Spiritual Accompaniment with Men – by Scott Swanson

Scott SwansonI have been part of a supervision group of spiritual directors for the last four years or so.  The group consists of eight women … and me. This is in part due to the branch of the Christian tradition where I live. Most of the other directors would identify as United Church – as do I. (If I were a Roman Catholic, there might be a few priests in the group, and thus a few more men.)  As I think back to my cohort of the Pacific Jubilee Program’s Soulguiding, fully one quarter of the participants were men.  As with congregational participation in “mainline” churches like The United Church, so with Pacific Jubilee:  men are largely absent.  (Kudos to the Pacific Jubilee leadership for having equal men and women!)

Although I did not plan it this way, most of the people I work with (about three quarters) in my practice of accompaniment, are men.  All of them are clergy, which means they represent a small subset of a small subset of the total male population.  In the summer of 2015 I began a new ministry initiative directed toward men called Manifest (www.manifestonline.org ).  In working to establish this ministry I experienced how difficult it is to get men – even men in the church – to invest in their spiritual lives in “churchy” ways.  The same factors that may keep most men from pursuing spiritual direction in particular also keep them from a general exploration of their spirituality.  A couple of the realities that can get in the way are:

1) the dominant expressions of masculinity in our culture do not encourage men to talk about their feelings or their spirituality, or even to be aware that they have an interior life, much less know what is going on there;

2) many men experience a fairly deep level of distrust toward other men.  We don’t want to appear weak or be judged as “less” than others in the group.  Many of us, if we are willing to speak openly to anyone, would probably choose women because we perceive them to be safer.

Of course men have souls and spirits just as women do – even if many of us are not encouraged to connect with those parts of ourselves very often.

Most of my own early experience of being directed came out of the Ignatian tradition, where praying Bible texts was a central practice.  One of the strengths of the Pacific Jubilee Program is the attention to contemplation and contemplative listening; not only texts, poems, images or songs can be “prayed,” life itself can also be considered contemplatively.  (Of course Ignatian prayer does this too through practices like the examen.)  Sometimes men have an easier time gaining access to their interior life when they reflect on what they do.  Enter contemplation, where our lives and experience become the holy texts of prayer.

Manifest is not only, or even primarily, about spiritual accompaniment in the traditional sense.  But whether I am facilitating a discussion group for men on a theme like mentoring, work or grief, or whether I am sitting one-on-one with a man in a conventional looking direction session, the capacity to reflect contemplatively and listen deeply – not only to the words, but to the spaces in between the words – enriches the conversation and the experience.

Scott is an alum of the Pacific Jubilee Program SoulGuiding~ a two year practical learning program in spiritual growth, soul development and the art of Spiritual Direction. He’s a United Church minister and spiritual director. Scott has worked with men individually and in groups since 2009 – first in military and prison chaplaincy and more recently as a facilitator of gatherings around subjects that include separation and divorce, mentoring, fathering and being fathered, simplicity and compassion, and male rites of passage. You may contact Scott here.