I'm coming to the end of the first year of my course in spiritual accompaniment. It's been a wonder-ful year, characterized by deep listening - to one another, and to the Inner Guide Who speaks to us from the core of our Being.
I recall one activity with particular gratitude...
First, we were asked to spend several minutes looking at a flower - to behold it with the same care and loving appreciation with which God beholds us. We were reminded of the verse in Genesis, "God saw all that God had made, and it was very good".
As I observed the flower, I found myself able to be present with it and to avoid labelling and judgments. The flower didn't have to do anything to earn my acceptance. It didn't have to look a certain way. Its Is-ness was enough.
That is how God looks upon us.
After a few minutes, we were invited to take a mirror (or mobile phone selfie camera) and to look at our own face with the same attention, care and acceptance we had just been giving to the flower.
It surprised me that I was able to look at myself without judgments. I think I may have struggled without the preparation of observing the flower first. When I am not watchful, my mind may default to labelling, comparing, judging - both myself and others. But gazing at the flower stilled my mind. This enabled me to see with Christ's vision. Without effort, I looked on the flower with the eyes of Love.
This is how we are called to be with people. And this is what all of us hunger for - to be seen with eyes of Love; listened to with ears of Love. This, for me, is a primary and essential part of spiritual accompaniment. If we can't look upon the person we're walking alongside with eyes of Love; if we can't suspend our judgment as they share with us, how can we be of service to them?
Many people - probably most people - feel unworthy, at least at certain times in their lives. This feeling of unworthiness may be conscious or unconscious. We feel we need to earn acceptance - from the world, from our self, even from God.
In the Christian tradition, a lot of emphasis is placed on our sinfulness. Take the words of the Jesus prayer: "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Yes, we've acted without Love - that is, independently of God. But is our sinfulness really what defines us?
If we feel we aren't enough, how can we be joyful and at peace? And if we don't love and accept ourselves - not in a conceited way, but in the sense of accepting our inherent goodness and honouring our needs - how will we be able to love our neighbour as our Self? The two go hand-in-hand.
We need reminding over and over that we are created in God's image. God's creation is inherently worthy. We are inherently worthy. Not because of anything we achieve or accomplish. Not because we do good deeds. But simply by virtue of what we are.
Photo credit: Eva Parr
Peter Parr: Quaker, writer and former member of the British minigolf team. (Actually those are all just roles I play. Words can't describe who any of us really are.)