Soul searching with Ann Kline

Photo by David Stuck

In a city of reformed lawyers, Ann Kline had been an attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency for 15 years when life interfered and took her on a spiritual journey.

She has become a spiritual director. Sometimes called hashpa’ah, or divine flow, it is a way for Jews to deepen their relationship with the sacred – be that God, Torah, nature, spirit or simply personal truth.

“There seems to be two paths to spirituality, either through joy or through sorrow,” says Kline, 63. “A lot of us come to spirituality through sorrow.”

Her parents died within three months of each other and her father-in-law passed away a year later.

“I was trying to find greater insight. It was a very intense period, probably one of the most painful times of my life, but also one of joy, because I got to take care of my father and support my father-in-law and mother-in-law,” she says.

“I learned to hold the sorrow and the satisfactions, the joys and paradoxes of living.

“I had not been very observant as a Jew, I didn’t feel very connected,” says Kline, who belongs to Tifereth Israel Congregation in Washington. “But as happens to many people, the Jewish mourning rituals were so incredibly meaningful to me. That brought me back to Judaism. But the Jewish community also seemed too small for me. I couldn’t find what I was looking for.”

Her seeking led to meditation and many questions about the Jewish community. By chance, an acquaintance handed her a brochure about contemplative spirituality. While the organization was Christian, Kline decided to explore further.

“When I heard about group spiritual direction as a practice, my whole body lit up. That’s what I was looking for.”

Spiritual direction is for people who have deep questions they wish to explore. Oftentimes, people are at a crossroads in life. Kline has worked with people of a variety of faiths and denominations. Sometimes her sessions involve deep listening on her part, or asking questions, or even artistic explorations like drawing, singing, writing or movement.

“Oftentimes someone comes to me and says, ‘I’m at a place in my life where I don’t know how to go further. This isn’t working for me. My job isn’t working or my marriage isn’t working. I feel all of these things are good in my life, so why am I still not satisfied?’”

Kline says that some may seek a therapist, but a therapist’s goal is different than hers. “A lot of therapy is very much about fixing a problem. You have a goal. What are the steps you’re going to take to meet this goal? You want to stop smoking, or stop yelling at your kids or strengthen your marriage.”

Therapy, she said, focuses on living more effectively. Spiritual direction doesn’t offer tips for better living or improving family relationships. It provides a process for discovering the divine, even in very busy, high-stakes lives of over-achieving Washingtonians.

“When somebody comes to me, we first talk about what’s drawing them: Why this, why now? While therapists ask the same questions, I ask people to tell me about their spiritual journey, their sense of the divine — however they name it. There is a wonderful quote, ‘Every religion has a congregation of one, because we all interpret our spirituality differently.’ We start with their questions.”

Kline also served as a chaplain for Montgomery Hospice and the Jewish Social Service Agency hospice program.

“Being a chaplain was one of the most joyful things I’ve ever done, even though it was also the hardest,” she says. “There was certainly sadness and pain, but there was a lot of joy. You’re dealing with what’s real in life.”

She continues to take on spiritual directees, as well as attend to her own soul seeking; she regularly sees a spiritual director. The relatively new field of Jewish spiritual direction, she notes, has several independent training programs around the country, while Spiritual Directors International is a multifaith
organization for those in the field and those who are interested in it.

“We live kind of half asleep, half aware of what we’re doing,” Kline says. “We’re aware of what our lives are, what we could be or who we are, but we’re like icebergs. We only see the top third, we’re so caught up in distractions.”

She says, as a spiritual director, her job is to suggest the questions: “How do we live with awareness of that whole? How do we align our lives with our souls? How do we bring a sense of our soul quality into the whole of our lives? That’s what I was looking for.”

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