originally published in Dutch in 2019 with an impossible title (De Kunst Van Geestelijke Begeleiding) which has been translated into English as “The Art of Spiritual Direction”.
Fifty-four years of rapid cultural development separate the two books yet they share some common themes.
The relationship of spiritual director or companion or guide to the searcher is individual and personal. The key skill of the spiritual companion is the ability to “listen attentively” to what is moving the searcher. The principal role of the guide is to help the searcher articulate these spiritual movements and to interpret their meaning. The searcher discerns. The spiritual director only helps this process. He or she must remain neutral “like a balance” once a choice about action presents itself.
Both Laplace and Moons insist on the need to be patient and to spend time with the searcher. The process cannot be rushed. Even the naming of the movements “from the Good Spirit” or “from the Bad Spirit” should come from the searcher. Help can be offered when requested but the searcher makes the journey. There are no short-cuts to enlightenment on the spiritual path.
Discernment is the task to be accomplished. The gold or spiritual treasure that is being sought is goodness, peace, light, love, harmony, mercy and justice. These will be signs of the Higher Power or God’s presence (or Dharma). However we can find these signs in human form like in the gospels. All that is hateful, vindictive, dark, violent and divisive is what is to be avoided and rejected.
Laplace emphasizes the need to situate the spiritual dialogue within the context of mutual prayer and the life of the Church. Moons emphasizes the need to pay attention to the small details of the searcher’s daily life and their relationships with others. Each offer some practical advice on how to become a good listener and how to ask simple questions to help the searcher further articulate their own inner experience.
In Cambodia, some Buddhist monks serve as spiritual guides to young searchers. The young people still choose their form of action in society.
It is an amazing mystery to believe that the answer to our spiritual search is already there hidden in our experience just waiting for us to find it. I wonder what the future holds for Mr. Joshua Wong and Ms. Agnes Choi.