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Learning Quiet

August 14, 2017

Gilmore’s in Belfast: Summer 2017IMG_6983

A year ago I received a message asking if I would act as a spiritual director for the lady on the other end of the phone.  Spiritual Direction is probably more practised in the States, whereas, the idea of meeting with a person to seek where God is leading or being present in one’s life is very new in Ireland. 

I was a little hesitant as, after all, I’m more a therapist and I knew the tendency in me to dig and explore together in a Counseling relationship was different from the quietness and less directive approach of a spiritual director.  I also knew the person well from olden days, a woman of vast intelligence, sincerity and analytical in nature.  

I did what I’m learning to do and had an open conversation with her about how this might possible look and we setup some healthy boundaries: I may  slip into psychodynamic mode and would struggle to remain silent; I offered a trial period and if they wanted to leave and find a more gifted director then there was permission for that too.  A date was set.

In our Monthly meetings this is what I’ve learnt:

  • Stillness is beautiful as I listen to my breathe and hear my heart beat.  
  • Minutes of quiet without a word is rich.  
  • Every month I’m actually left stunned that questions and words and thoughts are planted by God.  I do zero preparation, barely any prayer leading into it and yet, God is present and challenging both our lives.

A word was selected that summed up what she needed in her life this year: ‘Permission’.  Permission to say No.  Permission not to follow the pathway that society pushes you along.  Permission to try new adventures.  Permission to laugh more.  

I liked the word so much that I made it into my blocks that sits above my sink.  Having no dishwasher for a few months (😢) I wash dishes with assigned child on rota and give us both permission to moan, talk and allow child to talk about whatever is big that day for them.

Permission Blocks

Each month in this “spiritual time” with the lady we discuss books, music, parents, early mornings and faith.  I have learnt bundles of grace and serenity from observing her life.  I read the books she suggests, and her company in this faith journey is a blessing.  I love how uniquely God works in that quiet space for one hour each month.

All of this is in direct contrast to some of the people before and after.  Many of the clients walking down the hallway of East Belfast Mission, lack those boundaries that we set, have no permission to open themselves up to the vulnerable that lies within their very core.  Too frightened, too rigid, too hardened to allow the Spirit to soothe and warm their souls.  I’ve been troubled by the high level off anger in one client.  I see pain in secrets never shared in case it erupts the relationships, and I see how death leaves a tsunami of grief.  

The violence of Belfast war years still lies dormant, easily set off by Brexit, failed governments, injustice.  I hear the grief from a mother whose child was gunned down many years ago but the lifelong devastation it brought to them still like yesterday.  I see how the secret of an affair tears the fabric of family life.  

If I can feel the presence of God in my spiritual direction role, then why can I not feel Him with the angry person?  

The advantage with the lady during spiritual direction is, of course, the shared Christian faith that has both unhinged us in the past and is now being re-made, renewed.  She also comes with great self awareness.  The majority of my present case load lack that vital need – who are you? what are you about? Where do you belong? what journey are you on?

I suppose I need permission to keep in check the lack of opportunities that many face to explore themselves, and keep balanced that God can be present.  I need that permission again to sit with the angry person, understand where they come from, that they have not been offered the same opportunities that I have to explore my heart and mind.  I believe I’m called to this ministry; to graciously offer them acceptance, space and invite each to explore their vulnerabilities, resolve negative patterns and give them permission to invite stillness.  

Funding Issues:

We have two new counsellors working at East Belfast Mission.  Victor is on student placement, and Stephanie is working towards accreditation.  They join Eileen, Norma, Stuart and Janet (all volunteers), and myself.  Together, we offer around 40 hours of free Counselling services to the community around the Mission.  However, we have no funding and feel concerned 

about future roles.  We would like EBM to fund a salary or be able to raise money in order to provide the stability we need.  This is a matter of prayer.


The children (Ellie 12, Emily 10 and Jake 5) are enjoying summer holidays.  We managed to travel to the Isle of Wight and unto Denmark to join American friends for a joint holiday.  Great to catch up and explore the city, laugh, eat picnics and raise our shared 7 kids for this week.  Tiring but fun. 😊

Until the Fall, may you grant yourself permission to be who you really are,


Alison, Britt, Ellie, Emily & Jake

Pictures from our Summer: Tree House Building, Mum’s Quiet Space and Plenty of Tree Climbing (Which ended Jake in Hospital last night – only stitches, thankfully!!)




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