Now in my 75th year, I finally got myself into spiritual direction. Or just as likely, it’s gotten itself into me. Even that modest move required overcoming of a long-standing preference to manage my spiritual journey without needing outside assistance. Then one of the first problems to arise was the recurrence of a long-standing difficulty with meditation, namely that I couldn’t sustain the silent centering and breathing for more than 2 or 3 minutes before the brain teased and pestered me back into thoughts and schedules. After a week or two of this roadblock, I began to recall that when I’ve shared a silence with others—on retreat or in a small group—I could comfortably deepen into the silence for longer stretches of time without giving in to the distractions. Not having such a group at hand, I hit on a practice that’s helping the meditation problem but bringing other benefits as well. I’ve been calling that practice my “Virtual Meditation Group.”
Here’s how it works. As I light a candle and settle into my prayer corner of the den, I welcome into the space, one by one, 10 of the people who over the last 5, or 25, or50 years have been spiritual exemplars, either in their disciplines or by virtue of their “fruits” and actions. They embody what “rooted and grounded in love” looks like. As I breathe in, I welcome each into the time and space, and on the outbreath I thank God for that person. At present the group consists of 6 women and 4 men. Seven happen to be clergy, 3 laity. Nine are caucasians and there is one person of color. At least one is homosexual. They are Baptist, Quaker, Episcopal, UCC, and Methodist. AND one of the great benefits of the virtual arrangement is that members are not required to be still alive—indeed 3 of my “VMG members” are of the more eternal persuasion.
As you who read this can imagine, it’s significantly easier to sustain a silence in such a company. Sometimes I sense that they’ve arrived in my room and started the group before I get there. Sometimes God calls my attention to one of them in a way that prompts a later phone call.. And recently, a few other people I care about have been in places of crisis, so I welcome them that day into the company for solace and healing and revival—and, for me, an occasional clue about some way I might be led to reach out.
I’ve discovered that the variability implied by “virtual” isn’t limited to membership. Some mornings the group just seems to want to meet in places other than my den: a small chapel in D.C., a retreat space that a few of us have shared, a labyrinth, a Canadian lake, or an Italian hillside.
The term “virtual” refers, of course, to the modern electronic notion that conference calls, Skype, and otherwise semi-imaginary situations can be arranged. But I was pleased to find that one of the meanings in the venerable Oxford English Dictionary is
“2. Capable of producing a certain effect or result; effective, potent, powerful –1683. 3. That is so in essence or effect although not formally or actually . . . .” And so it happens that my “virtual group” has helped me—“in essence or effect”—lengthen the morning silence to 10 or 12 minutes, or even into that hushed place of suspended openness and blessing.
I don’t imagine that any members of Patricia’s “virtual congregation” would be surprised if I mention that she’s a charter member of my VMG.
Virtual greetings from me, and real blessings from God,
Jerry Rardin lived out his pastoral calling in Philadelphia from 1963 until 2007. The first 15 of those years were parish-based (Associate Pastor at First Church, Germantown and Pastor at Grace Church West Oak Lane). The last 30 were as a pastoral counselor with the Samaritan Center, with a special interest in developing clergy consultation groups,
including the one Patricia enriched. Jerry and Sue retired to Concord, Massachusetts in 2007, where Jerry manages to elude retirement by facilitating four more such groups.