By David Booram
Several years ago, I was working through my annual January planning process. It led me through the standard questions: What are my priorities? My values? What do I want more of? Less of? And then I turned the page and was confronted with a question I’d not considered in a VERY long time.
Who are my role models?
Role models? For some reason, the question landed somewhere in me as one of those surprising invitations that I wasn’t expecting. After all, I was in my early 60’s and the thought of wanting or needing a role model seemed like something that belonged to my much younger self. Really? A role model for someone in their last third of life?
However, as I thought about the question, it seemed compelling to me. We all need someone who has traveled somewhere similar to where we find ourselves. Someone who has lived a life we’re drawn to. A person who inspires our curiosity, questions, and courage. As I looked back over my life, I could spot several role models who had been that for me over the years. Maybe I wasn’t done looking.
This question prompted me to be intentional in identifying a spiritual mentor and now it’s become part of my annual practice. I have to say that I find it more stimulating and transforming than my Word of the Year, which, by the way, is wonderment.
As I survey my past selections, they are monks and mystics; ones who challenged orthodoxy; individuals who were relentless in their pursuit of living authentic, unscripted lives. They are men and women like Thomas Merton, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Dorothy MacLean, Frank Laubach, Gunilla Norris, Saint John of the Cross.
This year, my spiritual mentor is Brother David Stendl-Rast. He is known as the guru of gratitude, but he is so much more than that. I’ve been deeply enriched already and the first month of the year is not even over!
So, just in case you feel drawn to this idea, let me share a few things I’ve learned along the way about journeying with my spiritual mentor:
If they’ve written (and most have), purchase a good stock of their writings to have on hand for the year ahead.
If there is a biography or auto-biography, consider starting with that. It will give a narrative and historical context for their other life work and contributions.
You may want to keep a separate journal for your engagement with their life and thoughts.
Keep a photo of your spiritual mentor somewhere that will remind you of their presence with you.
You may even consider a pilgrimage to somewhere significant to them. For instance, many who journey with Merton find their way to Gethsemane, the home of his monastic community.
So, how about you? Are you too old for a role model? Or is it time to journey with someone you admire, who inspires you as they’ve walked a similar road?