The Perils of Good Advice

We all love to give others the benefit of our advice. That hard-won wisdom, that special insight, the experience we, and we alone, have gained, how wonderful to share it all with others! The trouble is, anyone whose advice is worth having will probably wait to be asked but far too many of us proffer our advice unasked. Take social media, for example. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve mentioned something, the planting of a new hedge say (species already decided upon), and received in return masses of alternative suggestions, including plans so vast and expensive that I’m left wondering whether Twitter or Facebook or whatever is inhabited solely by multi-millionaires. As nuns, I think we often come in for more than our fair share of this kind of advice, especially from those who assume we know nothing and need to be guided. There is, however, a more perilous form of good advice, and I’m sorry to say nuns can be just as guilty of giving it as anyone else: spiritual advice.

Spiritual Advice

I come from a community that has always been chary of giving spiritual advice and expressly rejects the role of spiritual director for any of its members. The reason for that is partly historical, partly a recognition that none of us has the qualities required of a spiritual director. Others do; we don’t. Occasionally, I ask myself whether some of the posts in this blog overstep the mark, but as any advice given is general, not particular, and is closely linked to scripture, the Church’s tradition and the Rule of St Benedict, I can quieten my conscience. Please note, however, that the three things I have cited — scripture, the Church’s tradition and the Rule of St Benedict — all have an objective character. We may try to put a personal interpretation on them but they are independent entities, so to say, to be respected and understood, not forced into a mould that is inherently untruthful.

Classical Monasticism

Earlier this week I wrote a short post about what I called classical monasticism. Discussion, both online and off, has been interesting. Those who live in traditional monasteries have, by and large, shared some of my concerns about attempts to call ‘monastic’ anything anyone chooses to think monastic. Others have argued that my understanding of monasticism is too narrow and given me quite a lot of advice about how we should change things here at Howton Grove. Oddly enough, these suggestions have come from those who’ve never actually been here or, as far as I know, lived in the kind of monastery I’ve lived in for almost 40 years. I have thanked them for their advice, thought and prayed about it (the Holy Spirit, after all, has a way of shaking up our ideas) and then dismissed it as being based on some serious misconceptions about what monastic life is and what it is intended to achieve in the lives of those who live it. I hope that is not arrogant of me, but what is a caution to me may be to you as well.

A Warning

Do not trust every spiritual guide. Do not take all advice as being good, especially as we draw closer to Holy Week. The devil still masquerades as an angel of light, by which I mean that what appears good on the surface may not be as good underneath. I believe that if we cling to the scriptures, the sacraments, the tradition of the Church (and I mean the Church’s tradition, not the different versions of it some have concocted for themselves), we cannot go far wrong. And that, my friends, is my good advice for you!

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8 thoughts on “The Perils of Good Advice”

  1. Thank you for this sensible advice! Quite right. I know I bristle when someone tries to „point me in the right direction“ without knowing much about me or my life up till now. So I bite my tongue as well as I can when I feel the urge to give advice. Hard to do sometimes, tho!

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  2. I cringe when I am asked for advice, usually in relation to a police matter, so I respond by saying I retired in 2007 and any knowledge I had is completely out of date. I am also wary when ‘experts’ are paraded before us in the media. When it comes to faith matters, I tend to point people to the Catechism. For myself I consult a very good book by Antony Towey, ‘An Introduction to Christian Theology’.

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  3. Often the best “advice” is the one that encourages discernment in the listener/reader. And that’s what your posts do very well! Thank you for that!

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  4. Thank you. Those of us who are spiritual guides know how perilous the way is, which is all to the good. And – yes, one of the first things you learn is to be a listener rather than an imparter of all the wonderful truths you are longing to share. Spiritual direction may be something that is “forbidden” in your case; but thank God, His wisdom is not limited to those who have a label on the jar So thanks for your unwitting spiritual guidance!

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  5. Someone told me a long time ago to always give two pieces of advice when asked for it. That way, the person must decide for themselves what they do with it….. and perhaps it has the added advantage that once they’ve followed or rejected your advice, they can’t blame you if the result isn’t what they’re happy about!

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  6. I got to go to church yesterday! Sadly it was for a funeral, but it was the first time in well over a year I’ve engaged in collective worship – and it was a lovely service, knowing that the deceased had carefully chosen the music and readings she most thought would bring her (not especially ‘churched’) family closer to God, and provide comfort for our loss. It was so special to hear even a brief sermon…

    So while spiritual ‘advice’ might well be on shaky ground, it did make me realise how helpful having even some ‘spiritual nudging and encouragement along the path’ can be…

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