I sit each morning at my window that faces east toward the rising sun. Behind and sometimes around me is an antique quilt, passed down to me by Betsy, my spiritual director of nearly 25 years, who died suddenly on Good Friday. She had been in a process of recuperation for the past five months, and we had spoken a few times on the phone, but we had scheduled face to face appointments for the next three months. Instead of seeing her in person, I will be sitting with her spirit in the space she blessed for me with her generous gift.
She embodied the spiritual director as a Quilter in my life, taking ragged, old pieces of experience and belief, and with skill and patience helped me to envision and live into my own ongoing present life with the Holy, a wholeness, a work of art. We came from differing faith traditions. Initially our callings were very different–mine in public ministry, hers in intimate spiritual direction. Our family systems were a contrast in culture, size and sensibility. Yet from the start we were united in our quest for an intentional life of Spirit.
I have been musing these past days over all that I learned in my hours with Betsy. With the gospel writer I could say that if I were to recall everything, the world itself would not be able to contain it. However, as I grieve and remember, I keep assembling “squares”in the quilt that was gathered together in the years of our shared spiritual journey.
- She expanded my perception of the spiritual to include the visual arts. We began by using the sand tray, a tool from Jungian psychology which helps the seeker choose objects in her own arrangement that reflect the journey of the soul. I did not feel at all adept in this exercise, but I did begin to see that the material world could be an outer image of my interior one. Then as I risked trying to express my soul in collage, she encouraged me enthusiastically often pointing out things that I had not observed about where my heart was.
- She did not use the word Grace freely, but for me, she embodied it. Her welcoming presence, her compassionate listening, her gentle course correction when I got tangled up in my own frenzy, sadness and despair, were all manifestations of the Grace of the Holy One. After a life full of experienced judging and criticism, I found a place of Spirit where I was my longings for the Holy One were accepted just the way they were; she offered more compassion for me than I was able to have for myself.
- She was generous with her time, her space and her resources. Often after we met she would follow up with a notation on something we had pondered about together or readily loaned a book or resource. I never felt hurried or rushed in her presence, except by my own tight agenda.
- She exemplified for me what a spiritual director actually was, not someone who “directed,” but someone who accompanied me as my life unfolded, and helped my see how the Spirit might be at work in and through me.
- She trusted the Holy One implicitly and explicitly, and knew that “all will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” When my mother died, she was able to companion me in a way that both acknowledged the loss and gave hope for the days ahead. When I wrestled with the unknowing future, she brought a serenity rooted to the Spirit that allowed me to rest in the unknowing.
She often remarked on the fact that we were two Elizabeths seeking a spiritual path in the Christian tradition together. And in her loss I have peace as I mourn in the words of the Elizabeth in the gospel of Luke, who when entrusted with the momentous event in the life of her cousin Mary who was to be the Christ-bearer, sang with joy: Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of that which was spoken to her by the Lord. (Luke 1:45). Betsy believed that she was in the hands of the Holy One in all parts of her life, and her belief nurtured and nourished my belief. When I sit on my couch each morning, I will believe that Betsy’s life here has been fulfilled, and is still being fulfilled in my own. I am grateful!
A tribute full of grace. “Go tell Elizabeth — she’ll understand. Go tell Elizabeth — she’ll hold your hand.” I think it is possible to continue to do that, even without her physical presence.
Jan Gough said:
Oh, beloved friend! I am holding you in your grief…and in your brave and truthful expression of paradoxical gratitude… hinting already at resurrection joy.
More when I am able.
With much love, gratitude and sympathy, Jan (one blessed to have marvelled very early on at Betsy’s wise and gentle guidance which allowed you to create- and to share- your collages-of-Spirit!)
25 years?? What a great gift, Elizabeth.