Exercising the Real: Spiritual Direction as Encounter

January 29, 2018

This is a guest post by Stephanie Clouatre Davis

I went to my YMCA last week to try a new exercise class. When I got there I walked past the collection of people gathering for the class because I was intimidated by the community that seemingly, in my mind, had been friends for years. Words ran through my head that I speak to my teenage girls often, “You’ve got to risk the face-to-face encounter.”

In The Joy of the Gospel we hear Pope Francis say,

“The Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction.”

I went to my treadmill, instead inserting headphones into my ears, and began listening to my audiobook, surrounding myself in my own self-created solitude.

I had not encountered anything new, I had plunged back into the endless abyss of self, worry, and anxiety.

Several questions surfaced in me:

  • Is this a normalized action?
  • Am I repeatedly protecting myself from encountering others?
  • Has this become a ritualized culture in my life?
  • What else am I not encountering?

I had not even tried, really. The community surely would have received me with open arms and assisted me in my learning curve.

I had not risked the face-to-face. In meeting years ago with his Argentina community, Pope Francis encouraged us to reach out to people and let Jesus do the rest. They are your brothers he said, and that is enough. “You reach out to help them, the rest is done by Jesus, by the Holy Spirit.”

Could the encounter be this simple? Our only responsibility in reaching out to God and to others is “the reach.” All of the “rest” is up to the Triune God.

How does one reach? Perhaps it is just a matter of exercise, a matter of practice.

In her famous children’s story, Margery Williams explains in a dialogue between the Skin Horse and the Rabbit:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time…”

Brené Brown suggests that the capacity to be truly authentic lies behind the encounter experience. What does it mean to be authentic? She suggests that “authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

Jesus is a living verb; the Gospel is alive: Jesus heals, Jesus feeds, Jesus consoles, Jesus joins the least, Jesus shows up.

Sometimes we are literally paralyzed like the paralyzed man in scripture, and unable to move forward, unable to be a verb. Spiritual Direction can bring you closer to the ear of Jesus. Give the encounter of Spiritual Direction a try.


  • Are you disengaging from the Real?
  • How do you hide?
  • Do you show up in real life spiritually, mentally, and physically to social gatherings, to church, to family and friend gatherings?
  • Do you distract yourself?
  • Do you avoid real encounters by choosing to text over calling? Calling over a real face-to-face encounter?
  • Do you use your phone to distract from the person in front of you?
  • Are you aware of the needs of your family? Your friends? Your community?

Go Deeper?


Stephanie Clouatre Davis graduated from Loyola University New Orleans. Stephanie speaks to adults and teens around the nation at parishes, high schools, and dioceses in various venues including retreats and conferences. With humor, joy, and stories, Stephanie not only fully engages her audiences but also inspires them to challenge themselves and build a stronger relationship with God. She lives in Covington, Louisiana with her husband Michael and two girls Emma and Abby.

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