It may seem presumptuous for me to talk about my spiritual autobiography. After all, I am no St. John XXIII or Thomas Merton or Annie Dillard. These and other great writers produced spiritual autobiographies that stand as classic works. My spiritual autobiography serves a more humble purpose.
Writing one’s spiritual autobiography helps a person to acquire some clarity about one’s spiritual journey. In my case, I saw clearly that anger with God has been a bigger theme than I’d realized and that the God of my understanding has been patient and welcoms the argument.
The spiritual autobiography may also help you acquire a broader understanding of God. Through mine, I saw more clearly that my most meaningful encounters with God were not confined to churches or Masses. I have met God in all sorts of other places. A 12-Step meeting room. A trail in Guadalupe National Park. Standing in the presence of Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks. Hearing a recording of Dylan Thomas reciting “Do Not Go gently into That Good Night”. Hearing my grandchildren laugh.
My most significant realization, however, was that my spiritual autobiography was not a story about me. Rather, it was a story about the people who encircle me and have shaped me psychologically and spiritually. It is a story of a community.
That community is made up first of all of family. Loved ones who encouraged and accepted. It is made up of friends past and present, whether they be friends of my youth or friends with whom I am growing old. It is made up of wounded ones who have shared their stories and lessons with me.
That community includes the community of saints. Loved ones who have crossed over. Saints such as Dismas, John XXIII, Teresa of Avila, Damien. All good people who have helped me recover from stumbling.
That community consists of my spiritual mentors. Writers whom I’ve never met but whose writings provided a lamp unto my feet. People like the aforementioned Thomas Merton and Annie Dillard. And especially Henri Nouwen.
My spiritual autobiography also includes heroes. Persons I’ve admired for their courage or honesty. These heroes range from ballplayers like Red Schoendienst to artists like Pete Seeger to wounded healers like Fr. Mychal Judge. Their stories help me through moments when hope is far away
And, yes, there are members of that community who were the source of the wounds and resentments from which I have tried to heal.
As a starting point for your own spiritual autobiography, then, I offer you some guidance from another of my spiritual mentors:
Reflection: Who is on your list of persons who shaped you, spiritually and otherwise?