Over the weekend, I am delighted to report, I (and six others) was graduated from Holy Conversations, the two-year spiritual direction training programme offered by the Anglican Diocese of New England.
We all met on Friday evening at our supervisor’s house, where we had a lovely, relaxed dinner together. Then the next morning we reconvened, walked to a park where we engaged in an exercise of contemplation. After that we walked back to our supervisor’s house for lunch, wrapped up our time giving each other verbal gifts of encouragement (noting both strengths and “growing edges”), prayed together, and–suddenly, it seemed, although it had been at least two years (probably longer, really) in the making–we are spiritual directors.
It’s the contemplative exercise in the park about which I’d like to tell you, though. The idea (or at least an idea) behind this is that once you know the Word-made-Flesh, who was spoken to create the cosmos and therefore somehow infuses it, He should be able to speak to you through anything–including the creation. Off we were sent, each alone, to find something in creation that caught our eye, and then to gaze at it quietly–not analysing, not judging, just gazing.
This time, the object that caught my eye was a little purple flower–a periwinkle. I sat down in the sun and gazed at it, and I was not distracted by thoughts or sounds or events other than the periwinkle, but I still didn’t do so well being inwardly silent, because I felt like I was having a reunion with it, and there was so much to catch up on.
Time was, periwinkles were an important (if decorative) part of my life. I first met them–as I first met so many things when I was younger–in a book, through the person of a grey pony in Elizabeth Goudge’s book, The Little White Horse. The pony’s other name was “Joy of the Ground,” which described both him and the flower quite aptly. I say this because the first time I saw a periwinkle in real life, I knew it was one without being told.
That first time was as a college student. In college I joined a LARPing group and started doing interesting braidy things to my hair, and I would pick the periwinkles near my off-campus house and poke them into the braids. They wilted almost immediately, but I liked to think they added nice pops of color to the braids. I might have been wrong about that, though. They might have just looked like soggy purple tissue paper or something. After college, I made myself my favourite dress out of periwinkle coloured fabric.
I sat with Saturday’s periwinkle and wordlessly reminisced with it about all these things, and then I noticed a couple of unopened buds nearby. A couple of them were brand new, evidently, and weren’t even purple yet, but white. A third had taken on the pigment of the true flower, but was still wrapped up tightly. And then there were some older blooms than the one I had been fellowshiping with. They were starting to look tired, and ready to make way for new, younger flowers, but their hue was deeper and truer than ever.
I thought about this, and about my history with the periwinkle. All of these versions–the buds, the flower in full bloom, and the aging flower–were periwinkles. They fulfilled their periwinkleness progressively, however, and more and more fully as they reached full bloom. All they needed was to stay rooted (and not impulsively plucked and tucked into someone’s hair) to live truly as periwinkles.
Then I thought about my own progression into the calling and professions I’m in now–this place where I’m honoured to help, by God’s grace, look after people’s souls. I’ve always been Jennwith2ns, but I could tell you just what periods of my life I’ve been the timid, pigmentless bud, and which other ones I was showing truer colours but still tightly wound. Now, it seemed to me, maybe I am entering full bloom. I don’t say this with arrogance, but maybe with wonder–and a little relief–and a lot of hope. The quiet momentousness of Saturday–graduating quietly in a park in the sunshine after reminiscing with a simple purple flower–made me feel like the flower itself.
I guess that’s the kind of thing that happens when one contemplates the Word in His world.