Searching for Pearls
In Matthew 13:45-46 Jesus tells this parable: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (ESV)
In the movie National Treasure, Nicolas Cage is a dashing, cunning, and adventurous treasure hunter. When I ponder this short but powerful parable it occurs to me this is also a great metaphor for what I do as a Spiritual Director. Although I don’t look dashing, cunning or remotely adventurous I like to think of myself as a treasure hunter when I listen to others in Spiritual Direction. If you’ve never heard of Spiritual Direction I think it can be simply defined as one person listening deeply to another’s life as they convey to them their thoughts, circumstances, and feelings, all the while looking for hints of God handiwork. Like the merchant in this parable, Spiritual Directors are looking for the hidden pearl of the great and mysteries Other in the fodder of everyday life.
It seems to me no happy accident that Jesus would use the metaphor of a pearl. Pearls are formed when an irritant (usually a parasite) slips into an Oyster, and in order to protect itself a fluid is released called nacre. This nacre is secreted layer upon layer around the irritant until a lustrous pearl is formed. Knowing how pearls are actually created makes this parable even more nuanced. The irritants of life are often the very things that form us, often revealing who we truly are and what we really believe. These “circumstances” can create hidden pearls waiting to be discovered if only someone cared to search for them and upon finding them bring them to our attention.
Spiritual directors listen, searching through the details and debris of ordinary lives for sparks of the Divine – those luminous pearls created from the irritants, even parasites, that are hidden away waiting to be found. There are so many more hidden pearls out there then anyone realizes! What makes listening transformative is when we listen in a way that helps another discover the hidden pearls in their everyday circumstances, in their trials, and even in their suffering. It is not easy, but it is incredibly valuable and worth all the time, energy and prayer that is involved in the hunt.