During our first Into the Deep blog series “Drawn to Ignatius” members of our writing team will tell us the ways Ignatian Spirituality has informed their lives, prayers, and their desire to go into the deep. Today Faye Coorpender shares how she has expierenced Ignatian Spirituality through spiritual direction and discernment.
For many years my favorite verse has been “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding; in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). When I chose that verse, it was because I hoped that one day I would get to the trusting part.
In the year 2000 I married Bill Coorpender and we moved to Gainesville, Florida. Bill and I were fortunate to find Queen of Peace Catholic Church, a welcoming and happy community. It was there that I was first introduced to spiritual direction. It would be the beginning of my journey in Ignatian Spirituality, although I certainly didn’t know it at the time.
In the first few years of spiritual direction, my director listened as I brought to our monthly sessions my guilt over my failed first marriage and the heartache over some of my past decisions. I know that we also talked about my relationship with God, my prayer life, and my joys and challenges, but what I remember most are the painful family issues that we talked about in that sacred space. I left each meeting with hope that I would find peace. I also left those meetings with renewed purpose, with motivation to dig deeper into my prayer life, and with a desire to trust in God’s plan for me.
I don’t think that my directors would be surprised that I don’t recall any specific advice that they gave. In fact, spiritual direction, as I now know, is not about giving advice, it is about accompanying the individual as God works in her life. My director helps me notice where God is present with me and in me. Consequently, I am better able to know God’s will for me.
In Ignatian spirituality, we call the process of discovering God’s will discernment. I’ve discovered, through on-going spiritual direction, that discernment is not a once-and-done process. I’ve also discovered that it is not easy to become aware of God’s desires for me and that it helps to have a director to accompany me.
I have welcomed and been blessed by discernment many times. Prayerful discernment was in my call to begin a second career as a teacher and it was in the call to leave teaching. How can that be? How can I discern God’s will to begin a teaching career and then ten years later discern it is no longer my call? My friend, Becky Eldredge, reminds me that this is “Ignatian wisdom” – trusting a well-discerned decision until a new invitation arises.
When I said the first ‘yes’ to God’s call to pursue a teaching career, I knew through prayerful discernment that it was right. How? I felt consolation in that decision; I experienced a sense of peace, joy, and excitement. I trusted that God would help me. But teaching was a challenge! Every year, as contract time rolled around, my spiritual director helped me through the process of discernment. Should I stay or should I leave? Each year after careful discernment I signed the contract for another year.
But four years ago, several months before contract renewal time, I heard God say, “You’re discerning retirement.” My first thought was, “Huh? I didn’t say anything about retiring. That’s not the plan. I’m not vested yet. How will I pay for health insurance?”
Despite the initial shock, I realized that I did indeed want to retire. Teaching was draining me emotionally as well as physically. I was ready for a change. This type of spontaneous discernment, which Ignatius calls “consolation without previous cause,” does not happen often, so I carefully brought it to prayer. Finding that it was a joyful prospect, I retired.
As it happened, I had just completed my internship in Spiritual Direction and once again, God provided. I accepted an offer to serve as a spiritual director for the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph at their Spirituality Center in Baton Rouge. Beginning work immediately, I transitioned to my new vocation where I was mentored by religious women who had practiced their vocation for many decades.
Two years later the Spirituality Center closed, providing yet another opportunity for discernment. I was invited and then welcomed into collaboration with a wonderful group of spiritual directors who do retreat work as well as provide spiritual direction. I’ve stretched outside my comfort zone as I’ve assisted with planning and giving Ignatian retreats for Women of the Well, parishes, and retreat centers. Saying yes to writing for Into the Deep is another way that I am sharing my vocation and my passion for Ignatian Spirituality. God has been with me in these new ventures just as He was in the past.
I’ve learned that discernment becomes easier as it is practiced. It’s not complicated, but it does require prayer and listening. And it helps to have a good spiritual director to share the journey. Trusting God has given me great joy as I grow in the vocation to which He has called me.
After these last twenty years receiving and offering spiritual direction, I know firsthand what it means to “trust in the Lord.” Ignatian spirituality, especially its discernment wisdom, has been instrumental in bringing me closer to the Lord so that I can trust Him to direct all my decisions.
Photo by Ben White on unsplash.