Mentors as Spiritual Directors

  • Don Payne
  • Dec 1, 2004

What metaphor would best capture your tendencies and strengths as a mentor? Mentors are sometimes search engines (to borrow internet lingo), who help others access information and experiences that will enrich their perspectives. Mentors can also be acoustical tiles who absorb and balance the cries of pain and struggle. At other times mentors are cattle prods who help others past inertia and fear in order to take appropriate risks. Whatever metaphor fits best, each of these functions is vital to personal formation. Effective mentors cultivate the ability to sense what a mentee needs at a particular time. However, these metaphors and functions do not encompass everything that another person needs in a mentoring relationship.  

Consider adding to your mentoring profile the metaphor of a harpooner. Eugene Peterson draws this imagery from Herman Melville's famous novel Moby Dick to characterize the way pastors should be keenly attentive to what is going on in people's lives; to read between the lines. The harpooner appeared to be the least active member of the whaling crew. Yet, the harpooner was no less engaged than those frantically rigged the sails. The harpooner had to be able to read the subtle signs that a whale was near, then capture that pregnant moment. 

As a mentor, this metaphor calls for our listening skills and our attentiveness to another person. But there is more. It's listening for something; listening for the subtle but profound movements of God in a life. It's looking for those fleeting moments of openness when a person's path may be recalibrated by just one degree that ends up making the big difference down the line. It's drawing attention to what is happening just under a person's conscious radar; helping the mentee see God's activity and respond to it. This is a small piece of what some traditions call spiritual direction. Whether your mentoring strength and tendency is to be a "search engine," an "acoustical tile," or a "cattle prod," seek also to be a spiritual director (the harpooner). This mentoring role may very well be the control center for the other roles, discerning and directing the other types of interaction we have with students.

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