A SLO Day: Spiritual Direction + A Tribute to Abbot David

I am re-posting this one from last January,
in honor of Abbot David Geraerts,
my spiritual director and friend,
who died on Friday morning.

These are some words I wrote to some friends earlier today about my response to receiving this sad news:
My mentor died on Friday. He was 77 years old – only 10 years older than I am – 
and he’d battled a number of ailments this past year. But still…I didn’t think he would DIE.

We all die. 

I know this in my head. 
I even know it in my heart, 
as we’ve lost a lot of dear ones in the last 10 years. 
Yet each time I get a phone call like the one I got on Friday afternoon, I am bereft. Like part of me has been sliced with a very sharp blade and all that pours out are tears.

I took my usual evening walk on Friday, walking circles around our large driveway parking area. I’ve been learning to pray while I walk this past year – many fewer words, lots more images. But what I found myself doing on Friday was simply saying the name of Jesus, over and over and over again.

And here is why: a friend had posted a very old video on YouTube. A video of the mentor I had just lost. This clip, filmed in 1986, was an interview with Abbot David (who, at that time, led a much larger community in New Mexico) by a nun named Mother Elizabeth. Now may I just add, with a repentant heart and spirit, that if I had seen this video when it was filmed 26 years, I would have either switched it off immediately, or watched it with a sort of gleeful feeling of superiority to those ‘weirdos’ in the habits and collars. I’m ashamed and embarrassed to admit that, but it’s the hard truth.

I watched all 30 minutes of that grainy old video, marveling at the sweetness in David’s face, the kindness of his words and the truth of his life. I met with him monthly for the last three years, receiving spiritual direction in the form of dream interpretation. He was an expert at that and also at encouragement and gentle prayer. In this video, he suggested praying the Jesus prayer (which has been a favorite prayer practice of mine for about ten years) or just simply saying the name of Jesus over and over for 20 or 30 minutes. I have discovered that following Abbot David’s advice is a very helpful thing. (I wrote a post about the benefits of one piece of that advice at the end of January.)

So on that first afternoon after this dear man’s death, that’s what I did when I walked. I cannot put into words how intensely moving it was for me, in these initial hours of grief, to just say the Name over and over and over again. And I wept my way through a 45 minute time of walking, praying, remembering, celebrating. I will never again feel the dear Abbot’s fingers make the sign of the cross on my bent forehead at the end of our hour together. I will not be blessed by his hand when I receive my certificate in spiritual direction next August. I will not engage with him in friendly, loving conversation.

And that is a huge, huge loss to me.

And to so many.

Thank you Abbot David Geraets for your loving commitment to Jesus, for your years of kindness, wisdom and gentle correction, for your heart as big as the sky above the ranch you and the brothers live(d) in out in the back country of San Luis Obispo.

I will be grateful for your presence in my life during these pivotal years in mine until the day I die.

And then I will hug you fiercely.

SLO stands for San Luis Obispo, a town 115 miles north of my home. 
This was our late-lunch view today, as we traveled home again.
One day each month,
I take a road trip.
This particular road trip is not like 
the other ones I take.
I’m not going to take care of my mother.
I’m not going to enjoy my children and my grandchildren.
I’m not going on vacation.
Strike that.
I am going on a vacation, of sorts.
I am vacating the usual rhythm of my days 
to embrace a different one.
And I find that I am hungry for re-creation as I travel.
I am eager to be addressed as…
Not as wife/mother/grandmother/daughter/
Just me.
Child of God.
Stumbling follower of Jesus.
Seeker after wisdom.
And this is where I go.
A strange looking monastery,
one that used to be the ‘dream house’
of a retired dentist,
but was bought by some monks 
from New Mexico to be their community home. 
The monastery is the long white, 
red-tiled house to the left in this shot. 
To the right of the drive, is the chapel & bookshop
with a couple of additional bedrooms.
To the left of the drive, below the monastery itself,
is the home of Connie, the oblate who lives on the premises
and assists the brothers.
There are only five or six of them now,
praying the hours,
assisting the people of a dozen parishes
with healing prayer, special masses and spiritual direction.
This is where I meet my spiritual director every month.
The sign says it all:
And this is the view from that house, 
in the springtime,
when all the hills are green and the sky is blue.
And this is the man I meet with in that house:
Abbott David.
Spiritual Father to this small band,
and an acclaimed leader in the 
charismatic renewal movement 
 of the Roman Catholic Church.
He is a remarkable man, gifted and humble.
Did I ever tell you how we met?
Now, that’s a great story.
“Once upon a time, there was a tired pastor,
full to overflowing with the needs of her congregation, 
the struggles in her family.
She had tried direction a couple of times,
with mixed results.
“Not a good fit,” was the diagnosis,
whatever that means.
For her, it felt like failure.
And she is not a fan of failure.

So she began to pray about it,
to search for someone.
She even went online, used Google
and found a monastery website.
Not a fancy, bells-and-whistles kind of place,
that website.
And the monastery featured there was over 100 miles away.
But something caught her eye,
her spirit.
 And email responses were invited.
So she sent off a note.
“Is there anyone there interested and available
to offer direction to a tired
female pastor,
one who needs listening ears,
wise words,
some guidance along the way?”
That was in July of 2007.

Nothing came back.

So, she got on with life,
a life that was feeling a bit overwhelming
about then.
And she forgot all about that note.

One early morning, in September of the following year,
after her initial inquiry,
her cell phone rang.
Puzzled at the early hour, she picked it up.
“Abbott David here,” a strong, friendly voice declared.
“You wrote about spiritual direction?”

And she burst into laughter.
“Yes,” she said. “I did. Over a year ago!

“Really?” came the response. 
“Because I just received this yesterday.
Would you like to meet with me and see if this
might be what you’re looking for?”
They set a date for one week later,
she drove up the 101, took the country road out to 
his place and sat,
absolutely fascinated and astounded as he told
her his story.
Raised on a farm in Wisconsin,
paid his way through college by playing
trumpet in a dance band,
became a priest,
sent by his order to
study in Rome,
specialist in Jungian psychology
and dream analysis.
“If you work with me, you’ll keep a dream journal.
And that’s what we’ll talk through each month.”

She was hooked – line, sinker, bobble, lure – 
the whole kit and caboodle.
“Thank you, Jesus,” she cried to the heavens as she headed south again 
at the end of the hour.

Before their next visit,
there was a tragic death in her immediate family.
And before the following visit,
there was a ferocious wildfire in her community,
stripping lifetime memories from many in her congregation.
Within the first year, she herself landed in the hospital, was forced to make a major shift in her own training
program to become a director herself,
and by the second year, she was enrolled in the Abbott’s school for spiritual direction certification.
Not sure that she lived happily ever after,
but deeper ever after? That would be a big ‘yes.'”

Now I would call that whole tale
a God-thing.
My friend Jennifer might call it “God-Bumps” or a “God-Incidence.”
All I can tell you is that my entire spiritual journey
took a decisive turn upward from the moment
I heard that voice on the phone:
“Abbot David here. You wrote….?”

Abbott David leading mass in the monastery chapel.
Today, I had only one dream for the month.
Of my own, that is.
I also shared a tricky one from someone I am directing.
Somehow, this kind, brilliant man
(who has been seriously ill this year)
wove those two together, asked me some penetrating
questions, and helped me think about myself
in some new ways.
“You’ve spent your whole life relying on your left brain, Diana, your intellect. 
It’s time to learn to trust your gut, your intuition. 
You need to spend long stretches of time just sitting and looking at the ocean.
Do that long enough so that eventually, you find yourself on the other side of the picture – you’ll be the ocean, looking back at you. 
And take a look at what you see when that happens.
I think you’ll like what you find.
Be still long enough to let the beauty in,
to let God in,
to shift inside from reason to intuition.
Learn to trust that,
to know that God meets you there, too.
This is the gift of aging, Diana.
There is gift in all of life.”
I sure hope he’s right.
I’m counting on it. 
Stopping at Costco on our way home this evening,
I looked up from loading the bags into the back of the car and saw this. 
My gut said, “Grab that camera, even if it is the little one, 
even if the picture won’t be sharp.”
So I did.
The gift of the present moment.
Right brain all the way
Joining with Jennifer and her “God-Bumps” meme. And with Ann and Jen, too.

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  1. What a beautiful post – the word and visual pictures are a treat. Learning to trust my right brain, too 🙂 I also love the perfection of timing – fourteen months until a reply. What a symbol for the slowing down, the patience, the listening … the rightness of it all. So needed to read this tonight. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Holy Toledo, Carolyn – you are up LATE! How the heck are you? Thanks for stopping by, friend. Miss your face around here. (Your whole family, too. :>)

  3. Lovely post. It speaks for many of us who have sought out spiritual direction and welcomed the many surprises that arrive with that relationship. Thank you.

    PS – I also love when you write as poetry rather than prose. It captures me.

  4. Diana, when I read your posts, I always feel like I’ve spent time with God and with one of His Most Treasured Daughters. You bless me! You teach me. You guide me. You inspire me. Many, many thanks.


  5. As an official “senior citizen” I can testify to the deep wisdom of this Diana. More and more I am learning that there are priceless riches in the waiting and the quiet. From a rather “works oriented” frame of reference it is a whole new experience. One I’m working on.

  6. I have always been intrigued by spiritual direction. I love this story of how you met and the lessons you are practicing.


  7. All in God’s good time. I often have to remind myself that my timing is not like God’s… that being impatient to reach my goals or find answers to my endless questions, isn’t going to influence God’s actions. “Be still long enough to let the beauty in, to let God in.” Sometimes I have to stop struggling and lean on the implications of that simple verse, “Be still and know that I am God.”

    After a long and difficult weekend, Diana, this was just the right post for me to find.

  8. Diana ~

    Just gorgeous. What a beautiful story you’ve woven together. Scratch that. What a beautiful story GOD has woven together. And then He was gracious enough to give you the gift of sharing it so beautifully.

    I’m honored that this story is linked up in community at Getting Down With Jesus. I enjoyed it so much. You minister to me in a hundred different ways, my friend.

    Much love to you. …

  9. A story within a story, of meeting Abbott David, and then acting on a right-brain impulse.

  10. Diana, this touches me so much (you’ll see why in my post next week). But just reading this revived my soul. I’m about to head to the mountains–my ocean. I will sit and see.

    Oh, and that last photo is my favorite, waviness and all.