I have been leading a spiritual direction group for U. C. Berkeley college students for New College Berkeley for two years. The students gather with me at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley once a month, usually for two hours and sometimes for one hour. We typically meditate on passages of Scripture, poems, or any other material r that I prepare for the group. And then we share what has touched us after our individual time of reflection.
One day after the group, a student told me, “This meeting seems like resting at an oasis while I am walking in the dry desert of school.”
These students experience rest and refreshment through this space given to them even though they are overwhelmed by schoolwork. How do they experience rest and recovery in the group? I think the group allows them to slow down their lives for a while and shift their focus away from their academic goals and achievements and toward their own inner world. While doing that, they align themselves with God. Then, they feel lightness in their hearts because their energy is vibrating to match that of God. Out of these experiences, they naturally experience a greater ‘flow’ in life because they learn to let go of their work and let God work in them instead. In the midst of their busy lives, instead of being overwhelmed, they have peace coming from God within them.
When we spend time together in silence, reflection, and sharing with one another, our self-awareness and self-knowledge increase. During the students’ busy lives on campus, it’s very hard for them to find time to reflect because of the stressful time pressures they face. But in this time of the group meeting, we become aware of issues arising within us. If we do not take care of them or do not pay attention to them, they end up dictating our lives unconsciously so that we can’t focus on the present moment fully. However, there is freedom when we notice these issues in the group spiritual direction space and share them with one another before the light of God. When we are vulnerable before God, we can go deeper and sense God’s presence beyond our thoughts and feelings. Then our thoughts and feelings are clear and ordered. We experience the process of cleansing our hearts.
When we reflected on the material from Wayne Muller’s book How, Then, Shall We Live?, one student confessed, “I realize that I am in danger of being attached to a tangible love and am tempted to find it hard to believe in God’s invisible love.” Another student said, “I became aware that I need to have four things, namely, community, creativity, curiosity, and a peaceful mindset, as my compass to discern my future career, not any outward success.”
Such self-knowledge through reflection can give us the strength to focus on the invisible essence of our lives. Then our priorities are organized and we have ordered lives. A new fire grows in our interior, ordered world. Namely, a new passion and desire for God arises since we are aligned with God and are focused on what God wants us to do.
Judy Brown writes about how to build the fire within in her poem “Fire”:
What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would. So building fires
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.
We need space in order to build the fire within us. Only in these spaces can the fire find where to expand and how to keep growing. Likewise, we are naturally heading toward the essences of our lives when space is created within our busy minds and hearts. “How does God want me to live?” “What are the temptations that I am facing?” “How is God working in my relationships?” “Where am I going? Am I going in the right direction?” When we reflect on these essential questions in the space of the group, we are able to see ourselves not from our self-centered perspective but from a God-centered perspective. When these questions lead us to find God’s position, will, and heart for our lives, new passion, energy, and hope arise within us; we are no longer drained by nonessential things that our egos are focusing on.
It is a real blessing that these young college students can have these experiences in the spiritual direction group. I am grateful that Susan Phillips has given me this opportunity to serve these students through New College Berkeley, that my spiritual director colleagues are walking with me on this path as we gather once a month to support each other, and that Ryan Pemberton is supporting this student community as the Minister for University Engagement at the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. I truly appreciate the college students coming to the group with open hearts even though they are very busy at school. But none of this would be possible without God’s presence opening their hearts and building a real fire in their lives in the space created by our gathering together in the spiritual direction group.
The Reverend Dr. Daeseop Yi is a pastor and a scholar of Christian spirituality with a Ph.D. from the GTU. He is part of the adjunct faculty at New College Berkeley.