Spiritual Director Profile: Tod Twist
Meeting God at the edge of the desert
How did I come to Spiritual Direction? I backed into it. No matter how we talk about mileage or baggage, life catches up with all of us. By the time I hit my 40’s, I was dealing with serious accumulated stuff in my life, and when I turned the corner into my 50’s, I really didn’t have a choice about facing up to what was bringing me down. It was obvious to everyone—including me.
The long road to nowhere—waking up in the desert
I suppose that you could say it was a sort of desert time for me. Part of what had me stuck was some of the usual midlife stuff–my own version of not getting to become a ballerina or an astronaut when I grew up. But also mixed in there was the wear-and-tear of the hard miles along the way. Now, I’ve had some experiences that would be hard on anyone—real life-and-death type situations—but in retrospect, I don’t think that the catastrophes were the real problem. The real problem was that I tended to make all the other miles along the way harder than they needed to be—way harder. And by that, I mean I was always seeing the downside of things. Always.
So there I was, in my mid-40’s, stuck and sad and sour—dragging the pieces of broken dreams, the shame of confused regrets, and the pain of vague losses. If you could have looked at my life during those years much of my external life would have seemed pretty good, but inside I was embittered and deeply sad. I didn’t choose to enter my desert; I awoke to find myself there. I saw it everywhere I looked, and I felt it in everything I touched.
To be honest, I’ve never really been attracted to the desert as a metaphor for spiritual life. Even though some Scripture stories about the desert do have nice resolutions—like when Moses saw the burning bush and Jesus successfully overcame his temptations—things were brutally hard along the way. Then other desert stories just seem like real downers all the way though, like Israel’s wandering in the desert for 40 years until most of them died off. To me, the desert just seemed difficult (and long—do not forget how long it all lasts).
Finally I began to see that things were going to have to change, and that the way out of my desert was going to be through my desert. In my desert I was led into times of solitude—and God met me there. In my desert I was led into retreats and meditation where I spent time in God’s presence, and it helped. Just like God never abandoned Israel in the wilderness, God did not abandon me in my desert.
Lessons from the desert—small steps for a slow learner
God began my healing there in my desert—on God’s terms, though, not mine. I have learned that I am not healed into convenience or success; I am healed into a new version of life that’s designed to keep me out of the old deadly slog that had me trapped. Healing doesn’t fit into tidy narratives of restoration and redemption, but life begins going on again. For me, healing has meant that I’ve had to get re-acquainted with myself in the aftermath of all that has come before.
And I’ve learned stuff, stuff like this:
God comes to me in the specifics of my life—through my senses. The different kinds of cool breezes throughout the day; the way that frogs hop through grass and birds hop through bushes; the way that sand clings to my fingertips before it dries and falls away.
I’m happy when I can lose myself in work that I do with my hands. It keeps me tethered when I start to float away on my thoughts. It’s not a perfect fit, but I find myself happier when I’m moving and doing things.
When I seek God right now—today—God always meets me. God doesn’t meet me yesterday or tomorrow, only today. That, I suppose, is why the story of my life has always driven me crazy—it’s always about what happened before and what’s supposed to happen later, instead of noticing what’s happening right now.
Meeting God in the desert—with some help from a friend
Those life lessons—simple as they are—came to me the hard way over long years. It really helped, though, when I began looking at things with the help a spiritual companion. I had to learn to accept where God was actually meeting me rather than where I thought it was supposed to happen. I had to learn to recognize God’s presence in the midst of everything that was getting in the way.
There, in my desert, I encountered God’s presence. As I have continued, I find that the theme of God’s presence keeps re-appearing, along with the mirror theme of my own presence to God and others. That focus on presence—God’s presence to me and my presence to God—is the center of my agenda as a spiritual companion. When I sit with people, I encourage attention to experience, to energy, to peace. God is meeting each of us all the time, but we often rush by because we just don’t notice.
My desert outpost—between town and tumbleweeds
I wouldn’t say that I live in my desert anymore, but I do live on the edge of it, now by choice rather than necessity. Part of my daily practice is a time of Centering Prayer, and the best metaphor that I have for the experience is that I turn my heart towards the desert so that I might perceive God. Then, I return to my life in town for the rest of the day. And things are pretty good there these days.
That’s how I see my life, but your life and your way of looking at things fits you. Life may not be a custom fit, but you are an original, and God is reaching out to you. The job of a spiritual companion is to help you discern how that is happening. I’m grateful for the help that my Spiritual Directors have given me so that I can perceive how God is present to me. It has changed my life.