"The light in your home has changed so much since we first got together last fall,” observed one of the graduate students at our final gathering for group spiritual direction. The living room was flooded with a soft evening light, which lingered in the space. I was surprised that this engineering graduate student would notice such a thing, and yet it seemed to reflect the increasing attentiveness to God’s presence each of the students had experienced over the months of our gatherings. Within the complexity of their studies, issues on campus, issues amongst the Christian student groups, and issues in the greater world, there was a growing sense of abiding in Jesus’ love over the months. Yes, it was the light in a home’s living room, but—more importantly—the Light of the Loving God in our midst was aglow.
Last September I spoke about group spiritual direction with the UC Berkeley graduate student Christian groups meeting under the umbrella of InterVarsity and Veritas Graduate Fellowship on campus. I explained that group spiritual direction is a small gathering of four to six people, which meet once a month for contemplative listening and prayer, and I serve as the director. Those who participated would join in listening deeply to one another share about his or her real life, while also joining together in times of silent prayer on behalf of the person who shared, believing that God was in all of it. In extending the invitation to the larger group, I also mentioned that our gatherings were a safe and confidential space where all were welcomed.
Having had no prior experience with individual or group spiritual direction, the five students (four women and one man) who showed up at my house were clearly people of strong personal faith, as well as eager and curious folks. Perhaps due to their lives of commitment to their graduate studies at Berkeley, they were equally committed to coming monthly and to diving wholeheartedly into the process.
We met in my home near the campus. The lighting of the candle and a time of prayerful silence opened our monthly times together. This time of transition seemed crucial for these busy, pressured students to be fully present to the Holy and to one another. They each expressed how much they “live in their heads,” and that they were hungry for the calm, restful, attentive space of such a group as this.
Over the course of the months, we engaged in various spiritual disciplines, such as Lectio Divina, St. Ignatius’ Prayer of Examen (in which a day or a month is looked back upon, noticing where he or she was drawn closer to God, or turned further away from God), along with various other ways of noticing God in all of their lives.
As I reflect back on the year, what was most profound was not the words, but the sense of God’s presence in the space, in the group, in the love and in the care for one another. It was as though God was saying to us all, “Yes, I love you regardless of what you accomplish or how you identify.” “Yes, less is more.” “Yes, you are mine in all of life’s circumstances.”
The seeds of this awareness grew, starting with our first group meeting which revealed the surprise of tension and tears expressed especially by a couple of individuals in the group. I did not know the details of the issues bringing these people to tears, but clearly there was pain and sorrow being experienced by some of the students. I closed that first group time by saying these words: “I don’t know what is behind all of these feelings and the issues, but I’d like to say again that all are welcomed here, and I believe God is here in our midst.”
What blossomed over the months was the ongoing commitment within the group to honest sharing, to caring for one another, to seeking the Holy Spirit in his or her life, to sharing the truth of each life even amongst differences, to listening to each other and to the growing awareness of God’s love for each of them. In the spaciousness, quiet, patient listening, and authenticity, each student was truly heard and knew he or she belonged to a loving God. A simple home’s living room and a regular gathering in trust that the Holy Spirit is present, allowed the glow of the Holy to expand within and without us all.