When I woke up that morning and thought about the day, a 9- hour drive was not on the list of things to do. Later in the airport I learned the scheduled flight was not going to work out. What to do?
So, it came to pass in the summer of 1989, that I found myself driving to Washington, DC. I was headed to the Shalem Institute of Spiritual Formation. I was driving alone. An adventure!
In truth you could say that the drive had begun 6 or 7 years before at Regis College, the Jesuit college in the Toronto School of Theology. By some miracle of Grace, while in a conservative Anglican seminary, I wound up with a Jesuit spiritual director. He, and the elective courses I chose, introduced me to St. Ignatius, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis — in other words, the ‘Sturm und Drang’ of God’s Glory alive and shining in the human soul.
It was as if the hand of God acquired fingerprints through the written witness of these and other saints. I knew little or nothing of their patched robes, genius, literary legacy or life stories.
These saints told me that the soul is an open book to God. Would the Spirit read this book to me? How does one listen to God reading the book of the soul?
One day I walked by a pile of books on a college table. Amongst the jumble I saw The Collected Works of John of the Cross. Drawn to the book, a fine and interesting volume, I decided to leave it for someone more knowledgeable of the subject. Each day I saw the pile of books slowly melting away, until finally after three weeks, virtually all the books were gone except of course – St. John of the Cross. If any book other than the Bible has changed my life it would be this book.
A couple of years later (do you see how patient Jesus can be with us?) my wife was given a book by a Quaker friend (no pun intended) – Spiritual Friend by Tilden Edwards, then Director of the Shalem Institute. Through Tilden’s writing I heard something like the echo of God’s reading the book of the soul. A year after that I applied to the Shalem program and a year after that, I entered the spiritual direction program.
The entire drive was bliss. Throughout the nine hours I spoke hardly a word to anyone. I felt guided through the night by the radio. About an hour outside of Washington, the astonishing blues of Stevie Ray Vaughn consecrated the moment, the unknown, the adventure, the “mystery of faith.” I had never heard of him. Was this a ‘reading’ of the book of the soul?
The supercharged blues brought the journey over the finish line, over Jordan.
I made my way through the silence of the building, meeting no one — but guided by notes written in expectation of my arrival. At 3:00 a.m., I stood in front of my bedroom door which bore a handwritten note: “Welcome Max – This is your room.”
The Venerable Max Woolaver is the Rector of St. Andrew’s (Grimsby) and Archdeacon of Lincoln.