Discover more from CHRISTINE LEE SMITH • ARTIST & SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR
Where is it Taking You?
Existential think-y thoughts
I’ve always been fond of the concept of epiphany. I named my first project after grad school (the first time) Epiphany Visio. Currently, our retreat house in Georgia is called the Epiphany House.
While there are several definitions of it, my favorite are these:
(1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
(2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking
This word has followed me since I experienced it a decade ago. I was sitting across from my spiritual director, Larry, bemoaning how people kept asking me what I was going to do after I graduated from this seminary master’s degree in soul care, which carried with it no economically prized career path. In reality, I had no answer for them, or myself.
As I began to wind down into the soul of what was really bothering me about the question, which was my own lack of idea of what I was going to do after this expensive journey, I carried on about how I was a photographer and now I had this spiritual direction training and what was I supposed to do now? It made no sense, I declared.
Larry wondered aloud if perhaps God might have had something to do with this circuitous path I was on — and that maybe there was a reason I was a photographer and a newly minted spiritual director.
The thought had never occurred to me.
I sat stunned in silence. I had nothing to refute his thought. It was suddenly as clear as day that none of it was an accident. I was meant to be right here in this moment. I still had no plan moving forward, but it didn’t matter (as much) when I left as it had when I arrived at our session that day.
From that moment emerged Epiphany Visio — a photo-based prayer card set I kickstarted, funded, created, and launched. It was the first iteration of this mingling of my prior experiences as a photographer and this newly trained self with spiritual direction. It was my first epiphany at this phase of my journey in life.
So tonight, as I was nursing a minor injury from playing too rough with our 40-lb puppy named Wonder, I had another epiphany. First, a bit of context.
I love St. Ignatius’ ideas around discernment. They’ve guided me through many decisions in life. Over and over I return to them and they remain helpful. The overly simplified version of his rules of discernment is: (1) feelings are important to pay attention to when making decisions, (2) where they lead you spiritually is often way more important than a) what you’re feeling, or b) what you ultimately decide (assuming your decision is between two equally good or better options). Ignatius was keen on that part about noticing where the feeling is taking you. Is it taking you towards God (the Divine, or Universal Good)? Or, is it taking you away from God?
CHRISTINE LEE SMITH • ARTIST & SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
A quick metaphor: imagine a drop of water about to fall. First, imagine it falling on a rock. Think of how it sounds, looks, and feels. Next, imagine a drop of water falling on a sponge. Consider how it sounds, looks, and feels. Which one feels better? Typically we say the sponge — the sponge receives the water, it absorbs. The rock rejects the water, sending it outward. In Ignition discernment, thinking about how the water drops on the sponge illustrates if a choice is moving us toward God (sponge) or away from God (rock).
So here’s tonight’s epiphany: the goal of discernment is to turn us towards God and God’s spirit dwells within us (1 Cor. 3:16, for those wondering). So then it could be said that sponge-like decisions are also turning us not only towards God but also towards our true self. In other words, if a decision takes you away from your true self, it’s also taking you away from God. So when we choose things out of alignment with who we are created to be and become at our core we are ignoring, or choosing against, good discernment.
The part that caught me in my existential think-y tracks was the realization that this means that when I take on things out of fear, or because I think I should, these decisions turn me away myself. Choosing what to say yes and no to in life, and saying no to things out of alignment with who I am created to be, is not selfish — it’s just good discernment.