A Reflection on Spiritual Direction

Arlington District Superintendent, Rev. Cathy Abbott is currently on renewal leave. She has asked clergy from her district to write guest columns for the monthly Arlington District Newsletter while she is away. Rev. Sarah Harrison-McQueen is the Senior Pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Arlington. Sarah provides the July guest column below.

The parable of the ten bridesmaids defines a season of my life that began in 2013. For over six months I met regularly with a local spiritual director to wrestle with the stirrings in my soul telling me to be prepared for a big change in my life. At the start of each session my spiritual director would light a candle and pray St. Patrick’s breastplate. Then, for the next hour we would listen together to the Holy Spirit. We also engaged in some theological head-butting.

I wanted to understand what was stirring in my soul so that I would be ready to say, “yes” to God’s invitation. My director leaned upon God’s sovereign nature to assure me that I didn’t need to understand this stirring in order to respond to it faithfully. Each month we’d go around in circles with my desire to be ready to respond to the grace when it came, and her desire to have me simply trust that nothing I could do would foil God’s plan in my life. These circles were like spirals that expanded my understanding of what God was doing.

One month a member of my congregation came to tell me about a message for me that God gave her in a dream. This parishioner had no idea what had been stirring in my soul, but the vision she shared with me deepened my understanding of what the Holy Spirit had been trying to say. For months on end I felt like I should stay alert, and not grow drowsy while I waited for God to show up with this big change in my life. “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13) I would have felt fatigued and frustrated without my spiritual director as a companion in this season.

Finally, one morning, my phone rang and instantaneously I knew this was the moment God had been preparing my heart for. God showed up through the work of our Bishop and the cabinet. As United Methodists you probably saw the foreshadowing that this story was leading to an unexpected change of appointments. Without six months of preparing my heart to say “yes” to God’s invitation I never would have been able to return the DS’s call with an affirmative answer. On my long list of possible changes in my life moving churches wasn’t one of the options! I called my spouse at work and said, “I figured out what God’s been stirring in me. It means saying goodbye to people we love in order to be part of an incredible vision for ministry in a new church.” Within an hour we had agreed to the move and I felt a shift in my soul. Deep peace replaced the need to feel alert to watch for the big change in my life. I continued meeting with that spiritual director a few more times following that move, but our work together for that season was finished.

Last year, I needed a new spiritual director who could join me in listening closely to the Holy Spirit in this season of my life. These two spiritual directors are very different in many ways. I’ve only met once in person with this spiritual director because she is on the West coast so our sessions happen over zoom. But, we still begin each session by lighting candles – one in her office in California and one in mine in Virginia, to celebrate that the Holy Spirit is with us both as we turn again to God to listen deeply together.


Rev. Sarah Harrison-McQueen
Senior Pastor
Central United Methodist Church