Heavenly lifelines

Newcastle locals, Benita Tait and Deacon Kevin Gadd have long possessed an interest in the divine.  At the time COVID-19 first emerged, they were one year into a four-year course to become spiritual directors. Fast forward to 2023 and some might say their graduation from the course last November, alongside nine others, is a ‘God send’.

When people encounter hardship, times of unease, or prolonged periods of uncertainty, the experience can yield various outcomes. In the wake of COVID-19 being declared a global pandemic, scientists sought to understand whether its life-altering presence would influence, amongst other things, people’s attitudes, spiritual practices, and religious beliefs.

One of those scientists was Australian social researcher, Mark McCrindle, who in 2020 surveyed 1,000 people for a project entitled Australia’s Changing Spiritual Climate. His research revealed that about a third had thought about God more, and almost half of Australians had thought more about the meaning of life.

McCrindle’s findings on the uptake of spirituality were echoed in research undertaken by National Church Life Survey, which surveyed 1,3000 Australians during the pandemic and found that 45 per cent had drawn on spiritual practices during 2020. Of these, 15 per cent had drawn more on spiritual practices in 2020 compared to 2019.

While it would seem the worst of the pandemic is now behind us here in Australia, locally the demand for spiritual directors continues to grow. So, how can a spiritual director assist those whose experiences have them yearning for more connection, contemplating the meaning of life, or experiencing a calling towards God?

According to Reverend Malcolm Drake, a facilitator of the Emmanuel Spiritual Formation course undertaken by Benita and Deacon Kevin, this type of faith-led guidance has long been part of the Christian landscape and can assist us all to pay better attention to God’s communication.

“Spiritual guidance helps you attend to and move with the spirit in your life and encourages you to go deeper and discover what you are called to do,” Reverend Malcolm said.  

Benita’s own experiences with a spiritual director have deepened her evolving relationship with God and were especially helpful in offering her great solace following the deaths of several close family members.

Now that Benita has graduated, she is looking forward to assisting others.

“I am looking forward to sharing my gift with others; to listen and truly be present for them,” Benita said.

“No matter what the reason is for people wanting to come and see me, I will be helping them to look for God in their everyday life and be a listening ear that can reflect back and wonder with them – do they have a sense of God or the sacred in this moment?”

Deacon Kevin adds that for many of us, it can be difficult to navigate certain periods in life and still retain hope and faith.

“There is an element of stepping back and allowing the divine to do what it does,” Deacon Kevin said, noting that this can be difficult to do alone and so encourages anyone who needs spiritual support to reach out to a director.

To reach out to a spiritual director within the Maitland-Newcastle diocese, visit www.mn.catholic.org.au/church-mission/catholic-life/spirituality/spiritual-directors-and-ministry-supervisors to find a list of who’s available.

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Lizzie Watkin

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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