Jane Wolfe, a.k.a. Grandmother Willow

by Pastor Heath Howe, Family Ministries

One of Sophie's favorite movies when she was a little girl was Disney's Pocahontas. She loved all the Disney princess movies, let's be clear, but at one point Pocahontas was a favorite. She sang the songs, reenacted the story, and cast all family members in various roles. She played this imagination game for days on end.

One time when I was leaving for an appointment, Sophie asked, "Mom, where are you going?"

Me: "To meet with Jane."
Sophie: "You are always meeting with Jane. Why?"
Me: "Well, she is my spiritual director."
Sophie: "What's that?"
Me: "I talk with her about my life, my prayers, and what I believe, stuff like that."
Sophie: "Oh, so she is like Grandmother Willow, the tree Pocahontas goes to talk to for advice."

This is how Jane Lee Wolfe came to be named Grandmother Willow for all the members of my family. Jane has been a spiritual director for the past 40 years. She has lead retreats, met with people one-on-one, written books, and created Bog Chapel, a non-profit organization committed to promoting spiritual health and fitness for all interested.

Recently I asked Jane several questions about her work:

When did you feel called to this ministry?
"I was doing the work for a long time before I even heard of something called a spiritual director. For me, it's always been ‘talking to people who feel called to get their spiritual lives in some kind of order.' I guess, though, around age 19 I knew I was to work with God on stuff, but no matter how hard I tried to jump-start the work, it didn't really start moving till I was 38 years old. Lesson: the time between God's call, and God's implementation of it, can be a long time!"

What does being a spiritual director mean?
"I'm doing what God wants us to do together. I am deeply grounded and content with the work." She loves it because, "It suits me. I like that for myself. Also, since each person is sent by God (whether or not he/she/I realize it at the time), the joy of each encounter is immense. What could be more fun than helping people get their spiritual lives healthy, fit, and sustainably joyful and alive?"

With 40 years of experience, what is the biggest change you have seen in the spiritual health and fitness world?
"The biggest groundswell and change is individuals beginning to take responsibility for their own spiritual health and fitness. "Church" may be a part of their spiritual health and fitness program, but it isn't all of it. That is different from 30+ years ago. This is a beautiful happening."

What do you say when people ask, "How do I know if I am doing what God wants me to do?" or "How do I know it is God's voice when I listen?"
"You listen enough, you know. How does an infant know its parents are talking to it? How does it know what they are saying? It is listening through its heart. That's what you do when you let your heart open and listen to God. God's, and your, first language is not English; it is love. You listen to love. Occasionally there are words attached. But, as a student once said, ‘It is a shame I can't just put a yellow pad and pen by my bed and have God write some instructions on it. I'd follow them when I woke up.' It just doesn't happen. God is not in the yellow pad and pen business."

What is your one prayer for the world right now?
"Sometimes it changes, but every morning I say, "Today I pray for, and listen to what that might be. For months now it is, "Today I pray for life." Have no idea what that means specifically, but it is a lifting up of all that is and all that is to be."

To whom do you turn to for direction?
"My gurus are largely the people I work with plus a few extras posited in my life now and then by God. There is a Catholic monk in Ireland. A Jewish novelist was my whole support at a difficult time for me. He has since died. An Episcopal priest, also dead now. But mostly I rely on the wisdom of those sent to me by God."

What are the spiritual opportunities for USA Christians who are not living from meal to meal and shelter to shelter?
"The biggest opportunity they have is to use their gift of time to develop themselves spiritually and to then walk into the world in the light of that gift, God and them together. This holiness is so welcome. It refreshes so many souls. If you are holy and humble in your relationship with God, you are safe to be with, your presence is nurturing, and your love empowers even the lowliest brought into your presence by God. You are Christ among us, as you were made to be."

I am delighted Jane will join all us at Holy Comforter April 6th through the 9th. She will be with us on Sunday morning and at various meetings throughout the week. She ends her time with us at the Wednesday night Lenten program. Please make every effort to hear Jane, spend time with Jane, and learn from her. She is a wise, honest, Christ-centered, and joy-filled woman. Do not miss the chance to meet Jane, a.k.a. Grandmother Willow.