Holding the Mystery

Posted on June 14th, 2017

Supervision is an integral part of the ongoing professional development of spiritual directors at every level of experience and practice - from those just beginning as spiritual directors to those that have been working as spiritual directors for many years. ​Antonia Lynn, an experienced supervisor and spiritual director leads supervision groups and supervision training for spiritual directors at the Centre.

In our blog today, Antonia explores the role of the supervisor as ‘the mysterious third hand, holding and supporting the mystery of Incarnation.’ using the beautiful icon image below as a reference point.

I wonder what the word supervision means to you? Many years ago, as a newly-fledged hospital chaplain, I understood supervision as the process in which I’d be advised what to do and - hopefully - be shown how to make good my mistakes. When I trained as a spiritual director, and later as a pastoral supervisor myself, I came to a much fuller and richer understanding of this beautiful and vital ministry.

The icon might help to explain. Have another look… did you notice that strange third hand? There’s a long, miraculous story behind the icon, which you can pursue for yourself: for now I want to share with you what the image means to me as a supervisor for spiritual directors. The focus of the icon is Mary holding her Child in tender stillness; he sits poised on her arm, his hand raised in blessing. She gazes at him in loving contemplation. The heart of the matter is the directee’s contemplative relationship with the incarnate God, however he or she might experience or express this. Next, with her open hand Mary is affirming and drawing attention to this precious relationship. Her gesture ensures that the cradling of the Child is the dynamic centre of the icon. This style of icon is called Hodogetria – ‘the one who points the way’; for me this symbolises the role of the spiritual director who notices and reflects back what he or she sees of God coming to birth in the directee’s life, helping the directee discern where God is calling and leading.

And then, the mysterious third hand, holding and supporting the mystery of Incarnation. This for me is the hand of the supervisor. It represents the healing (whole-making ) nature of supervision in spiritual direction, which ultimately underpins and enables the directee’s transforming contemplation of the incarnate God. So, as a spiritual director in relationship with a supervisor I will be reminded of the wide and sacred context in which I work: the building of God’s kingdom of love. I will be reminded too of professional standards and Gospel values so that I will work with growing integrity; this in turn will deepen in those I accompany the sense of their infinite worth to God as we keep our eyes on the spacious horizon of God’s grace.

Supervision offers a safe, creative space where I can be affirmed, stretched and restored. In a supervision group I can find fellowship and support and draw on the wisdom of others. I can learn new skills and refresh familiar ones; I begin to make them my own, to live and breathe out of them. I am helped to grow into the unique spiritual director I am called to be, free to pay attention to the unique directee before me. I am put back in touch with the place of the heart, my deepest desire that drew me into this ministry in the beginning. I am helped to recover the parts of me – vision and gifts – that may have got lost or fragmented when ministry has been a struggle. On this holy ground I can choose to be myself. And the more I grow into freedom, the more will those whom I accompany: growing in the likeness of God.

I cannot imagine serving as a spiritual director without supervision. Indeed, the receiving of regular supervision is part of the Code of Practice of our Community of Spiritual Directors. One of my greatest joys and privileges is to offer supervision to others, and I facilitate some of the many supervision groups held here at the Centre. Please ask for details! We also provide training in supervision skills for experienced spiritual directors - I’ve just been involved in running such a course here - so if you feel drawn to this do get in touch to register your interest, so that we can let you know when the next course will be. The Centre is always being asked for help in finding a supervisor - we need more - so why not consider whether this might be a vocation for you?

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